Pumpkin Seed Brittle (This One’s Dairy-Free!)

Our pumpkin collection now numbers eleven. We carved one (the girls named him “Gourdy”…). We shellacked another five during a handful of “paint your own pumpkin” events — two of our more spectacular specimens were decorated with glue and pink sparkles. And five of them are the cute Jack Be Littles that are only 50-cents-a-piece at the farmer’s market. Who, after all, can say “no” to a three-year-old who begins naming them after family members?

Gourdy gets a kiss or two

Gourdy gets a kiss or two

Painting our pumpkins...and ourselves

Painting our pumpkins…and ourselves

We made a great batch of toasted pumpkin seeds (thank you, Gourdy) that, for once, I didn’t burn. And after we polished those off I began dreaming even more ardently of pumpkin seeds. Specifically, green hulled pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, those meaty little gems that turn up in Mexican molé sauces and few other places north of the border. Our Whole Foods Market sells them by the bag and they are a nice foil to the crunchy ones with the shells on that you toast yourself.

Shelled, aka hulled, pumpkin seeds

Shelled, aka hulled, pumpkin seeds

And since I couldn’t leave good enough alone I started to experiment a little bit. One thing led to another and now we have a sweet, crunchy tray of pumpkin seed brittle that we’ll be enjoying on Halloween. This version is dairy-free since we’ll be sharing it with lactose-intolerant friends, replacing the regular butter that goes into a brittle candy with a butter substitute. I started with a Pumpkin-Seed Brittle recipe on Martha Stewart’s web site (though it uses butter) and made a couple of changes to suite our needs and tastes.

It's addicting - pumpkin seed brittle

It’s addictive – pumpkin seed brittle

I should probably caution that this is a recipe your kids may want to make with you, but since it involves boiling sugar I strongly caution that you keep them away from the finished brittle until it has hardened. Have them mix the pumpkin seeds with the spices, but leave the rest of the cooking and pouring to an adult. Also, rumor has it that you can use those toasted, un-hulled pumpkin seeds if you like your brittle even crunchier. Or, try this with sunflower seeds, toasted slivered almonds, or toasted pine nuts for a different twist.

Here’s how we made ours:

Pumpkin Seed Brittle

1 cup hulled green pumpkin seeds (pepitas), picked over for shells or other organic matter
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Several generous pinches flakey sea salt (total about 1/2 teaspoon)
4 tablespoons solid unsalted butter substitute (or, if you don’t have a dairy restriction, you can use butter)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup good-quality honey (something local if you have it)
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Begin by lining a baking sheet with a non-stick silicone baking mat (like Silpat) or with a sheet of parchment paper that has been greased with 1 additional teaspoon of the butter substitute. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together the pumpkin seeds, cinnamon, allspice, and a pinch of salt. Toast the mixture over medium heat in a skillet on the stove top. Shake the skillet frequently to keep the seeds from burning. They may pop a bit over the heat so be careful. Toast for approximately 5 minutes, until most seeds have begun to lightly brown and the mixture has a nutty fragrance. Remove from heat.

One cup green hulled pumpkin seeds

One cup green hulled pumpkin seeds

In a large sauce pan melt the butter substitute and add the brown sugar, honey and vanilla. Bring to a boil and allow to bubble for approximately 6 minutes, until the mixture is a deep golden color and measures 280 degrees on a candy thermometer. Add the pumpkin seeds and, using a heat-proof silicone spatula, mix well. Allow to cook for approximately another 2 minutes, until the mixture reaches 300 degrees on the candy thermometer. The mixture will bubble in the pan and become quite thick.

Carefully pour the pumpkin seed mixture onto the prepared baking sheet, using the silicone spatula to spread the mixture to a thin layer that is about 1 seed thick. Working quickly, sprinkle evenly with another generous pinch or two of flaky sea salt, which will set into the brittle. Add the salt too late and it will just sit on top of the hardened candy.

Cooling the brittle on a Silpat mat

Cooling the brittle on a Silpat mat

Allow the brittle to cool completely. This will take at least an hour at room temperature. You can move to the refrigerator for faster cooling once the mixture has set a bit but that is not necessary…the brittle will harden on its own outside of the refrigerator.

Break into chunks to serve.

Serves: 6 – 8 (though Martha’s recipe indicates it serves a perhaps more realistic 4…who really, really like brittle).

Parent rating: Yum! Oops, I mean, four and a half stars. This is addicting. At first bite, you realize it’s not like any other candy you’ve had…a little more earthy, nice combination of salty and sweet. And then you go back for another bite. And another.
Kid rating: Very similar reaction. Daughter 1 took a bite and declared she wasn’t sure if she liked it. But an hour later she was back for more. And then more. Daughter 2 liked it from the get-go. They give it four stars.

