Pretty Dishes


White Bean Chicken Chili
November 19, 2012, 4:40 pm
Filed under: Recipes

I love soups and stews, and I probably make one per week on average. Oh, you’re not surprised? Perhaps it’s because I’ve posted no less than nine soup recipes to date (including a few particular favorites: here, here, and here). And now I am posting the tenth. It’s a good one—no, a great one—I assure you. This chili is fast, filling, flavorful, fantastic. It’s a favorite standby in my household, whether the temperature outside is cooling or not, though it feels particularly appropriate for rainy, chilly weather, especially since it has just enough heat to warm your taste buds and your belly.

This basic recipe lends itself to all sorts of ingredient and flavor adaptations. Give it even more kick by doubling the spice amounts; use sour cream, guacamole, and cilantro as garnishes for a Mexican bent; or even replace the chicken with prawns (or use a combination of both). Do whatever you like to modify it, just be sure to give it a try in some form.

White Bean Chicken Chili
(adapted from Bon Appétit)

This chili is the definition of a quick weeknight meal: all you have to do is chop the onion, garlic, and chicken. That is, if you don’t already have prechopped versions ready to toss in, in which case this can be on the table in about twenty minutes. Given the time of year, you could swap in turkey in place of the chicken (though personally, I would save that for this spectacular chowder).

The recipe easily doubles (and tastes just as good reheated the next day), and after you make it the first time, you will probably decide to do so each time thereafter. As written, the recipe yields about four hearty servings, depending on appetite.

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large onion or 2 small shallots, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon aniseed (optional)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
Three 15-ounce cans cannellini beans
1 cup chicken stock
One 7-ounce can diced green chilies
1/2 cup whipping cream
Grated cheddar cheese
Chopped fresh chives

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, cumin, oregano, aniseed, and red pepper. Sauté for 5 minutes. Push the onion to the sides of the pan. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the pot. Sauté the chicken for approximately 5 minutes.

Drain and rinse the beans, reserving 1/2 cup bean liquid. Add the beans and reserved liquid, stock, chilies, and cream to the pot. Simmer until the chicken is tender and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle the chili into bowls. Sprinkle with cheese and chives.



Sweet Corn Gelato
September 26, 2012, 7:02 pm
Filed under: Recipes

Even though it’s technically autumn already, in most places the weather still seems to be firmly planted in summer. Homemade ice cream is a wonderful way to relish the final days of sun before the leaves fall and signal the cozy sweater months to come.

I would categorize myself as pretty traditional when it comes to ice cream flavors, tending to go for some combination of vanilla, caramel, chocolate, and/or peanuts. I like my fruit fresh as a topper rather than as an ingredient, and I’m not big on experimental combinations. But I was intrigued when I saw corn featured in several frozen treat recipes this summer. I decided to take a leap of faith and give one a try. I’m pleased to report it was a satisfying endeavor.

I settled on this gelato from Bon Appétit. There was a bit of effort at the front end, but ultimately the investment was worth it. The corn flavor was subtle and somewhat deceptive—I asked several tasters to guess what flavor it was and all were stumped. Almond? Dulce de leche? There was a sweet-savory quality that was hard to place, but once the “secret” ingredient was revealed, it could be pinpointed in subsequent bites. Everyone was pleasantly surprised.

A little of this rich treat goes a long way, so it makes an elegant finish to a dinner party. I like the idea of serving scoops in little teacups.

Sweet Corn Gelato

The gelato was excellent on its own, but my favorite way to enjoy it was by enhancing the sweet and salty notes: I topped it with chocolate sauce (I recommend Santa Cruz Organic Chocolate Flavored Syrup) and roasted peanuts. This recipe makes a bit more than one quart of gelato—I stored mine in a Pyrex dish with lid, finishing it off within two weeks.

3 ears of sweet corn, preferably white, husked
3 1/2 cups whole milk, plus more as needed
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 cup heavy cream
8 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Cut the kernels from corn cobs; reserve the cobs. Break each cob into a few pieces. Bring the milk to a simmer in a large saucepan. Add the kernels and cobs. Remove the mixture from the heat, cover, and let steep for 45 minutes.

Remove the cobs from the milk and discard. Puree the mixture in batches in a blender. Set a coarse strainer over a large bowl. Strain the mixture and discard the kernels. Add more milk, if necessary, to measure 3 1/2 cups.

Bring strained milk, 1 1/4 cups of the sugar, and cream to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved.

