Entries from blogs tagged with “flying fork”

Roasted vegetable pizza a quick dinner solution

Pizza is a fallback dinner at our house. When the cupboard is bare, I can still almost always pull together some sort of pizza-like concoction that pleases everyone and also uses up the random leftovers languishing in my refrigerator.

Pizza, in my mind, doesn't always have to have red sauce and pepperoni. It is basically just a crust that is a vehicle for all manner of toppings and sauces. I had some tomatoes and a few spears of asparagus in my refrigerator, and my friend Lydia had gifted me some shiitake mushrooms her husband grew at his farm, so I wanted to find a way to use all of that up in one delicious meal.

Those veggies didn't sound right with a red sauce and I didn't have any cream cheese lying around for a white sauce, so I grabbed a container of hummus and thought "OK, why not?" It was an excellent choice. Both easy and delicious.

If you haven't had shaved asparagus, you need to try it immediately. Those ribbons get toasty and crisp and bring a burst of freshness to every bite of the pizza. The mushrooms added a "meaty" quality, and roasted tomatoes are like nature's candy. This is lovely combination of textures and flavors and a simple meal that can be put together in just a few minutes, if you have the dough made in advance.

Shaved Asparagus and Roasted Vegetable Pizza

Shaved Asparagus and Roasted Vegetable Pizza by John Young

Shaved Asparagus and Roasted Vegetable Pizza

For the crust
Makes two crusts
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons yeast
2 tablespoons sugar or honey
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cups flour

For the toppings

1 cup hummus
4 stalks of asparagus, shaved
Handful of grape tomatoes, sliced in half
2 large shiitake mushroom caps, sliced
Pinch of kosher salt
Drizzle of olive oil
2 tablespoons crumbled goat cheese or feta

Put the water in the mixing bowl with the yeast and let it proof for a few minutes. Then add the sugar, salt and oil and mix together. Finally, add in the flour and mix. I use the KitchenAid mixer and the dough hook, but it can easily be done by hand.

Remove the dough from the bowl, spread olive oil all around, and then put it back in to rise, covered, for at least an hour.

Prepare your toppings. To shave the asparagus, I first cut off the tips. Then I just lay the stalk on the cutting board and hold the end with one hand while I run a vegetable peeler over it to shave off thin strips. Turn it over and shave the other side down.

When you are ready to make your pizza, preheat your oven to 475 F. Roll out half the dough into one round crust (I like it paper thin) and put it onto an oiled pizza pan. Give it several good pokes with a fork and par bake it for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, pop the vegetables into a casserole dish or cast-iron skillet and put them in the oven to begin cooking while you bake the crust. I put the asparagus tips and the shavings in.

Remove the crust from the oven, cover it with the hummus, top with vegetables. Bake again for about 6 minutes at very high heat.

When it's done, pull it from the oven and sprinkle with a little goat cheese or feta.

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Hasselback potatoes not much hassle at all

Steak night at our house is a big affair and we don't like to mess around. We want all the sides and fixin's, and we like to be a little inventive about it so we don't get bored. Everyone loves a good baked potato, but I'm always looking for ways to make it better, more exciting, and different.

Hasselback potatoes are fun because they create a lot of surface area for crispy goodness and they also happen to look fancy on a plate. For this particular meal, I riffed on them a little. A traditional hasselback would have lots of thin, horizontal slices along the entire "back" of the potato. But for this, I wanted larger spaces because I was going to fill them with compound butter.

So for an average sized potato, I cut about five or six "wedges" out of the top. I wanted to create deep and wide enough spaces to fill with a gooey substance that would make the whole potato infused with buttery goodness.

After cooking, I topped them with a little more of the butter mixture. Crispy, buttery, herby, these are our new favorite thing.

Compound butter-infused Baked Potatoes

Compound butter-infused Baked Potatoes by John Young

Compound butter-infused Baked Potatoes

6 average sized baking potatoes
1 stick of butter, softened
1/2 cup mayo
2 heaping tablespoons minced fresh chives
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
generous pinch of salt

In advance, if possible, mix up your butter mixture. Mix everything together and put in the fridge or freezer. You don't want it frozen solid, but firm is good.

Cut thin "wedges" out of the top of the potato, going as deep into the potato as you can without cutting through it. (I saved these and made them into french fries, which were amazing).

With a knife, insert the mayo/butter mixture well into each slice, and don't worry if it gets all over the top of the potato, that will only add to crunchy and delicious skin.

Bake the potatoes at 425 for about 45 minutes. They need to bake inside a glass baking dish so it catches the butter as it melts. Your potatoes will then reap the benefit of the butter that spills out as well as the butter that stays inside. And you won't have a smoky mess all over your stove's heating element.

I slathered a little more of the butter/mayo mix on top before serving. No, this is not particularly healthy food. It's a treat, and it's special. And we only have steak night once a month.

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Roasted corn and jalapeno salsa for a taste of summer

Summer is almost here, and I'm starting to seek out the tastes and colors of warm weather.

Winter food tends to be full of browns and oranges, and while those things represent deliciousness like roast beef and pumpkin pie, as summer approaches I start seeking colorful and vibrant food — food that is joyful and spicy and fresh and crisp.