Fresh Tomato Salsa with Lime and Cilantro

Until this past week the tomato plants in my garden were still churning out tomatoes. Granted, we were getting handfuls as opposed to pints but the unusually warm weather in the Northeast United States has spoiled us. We just had our first hard frost and the tomato vines are, sadly, now withering back, but there are still some great tomatoes at the farmer’s markets if you get there soon.

Here’s a simple recipe to help you use up the last of this season’s crop. This salsa is best with those remaining vine-ripened specimens but if all you can get are hothouse tomatoes you can use those as well. We’ve also got fresh cilantro and a ton of chili peppers just harvested from our CSA — jalapeños and Serranos and Habaneros — which, depending on your tolerance for heat, are excellent in this recipe.

Red jalapeños at Cherry Grove Organic Farm

Red jalapeños at Cherry Grove Organic Farm

We made up a batch on a recent Sunday and had it with quesadillas and sour cream as an easy supper. Or, whip up a double or triple batch and serve it with chips and guacamole at your next tailgate party.

Tomatoes, cilantro, jalapeño, and scallion

Tomatoes, cilantro, jalapeño, and scallion

This particular recipe is fresh and bright and beats the store-bought variety hands down. It took me less than 10 minutes to make and gets complements every time we serve it…mostly from adults, mind you, but the spice-loving kid would dig in as well. Our girls, unfortunately, prefer the guacamole over salsa. We’re working on that! Maybe by the time next season’s tomato plants really start producing we’ll have some converts in the house. We’ll see….

Quick snack of fresh tomato salsa, chips and sour cream

Quick snack of fresh tomato salsa, chips and sour cream

Fresh Tomato Salsa with Lime and Cilantro

Three large tomatoes, finely diced (I suggest you leave the skin and seeds intact unless they really bug you)
One scallion sliced into thin rings
Juice from 1/2 lime
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh cilantro
1/2 red or green jalapeño, finely diced (wear gloves while dicing). You can increase the amount of chili to 1 whole chili if you want a fiery salsa, or substitute a Habanero for the jalapeño.
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Getting ready to make salsa

Getting ready to make salsa

In a medium bowl mix together the diced tomatoes, scallion rings, lime juice, cilantro, and jalapeño with a generous pinch of salt and grind of black pepper. Taste and correct for flavor — you may want more salt, pepper, lime, cilantro, or chili.

Allow flavors to meld for 15 or 20 minutes before serving, keeping salsa chilled (but don’t refrigerate for too long…the tomatoes turn mushy if left in the refrigerator for any length of time).

Serve with chips and sour cream, or beside a big stack of cheese (or even chicken or shrimp) quesadillas. Excellent as part of an appetizer tray. And I’ll have to post our recipe for guacamole sometime soon as well!

Serves: 4 – 6.

That favorite kitchen tool, the lime squeezer, in action again

That favorite kitchen tool, the lime squeezer, in action again

Parent rating: five stars. The lime and cilantro really brighten up this salsa and it has a fresh zing that you won’t get from any store-bought variety…even the fresh-made ones. We love it. Great treat in the fall, or really any time of year. Best with fresh tomatoes but I’ll probably make a big batch in January for the Super Bowl with whatever hothouse tomatoes I can find at the time. Nice that this is vegetarian and vegan as well.
Kid rating: I’m going to punt here – our kids won’t try this version because of the chilis and the cilantro. But I bet that if I were to trick Daughter 2 into taking a bite she’d actually like it. And Daughter 1 actually likes helping me make this, which is sort-of like a short-lived victory. Many kids would give this four or five stars. Our girls aren’t awarding stars, unfortunately. Won’t stop me from serving it though!

Corn Kakiage Fritters (Japanese Fresh Corn Tempura)

We’ve steamed it. Sautéed it. Put it in chowder. Used it in risotto. Stuffed it in squash. Turned it into salsa. Even put it in enchiladas. It is one of our favorite summer ingredients, and the last few fresh ears are at the market right now. It’s corn, and as sad as I am to see the season coming to an end, I have a great recipe that sends it off in style.

Corn kakiage.

And if you’re now asking “corn WHAT?,” let me introduce you to this Japanese izakaya (pub-style) recipe. It is a simple and delicious side to something like the grilled soy/ginger/garlic chicken I recently wrote about, or even served on its own as an afternoon or late-night snack.

