Moon in the 6th

Archive for the ‘Improvisational Kitchen’ Category

Put two food writers in the same kitchen and no business-as-usual meal is likely. As happened with the burger makings in my house on the Fourth of July, when I was joined in the kitchen by Kayla Hamilton of Otaku Foodie. Others in our party were content with basic cheddar-topped beef patties, but not Kayla and I. I immediately hit on stuffing two thin patties with savory surprises. After poking around the spice shelf and fridge, I settled on the following and stood back while Kayla deftly assembled them, with more neatness and attention than I would have employed. To fellow solo cooks, I can now testify: a competent and companionable sous chef is a rare treat indeed. The outcome of our collaboration was as savory as expected and captivated my taste buds’ attention to the last bite.

Double K Double Burgers
per person:

Press out 2 thin, thin, thin patties by hand.
Place one patty on a prep surface.
Sprinkle onto the middle of the patty:
1/4-1/2 tsp finely chopped purple onion
Thin slivers or grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
Pinch of zaatar (a Middle Eastern spice blend of wild thyme, sumac and ground sesame seeds)

Slivered cheddar cheese, zataar and purple onion

Place the second patty on top and press it firmly around the edges.
Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste on top.
Sprinkle more zaatar on top.

Place the double burger in a skillet over medium heat. Flip as needed. When you are comfortable that one side of the burger is nearly done, flip the burger so the nearly done portion is on top and cover it with slivers or shreds of extra sharp cheddar cheese. Place a small amount of water in the skillet, then cover it for a minute or two. (The steam from the water will make the cheese melt quickly, a tip from my sous chef that works MUCH more effectively than my usual method of simply putting on a lid.)

No soft, wimpy buns for this, please. The heft requires a sturdy bun — we used Kaiser rolls — and stands up a cavalcade of condiments. Our fellow adventuresome diner drizzled ketchup and yellow mustard over a base of (avert your eyes, Kelley) mayo to pleasing effect.

I’m really loving using lime as the primary flavor enhancer. It wakes up produce (and the palate) without having to resort to sugar or salt. Better still, it makes me feel refreshed rather than deprived. This morning lime juice was the supporting player in a parfait reinterpretation of fruit salad. An award-winning performance, I’d say, enough so that I expect to repeat it as soon as tomorrow.

Breakfast Parfait
adapted from Nigella Express

Per person:

1/2 cup chopped strawberries
1/2 tsp pomegranate juice

1/4 cup diced mango (I scored and cut it straight from the seed)
1/4 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice

Place in a tall tumbler (clear, if possible, because the colors are attractive and appealing):
the strawberries bits
the mango bits
1/3 cup fresh blueberries (or a small handful)
1/4 cup yogurt (I used Greek; if you prefer nonstrained, you might try vanilla)
1 tsp pumpkin seeds

You could mix the yogurt with honey first if you like, but the sweetener is not necessary, at all.

That’s it!

The Breakfast Parfait. Yeah, I'm no food stylist.

My quest to banish salad boredom has yielded another palate-pleaser. Keeping watercress on hand is a new behavior, leading me to play with recipes I’ve previously ignored and consistently come up with memorable meals. I did not previously think that citrus and tomatoes could peacefully exist, but they do surprisingly well together. This one assembles very quickly. You could put together the salad portion while the marinading is taking place, and dinner would be ready the minute the turkey comes off the heat.

Sorry for the absence of photo — my turkey strips were not ready for their close-up first time around.

Orange Turkey Salad
adapted from Ainsley Harriott’s Low-Fat Meals in Minutes

Serves 4.

Zest and juice of one orange
1 TBP honey
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Add 16-18 oz lean turkey breast strips (I used boneless cutlets) and let marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Heat 2 tsps light oil (I used safflower) in a heavy skillet or a wok.
Stir fry the turkey strips until golden brown, about 2 minutes a side. (Do NOT walk away; they will turn to shoe leather if you let your attention slip.)
Add 6 thinly sliced scallions and stir around a bit.
Remove from heat and toss.

On each serving plate, place:
half a bunch of cleaned watercress leaves
one-half a fresh orange, peeled and in segments
handful of halved cherry tomatoes
turkey strips

Should you have leftovers, they’ll be fine cold the next day…but this is best when the turkey is warm and moist.

Chicken drumsticks were the available protein as lunchtime rolled around today. I’ve been making them for years in a frying pan with orange juice as the cooking liquid, of which I had none on hand, of course, this morning. I thought about poaching them in beer but decided against setting a precedent for popping a cold one before noon. (And if a bottle of Magic Hat No. 9 were open, there’s no way I wouldn’t treat myself to some. Or one.) Instead, I reached for the other beverage on hand, ginger beer. It worked!

Broccoli was the accompaniment. With a little forethought, rice would be nice.

Ginger Chicken Legs
adapted from Marian Russo’s Cinnamon Chicken in Keep It Simple

4-6 drumsticks, thawed

Brown in a large frying pan with a dark of olive oil, over medium-high heat:
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, minced

As they brown, add 1″ peeled and chopped fresh ginger

Add the drumsticks. Sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper and cinnamon.
Turn the drumsticks periodically until they are browned all over.

Pour in one 12-oz bottle of ginger beer. (Not ale. Beer.) I used Stewart’s.
Cover the pan and turn down the heat to medium.
Cook 15 minutes.

The onions and the chicken both take well to the ginger beer’s sweetness. The flavor combinations stand up on reheating, too.

