Changes are afoot…

So, I got fancy on you and got my very own web address.  I’m now at sukicooks.com, so (she said modestly) please update your bookmarks!

Pasta with Asparagus and Zucchini

I am a sucker for pasta with vegetables.  I know you’re not supposed to order it in restaurants since it’s overpriced and usually not the most loved dish by the chef.  Most of the time, I stick to that rule, but on a recent trip to Switzerland I ate a delicious bowl of cherry tomatoes and roasted red peppers and artichokes and goat cheese and pesto and – yum.  I started hunting for variations almost as soon as I got hold of my laptop state-side.  We’ve already talked about this before, and the following recipe isn’t a whole lot different, just tweaked here and there.  It still feels fresh, which is oh so welcome here in the middle of January, but it’s filling and the meat-loving husband didn’t notice it was vegetarian until I pointed it out as he was licking the bowl clean.  A triumph, I say.

Pasta with Asparagus and Zucchini

  • pasta (I used whole grain rotini, but feel free to go wild with your personal favorite)
  • asparagus, cut into inch-sized pieces (maybe two cups total?)
  • zucchini, sliced into coins (I used two smallish zucchinis)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 lemon (you’ll want a few tablespoons of juice, and the zest really helps add that extra dimension, but if you’d rather stick to your bottled stuff in the fridge, that’s ok)
  • 1/3 cup feta cheese (goat cheese would be delightful, too, I bet)

Drizzle some olive oil into a large pan, add the garlic and onion and cook over medium-low heat for 5-6 minutes, or until soft.  While that’s going on, get your pasta cooking.

Add the asparagus and zucchini, salt and pepper everything pretty generously, and stir it up for 4-5 minutes over medium heat.  You want the vegetables to be softened, but not soggy.  Unless you just love soggy, then go right ahead and overcook away.

Add the lemon juice and the zest from that whole lemon.  Your pasta should be done by now, so drain it and if your pan size allows, toss the pasta with the vegetables.  If not, just serve over the noodles.  Mix in the feta and serve.  Happy eating!

Andouille with Polenta and Broccoli

I am aware it’s been approximately forever since I’ve updated.  The husband and I were at home for about three weekends from September through, oh, yesterday, and motivation to cook anything but easy quick comfort food was supremely low.  Can we still be friends?  I think this recipe may help to smooth things over.

I’d never tasted polenta until I made this dish, and now I wish to make up for lost time.  Have you ever had this stuff?  It’s creamy, but still has texture.  It’s made with cornmeal so it’s got just enough difference of flavor from rice or potatoes or really anything I normally eat that it’s a little thrilling.  It’s not so bad for you and since you finish it with just a sprinkle of cheese, it tastes like comfort food without sending your hips into a deep depression.  Try it, you’ll like it!

This recipe came from Epicurious by way of The Kitchn, but I’ve tweaked it a bit.

Andouille with Polenta and Broccoli

1 lb broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces
Polenta
2-3 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan
3/4 – 1 lb Andouille (cajun) sausage, cut into inch-ish sized pieces
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

Throw the broccoli into a microwave-safe bowl with a little bit of water and a dash of lemon juice (if you have it on hand).  Microwave for two or three minutes, or until softened but not all soggy and wilted.

The polenta I get comes pre-cooked and in a tube, shaped kind of like raw breakfast sausage.  They keep it with the tofu and other weird vegan things at my grocery store.  You cut it up in a saucepan over medium-high heat with some milk to smooth it out (it’ll take a few minutes), and then add a few tablespoons of finely shredded Parmesan (or Gruyere, which I have done with excellent results).  It’s far quicker than making your own, but as I understand it, it’s a bit of a specialty item, so you may have some trouble finding it.  If you can’t find even dry polenta, cheesy grits would be a close substitute.  I know, it sounds weird, but that’s sort of the texture of polenta. 

Heat a (non-stick, or use just a dribble of oil) skillet or pan over medium-high heat until hot, then throw in the sausage, stir it around until it’s browned and hot, (or cooked through, if you have some raw product on your hands). Slide it all onto a plate and then reduce heat to medium-low.  Make sure it has cooled before you toss in the garlic.  Trust me, you do not want burnt garlic.  Once the heat is sufficiently reduced, put the garlic in skillet, and stir until golden, about 2 minutes.  Now add the broccoli and mix it all up with the garlic and stir it around for a couple of minutes.   Season that business with salt and pepper and get excited about the fantastic meal you’re about to eat.  You can toss the sausage back in with the broccoli at this point, and then serve over polenta.  This quantity serves me and the husband with enough for a good leftover lunch the next day (I guess that means three servings).  Enjoy!