Corn Kakiage Fritter: corn and scallions fried in a light tempura batter

Corn Kakiage Fritters: corn and scallions fried in a light tempura batter

I’ve come across several versions of this recipe — pronounced “ka-kee-ag-ee” — in cookbooks like Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook by Mark Robinson as well as online, like this corn fritter recipe from the November 2010 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveler and ‘Still Walking’….Fresh Corn Tempura on the blog “Test 4 The Best.” These are, essentially, fried fritters of corn cut from the cob and bound with a thick tempura batter. Some recipes use egg in the tempura batter and others do not.

But my all-time favorite recipe for corn kakiage comes from Nancy Singleton Hachisu’s Japanese Farm Food cookbook. No egg – just the clean, pure flavors of corn, scallions, and salt in a thick but light cake flour tempura.

Essential reading

Essential reading

I recently had a chance to meet Nancy at a Japanese Farm Food dinner in Manhattan. The event reinforced what I like most about this cookbook (in addition to the lovely binding that is reminiscent of kimono fabric): that the best dishes are often the simplest ones. Locally-sourced fresh ingredients and products from artisanal specialists result in spectacular and bold flavors on the plate.

Having moved to Japan in 1988 with the intent of learning Japanese and returning to the U.S. for graduate school, Nancy instead stayed in Japan after falling in love and marrying organic farmer Tadaaki Hachisu. The life that they, their sons and extended family have built on Tadaaki’s generations-old farm is inspiring to say the least. In Japanese Farm Food Nancy writes not only about Tadaaki’s innate knowledge of farming but an intense curiosity that led him to cultivate, from seed, such non-native plants as basil and pecan trees. And of course, crops on the organic farm include more traditional ones like okra, eggplant, rice, cucumbers, squash, corn…the list goes on and on.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that Nancy is a leading voice in the Slow Food movement both in Japan and abroad and teaches home cooking in Japan in addition to running an English immersion preschool/after-school program called Sunny Side Up!  A perfect — though not traditionally Japanese — union of cultures, family, food and passions.

Nancy Singleton Hachisu and me at a Japanese Farm Food dinner in New York City

Nancy Singleton Hachisu and me at a Japanese Farm Food dinner in New York City

Nancy kindly allowed me to post her recipe for corn kakiage and passes along these helpful tips that you’ll only find here!

  1. Be sure to skim errant corn kernels from the oil quickly to avoid popping. Also using one of those frying screens could be useful.
  2. Don’t reuse the oil the next day even if it looks clean. Better to cook all the batter. Frying releases water into the batter which will result in more oil absorption the second day.
  3. If the corn lacks flavor increase the scallion amount.
  4. The ice cubes in the batter or chilled sparkling water chills the batter for less oil absorption.

This is a great dish for the vegetarians and vegans out there too. To build on the flavors you could add some finely-diced serrano or jalapeño chiles, minced cilantro or grated lime zest, but none of those things are necessary. Part of the beauty of this dish is just how simple and essential it is.

Someone really likes fresh corn

Someone really likes fresh corn

Corn Kakiage Fritters

6 young corncobs*
2 scallions or 4 fat chives, chopped into fine rings
Best-quality rapeseed (canola) or peanut oil
1 cup (150 g) unbleached cake flour**
1 cup (250 cc) cold sparkling water
1/4 teaspoon fine white sea salt
6 large ice cubes
Fine white sea salt or organic soy sauce, for dipping

Set the corncob in a large bowl and cut the kernels off the cob with a sharp knife. After all the kernels are removed, go over the cob with the back of the knife to remove the last bit of corn from the cob. You should have about 3 1/2 cups (850 cc). Add the scallions (about 4 to 5 tablespoons) and toss with your fingers to distribute and break up the kernel clumps.

Line a cookie sheet with a thick layer of newspaper, then put a layer of paper towels on top. Set next to the stove. Over low heat, warm 2 inches (5 cm) of oil in a 10-inch (25 cm) frying pan.

Whisk the flour with the sparkling water and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Dump the corn kernels and scallions into the batter, add the ice cubes, and stir. Remove the ice cubes.

Increase the heat on the oil to medium-high; the oil should not be smoking. Test the oil with a drip of batter before starting. It should sizzle and immediately form a small ball as it hits the oil but should not brown. Adjust the oil temperature as needed.

Ladle 4 individual scoops of batter with a soup ladle into the pan (like pancakes) and cook over medium-high heat until golden brown on the bottom, about 5 minutes per side depending on the heat adjustment. Carefully turn over using two heat-resistant curved rubber scrapers. Cook until the second side is golden brown and oil bubbles have largely subsided (indicating water has cooked out).

Remove from the oil with a slotted skimmer to the prepared newspaper and paper towel-lined cookie sheet. Eat immediately with fine white sea salt or soy sauce.

Makes 8 fritters.

Go over the cob with the back of a knife to remove the last bits....

Go over the cob with the back of a knife to remove the last bits….