In a fit of desire for something fresh with kick, I made up a little corn salsa, which I have been eating for lunch every day with a few chips and an avocado on the side. I considered putting the avocado in the salsa, but then it would give the salsa a shorter shelf life. So I just slice it and pile it on the chips and spoon the salsa over everything. And that is the perfect lunch, in my book.

I love Chipotle's corn salsa, and while I don't claim that this is even remotely the same, I did begin with that amazing stuff in mind. Consider this a spicy distant cousin.

I love the flavor of roasted corn. In season, you can just shuck a few ears and toss them on the grill next to your burgers and rotate so that each side gets a little bit toasty and blackened. But because it's not quite sweet corn time, I just started with frozen corn and dry roasted it in my cast-iron skillet, which is a decent substitute.

Roasted Corn and Jalapeno Salsa

Roasted Corn and Jalapeno Salsa by Nick Krug

Roasted Corn and Jalapeno Salsa

Ingredients

2 cups frozen corn
1 Roma tomato
1 fresh jalapeno
1/4 cup diced onion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of one lime
Dash of green hot sauce (in my book, El Yucateco Salsa Picante de Chile Habanero is the only choice)

Directions

Heat your cast-iron skillet over high heat and toss in the corn. You want a single layer. While it begins to roast, start chopping the tomato, jalapeno, onion and cilantro. The key here is to dice everything as close to uniform size as you can.

Leave the corn in the pan and resist the urge to stir it for about 4 minutes or until it starts to blacken. Then give it a good stir and roast the other sides a bit.

Remove it from the heat and put it in the fridge or freezer to cool off. The heat will wilt the cilantro otherwise. When it's cool, combine everything and squeeze the lime juice over the top. A dash of that amazing green sauce is the big finish.

This is great on nachos, or as a topping for a rice and black bean bowl, or inside a big burrito. But for me, it's a meal in itself. And it tastes like summer, which is a really welcome change.

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Breakfast bagel sandwiches for boys and girls

The Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence hosts a breakfast at their Teen Center every Wednesday morning. Did you know that? It's free. FREE BREAKFAST.

Different supporters of the club come in and cook special things, and the community is invited to come hang out, visit, network and learn about the Club if they're interested.

I jumped at the chance to guest cook at one, because: A) Bacon, and B) Awesome cause. I knew that cooking breakfast for 50 wasn't a super simple feat, so I thought hard about what would be doable, yet delicious, and worthy of the event. I decided that breakfast sandwiches would be great because they're portable for those in a hurry, easy to make to order, and well, bacon.

My recipe for 50 can easily be scaled back or even made larger, depending on the size of your party, but I will definitely be making these again when I have house guests or an event to host.

Here is enough for 12 sandwiches, but scale down or up as needed.

The Perfect Bagel Sandwich

The Perfect Bagel Sandwich by Mike Yoder

The Perfect Bagel Sandwich
12 bagels, toasted
12 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 red peppers
1/4 cup minced chives
12-ish strips of bacon (more is always good)
1/2 cup good maple syrup
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Sauces and smears are always nice, so I made two for this occasion.

Herbed Cream Cheese Spread
1/2 cup cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup mayo
1/4 cup chives
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon onion powder

Mix well and chill before serving.

Maple Sriracha Mustard
1/2 cup yellow mustard
1 tablespoon Sriracha
2 tablespoons good maple syrup

Mix and serve.

If you have a lot of bagels to toast, a simple way to do it quickly is to slice them open, lay them face up on a baking sheet, spray them with cooking spray, and pop them under the broiler for a minute to brown. Otherwise, just use your trusty toaster.

Crack all of your eggs into a bowl, add the salt, pepper and garlic powder, and then add in finely chopped red pepper and minced chives.

Whisk together thoroughly.

Prepare a 9-by-12 casserole with a thorough coating of cooking spray, and pour in the egg mixture.

Bake at 375 F for about 20 minutes. When it's almost set up, sprinkle cheese on top and bake another 5. The edges should start to pull away from the sides, and the center should be set. Watch closely so you don't over or undercook.

For the bacon, just lay the strips on a broiler pan or put a baking rack on top of a cookie sheet. Bake at 375 F (can do with the eggs or before) for about 20 minutes, remove, coat with syrup, and bake again for 5 minutes until cooked but not too crispy.

Just cut the eggs into 12 slices, pop onto the bagel, top with a strip of bacon cut in half, and wrap in foil to retain heat. Let your guests decide how to garnish. A little arugula, some mustard or cream cheese, and a lot of love make these a great treat for a crowd.

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Ballard Banana Pops a good sweet treat

Feeding kids is a huge challenge. They are picky, messy and prone to preferring preservatives and artificial color over fiber and vitamins.

At the Ballard Center, where I work, this is a daily task. We try to feed the children healthy things, but we also don't want hungry kids running around all day because they refused to eat a quinoa salad full of kale for lunch.

Snack time can be a particular problem, because in kid world, snack usually = cookies, crackers or other homogenized convenience foods. In an effort to keep our sanity and also provide healthful options, we look to things that look fun but also provide actual nutrition over just full bellies.

Bananas are fantastic kid snacks. They are self contained, require no silverware (bonus: no dish washing!), and are chock full of good stuff like potassium and fiber and lots of vitamins. But bananas alone are fairly boring, so we try to dress them up. Kids love things that look like Popsicles or that come on sticks, and pretzels are a fairly good option for that. So banana pops often grace our snack tables in the afternoon.