Set a strainer over a medium bowl; set aside. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Whisk the remaining sugar, egg yolks, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl. Gradually whisk in the hot milk; return to the saucepan. Stir constantly over medium heat until the custard registers 175 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, about 2 minutes.

Immediately pour the custard through the strainer. Place the custard bowl in the water bath. Let stand until cold, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Cover and refrigerate the custard for at least 6 hours or, preferably, overnight.

Process the chilled custard in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to a container; freeze for at least 1 hour before serving.



A Return
August 27, 2012, 10:44 am
Filed under: Photography, Update

Oh dear. Nine months and nary a word. It’s safe to say I underestimated the amount of spare time I would have during the holidays and afterward. It’s even safer to say that I hadn’t a clue how little time one actually has once a newborn enters the picture. Now my daughter is five months old (how did that happen?!), and while I have had a few occasions to make some exceptional dishes (new and old), I was so rushed to either gobble them down or attend to my girl once I finally got them on the table that I didn’t snap photos of a single one. Finally, two weeks ago, I made a sweet corn gelato that I had a chance, on a rare and glorious lazy Saturday morning, to style and shoot. It felt great. I will write up and post the details very soon.

So what exactly have I been up to lately? Well, December is always a crazy whirlwind, so nothing new there, but from January through March there was the added stress at work of finding a replacement to train, moving offices, changing distributors, and otherwise juggling eight million tasks on top of my regular projects, all with one less person in my department. Remarkably, I managed to do a pretty excellent job of it—if I do say so myself—but I hadn’t a second to spare. I worked many evenings and weekends, and whenever I wasn’t, I was attending childbirth classes, reading up on newborn care, and trying to anticipate and prepare for the biggest life change imaginable. I had grand ideas about accomplishing so much in the two weeks post-leave pre-baby, and wouldn’t you know it, the little peanut decided to make an early appearance. There went nine potential days of productivity as well as a dive headfirst into motherhood.

I won’t wax poetic about all the details, but as any of you with children know, so many of the clichés are annoyingly true. Your life will never be the same. You’ve never known love as you will for a child. Be flexible. Enjoy each moment. A new challenge waits around every corner. And one that seems especially true for me: The days are long but the years are short. I will never be the same person again, and yet I’ve tried to resolve internally what of me is still the same and what all my new identity entails. Nothing makes you consider this quite like becoming a mother (sorry dads, it’s just not the same).

Therefore, a good portion of the past five months have consisted of me stepping back to stop expecting so much of myself, toning down the drive to multitask, and unabashedly gazing at my baby as she grows and learns and morphs into a little person right before my eyes. Some days are harder than others—when I can’t seem to do anything right or I feel like my life and goals are on hold—but overwhelmingly, I’ve cherished this time and the attention I’ve been able to give her.

There are plenty of fun milestones ahead, one being her first food, which I spend more time planning excitedly for than I probably should. You can be sure that she will be encouraged to experiment in the kitchen, and I fully intend to instill in her a love of quality ingredients and homemade meals shared at the dinner table. She will eat what we eat (in modified form), and thus the content of this site shouldn’t change a whole lot, though surely I will devote some posts to the occasional mom-/kid-friendly snack, lunch, dinner, what have you.

It probably goes without saying that I’ve become pretty adept at infant photography in the past year. Between my daughter and her cousin, my portfolio is bursting. Outside the baby realm, I’ve been shooting with some frequency as well, just not food images, unfortunately. That’s not to say it wasn’t great fun and good practice with the camera. My original love was photographing people, and I’ve been happy to have cause to revisit it.

I did a senior portrait set.

I shot publicity stills for my sister’s phenomenal original play, Roberta and the Moon.

I did an incredible engagement shoot at Canlis (whose staff was so accommodating).

And I documented an overnight camp for the YMCA.

All in all, both my cooking and general photography opportunities have been steady enough, but I’d like to approach what hours I do have with a bit more structure in the months ahead, especially since I will be taking on freelance assignments rather than returning to my full-time office job. This site offers a creative outlet that I hope I can build upon steadily to showcase my passion and provide worthy content that inspires all of you at home.

So let me state a few goals here. I plan to start slow so the guilt snowball doesn’t catch up to me too quickly, and that means aiming for just two posts per month, probably through the end of the year. If I manage more, super. I certainly have a backlog of photos and recipes to pull from. On that note, though, the more I look at those old images, it’s hard not to be overly critical and discard them for being less aesthetically pleasing. But since I do want to share the recipes, please be forgiving as I must be of myself. Practice is necessary, as much as I’d love to skip past it to perfection. I’m a little rusty going back into food photography after months away, but like the proverbial bicycle, I’ll hit my stride in no time I’m sure.