* We used 3 mature (large) ears of corn and got roughly the same quantity of kernels.
** If you don’t have cake flour on hand, don’t let that dissuade you. You can use 1 cup of sifted all-purpose flour, REMOVING 2 tablespoons of it, and replace those two tablespoons with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Sift these together several times through a fine mesh sifter to evenly combine. Voila – 1 cup of cake flour.

Parent rating: Five stars. Light, crispy, chewy and not quite like anything you’ll get at most restaurants in the states. Make these for your next informal dinner party and you’ll wow your guests. Additional toppings can really put these over the top if you want to experiment a little. I bet some smoked salmon would be delicious, as would a simple condiment made with chopped scallions, cilantro, chiles and lime.
Kid rating: Four-and-a-half stars. Daughter 1 finished hers before anything else on her plate and asked for another. Daughter 2 didn’t quite finish hers…but I attribute that to the three drumsticks she had before even tucking in to these. The corn kakiage were big hit with the girls that will be back on the menu just as soon as we can get our hands on more fresh corn (I refuse to believe corn season is REALLY over….).

Thank you, Nancy, for a wonderful recipe and a simple, kid-friendly introduction to a very satisfying Japanese dish!

One kakiage just isn't enough

One kakiage just isn’t enough

“Real” Fried Rice with Chicken, Broccoli, and Eggplant

Most of the time when we order out Chinese, the first thing I do (after sneaking a bite of lo mien – can’t help myself) is take a close look at the extra soy sauce packets littering the bottom of the take-out bag. The sad reality is that at a fair number of Chinese restaurants, this isn’t even soy sauce but a “complementary” salty caramel-colored liquid. Seriously. Not a hint of fermented soy anywhere in that pack.  Read the ingredients the next time…if it doesn’t have soybeans (and, for most Chinese and Japanese brand soy sauces, wheat or another grain as well) among the first two or three ingredients, all you’re really getting is pre-packaged brown salty water. Toss those babies in the garbage and grab your own bottle of good-quality soy sauce instead.

The good, the bad, and the ugly...but you don't need any of these for fried rice

The good, the bad, and the ugly…but you don’t need any of these for fried rice

In my mind, there is another frequent soy sauce transgression that is too often tolerated and which I’d like to set about changing.  The American palate — mine included — loves that salty umami flavor. So much so that soy sauce gets added in copious amounts to Americanized versions of Chinese dishes where it isn’t needed and wasn’t traditionally used.

Take, for instance, fried rice. If you’re making your own — and once you do, you’ll realize just how easy it is — you’ll need a good recipe. Until recently nearly every one I came across used soy sauce in some way…either in an oyster sauce/soy sauce “dressing,” or as a base into which other flavors like ginger and garlic are mixed before being added to the rice. They all seemed pretty good until I tried the “real” fried rice in the late Barbara Tropp’s cookbook, The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking, which gets its cleaner, lighter flavor from regular old salt and Chinese rice wine or sherry.

I’ve since read in a number of places that no real Chinese cook would use soy sauce in a traditional fried rice, though I’m pretty sure there are a number out there — in China, no less — who probably do. But, if you really want to give your taste buds a treat with a dish that actually tastes like the sum of its ingredients and NOT the salty goo you find at the bottom of an empty take-out container…try the recipe I’m about to share.

We based this on Barbara’s “Real Fried Rice” recipes — she has three variations in her book — but took some generous liberties with ingredients to suite ours’ and our daughters’ palates and to use the ingredients we had on hand. Fried rice, after all, originated as a way to make good use of leftovers and anything that may have gone to waste. On the plus side, many of the veggies in this dish came from our farm share and traveled less than 10 miles to get to our kitchen. We also used chicken left over from our Grilled Soy-Ginger-Garlic Drumsticks, so I guess, in a way, some soy sauce did sneak in to this recipe after all. You can use just about any leftover cooked meat instead (pork, beef, etc.), or throw in a handful of small, peeled raw shrimp that will cook with the rice toward the end, or even omit the meat all together for a vegetarian feast. Leave out the egg as well and it’s vegan. See, economical AND good for us, which are two things with which take-out Chinese just can’t compete.

There are several additional points you need to know in order to prepare a fried rice that would make any Chinese grandmother — or grandfather — proud: 1) use day-old leftover rice…or at the very least, make your rice early in the day and let it cool, uncovered, to room temperature before using it in this recipe,  2) cook your ingredients in the same pan but in batches, moving those you’ve finished cooking to a clean plate off the heat before moving on to the next ingredient, and 3) don’t add too much oil at any point during the frying process and make sure the oil is hot and shimmering before adding any ingredient.