They can be done lots of ways, but a kid-approved favorite is the granola pop. They love the crunch and the sweet and they're super easy for our amazing cook, Miss Julie, to put together.

Banana Pops

Banana Pops by Nick Krug

Ballard Banana Pops

2 bananas, cut into six pieces

1 cup granola (we like to mix in raisins)

1 cup jelly or fruit preserves (try to get naturally sweetened — costs more but worth it)

12 pretzel sticks

Cut the bananas into sections. With a spoon, smear about a tablespoon of preserves on one end of the banana, and dunk the sticky end into a bowl of granola. Sit the banana on the granola end, and pop a pretzel stick in the top.

Serve immediately. Bananas brown quickly and the pretzel sticks will get mushy inside the banana over time, so this is a make-and-eat treat. Kids love them and we all can feel good about ourselves for serving a sweet treat that came mostly from nature.

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Albondigas for Monday Tapas

Meatball Monday is a "thing" at our house. I don't do it every Monday, but I do it regularly enough that I like to try to change things up so as to avoid a meatball slump.

In an effort to be mindful of our health, I try to use leaner meats for meatballs and stay away from beef, delicious as it is. This time, I did a combination of ground turkey and ground pork, and with the addition of a little goat cheese and some flavorful ingredients, some really tasty meatballs were born — with a fraction of the fat and calories.

I wanted to do these meatballs "tapas" style, which means a Spanish twist and served sans pasta, called "albondigas" in Spain. They are a treat unto themselves and not just a sideshow to spaghetti.

Simmering them in a rich sauce only adds depth to meatballs, and this sauce brings a lot of flavor to the party. Saltiness from olives and freshness from grape tomatoes makes this a nice departure from a traditional marinara-soaked meatball.

"Albondigas" meatballs

"Albondigas" meatballs by John Young

Albondigas For the meatballs

1 lb ground turkey
1 lb ground pork (as lean as you can get)
1 cup panko bread crumbs
2 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled
Cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire
2 cloves garlic, minced
Chopped flat leaf parsley, about 1/4 cup

For the sauce

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup sliced olives (I used black for this but green Spanish olives would be nice too)
1 can petite diced tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cracked black pepper

Mix all the meat ingredients together with your hands until thoroughly incorporated. Form into balls about the size of a golf ball.

Meanwhile, start your sauce. Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven and drop in the garlic to begin sauteeing. Add the fresh and canned tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients, put the lid on, and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.

For the meatballs, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan (I use cast iron) and brown them on all sides thoroughly. As they finish browning, drop them in the sauce to simmer and continue to cook through. Put the lid on and simmer for 20 minutes.

Serve with good bread, Spanish green beans and a glass of sangria!

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Rustic beet panzanella

If you have never had Limestone Pizza's Warm Beet and White Bean Salad, you should rectify that immediately.

It is a beautiful winter salad that I would happily eat any time of year. It's vibrant in taste and color, and it's filling, so the name "salad" hardly does it justice. It's more of a "dish."

I went in to Limestone recently to have said salad, and it was already gone for the day. This is no surprise. If you have had the salad, you understand why it was sold out. But I was unable to sate myself with just the pizza, and continued to think about the beets all day long, until I simply had to go home and make something similar for myself.

I would never claim to have replicated Limestone's recipe. In fact, rather than try and be disappointed, I just made up a whole new salad that I hoped would suffice in the stead of Limestone's original.

I thought about the things that I find important, like texture, acid, sweetness and substance. I came out thinking that the best thing I could do would be make a beet panzanella, and that is just what I did.

Sweetness from apples and honey, the pucker of balsamic, earthiness of beets and spinach, the salty goodness of bacon, and crunch from sunflower seeds all appealed to me, mixed in with the heartiness of a rustic loaf. What is missing? I daresay nothing.

Rustic Beet Panzanella Salad

4 medium-sized beets
1 tablespoon olive oil
Dash of salt
3 strips bacon
3 cups baby spinach leaves
1/2 rustic baguette, cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons herbed goat cheese
1 gala apple

For the dressing
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/8 teaspoon basil leaves
Dash of onion powder
Dash of garlic powder
Salt and pepper

Shake the dressing together in a jar with the lid screwed tightly on.

Heat the oven to 400 F. Cut the stalks off the beets and chop them into slices.

Roast them in olive oil and salt for 30 minutes. Fry the bacon and chop into small pieces.

Meanwhile, assemble the rest of your salad. Add spinach leaves, diced apple chunks, hunks of goat cheese and the bread pieces.

Top with beets, drizzle healthily with the dressing. Serve immediately.

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Mustard, mashed potatoes and March Madness

March is a very special month in Lawrence, and I'm not just talking about basketball. The venerable Free State Brewing Co. also hosts its annual March Mustard Madness event wherein hundreds of different kinds of mustard are trucked in and trotted out to your table to sample in myriad ways. It is the most wonderful time of the year.

In honor of this month of madness, I bought myself an expensive jar of horseradish mustard, and have been doling it out at every opportunity. For me, all mustard is really good, but hot mustard is a thing of beauty.

My kids love mashed potatoes as much or more than they love me, so I make them often, since at this point I am happy if they eat anything at all, no matter if it is all carbs all the time.