Thanks for hanging around and occasionally checking in here while I adjusted to life as I now know it. I’m excited to find what’s on the road ahead.

P.S. Since I haven’t reported stats in awhile, I’m pleased to say that Pretty Dishes has surpassed the 5,000-view mark for its 102 posts. As before, the most searched for and viewed post is Pad Woon Sen. Fascinating!



Giving Thanks
November 27, 2011, 6:44 pm
Filed under: Recipes

I had hoped to get this posted before Thanksgiving, but between working, planning, and recipe preparation, it just wasn’t in the cards. Regardless, it doesn’t hurt to recap the meal and share the essence of the holiday after the fact.

I have quite a lot that I’m grateful for at the moment. First of all, I’m happy to report that I’ve completed all of the big projects that have stolen me away for the past eight months or so. Suddenly I have a little more time on my hands and no guilt hanging over my head, both of which are glorious things.

And yet, as I say that, two of the most prominent reasons that I am both extremely thankful and very preoccupied are also directly tied to my availability, especially in the near future. I was promoted to a managing editor position in early August (translation: lots of meetings, later nights, and more eating out), and around the same time, I learned that my husband and I would be expecting our first child at the end of March. We are beyond thrilled, but it will mean many changes and adjustments, so I’m trying to be flexible and leave my schedule pretty open. It’s hard to say definitively whether my presence here will stay about the same leading up to the birth and then drop off completely for a bit, or if, with other obligations finally off my plate, I can better manage my time and maintain some more consistency with updates. Ideally it will be the latter, but I don’t want to overpromise.

I’m sure my cooking habits will change in the next year as a result of the infant addition, but my desire to continue challenging myself in the kitchen and documenting excellent results won’t. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep writing interesting posts as well as further developing my photography skills. This site has provided great learning opportunities and has been a real accountability tool. I’m so pleased you’ve been around to witness it all and offer feedback—many thanks.

All right, back to Thanksgiving Day. My parents hosted this year, and I helped my mother decide on the menu. There were myriad options to choose from, but we eventually settled on the following:

Butter-and-Herb-Roasted Turkey with Madeira Jus (Fine Cooking)

Harvest Bread Stuffing (Fine Cooking)

Cranberry Orange Relish (Gourmet)

Classic Green Bean Casserole (Cook’s Illustrated)
I made this particular green bean casserole recipe after reading M’s rave review of it last year; she noted how the homemade cream-and-mushroom base (I used creminis) plus fresh green beans and bread crumbs (I used artisan French bread) really take what is already a tasty dish into a whole new stratosphere. I couldn’t agree more. This version is truly exceptional, and it is destined to be a holiday staple in my home for many years to come.

Brussels Sprout Hash with Caramelized Shallots (Bon Appétit)
This hash is a favorite of mine that I prepare throughout wintertime.

Grape Broccoli Salad

Of course there were also simple mashed potatoes, traditional sweet potatoes, rolls, and pumpkin and pecan pies. And I made Caramelized Cashews with Cayenne to accompany the other typical snack starters of crackers, cheese, crudités, and dip. It was quite the spread.

Then there was the Pumpkin Cheesecake with Marshmallow-Sour Cream Topping. This turned out to be the star dessert, and it really deserved the honor. It comes from Bon Appétit and was picked as one of Epicurious’s blue ribbon, top-rated recipes. I would recommend a few adjustments to the original recipe, so I’ve compiled my own adaptation of the original here.

First, I decided that this would be my chance to try out the Crack Pie Crust with a cheesecake, rather than making the Gingersnap Crust (in part because I had all ingredients on hand and thus wouldn’t need to purchase or make crystallized ginger and gingersnap cookies). I did parbake the crust for about 10 minutes, with some hesitation given the short Crack Pie baking time in comparison to the lengthy cheesecake baking time, and it turns out that while it didn’t hurt, it didn’t seem to help either—partway through baking the cheesecake, butter from the crust was oozing out the side of the springform pan. Thankfully I had placed a sheet pan beneath it (thinking that the filling might spill over), so no oven disaster ensued. In spite of this, however, the crust matchup worked beautifully.