Another great tip: have all your veggies prepped in a mise en place (fancy French term for, roughly, “all cut and lined up in little bowls, ready to go”). My French could use some work, I know, but you definitely want to do this — the frying takes nearly no time once you start and you don’t want to stop and cut up the next vegetable in the middle of it all.

Coming together in the sauté pan

Coming together in the sauté pan

So my advice is, save your soy sauce for a recipe in which it’s really needed and give this version of real fried rice a try. It’s incredibly easy, healthier than take-out, and I’m pretty sure you’ll be a convert. And hey, if you like a little soy sauce with your fried rice, try sprinkling some on at the table. It’s not forbidden, just not necessary!

“Real” Fried Rice with Chicken, Broccoli and Eggplant

2 cups long-grain rice, preferably an Asian variety, cooked and cooled, uncovered, to room temperature or refrigerated overnight (this should end up being between 5 and 6 cups of cooked, cooled rice)
1 medium eggplant, peeled and cubed into 1 inch squares
1 medium head of broccoli, including tender parts of the stem, trimmed into bite-size pieces
2 stalks of celery, thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
1 garlic clove, minced
2 scallions, white and light green parts thinly sliced
1 egg, beaten
2 cups leftover cooked chicken, shredded into bite-size pieces (we used the meat from 6 soy/ginger/garlic drumsticks, but you can use whatever you have available, or omit the meat entirely)
4 1/2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
3 tablespoons dry (seco) sherry or Chinese cooking wine
1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Salt the eggplant cubes and allow to drain for 30 minutes before patting dry and spreading out on a baking sheet lined with foil (non-stick foil if you have it). Roast eggplant for 30 – 45 minutes until tender. Remove from oven and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium high heat in a 12-inch non-stick skillet or wok. Begin by sautéing the celery and carrots until softened. Remove vegetables from the skillet onto a clean plate, wipe skillet clean and return the skillet to the stove top. Add 1 more tablespoon oil. When shimmering, sauté the bell pepper, broccoli, and garlic until crisp-tender. Remove vegetables from the skillet onto the plate with the celery and carrots. Wipe the skillet clean and return to heat. Add 1/2 tablespoon oil and quickly cook the beaten egg, swirling the pan and using an extra set of wooden chopsticks to continually move the puffed up cooked egg from the bottom of the pan to create large “curds.” Do not allow the egg to become too dry or browned. Remove the egg as soon as it’s cooked from the skillet onto the plate with the vegetables.

Wipe the skillet clean one more time and return to heat. Add the last 2 tablespoon oil and bring to medium-high heat. Add the rice and sauté until grains begin to separate. Turn down the heat if rice grains begin to scorch. If rice is sticking, add a bit more oil from the side of the pan. Once rice grains are nicely coated and sizzling, add the sherry to the pan (it should sizzle and begin to evaporate) and mix well. Add the salt and mix again. Add the leftover chicken, the scallion, and then the reserved vegetables including the eggplant and the egg (broken into smaller pieces), stirring well to evenly distribute all the ingredients.

Correct for seasoning, adding more salt if needed, and serve immediately.

Serves: 6 – 8, depending on whether you serve it as a main dish or generous side.

I heart fried rice

I heart fried rice

Parent rating: Four stars. This is a dish we come back to again and again because it just makes sense and it can be different every time we make it. It’s a great way to use up leftovers though we often make it just because. Because we have a lot of fresh produce on hand. Because we’re craving Chinese and want something better for us than take out. Just because.
Kid rating: Three stars. Daughter 1 and daughter 2 both love rice. And carrots. And broccoli (well…one out of two isn’t bad). Celery, bell peppers, scallions…not so much. And eggplant is a bit of a deal-breaker. So when I serve this I find myself picking through and plating only the approved veggies for them. Which, though time-consuming, works pretty well until an errant scallion is spotted. Still, I appreciate that they do eat fried rice, trying different tastes along the way if prompted. You could leave out anything your family won’t eat, or consider adding ingredients like mushrooms, peas, edamame, etc., to make your own version of this satisfying dish. Don’t overload it too much though. You want a balance of rice and veg to make this a truly satisfying dish.

A final little note: if you’re looking for the cubes of eggplant in the photos and don’t see any, well, that’s because I kept our eggplant off to the side for fear of turning dinner into a “hunt for the eggplant” exercise. My husband and I had some with ours, but the girls did not, and it’s their version I ended up photographing. I still suggest you add it in when cooking unless your kiddos, like mine, might stage a meal-time mutiny if they find it on their plate.