In order to make the mashed potatoes more exciting and even a little more healthy I experimented with doing them in the slow-cooker, and found excellent results. I was able to forgo the usual butter/sour cream/mayo routine that usually makes my mashers so amazing and use some chicken stock and the horseradish mustard (and, OK, a little butter), and it resulted in creamy, flavor-packed potatoes. For the kids portions, I skipped the spicy mustard, but for me, it was all about that kick.

Spicy Mustard Mashed Potatoes

Spicy Mustard Mashed Potatoes by John Young

Spicy Mustard Mashed Potatoes Ingredients 6 good-sized Yukon Gold potatoes (it's important to use Yukons for this) 2 cups chicken broth Water to cover 4 garlic cloves Salt and pepper Bacon crumbles 3 green onions 1/2 cup horseradish mustard 4 tablespoons butter

Directions Dice the potatoes (no need to peel unless you just prefer it, but Yukon peels are very good and not tough like russets) and put them in the slow-cooker, and pour the chicken broth and water over. Drop in the garlic cloves and salt and pepper the liquid amply.

Cook 6 to 8 hours on high.

Then remove the potatoes and retain about a cup of the broth. If you have a stick blender this is a good application for it, but I just used my hand masher right in the slow cooker crock.

Put the potatoes in the crock, add the butter, mustard and more salt and pepper. A dash of garlic powder is good here too. Mash everything, adding cooking liquid back in as needed to get your desired consistency.

Mix in bacon bits and chopped green onions. You'll never want normal mashed potatoes again.

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Sesame steak rice bowls a quick, nutritious lunch or dinner

I make rice bowls regularly because they come together quickly and can really utilize whatever ingredients are waiting in your refrigerator or pantry.

Chicken, steak, shrimp, pork — all work in a rice bowl. Or you can forgo the meat altogether and make a really tasty vegetarian dish with some black beans or tofu.

I usually do these dishes with either an Asian or a Mexican flavor palette, and generally they are low in fat and fresh, which is very appealing when you consider how quickly they can be made.

For this, I wanted a nod to Korean flavors, so I included sesame and chili powder to kick it up.

I started with a few small steaks I'd purchased on sale in a family pack and divided. For four healthy servings, you probably need about 12 to 16 ounces of steak; it's not about large portions of anything, but more about balancing several flavors in one bowl.

Korean Sesame Steak Rice Bowl

Korean Sesame Steak Rice Bowl by Nick Krug

Korean Sesame Steak and Rice Bowl

12- to 16-ounce steak (skirt steak will do, or any smaller/thinner steak)
1 red bell pepper, cut in strips
2 cups sugar snap peas
1 cup onion, cut in strips
1 tablespoons good chili powder
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup uncooked jasmine rice
Fresh cilantro and Sriracha for garnish
Fried eggs, optional

First, cook your rice. I like to toast the rice in a little butter before I add the water and bring it all to a low boil together. This process makes for a little more piece-y rice, but less sticky.

Meanwhile, in a skillet (I recommend cast-iron), heat a tablespoon of sesame oil over medium heat and add the peppers and onions, stirring so they darken on both sides. After about 5 minutes, add the snap peas, soy sauce and minced garlic, and continue to saute until everything is softened. Salt and pepper to taste. Just before you remove it from the heat, add a teaspoon of sesame seeds and toast just a little.

Rub the steaks on both sides with salt, chili powder and black pepper.

Remove the vegetables from that skillet, or start another with a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of sesame oil. Bring the skillet to very high heat, and then add the steaks. Cook for 2 minutes on each side to get a good sear, and then transfer the skillet to a 250 F oven for about 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the steaks and your desired finished temperature. I like mine medium rare, so 5 minutes was plenty for my small steaks.

Slice the steaks up into strips and arrange your bowls. Start with rice, then vegetables, then layer on a few strips of steak. Garnish with some fresh cilantro, a dash of Sriracha, and a few more sesame seeds. If you are really ambitious, fry an egg to go on top.

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Girl Scout Cookie Pie

We all love Girl Scout cookies, right? So this is a wonderful time of year when sweet shining faces appear at our doors with boxes of goodness wrapped in community love.

I have some friends who work for the Girl Scouts, and they had the great idea to use some cookies in a recipe, rather than sitting down and eating the entire box in one sitting, which is my usual game plan. I decided their plan had merit, and went to work creating a dessert worthy of the cookies.

Historically, my favorite cookies were called Do Si Do's, but they're now called Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies, which I guess is a lot more descriptive. Anyway, I had three boxes of these beauties and knew I'd start with them.

Graham cracker crusts are easy and virtually fool-proof, and Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies will make a crumbly crust just like graham crackers, and so an idea was born. I considered my options and couldn't decide between pie and parfaits, so I made both. Same ingredients, different application.

Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies are not the only peanut butter cookie the Girl Scouts produce. There is also the amazing Tagalong, now known as the Peanut Butter Patty. I happened to have a box of those as well, so I decided to work them into the mix because nothing goes better with peanut butter than chocolate.

Girl Scout Cookie Pies and Parfait

Girl Scout Cookie Pies and Parfait by John Young

Girl Scout Cookie Pie and Parfait

For the crust:
2 sleeves of Peanut Butter Sandwich cookies
4 tablespoons melted butter

Run the cookies through the food processor until they're well-pulverized into a sandy texture. Then add the butter and pulse a few times to combine until the mixture clumps together.