Car Bomb Cupcakes

First of all, I’m not a fan of this recipe’s name, ok?  Just so we’re clear, it’s a bit offensive and yet there seems to be no PC substitute.  But I can’t not share this with you; these cupcakes are far too tasty (and impressive) to keep a shameful secret just because of a terrible title.

(For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a car bomb is a drink which consists of a shot of Bailey’s mixed with Irish whiskey dropped into a half glass of stout beer.  And chug.  Oh, and never EVER order this in Ireland, mmkay?  Ok.)

This is direct from Smitten Kitchen, and has been in my bookmark folder for ages.  I made them for a party a few weeks ago, and fair warning, they were so sweet that no one ate more than one, so do as I say and not as I do and don’t double this recipe unless you really do have more than 40 people showing up to take advantage of your mad baking skills.  The following proportions should make around 20 cupcakes.

Car Bomb Cupcakes

For the Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes
1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

Ganache Filling
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 to 2 teaspoons Irish whiskey (optional)

Baileys Frosting
3 to 4 cups confectioners sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, at room temperatue
3 to 4 tablespoons Baileys (I used only a tablespoon or so since I don’t really care for the taste and couldn’t even tell it had been added – but if you like, you could substitute milk instead)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line cupcake cups with liners (or grease well). Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until smooth. Put aside to cool while you do this next part.

Stir together flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl to blend. In yet another bowl (make it a large one) beat eggs and sour cream with an electric mixer (or very vigorously by hand). Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and stir just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed (or slow that wrist down) until completely combined. Now fill your cupcake cups about 3/4 of the way. Bake about 17 minutes, or until you can bring a toothpick out of the center without a glop of batter attached.

While the cupcakes are cooling, chop the chocolate and then stir it into the 2/3 cup heavy cream over medium heat (haven’t you already washed your medium saucepan from before?). Stir constantly until it’s all melted and smooth.  Add the butter and whiskey (if you’re using it) and stir until combined.

Let the ganache cool for about 10 minutes.  While that’s happening, cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes. I used a grapefruit spoon, Smitten Kitchen suggests an apple corer/potato peeler.  Don’t cut through the bottom of the cupcake, though!  Just get the middle out.  Now pour the ganache into a plastic zip-top baggy (or use a piping bag if you have one) and cut a teeny hole in one corner.  Use that to fill the holes in each cupcake.

Now for the frosting.  Whip the butter with an electric mixer until it is very light and fluffy. Slowly add the powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time, which apparently makes it less grainy and thickens better than dumping a cup at once.  When it looks about the right consistency, drop in the Bailey’s or milk and keep beating until it’s combined.  You can always add a little more sugar if this thinned out the frosting, but you should be all right.  If your ganache has firmed up enough that it won’t instantly mix with your pristine white frosting, then frost away.  Enjoy!

Panzanella

Ok, so the words “bread salad” don’t exactly conjure up something completely appealing, at least not to me – and that is what “panzanella” means, bread salad.  If I want a salad, I want it to be green and fresh and flavorful and satiate the teeny tiny (but insistent) part of me that occasionally demands raw vegetables.  A salad made of bread?  Seems silly and counter-productive.  I scoff at such a thing.

But then I made this particular recipe on a whim this week, almost on a dare, and oh friends, I am eating my words as well as this bread salad as fast as I can move fork to mouth.  This is bright, zesty, perfectly textured, tangy, and everything else you’d want to consume when it is one million degrees outside and dinner otherwise consists of week-old microwaved leftovers.  Make it tonight, make it this weekend, but make it soon, for your palate’s sake.

A word about the proportions of the ingredients: feel free to adjust as desired, since maybe you are not a tomato lover or are, in fact, a cucumber zealot.  If you hate basil, you could switch out with your summer herb of choice (perhaps oregano?), and I suspect some fresh mozzarella or feta chunks would be a completely fabulous addition.

Many thanks to Smitten Kitchen for espousing the delights of panzanella until I finally caved and made this one.

Panzanella

Olive oil
Good bakery bread (I used sourdough; it was awesome) cut into 1-inch cubes (3 cups total)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tomato, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (precision is not necessary)
1/2 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, sliced into 1/2 cubes
1 bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
5-10 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped

For the vinaigrette
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (I used the milder version since I have no use for regular Dijon in my everyday life)
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar (I’d guess you could use white wine vinegar, but I think this variety is more delicate)
1/3 cup good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat the a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the bread and salt and toss the cubes around for about 10 minutes or until they’re all toasty and beautiful.  You can add more oil if they look dry.

In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, and basil.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients and then pour over the vegetables (ok, fine, technically fruits and vegetables and herbs).  Add the bread cubes and toss everything around to coat evenly.  Serve at once (although it was still incredibly tasty after several hours in the fridge).  Happy eating!