Grilled Soy-Ginger-Garlic Drumsticks

It’s funny the things we take at face value. My exposure to ethnic Laotian cooking, for instance. The rural central Pennsylvanian community in which I grew up during the 1970s and early 1980s wasn’t, as I’ve written before in my Chile Rellenos post, the most ethnically diverse area of the country. But through my family’s active involvement in social groups and other community affiliations we seemed to always be among a handful of residents welcoming newcomers to our town.

As the war in Southeast Asia came to and end in the mid 1970s and Communist governments formed in the region, refugees from Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos repatriated to other countries. Quite a few Laotian refugees — many of whom were of Hmong ethic origin — emigrated to the United States. One of the churches in our little town sponsored a Laotian family and, predictably, my family started to spend a lot of time with them. Maybe it was my mother’s background as a teacher (even retired, she still volunteers to teach English as a Second Language), or maybe it was my father’s ties with the Kiwanas Club members who almost certainly helped find housing and jobs for the new family, but I remember many afternoons that year bonding not over a shared language, but a shared love of cooking and food. As a young elementary schooler I didn’t question any of it — that we communicated in ways other than typical conversation seemed, strangely, normal.

One of the dishes our new Laotian friends taught us was a marinated chicken dish with strong Chinese influences: drumsticks soaked in soy sauce and ginger and then grilled over an open flame.

Drumsticks on the grill, indirect heat

Drumsticks on the grill, indirect heat

Some time passed, the Laotian family moved to be closer to relatives, and then eventually my family relocated to Southeast Pennsylvania during my last year of elementary school. But this dish has always traveled along with us. My parents still make it, and now, so do I. It has a way of both taking me back and anchoring me in the present as I adapt it over and over again, serving it to my husband and daughters and our friends. And now, also sharing it with you.

It’s easy, inexpensive, and soooo good. Make it once and I guarantee you’ll make it again, and now you also have a kind-of cool story to tell anyone for whom you prepare it — a simple dish that traveled from Laos that is so much more than it appears at face value.

Soy-Ginger-Garlic Drumsticks

Soy-Ginger-Garlic Drumsticks

Grilled Soy-Ginger-Garlic Drumsticks

3 pounds chicken drumsticks, skin removed
1/2 cup good quality soy sauce (low sodium if you have it — regular soy sauce produces pretty salty drumsticks, which is fine if you like that sort of thing)
Knob of ginger root approximately two inches long, cut into eight 1/4 inch disks
1 garlic clove, sliced into rounds*
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest – optional*
Cooked white rice for serving

You’ll get the best results if you begin to prepare this recipe the day before you plan to serve it…or at least early the same day so the chicken has time to marinate. At least 3 hours, and up to 24 hours.

In a quart size zip-top bag placed inside a medium bowl, combine the chicken, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and lemon zest if you’re using it. Squeeze out extra air and seal the bag. Massage the liquid around the drumsticks, place the bag in the bowl and put the whole lot into the refrigerator. You don’t NEED to use the bowl, but I’ve had zip-top bags spring leaks, and this at least keeps the mess contained if it does. Allow the chicken to marinate, periodically — and carefully! — shaking the bag so that the soy/ginger/garlic evenly penetrates the drumsticks.

The essential ingredients: soy sauce, ginger and garlic

The essential ingredients: soy sauce, ginger and garlic

About 45 minutes before you’re ready to eat, prepare your grill for indirect grilling and include a drip pan or sheet of tinfoil on the indirect side (see my earlier post on hickory-smoked chicken thighs if you have questions). When the grill reaches a temperature between 350 degrees and 400 degrees, put the drumsticks on the side with the drip pan. Cover to bring the grill back up to temperature and grill for 15 minutes before flipping the drumsticks and grilling, covered, for another 15 minutes.

When chicken is cooked through, remove from the grill and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving. Great with rice and a quick pickled cucumber dish or other veggie dish with a little vinegar.

This recipe can easily be doubled to feed a crowd. Try it with chicken thighs as well – equally good.

Serves: six.

Chopsticks, drumsticks....

Chopsticks, drumsticks….

Parent rating: Four-and-a-half stars. I love this recipe. We must make it every several weeks or so during grilling season. Sometimes I leave the chicken skin on the drumsticks (the soy marinade doesn’t penetrate as much). Great for backyard barbecues or pot luck suppers. Leftovers are great too and can be used in a variety of ways…but more on that in another post!
Kid rating: Four stars. Daughter 2 polished off three of these drumsticks before I finished one the night we most recently made them…and she’s young enough that the novelty of eating chicken on a bone is actually fun. Daughter 1 finished one drumstick — enough to make me happy — but isn’t the biggest meat-eater anyway. The rice and sides, on the other hand…gone.