Preheat your oven to 350 F. I used individual tartlet pans but this recipe will make an 8-inch pie and then some. Press into the bottom of the pie pan(s) and bake for about 10 minutes until the crust gets more solid and starts to brown just a tiny bit.

For the filling
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 cups confectioner's sugar
5 Peanut Butter Patties, broken into pieces
1 cup maple whipped cream (recipe below)

In a bowl, combine the cream cheese, peanut butter and confectioner's sugar, and mix on medium speed to combine thoroughly.

Fold in the whipped cream and cookie pieces. Set aside.

For the maple whipped cream
1/8 teaspoon maple flavoring (extract)
1 pint whipping cream

Whip on medium speed until soft peaks form.

For pies or tarts, let the crust cool and then load in the filling. Top with extra Peanut Butter Patties, a little of the graham cracker mixture, peanuts and a dollop of maple whipped cream.

For parfaits, there is no need to heat the oven. Just load some of the graham cracker mixture into the bottom of the glass, and layer in filling, cookies, peanuts and finish with a little of everything on top.

These certainly dress up the peanut butter cookies, though they really need no added glory; they are marvelous on their own. But since this is easy to make and requires little to no baking, it is fun to assemble with children and is a real hit with grown-ups and kids alike.

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Curried roasted chicken salad

A roasted chicken is a thing of beauty. It is so simple to prepare and can provide several meals for a small family with minimal fuss. Also, there is the added bonus of a carcass for later stock-making.

I roast a chicken several times a month and usually serve it as-is the first night, and then use the meat in different incarnations as the week wears on. Tacos, casseroles and salads all come together quickly with leftover chicken and are much nicer than other quick weeknight meals that might use prepackaged ingredients.

This week, I used the last of my roasted chicken to make chicken salad. Chicken salad is wonderful because it is sort of a “kitchen sink” meal that can make use of all manner of odds and ends that need to be used up. I love to put curry on chicken salad and really rev up the flavor. Other key components of a good chicken salad, for me, are “the crunch” and “the sweet.”

Sometimes the crunch comes from celery or other vegetables, and usually the sweet comes from apples or dried cranberries, but for this week’s dish I changed it up and used water chestnuts and almonds alongside sweet purple grapes for a really interesting and easy meal.

Usually I serve chicken salad over a bed of lettuce to keep the carb count low, but this time I was lucky to have been given some lovely microgreens from Shane Barnard, a local organic grower.

The greens I used for this were a combination of peas, radishes, sunflowers and cress. They bring an extra-fresh flavor and good texture to an otherwise creamy dish, and provide a super-pack of vitamins over their full-grown parents.

Curried Chicken Salad Over Microgreens

Curried Chicken Salad Over Microgreens by John Young

Curried Chicken Salad Over Microgreens

Ingredients

3 cups diced chicken

2 teaspoons yellow curry

1/4 cup sliced water chestnuts

1/2 cup grapes, halved

1/4 cup slivered almonds

1/2 cup olive oil mayonnaise

1/3 cup sour cream

Dash of garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Just stir all of the ingredients together. Chill overnight if you have the time; it will marry the flavors and result in a much tastier dish.

Serve over a blend of microgreens for extra health benefits.

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Penne a la Bacon

Cooking weeknight dinners can be tricky when time is an issue. Often, meals get plugged in between sports practices, baths, homework and chores. In order to handle the "no time for dinner prep" evenings, it's good to have a few stand-by ingredients on hand.

In my house, bacon and shrimp are two of those standards. They are great proteins because neither require hours of thawing time (excellent for those of us who struggle to plan ahead on busy days), they cook quickly and people love them.

I am also not afraid to open a jar of pasta sauce, though I vastly prefer homemade "Sunday gravy." But let's face it; simmering sauce on the stove for hours on a Wednesday night isn't always possible. Permission to open a jar is a gift we give ourselves from time to time.

This meal can be pulled together in about 20 minutes, which makes it a spectacular weeknight feature. Also, everyone loves bacon.

Bacon and shrimp penne with tomato cream sauce

Bacon and shrimp penne with tomato cream sauce by John Young

Bacon and Shrimp Penne with Tomato Cream Sauce

For the sauce
2 cups marinara sauce (homemade or jar)
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk or half and half
2 teaspoons basil
Pinch of salt

For the toppings
5 strips of bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound shrimp, thawed and peeled (I used 35-45 count medium-sized shrimp)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Dash of cayenne pepper

Penne pasta, boiled in salty water to al dente
Blue cheese crumbles for finishing

Directions
Set your water on to boil, and heat a skillet with the bacon pieces. Meanwhile, peel your shrimp and set aside until the bacon is about half-cooked.

Cook your pasta to al dente in salty water, about 12 minutes.

Warm the marinara over medium heat, and add the sour cream and milk (or half and half) along with the seasonings and simmer over low heat until ready to serve.

Pour all but a tablespoon of the bacon grease out of the pan and add the shrimp and seasonings to the skillet. Saute for about 5 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked through.

Drain the pasta and return it to the pan. Add the sauce and toss to coat. Serve pasta topped with the bacon/shrimp mix and dust with blue cheese crumbles.

Serve hot with crusty bread.

