Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Sumac Chicken with Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts

Where have you been, woman? I know, I know! I have not posted a new recipe in nearly 2 months, and the one below is paired with a single measly photo. So sorry but I’ve spent the past 8 weeks on a sun-drenched tropical island, taking a vacation from technology and clutter to idly wander white sand beaches, stopping to eat the occasional coconut or papaya should it happen to bounce my way. Sike! I’ve been trudging through this miserable Nor’easter-heaped sludge Spring with all you fools, just busy busy busy with the other writing I do (aka the one that is paid). 
I’ve still been cooking up a storm, of course. Jam-packed days mean less involved dinners, and I have fallen in love with the sheet pan method. For the better part of an hour, vegetables and proteins are heaped together on a single wide sheet pan as I go about cleaning/laundry/yoga in my living room. Forty-five minutes later, presto! A deeply roasted, bronzed and bubbling denouement— that looks and tastes as if I’ve been slaving away for the past week— materializes right before my tired eyes.

The namesake of Sumac Chicken with Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts is definitely the winsome ingredient here. Sumac, a tart, lemony spice featured in Middle Eastern cooking, is humbled with a pinch of brown sugar and smoky paprika. Both the chicken and vegetables get roasted in this sprightly rub, then finished with a lovely drizzle of fresh herbs and lemon juice. The chicken is roasted bone-in and skin-on, giving it that moist, fall-off-the-bone consistency of an expertly done rotisserie. It took my husband and I three days to finish the pan’s offerings (I doubled the recipe), and the flavors only seemed to intensify every day that passed.

A quick note on chicken: as someone who’s been a skinless, boneless chicken breast devotee my whole life, the transition to skin-on, bone-in cuts of both dark meat and light was a bit intimidating. But the fat content of these cuts is nothing to fear here. In fact, its where all of your flavor and succulence will come from. If you cannot bear the thought of drumsticks and thighs, chicken breast is fine, just make sure to follow the aforementioned preparation so it doesn’t dry out. However, I really liked using a mixture of dark and light meat. I was also blown away by the cost-efficiency of buying these cuts: at Trader Joe’s, a “family pack” (2 breasts and 4 drumsticks, all organic) was only $2.99/lb. You can also buy an entire chicken and have the butcher counter cut it up for you, which will give you a nice variety of all these pieces.

Sumac Chicken with Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts (altered slightly from Cooking Light)
Serves 4

Ingredients

3 Tbsp olive or avocado oil, divided
1 Tbsp sumac
1 tsp kosher salt, divided
1 tsp light brown sugar
1 tsp paprika
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
1 lb cauliflower florets
1 lb Brussels sprouts, halved lengthwise
2 lbs chicken thighs/drumsticks/bone-in, skin-on breast
1 small lemon, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 small red onion, cut into ¾ inch wedges
1 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or cilantro; preferably, a mix
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 small garlic clove

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. 
  2. Combine 2 Tbsp oil with sumac, ¾ tsp salt, brown sugar, paprika, and red pepper in a medium bowl. Place cauliflower and Brussels sprouts on a foil-lined baking sheet. Add half of oil mixture; toss to coat. 
  3. Add chicken pieces and lemon slices to pan. Rub remaining oil mixture over chicken. Bake for 20 minutes. Stir vegetables. Sprinkle onion wedges over pan. Bake for 20 more minutes, or until chicken is done. 
  4. Combine remaining 1 Tbsp oil, parsley, and remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Spoon parsley mixture evenly over chicken and vegetables. Serve with warm whole-wheat couscous, if desired. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Pan-seared Sirloin with Chimichurri

I don’t know if it’s the cold weather or an iron deficiency trying to communicate with me, but I’ve recently found myself intensely craving steak. Not to mention that I’ve finally learned how to cook it exactly how I order at a restaurant (medium rare), and it didn't involve setting off the smoke alarm (let’s hope that was a one time occurrence) or a 2-day bout of food poisoning from undercooking. My vegetarian-leaning self has finally learned how to flawlessly prepare bovine meat, and now, I can’t get enough; specifically, this Pan-seared Sirloin with Chimichurri

I’ve shied away from learning how to cook steak in the past—as if because I rarely ate it I wasn’t worthy of knowing how to prepare it—assuming I was inherently set up to fail. Previously, I’d nervously overcook a piece of meat, making sure I paired it with a flavorful sauce to cover up any of my missteps. Only with a little bit of research did I figure out a few essentials for proper steak cooking. How simple the basic principles are!

1. Temperature matters. Bringing steak to room temperature an hour before cooking ensures optimal heat penetration to the middle.
2. Seasoning matters. A generous rub of salt, pepper, and olive oil will suffice.
3. Flipping matters. Turning the steak every minute promotes an even sear.
4. Resting matters the most. Letting the steak sit for five minutes, plus half the cook-time, lets it finish cooking properly after being removed from the heat.

The last step is arguably the most important because there’s nothing more disappointing than an overcooked slab of beef. Trust me on this one—the steak needs to sit to finish cooking through.