As for the filling, I found that the original recipe simply makes too much for the suggested 9-inch springform pan, so after the pan was absolutely filled to the brim (and of course puffed above while baking, though it settled back down after cooling) I had to discard about 3/4 cup of filling. Therefore I’ve adjusted the amount of cream cheese in my version just a tad (4 ounces less) to compensate for that; I haven’t tested it this way, but I’m sure it would not compromise the texture and would just result in a slightly more concentrated pumpkin-spice flavor. Or use a 10-inch springform and stick with the original amounts.

All in all, this cheesecake is a winner and is sure to impress family and friends. It is an especially decadent and welcome alternative to store-bought pumpkin pie. Note that it’s a bit labor-intensive and does require setting overnight, so you’ll have to plan ahead for this one. I’m kicking myself that I failed to get a photo, even though my camera was on hand. Next time, perhaps.

What dishes did you especially enjoy this year?

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Marshmallow-Sour Cream Topping and Crack Pie Crust

Cookie for crust

2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (3 ounces) flour
Scant 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
Scant 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter
1/3 cup (2 1/2 ounces) light brown sugar
3 tablespoons (1 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1 egg
Scant 1 cup (3 1/2 ounces) rolled oats

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Whisk the egg into the butter mixture until fully incorporated. With the mixer running, beat in the flour mixture, a little at a time, until fully combined. Stir in the oats until incorporated.

Spread the mixture onto a 9-by-13-inch baking sheet and bake until golden brown and set, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to the touch on a rack. Crumble the cooled cookie to use in the crust.

Crust

Crumbled cookie for crust (recipe above)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 1/2 tablespoons (3/4 ounce) brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

Spray a 9-inch springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides with nonstick spray.

Combine the crumbled cookie, butter, sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse until evenly combined and blended (a little of the mixture clumped between your fingers should hold together). Press the crust into the pan to form an even layer along the bottom and 2 inches up the sides. Set aside.

Filling

3 1/2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 (15-ounce) can pure pumpkin
5 large eggs
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the pumpkin. Add the eggs one at a time, beating on low speed to incorporate each addition. Add the flour, spices, and salt; beat just to blend. Beat in the vanilla.

Pour the filling evenly over the crust. Bake until the filling is just set in the center and the edges begin to crack (the filling will move slightly when the pan is gently shaken), about 1 hour 20 minutes. Cool for 1 hour. Run a knife around the sides of the pan to release crust. Chill the cheesecake, uncovered in the pan, in the refrigerator overnight.

Topping

2 cups mini marshmallows or large marshmallows cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream

Stir the marshmallows and milk in a medium saucepan over low heat until the marshmallows are melted, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and salt. Cool marshmallow mixture to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Add the sour cream to the mixture; fold gently just to blend. Pour the topping over the cheesecake and spread evenly, leaving 1/2 inch uncovered along the edge. Chill for at least 1 hour to set topping. Cut into 12 slices and serve.

The cheesecake will keep for several days in the refrigerator.



Today I’m Making . . .
September 17, 2011, 4:49 pm
Filed under: Today I'm Making

Crab-and-Corn Chowder with Bacon and Shiitake Mushrooms (no one has any chanterelles at the moment it seems) because I need to use up some potatoes, leeks, onions, and celery. Plus it just sounded delicious for this cool, almost-fall Seattle evening.

Sweet Onion Tarts, again because I need to use up onions, but even more than that, this is a favorite first course of mine and I haven’t made it in quite a while. It should pair very nicely with the chowder.



100th Post
August 24, 2011, 9:47 pm
Filed under: Photography

It would probably be more impressive and worth celebrating if I had written this one hundredth post more than two months ago. Where did the summer go? It’s September next week. . . . Where did the year go?

I’ve certainly had more than enough to do, and in fact, I still have more than enough to do. I clearly overcommitted myself to various projects this year, and unfortunately this site has suffered accordingly. It was the easiest thing to let slide, yet at the same time, it hasn’t been easy at all, because I find myself thinking about it constantly, feeling guilty that I haven’t found more time for it. Perhaps more disappointing, I haven’t found the time to do much creative cooking, and I’ve done even less in the way of photography as a result. So many other requests, tasks, and deadlines have stolen me away, and it’s a real shame.

On the positive side of things, I’m still motivated to keep at it. It is encouraging to come here and see that I’ve had some regular traffic still, people checking in. I’m hopeful I can get back into a rhythm, but perhaps 2011 will just be the year I slowed down a little bit before picking up again down the road.

In any case, I did want to share some photos from one of the personal projects I’ve been working on. I helped a friend put together a cookbook proposal and design sample, and I also photographed several recipes for the package. I’m really pleased with how they turned out.