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Pulled pork arepas

Recently, a friend suggested I write about arepas, and I realized I'd completely forgotten about the easiest way to pull together a complete meal in minutes. I hadn't made arepas since college, when they were a standard way to quickly and inexpensively serve dinner to a guest or four.

Arepas are originally from Colombia and Venezuela, and are a simple daily bread that can be stuffed with limitless fillings, though traditionally one might find plantains, shredded beef and black beans. Today, though, they are an excellent basis for any number of flavors and stuffings.

I am partial to pulled pork arepas with varied garnishes or variations. Slaw, black beans, even potatoes can be added to a savory pulled pork to make aripas an easy but fun meal for family or company. Of course, almost anything can be put inside the little corn pocket. Sometimes, I whip them up for breakfast and fill them with egg, avocado and salsa. Or just adding cheese and ham make a nice departure from a grilled cheese sandwich.

For this recipe, I incorporated a bottle of hard cider, because the idea of the mild sweetness with the savory flavors in the rest of the marinade appealed to me. But, in the absence of hard cider, apple cider vinegar can be substituted in lesser quantity.

Pulled pork arepas

Pulled pork arepas by Richard Gwin

Pulled Pork Arepas
1 3-4 pound pork roast
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
1 bottle hard cider (or 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup roughly chopped onion
Water, to fill

Put the pork roast in a slow cooker and cover with the other ingredients. Pour water in to fill to an appropriate line (not completely over the pork but almost to the top).

Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.

For the arepas
6 cups arepa flour (precooked corn flour) 4 cups warm water
2 tablespoons melted shortening
1 tablespoon salt

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Pour in the water and slowly incorporate into the flour mixture. Once it is completely dampened, pour in the melted shortening and stir to combine well.

Cover the dough with a towel for 10 minutes and let it rest.

Then, make the dough into "patties" much like you would a hamburger. Meanwhile, heat some oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, and fry the patties on each side for about 2 1/2 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Transfer the patties to a cookie sheet as they are browned, and then move them to the stove for about 12 minutes, until cooked through.

Enjoy finding interesting and new things to fill your arepas with. They're fun for a dinner party with a "fillings bar" and cost almost nothing to make. Perfect with a rum drink like a Cuba libre.

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White chicken enchiladas

Enchiladas can take on any form, and there's rarely one that isn't absolutely delicious. If you're interested in moving away from canned sauces, there are many simple ways to create a restaurant-quality enchilada that comes from basic ingredients and some rudimentary know-how.

White enchiladas are a nice departure from the traditional, and can be made with ingredients that are likely to already be in standard pantry stock. Some milk, flour, chicken, stock and vegetables are almost all you need to create a lovely and even somewhat-healthy dinner.

For these, I made a light cream sauce and employed a jar of green salsa for flavor, and added some spinach for fiber and color. A few bits of jalapeno add flavor and kick, but not so much that my kids can't eat them for fear of heat.

Spinach and Chicken Enchiladas

Spinach and Chicken Enchiladas by John Young

White Chicken and Spinach Enchiladas
For the filling
3 large chicken breasts
1 jalapeno, minced
1/2 cup salsa verde
2 cups fresh spinach leaves, stems removed
Salt and pepper

For the sauce
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash of pepper

Toppings
1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack cheese
1 jalapeno, minced
Salsa verde as needed

Wraps can be flour or corn tortillas, though for this application I prefer flour.

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Bring water to boil in a good-sized pot and cook your chicken. When it's done, shred it and throw on a little salt and pepper. I shred mine with my standup mixer with the paddle attachment but you can do with forks or however it's easiest for you.

Meanwhile, make your sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan and whisk in the flour. Slowly add the chicken broth, whisking constantly. Add the sour cream, milk and spices, and bring to a low boil to thicken, stirring often. This should not get too thick because you will want to dip your tortillas in it, and if it's too thick, too much will cling. Thin with more milk if necessary.

Combine your chicken with the jalapeno and salsa verde in a bowl and set aside.

I make enchiladas in an assembly line. Get out a casserole dish, and assemble. Dip the tortilla in the cream sauce, lay it in the pan, fill with about 1/3 cup chicken filling, layer on several spinach leaves, and roll up with the seam down. Repeat. This will make about 8 enchiladas if you use medium-sized tortillas.

When they are all rolled, cover them with shredded cheese and bake until the cheese is starting to brown and bubble, about 20 minutes. Top with some more chopped jalapenos and some salsa verde, and serve.

You can add sauteed vegetables like squash or bell peppers to this, and of course heat it up with extra jalapenos, spicy salsa or hot sauce for those who prefer it.

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Italian roast beef hoagies

Surprisingly, cooking a roast can be very intimidating. One would think that as the standard Sunday dinner fare, it would be a simple "anyone can do it" sort of thing, but cooking a roast requires some basic information and a little bit of know-how. They're rather easy to ruin.

There are many different kinds of roasts, depending on the cut. The kind of roast will determine the cooking method, whether it be low-and-slow roasting, braising, searing and cooking quickly, or even grilling. Yes, you can grill a roast to great results.

A nicer cut of roast will do well to be seared in a very hot pan and then transferred to the oven to roast at a low temperature for a longer period of time. I do not advocate cooking a nice roast to well-done under any circumstances, but to each his or her own on that, I guess.

A cheaper roast is usually best done low and slow, preferably in liquid, which is what we call braising. It can be done on the stovetop, in the oven, or in a slow cooker. I love a slow cooker for its efficiency and convenience, so that is what I usually choose when I have a lower-quality cut of beef to turn into a beautiful meal.