* The original recipe did not use garlic or lemon zest; I often just make this with soy and ginger myself, but the garlic adds a nice depth and flavor and lemon, when I use it, has a nice bright citrus quality. Mince the garlic for more potent garlic taste.

Cheese Enchiladas with Fresh Corn and Grated Zucchini

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” — Aesop

Bare with me here. It may seem like a real leap to begin with a quote from an Ancient Greek fabulist and ultimately end with a recipe for a Mexican rolled tortilla dish, but this one will be worth it.

Better yet, the story involves monkey bars, a fortuitous CSA pick-up, and the kindness of strangers. And, as with so many things, timing happened to be everything. I don’t intend to waste a thing with this story or the meal!

Cheese, zucchini and corn enchiladas

Cheese, zucchini and corn enchiladas

You probably want me to get to the recipe sooner rather than later so I’ll keep the back story as simple as I can: it begins with a five-year-old plaintively asking for some playground time after being picked up at school. And why not. We’ve had a stretch of relatively warm weather for October. No reason to waste it rushing home, though we seem to be the only ones with such a brilliant idea because we have the playground to ourselves. Daughter 1 and I climb the ladders, slide down the slides, clamber up a rock wall and scale across a trellis for the better part of an hour before I suggest we call it a day. But wait, what’s this? Another car pulls up and out climbs another little girl…someone my daughter knows from kindergarten. How fortunate.

So now there are two little girls climbing, sliding, clambering and scaling, while two moms stand idly by. We learn that, although we’ve never run into one another before, we live no more than three (long) blocks apart. And we share a common interest in food…more specifically, working with fresh ingredients and encouraging our kids to eat a more healthy, balanced diet. They were just coming from a CSA pick-up at Stult’s Farm before stopping at the playground, and we started to trade meal ideas. Before I knew it, we were going home with several lovely ears of fresh corn and a zucchini. Not bad for an afternoon in the park!

That was the act of kindness: strangers meeting, talking, connecting and sharing. I appreciated that gesture more than I can say, and in return I’d like to share a little something too. We turned that corn and zucchini into enchiladas — another great vegetarian feast. Our simple recipe follows.

So the next time you go to the playground and return with corn and zucchini, you know who to thank. The greatest thanks, though, would be for you to just keep the kindness going. Share this post, or foist some produce onto an unsuspecting — but oh-so-grateful — playmate.

Cheese Enchiladas with Fresh Corn and Grated Zucchini

10 – 12 small flour or corn tortillas — corn is more traditional, but we used flour because that’s what I had on hand
2 10-ounce cans enchilada sauce — we used mild, but feel free to spice it up if you want
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar or mix of cheddar/Monterey jack cheese (reserve 1/4 cup for topping the finished casserole)
1 ear of fresh corn, corn kernels cut from the cob
1 medium zucchini, grated
Optional for serving: additional grated cheese, sour cream, minced cilantro, thinly sliced jalapeño pepper, hot sauce
Serve with hot white or brown rice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the zucchini in a colander over a bowl and sprinkle with a generous pinch of Kosher salt. Work the salt into the zucchini and allow the zucchini to sit in the colander for 30 minutes to drain. When ready to use, pat zucchini with a clean cloth or paper towel to remove additional liquid and discard any liquid collected in the bowl.

Grated zucchini, salted and draining

Grated zucchini, salted and draining

Corn, cut from the cob

Corn, cut from the cob

Pour approximately 1/4 can of enchilada sauce into the bottom of a 3 quart Pyrex baking dish. Pour another 1/2 can of sauce into a wide shallow bowl. Begin to assemble enchiladas by coating both sides of a tortilla with the sauce in the bowl and then placing the tortilla on a flat work surface. Onto one end of each tortilla place roughly 1/8 cup grated cheese, 1/8 cup grated and drained zucchini and 1/8 cup corn kernels (I didn’t really measure these…they were more like generous pinches of cheese, zucchini and corn…just take care not to over-fill). Roll the enchilada to enclose the filling and place, seam side down, in the baking dish.

Wrapping the enchiladas: cheese, zucchini and corn

Wrapping the enchiladas: cheese, zucchini and corn

Repeat with remaining tortillas until all the filling us used up. Eye-ball ingredients along the way so you use equal amounts of filling in each enchilada and don’t have too much of anything left at the end.

Pour the remaining sauce over the enchiladas in the baking dish and top with the reserved 1/4 cup shredded cheese. Loosely cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 30 – 45 minutes, until all enchiladas are heated through and sauce is bubbly. Remove the foil, allow to bake for another 10 minutes to further melt the cheese, and then move to a cooling rack for 10 minutes before serving.

Serve enchiladas with rice and any of the optional toppings.