Not bad, huh? Would you have ever guessed that all of these dishes are completely gluten-free? I doubt it, and I can tell you from tasting it myself, you definitely wouldn’t know the difference. It was all absolutely incredible. I still daydream about that strawberry-rhubarb shortcake from time to time. If you’d like to learn about gluten-free baking from the master herself, I highly encourage you to enroll in this class.

I’ll do my very best to get back here sooner than later!



Roasted Black Cod
June 12, 2011, 11:57 am
Filed under: Recipes

I’m probably not terribly unique in that I know how good fish is for me and yet I don’t eat nearly enough of it. Which is to say I usually fail to consider seafood when contemplating what to make for dinner. It somehow doesn’t register as a versatile protein with which I can get creative, which is silly considering how many excellent seafood options there are to be had. I think what it comes down to is my own limitations in thinking up what to do with it.

I can say without a doubt that the two sea dwellers I’ve made at home most frequently over the years would be shrimp and salmon. While either can be prepared numerous ways, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut and to lose interest after too much of the same. And yet I’ve steamed clams and mussels, basted crab legs, and seared scallops. I’ve grilled trout, broiled tuna, and fried halibut. I’m not inexperienced with seafood at home, I just haven’t felt comfortable enough with it to incorporate it fully into weekly meals, especially when the quality tends to be so spotty at my local grocery store.

Enter Good Fish. While working on this excellent cookbook, I found myself wanting to try all of the recipes. Every one of them sounded amazing, and I even had the pleasure of tasting a few of the dishes when attending the photo shoot. (This former scallop-hater started singing a different tune after reluctantly accepting a bite of the Scallop Crudo.)

Now I frequently refer to the cookbook for ideas, and more than that, I refer to it for reassurance. There’s no need to doubt my ability to pick out the best piece of fish (the information is right at my fingertips), and the author encourages readers to get outside their comfort zones and give something new a try. She has even created a delightful series of videos showcasing seafood preparation techniques for those of us who prefer visual demonstrations.

And so it was with confidence and excitement that I made my first trip several weeks ago to Mutual Fish to purchase a fillet of black cod—a fish I had yet to try. If it’s supposedly so rich that it could be substituted by a stick of butter, then it has to be pretty incredible, right?

I was not disappointed. The flesh was soft, moist, fatty, and smooth. It was definitely buttery, and yet the flavor was so subtle (not at all fishy) that the meat really acted as more of a base for the other ingredients. If you haven’t tried it yourself, I highly recommend doing so immediately. I fully intend to make every black cod dish in the book, and I won’t stop there!

Roasted Black Cod with Bok Choy and Soy Caramel Sauce

Makes 4 servings

5 ounces red cabbage, thinly sliced (about 2 cups) [I had to use green cabbage, which wasn’t as fun or beautiful.]
2 large bulbs bok choy, halved
2 small tomatoes, halved
Salt
4 green onions, white and green parts cut into 3-inch lengths
4 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
4 teaspoons seasoned rice wine vinegar
4 slices lime
1 serrano chile, sliced (optional)
1 pound black cod fillet or steaks, cut into 4 equal portions
Soy Caramel Sauce (recipe follows)
4 cups cooked rice

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil.

You’re going to make 4 separate piles on the foil. Each pile will get 1/2 cup cabbage, a bok choy half, a tomato half sprinkled with a little salt, and a quarter of the green onions. Drizzle each pile with 1 teaspoon sesame oil and 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar. Top with a lime slice and sprinkle with some chile pieces. Roast the vegetables in the oven for 20 minutes, or until they are soft and lightly browned around the edges. Keep the oven on.

Remove the pan from the oven, place one piece of black cod, skin side down, on each pile, and drizzle 1 tablespoon soy caramel sauce on each piece of fish. Roast for another 8 to 10 minutes or until a press of the finger reveals a sliding away, ever so gently, of the fish into the beginning of individual flakes. Serve with the rice and remaining soy caramel sauce.

Soy Caramel Sauce

This sauce is lip-smacking good and pairs well with many different fish and seafood, especially crab. Don’t be surprised if you end up wishing you had made a double batch. . . .

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup sake
3 tablespoons mirin
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons

In a small saucepan, add the soy sauce, sake, mirin, sugar, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat and reduce to a simmer. Cook the sauce until it is reduced by half, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn the heat down to its lowest setting and whisk in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, adding each only after the previous one has melted. Taste and add more lemon juice if desired.




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