Always cut beef against the grain, and for the less-expensive cuts, thinner is better. This means, to me, that a slow-cooked roast is perfection for a nice, hot sandwich, and who doesn't love a good roast beef sandwich?

Italian roast beef hoagies

Italian roast beef hoagies by Richard Gwin

Italian Beef Hoagies

3 lb roast — chuck, Pike's Peak, etc.
1 box beef or chicken broth — either is OK
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt
Cracked black pepper
2 teaspoons dried basil
5 cloves garlic, whole
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
6 large strips of jarred roasted red peppers
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Fresh basil
Mayonnaise
Butter (for toasting the bun)
6 hoagie rolls

Coat the roast on both sides with kosher salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil over high heat in a skillet and sear all sides until well-browned.

Into the slow cooker, pour the box of broth, and place the roast in. Add the basil, garlic, fennel and the extra salt and some extra pepper

Cook on low for 8 hours, or high for 4 hours.

Butter the buns and toast over medium heat in a skillet until lightly browned. This textural element is important.

Assemble your sandwiches. Slice the beef thinly against the grain (an electric knife is excellent for this). Pile it onto the roll generously, and top with mozzarella, a slice of roasted red pepper, a few fresh basil leaves, and a light smear of mayo on the top bun.

If you like, serve a bit of the cooking liquid on the side, for dipping.

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Community pot paella

Paella is a Spanish dish that traditionally consists of rice, rabbit, chicken and vegetables. In recent, years, though, a more "Americanized" version has emerged, and paella has become a sort of "catch-all" dish for proteins and vegetables of many sorts.

Traditional paella is cooked over an open fire of pine needles, but in their absence, a large skillet or a paella pan on the stovetop will suffice.

The key is to get a crisp bottom and to infuse the flavors slowly.

This paella lacks shellfish, which is a common "modern" ingredient, but makes up for it in the rich and smoky flavors of chorizo, prosciutto and roasted peppers. It's a beautifully colorful dish that is inexpensive to make (save for saffron threads, which are expensive but only necessary in very small amounts).

Party Paella for the Shellfish Intolerant

Party Paella for the Shellfish Intolerant by John Young

Party Paella for the Shellfish Intolerant
6 boneless chicken thighs, cut in half
8 oz pork chorizo
1/2 cup sliced prosciutto
3 cups rice (Arborio or short grain)
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup peas
3 roasted bell peppers, sliced
4 large garlic cloves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 can diced tomatoes
Salt and pepper

In a large saucepan, heat the chicken broth and saffron threads, but do not boil. Keep at a simmer over low heat.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and brown the chicken on both sides for about 2 minutes. Remove and set aside. In the same skillet, add the chorizo and heat through. Remove and set aside. In the left-behind oil, toss in the prosciutto and saute for about a minute. Remove and set aside.

Next, add garlic, tomatoes, roasted peppers and raise the heat. Add in the rice and stir to coat, about 2 minutes. Next, add the chicken broth/saffron mixture, stir to combine well, and add in the frozen peas. Put a lid on the skillet, reduce heat and simmer. Stir often.

As the rice cooks, allow a bit of a crust to form toward the end of the cooking process.

Serve with Spanish olives, good bread, and a green salad. It's a simple, hearty meal big enough for a crowd.

Serves 8.

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‘Marry Me’ Thai chicken soup

My friends and I all agree that it's important to have a "Marry Me" meal in our cooking repertoires. For Kiley, it's a chicken-fried steak/mashed potato/Brookville corn situation. For me, at least as far as I know, it was manicotti that brought my husband to the alter all those years ago. For Amber, it's Thai chicken soup.

Amber is so certain of the husband-catching qualities of this soup, I had to go ahead and try to make some for myself. Not because I'm in the business of catching husbands, but because if it is good enough for the eligible bachelors of Lawrence, it must be good enough for me.

I'm not sure if this is just like Amber's recipe, but it includes a lot of things I love. Also, it's a slow-cooker recipe, which Amber and I both love. And it's full of spicy, lime-y, cilantro-y goodness, which are all things that are directly in my wheelhouse.

It requires a bit of chopping, but beyond that it's a fantastic one-pot meal good enough for company and this makes it an extremely attractive main dish.

Thai chicken soup

Thai chicken soup by John Young

Easy Thai Chicken Soup
2 tablespoons panang curry (or whatever you like)
2 cans coconut milk (I use light)
2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons peanut butter
4 large chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces (or if you prefer dark meat, do 6 or 7 thighs)
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 onion, sliced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1/2 cup shredded carrots (you can buy them pre-shredded in the bag; I recommend)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon chili garlic paste
1 cup frozen peas
1 fresh lime
Cilantro for garnish
Cooked white rice (I like jasmine for this)
Spicy stuff as needed — I like to jazz mine up with Sriracha

Mix the wet ingredients and spices together in the slow cooker bowl. Add the chicken and vegetables and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 6 to 7.

Serve over rice and garnish with lime, cilantro, and additional hot stuff.

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Tomato soup brings a little summer to December

Last summer, when my tomato plants were rife with fruit, I followed a friend's advice and blanched and peeled about a bushel to freeze. Canning, it turns out, is a bit fussy for me. I can toss some stuff in a freezer bag like nobody's business though. And then I promptly forgot about the beauties in the back of the refrigerator in the garage.