Adding to this enthusiasm was my discovery of Piedmontese heritage beef at the Union Square Greenmarket, produced by Stony Mountain Ranch (full market schedule here). Although Stony Mountain Ranch’s cattle is raised in Pennsylvania, the breed is originally from the Piedmont region of Italy, known for having the best beef in the country due to its supreme succulence and super lean disposition. This desirable combination is a result of the cows’ genetics: Piedmontese cattle naturally carry a unique gene that reduces fat yet improves tenderness. And while the beef is genetically lower in total fat than other breeds, it also has the highest percentage of good polyunsaturated fats within that total fat. Think omega-3s like DPA and DHA. On top of that, its exclusively grass-fed. If looking for a healthy breed, you’ve found your guy.

The quick and easy chimichurri sauce hails for Gjelina, one of my favorite cookbooks for condiments and vegetables. For me, it’s essential for a chimichurri to have the right oil to vinegar ratio—not too slick, not too tart—and this one delivers exceptionally, dotted with spices that accent the grassiness of the herbs.

Pan-seared Sirloin with Chimichurri
Makes 1 ½ cup chimichurri

Ingredients:
Grass-fed, tender cut of steak (i.e. rib-eye, tenderloin, porterhouse, T-bone, skirt steak, top sirloin, filet mignon. Budget 6 ounces, or a little more than 1/3 lb, per person)

1 bunch fresh cilantro, stemmed and chopped
½ bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, stemmed and chopped
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp smoked paprika
½ shallot, minced
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil (can use less if desired)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground lack pepper
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

Directions:

1. Make the chimichurri. In a medium bowl, combine the cilantro, parsley, oregano, paprika, shallot, and olive oil and stir. Allow to stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Just before serving, add red wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Make the steak. Heat a hot cast iron pan with oil, and follow the 4 steps above! A medium rare steak should cook for 6 minutes (flipping every minute), and rest for 8 minutes before serving.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Butternut Squash Salad with Farro and Pepitas

As I was mindlessly scrolling through Instagram last week (New Years resolution: do less of that), I came across this quote. “People are so worried about what they eat between Christmas and New Year, when what matters is what they eat between New Year and Christmas.” It got me thinking about my own past behavior, namely, gauging myself with sweets and alcohol in that coveted vacation week—only to go to the other extreme, a juice cleanse, in the days after as an attempt to negate my poor eating choices.

This type of seesaw eating is not only unhealthy, but also extremely anxiety provoking. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve curtailed these periods of “extremes” for a healthy balance somewhere in the middle. I try to mostly eat a diet of whole, unprocessed foods, focused on ample vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. I generally stay away from excess sugar. When I indulge, I don’t get hung up on it. I treat that as “sometimes” behavior, and move on.

Apropos to this mindset, my early January diet won’t be a frantic attempt to reverse any immoderation from the past week. Rather, it will be a reset back to middle ground; looking at the future instead of dwelling in the past. This Butternut Squash Salad with Farro and Pepitas was my first recipe of 2018, and I’ve been eating it with gusto all week long.

Shocker to nobody: I don’t think I’ve ever met a farro salad with roasted vegetables I didn’t like. That being said, the number of times I’ve encountered one which wildly supersedes its predecessors is scant. This is one of those rare occasions, and the winning ingredient is most surprising. It’s… the onions?!

Here, while the farro cooks, finely chopped red onion is quick-pickled in a simple brine of vinegar, water, salt, and sugar. Then, the entire concoction—brine and onion bits—is poured into the salad for a lovely acidic tang that hits on all seasoning notes. Without this dressing, the grain and squash combination could easily feel too earthy, even dull. But the pickled onion adds sprightly vim, enhanced further by dots of crunchy pepitas and silky, heavenly ricotta salada.



To the original recipe I added Brussels sprouts and garbanzo beans, and cut back on the olive oil and crumbed cheese per my personal preference. These changes are reflected below. While I encourage you to consume this salad upon completion, I will say it is the kind of dish that tastes even better with time. I’m on my fourth day in a row of eating it for lunch, and the flavors have never been better.

Butternut Squash Salad with Farro and Pepitas (tweaked slightly from Smitten Kitchen)
Serves 6

Ingredients:
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
1 lb Brussels sprouts, halved (optional)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 ½ cup semi-pearled farro (the kind that cooks in 20-25 minutes)
1/3 cup toasted pepitas
1/3 cup ricotta salata (omit to make vegan)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (or red/white wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon water
½ teaspoon table salt
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
½ small red onion or 2 shallots, finely chopped
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed (optional)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Peel squash, then halve lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Cut squash into approximately 3/4-inch chunks. Coat one large or two small baking sheets with 2 tablespoons oil total. Spread squash (and Brussels, if using) out in single layer on sheet. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast until pieces are tender, about 30 to 40 minutes, turning them over halfway through the cooking time. Set aside to cool slightly.

3. While squash is roasting, cook farro in a large pot of simmering salted water until the grains are tender but chewy, about 30 minutes or per package directions. Drain and cool slightly.

4. While squash/Brussels are roasting and farro is simmering, in a small bowl, whisk together sherry vinegar, water, 1/2 teaspoon table salt and granulated sugar until sugar and salt dissolve. Stir in onion/shallot; it will barely be covered by vinegar mixture but don’t worry. Cover and set in fridge until needed; 30 minutes is ideal but less time will still make a lovely, lightly pickled bulb.

5. In a large bowl, mix together roasted veggies, farro, red onion and its vinegar brine, the crumbled cheese, pepitas, and garbanzos, if using. Toss with 2 tablespoons of the remaining olive oil. Taste and adjust seasonings (you might want to add more vinegar). Salad keeps in the fridge for up to a week.