Tonight I found a way to salvage a disappointing fresh pineapple. A friend had touted the batch at the local produce store and helped me pick one with signs of ripeness: a nice brown instead of green, and inner leaves that pull out easily. But alas, after I cut the thing apart, half of the pineapple was as hard and unripe as the other half was sweet and delicious. So off I went to the shelves of cookbooks and prowled about until I unearthed a recipe for carmelized pineapple.

As per my usual, what went into the pan did not quite line up with the recipe. Still, what came out produced a more than acceptable salvage job — especially when paired with a rum-heavy reinterpretation of a ginger beer cocktail. Both recipes make use of fresh lime, and follow.

Making Do With Underripe Fresh Pineapple
adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Cut a fresh pineapple into chunks.
Heat a goodly amount of butter in a skillet — 2 TB if you can.
Sprinkle a tablespoon or so of sugar on the butter.
Toss in the pineapple chunks. Heat for 4-5 minutes on high heat.
Sprinkle the pineapple with a tablespoon or so of sugar and turn the pineapple chunks over.
Heat for 4-5 minutes on high.
Remove from heat.
Add 2-3 TBs of kirschwasser into the pan and scrape about to deglaze. Squeeze a fresh lime in, too.
Spoon the sauce onto the pineapple.

Enjoy with:
Adulterated Ginger Beer
adapted from Ten by Sheila Lukins

1/2 cup chilled ginger beer (NOT ale. beer.)
3 TBs dark rum
squeeze of fresh lime

Or enjoy this alone. That’s what I’m doing. 🙂

A hike in search of fiddlehead ferns turned up nothing edible on the trails, but kicked up an appetite that wanted an early dinner. I reached for a salmon recipe I’d mentally dog-eared in Nigella Express. As is so frequently the case, my memory and the actual contents of the fridge varied a bit. So I improvised, with happy happy results. No picture this time; I ate everything before thinking of picking up the camera.


Salmon with Arugula, Sugar Snap Peas & Avocado
adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Express

Heat a heavy skillet.
Toss in a smallish slab of salmon (about 4 oz.) or two and heat about 2 minutes a side. Remove to a dinner plate.

Mix together:
2 TBS rice vinegar (I used O Olive Oil ginger rice vinegar)
1 Tsp sugar
1/4 Tsp salt
1/2″ diced fresh ginger
2 TBS canola oil

Drizzle small amount of this mixture onto the salmon.

Next to the salmon, place:
Generous handful of arugula
1/4-1/3 cup fresh sugar snap peas, ends snipped off, and broken in half
Spoonfuls of ripe avocado

Drizzle the oil and vinegar mixture over the salad.


I used to see Martha Stewart as a tormentor of womankind, her minutiae-focused approach to modern living prescribing an impossibly manicured standard so unattainable that it would only add to the reasons modern media give women to feel bad about themselves. Her mature, responsible and community-bettering handling of her jail sentence turned my opinion into respect. Her Martha Stewart Living is one of my few remaining print subscriptions, and the only publication I continue to hoard. The recipes are part of the reason. They exist in the real world, with ingredients that are reasonably easy to acquire (unlike the rarities-to-absurdities that Gourmet often invoked), techniques that are within the grasp of mere mortals, and results that both work and taste good. Which leads me to the Double-Chocolate Brownies in the April 2010 issue.

The issue’s been with me less than four weeks and I’ve already made them that many times. They’re spectacular, one of the best brownie recipes I’ve used and definitely the easiest. The double whammy consists of bittersweet chocolate and cocoa powder, and the ease comes from whisking all the eggs and dry ingredients directly into the pan containing the melted chocolate and butter. The result comes out of the oven so wonderfully moist that jostling it (by prematurely lifting the parchment out of the pan or, say, um, cutting away a nibble) causes the perfect crust to to crackle with a landscape of canyons. These brownies require patience, though; the true wonder of their taste does not shine through until they’ve cooled completely. One recipient pronounced them so good that he wondered whether eating them behind the wheel constituted driving under the influence.

I can’t link you to the recipe (it’s not on, but I can walk you through a variation I made when the urge for another batch surfaced late yesterday evening. I went into it knowing I was out of bittersweet chocolate, but did I run out to the store? No. Impulsiveness met laziness and improvisation ensued. Semi-sweet morsels and espresso powder made an acceptable substitute for the bittersweet chocolate. Light and dark Kayro syrup were an experiment, when the sugar ran a half a cup short. The changes required more time in the oven and the dark syrup made for a molasses-y punch when the brownies were warm. Once cooled, these have a harder, crunchy crust, top and bottom, satisfyingly strong chocolatey goodness and an ever-so-slight sweet aftertaste. Try these, then run out and buy the issue while it’s still on the stands.

Preheat oven to 350.

Heat in a double boiler (or a pan/bowl over a pan with water):
I stick unsalted butter, cut up
6 oz semi-sweet morsels
1 TBS espresso powder

Remove from burner. Whisk in:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup dark corn syrup (leave out corn syrup if you have 1 1/2 cup sugar on hand)
3 eggs, one at a time
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
sprinkling of salt (target is 1/2 tsp)
1/2 cup plus 2 TBS all-purpose flour

Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper. Pour in batter. Bake 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out close to clean. Let the pan cool about 15 minutes. Lift the parchment from the pan (here’s where the MSL recipe cracks), place it on a wire rack and let it cool completely.