But as the cold snap came upon us, my desire for soup grew, and I reached into the cabinet for a can of Campbell's Tomato Soup. (It's not bad in a pinch, OK?) But suddenly the bags of frozen beauties downstairs cried out to me, "BUT WHAT ABOUT US!?" Oh yes, my friends, a perfect frozen tomato application, at the perfect time of year.

I always think of tomato soup as Christmas-y food. Maybe it's just a color scheme thing, what with the rosy color and the bits of green basil. But it's a great thing for a crowd because it's easy to make a lot, and who doesn't love a grilled cheese sandwich?

It's nice to have on hand for the day after the big event, or for when everyone has grown tired of leftover ham and turkey. It can be made ahead and frozen to great results, and frozen tomatoes from the garden make it even a little more special.

My tomato soup is so very simple, which is another reason I am so fond of it. It's no fuss and always a hit.

Simple Tomato Soup

Simple Tomato Soup by John Young

Megan's Simple Tomato Soup
1 large can (46 oz) V8 juice
10 whole tomatoes, peeled and cored (about enough to fill a 1-gallon freezer bag, whole)
2 cups half and half
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon vegetable base (I like Better Than Bullion brand)
1/4 cup white onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
6 or 7 large basil leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Begin by sauteeing the chopped onion and the minced garlic in the olive oil. When they are softened but not brown, add the tomato/vegetable juice and the tomatoes (frozen is fine — no need to defrost if they are just out of the freezer).

Let that simmer until the tomatoes are warm and beginning to break down in the tomato juice.

Add the vegetable base, lemon juice, salt, pepper and cayenne, and simmer for 20 minutes. Finally, add half of the basil, chopped, and the half and half. With an immersion blender, puree until smooth.

Serve with another sprinkling of basil on top, and next to a perfectly browned, oppey-gooey grilled cheese sandwich. Prepare to be loved.

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Mac and cheese with a secret ingredient

I got really inspired by the sweet potato fries I made last week, and I've been rocking the sweet potatoes ever since. I have to be careful, though, because my sweet potato-hating family will not go for obvious recipes, and I hate most sweet recipes anyway, so I shy away from things that have syrup or marshmallows or other sweeteners.

On Monday night I had a sick kid and not much time to cook, but I wanted to have a nice amount of food in the fridge if I or a sitter were going to have to stay home with him, so a big pan of oven mac and cheese sounded like an easy and appropriate solution.

As I started the water boiling, I spied a couple of sweet potatoes lounging in the produce bowl, and thought, "Why not?" I am here to tell you: There is no reason why not. To be honest, I didn't tell anyone it was in there, and no one noticed. So yeah, here's a way to hide some vitamins and fiber in that gooey mac and cheese, and then we all feel a little better about the whole thing.

Hidden Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese

Hidden Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese by John Young

Hidden Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese
1 box elbow macaroni
1 large block cheddar cheese, cut into cubes (about 2 cups)
1 cup cheese of your choice (I used mozzarella)
1/2 stick butter, cut into cubes
3 eggs
2/3 cup milk
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
Salt and pepper

Boil and drain your macaroni. I reserved the hot water and boiled the sweet potatoes in it. Cut your cheese into 1 1/2 inch cubes and set aside.

When the the sweet potato pieces are cooked through, mash them with a potato masher. In a large bowl, mix them together with the noodles and toss in the cheese and butter as well. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Pour it into the potato/cheese/noodle mixture, and salt and pepper fairly liberally.

Move it all to a 9 x 13 casserole pan and bake at 350 F until it's melty and a little brown and crispy on top, about 25 minutes.

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Cheesy gougeres for Thanksgiving gorging

One thing I do love about Thanksgiving is the bread. There is always a steaming pile of amazing dinner rolls, a crusty loaf, some baguette — whatever, I love it. I think I have come to love bread even more since I have made a long-term attempt to curb my carbs.

But on Thanksgiving, I splurge, I eat bread with butter and cranberry sauce and I don't even pretend to care.

In the world of bread, there is nothing I don't love. But in an effort to keep it fresh and exciting, this year, I bring you gougeres.

These cheesy little treats can be made large enough for dinner or small like a little appetizer, and either way, your family and guests will be knocked over.

They seem fancy and even have a fancy name, but you can make them quite simply with ingredients you always have on hand. Dress them up or down with fancier cheeses or plain old cheddar — no matter, they're still great.

Cheesy Thanksgiving Gougeres

1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup cheddar (or bleu, or Grueyere, or whatever you have)

Preheat your oven to 375 F.

Mix the first five ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a low boil. Gradually add in the flour until it forms a ball. If you have ever made cream puffs, this looks much the same.

Whisk your eggs in a separate bowl. Reserve a little for use later (maybe 2 tablespoons), and then gradually add the eggs to the flour mixture until it is all incorporated.

Add in your cheese. The dough will be wet and sticky — this is a good thing.

Drop them in heaping tablespoonfuls onto a lined baking sheet. This is a good application for a silpat if you have one. Brush tops with remaining egg.

Bake for 25 minutes or until they begin to brown.

These are wonderful also because you can do them ahead of time and freeze, though piping hot and fresh from the oven is always desirable.

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