Serves: 4 – 6

Enchilada, hot out of the oven

Enchilada, hot out of the oven

Parent rating: four stars. Great use of late summer produce and, despite the rolling and baking, really quite easy to make. We probably would have spiced this up with hot enchilada sauce and some jalapeños but didn’t go that route to keep it kid-friendly.
Kid rating: three stars. Daughter 2 ate her dish happily until Daughter 1 complained about there being “too much zucchini,” at which point neither of them ate much more of the enchiladas. The rice, sour cream and cheese, on the other hand, all got gobbled up.  In retrospect, I probably could have made several with just corn and that would have gone over quite well. All in all, the kindness of strangers paid off!

Leftovers make an excellent lunch

Leftovers make an excellent lunch

Caramelized Onion, Ham and Brie Pizzetta / Caramelized Onion, Fig and Blue Cheese Pizzetta

Here’s a little Friday bonus which may come in handy if you’re trying to get a quick dinner on the table tonight. Make-your-own pizzas are always a hit in our house, though I question my wisdom when the kids load up with only things like pineapple and extra cheese. Regardless, it gets everyone gathered in the kitchen, talking about ingredients — and sometimes their day — and can be a quick and fun ending to a busy week.

Daughters, friends and babies get in on the action

Daughters, friends and babies get in on the action

We made two really good “adult” versions this week that I’d like to share, both of which start with a base of caramelized onions: one is caramelized onion, ham and brie, and the other is caramelized onion, fig and blue cheese. Though the onions will take about 45 minutes to an hour to cook down and become rich and sweet, everything else comes together very quickly. Recreate either, or both, of these and then let the kids go nuts making their own pizzas with whatever ingredients they feel like. I like to call these “pizzettas” since they are kind-of diminutive and almost dainty, and that seems to make them even more enjoyable. Everyone wins. Happy weekend!

Toppings, ready to go

Toppings, ready to go

Two Pizzettas: Caramelized Onion, Ham, and Brie & Caramelized Onion, Fig, and Blue Cheese

Ingredients (I’m not giving quantities here, really…just use as much of any ingredient as you want/need without overloading your pizzettas):
8-inch pre-made pizza crusts (Boboli, Mama Mia, etc.) – one per customer. You can also use small flour tortillas for a thin-crust version.
3 onions, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter

For the Caramelized Onion, Ham and Brie Pizzettas, you’ll also need:
Sliced brie cheese
Good-quality deli ham, thinly sliced, or prosciutto, thinly sliced

For the Caramelized Onion, Fig and Blue Cheese Pizzettas, you’ll also need:
Several fresh figs, sliced into rounds
Crumbled blue cheese

For the kid’s pizzettas you’ll need whatever else your kids like as toppings. Some of our favorites include: shredded mozzarella cheese, grated Parmesan cheese, pineapple slices, sliced tomatoes, olives, fresh baby spinach leaves….

You may also want a couple of sprigs of fresh basil to top the pizzettas, once they come out of the oven.

To make the pizzettas, start by caramelizing the onions. Heat olive oil and butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to soften. Add a pinch of Kosher salt and reduce the heat to low. Continue to cook for 45 minutes to an hour, until the onions are golden brown and caramelized. Stir often and don’t allow the onions to burn or they will be bitter. You’ll have about a cup of caramelized onions.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees (or whatever temperature the pre-made pizza crust package indicates).

To assemble the Caramelized Onion, Ham and Brie Pizzetta, take one pre-made crust and brush with olive oil. Spread on about two tablespoons of caramelized onions and top with several slices of ham and then several slices of brie. Bake pizzetta in oven for approximately 10 minutes, until the cheese begins to melt and become bubbly. Allow to briefly cool before topping with basil, cutting and serving.

Assembling the caramelized onion, ham and brie pizzetta

Assembling the caramelized onion, ham and brie pizzetta

Out of the oven

Out of the oven

To assemble the Caramelized Onion, Fig and Blue Cheese Pizzetta, begin as above by brushing a pre-made crust with olive oil, and then spreading on about two tablespoons of caramelized onions. Top with enough fig slices to get some figs in every bite, and then sprinkle on about two to three tablespoons of crumbled blue cheese. Bake for approximately 10 minutes until bubbly. Cool, top with basil if you want, cut and serve.

Follow the same steps for the kid’s pizzettas, layering cheese with other ingredients. Bake as above.

Serves: However many you need!

Kid rating: depending on what they pile on, four stars. Not surprisingly, the tomato/pineapple/mozzarella/blue cheese version only got two stars. But Daughter 2 did get points for creativity with that one.
Parent rating: four stars. Not quite as good as ordering from our favorite pizzeria, but these are an incredibly tasty family activity that is perfect for a Friday night. Or any night, really.