Chicken Spinach Parmesan

You guys.  I know.  It’s been forever.  Life sort of got in the way of my cooking recently, and when I did do a bit of cooking in the last two months, it was either a disaster (stories to come) or a total bore.  Neither are post-worthy.  You can all thank me for sparing you the misery.

But now that we are settled in a new kitchen (it’s bigger!  and prettier!) and back from several trips out of state, I made this little gem and it was delicious.  And pretty healthy.  And when I left and then returned to the house a few hours after dinner, the scent of this dish lingered and still smelled wonderful, which to me has always been a sign of a good meal.

I hesitate even to tell you where I found it, because perhaps it will gather dust in your bookmark folder as it did mine for far too many weeks while you silently pre-judge it.  It claims it is health food, moreover it claims it is good for anemia, which is just not appetizing.  I’m sorry to tell you that this recipe hails from Women’s Health.  Yes.  I can feel your disappointment from here, but trust me when I tell you this doesn’t taste like health food or like it should fit into the category of (and I quote) “inactive woman diet plans”.  Sigh.  Make it this week and rise above your mockery.  You’ll be happy you did.

Chicken Spinach Parmesan

Olive oil
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (one per person unless your grocers’ breasts are unusually hearty)
Italian seasoned bread crumbs (I had to search high and low for a brand that didn’t use high fructose corn syrup – no I am not joking – godspeed in your quest)
Grated parmesan
Marinara sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
3 handfuls baby spinach leaves

Are you harboring just a little aggression?  Good.  Pound your chicken to about 1/4 inch thickness (I left mine a little thicker, they’re more forgiving and less dry that way), then sprinkle with bread crumbs, cheese, salt, and pepper, pressing so the crumbs stick (I just dumped those four dry ingredients in a shallow bowl and did a dry dredge of sorts instead, which is why I left out amounts in the ingredient list – just use the proportions that seem tastiest to you). Now heat a little olive oil in a medium sized pan over medium heat.  Once it’s nice and hot, throw down the chicken and cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side, maybe a little less depending on how thin you pounded those poor pieces.  Once they are cooked through, take them out of the pan and then throw in your onion, garlic, and about a tablespoon more of olive oil.  Let those soften up for a couple minutes, and then add the spinach and let it wilt (this takes maybe 30 seconds) and then add marinara to taste.  Are you a very saucy person?  Then use that whole jar.  Not a passionate tomato lover?  Use just enough to gloop together the spinach and onions.  Now pour  the sauce over your chicken and serve.  I put the whole business over some whole wheat pasta, but that’s not totally necessary.  Enjoy!

Rhubarb Coffee Cake

Have I gushed enough about rhubarb?  No?  I love the stuff.  The color, the tartness, the recipes that run amok this time of year when rhubarb is in season (although, sadly, I can only find it frozen by now).  This coffee cake is rich and fantastic for company or for just yourself, if you’re feeling a little bit fancy or just really hungry.  No judgment.

I’ve tweaked this a bit (I can’t handle ginger – yuck) from a New York Times recipe.

Rhubarb Coffee Cake

For the rhubarb filling:
1/2 pound rhubarb, sliced into half-inch thick pieces
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch

For the crumb topping:
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 3/4 cups flour

For the cake:
1/3 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons softened butter, cut into pieces (NY Times says 8; I say there is no need for such rigidity)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8-inch-square baking pan. In a separate bowl, toss rhubarb with sugar and cornstarch and set aside.

To make crumbs: in a large bowl, whisk sugars, cinnamon and salt into melted butter until smooth. Then, add the flour. Once you’ve mixed it together, it will look and feel like a solid dough, but this is what you want.  No worries.  Set it aside.

For the cake: in a small bowl (this is not a clean-up-friendly recipe, sorry), stir together the sour cream, egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Using a mixer (or a vigorous wrist), mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add butter and a spoonful of sour cream mixture and mix on medium speed just until everything is incorporated. Increase speed and beat for 30 seconds. Add remaining sour cream mixture in two batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition. Scoop out about 1/2 cup batter and (you guessed it) set aside.

Pour remaining batter into prepared pan. Scatter the rhubarb over batter. Retrieve your set-aside batter and place dollops all over the rhubarb layer.  Don’t worry about being precise – it will blob together a bit in the baking process.

Break the crumb mixture into big chunks (like the size of a quarter or so) and sprinkle over cake. This is easiest, and coincidentally most cathartic, when you use your fingers.  Bake cake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean of batter, 45 minutes or so. Cool completely before serving.  Happy eating!