What's for dinner? Tips for better tacos and a taste of Italy
Tribune News Service, The Daily Meal
Tacos, meatballs, pasta, etc. Meal planning doesn't have to be complicated. Here are a few recipes that are both comforting and simple. Plus, one chef offers tips for stress baking brioche.
EatingWell: The secret to 'better' tacos
These full-flavor tacos are wrapped up in sneaky lower-carb "tortillas" made from cauliflower. The trick is getting as much moisture out of the cauliflower before mixing it with the cheese and eggs.
Cauliflower Tortilla Beef Tacos
Active Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
For the cauliflower tortillas:
1 head cauliflower
3 tablespoons water
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin or cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese
For the filling:
2 teaspoons avocado oil or organic canola oil
1 pound lean ground beef
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle powder, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons tomato paste
For the toppings:
1/2 cup fresh salsa
1 cup shredded lettuce
1 avocado, diced
Shredded Monterey Jack cheese (optional)
1. Core cauliflower and cut into florets. Process in a food processor, in two batches, until the cauliflower looks like fine rice. Place 3 tablespoons water in a large saucepan and add the cauliflower. Cover and steam over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is very soft, 8 to 10 minutes.
2. Line a colander with a clean kitchen towel. Scrape the cauliflower into the towel and let sit until cool, about 15 minutes. Wrap it up into a bundle and squeeze from the top down to remove excess moisture from the cauliflower. Continue squeezing for several minutes until the ball of cauliflower is about half its original size and you have squeezed out about 1 cup of liquid.
3. Whisk egg, cumin, pepper and salt in a large bowl. Add the cauliflower and stir to combine. Add cheese and stir to combine.
4. Arrange racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 350 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment and lightly coat with cooking spray.
5. Shape the cauliflower mixture on the parchment into 8 disks about 5 inches across, using about 1/4 cup each. Bake until dried, about 12 minutes. Flip over with a thin metal spatula and continue baking until browned in spots, 6 to 8 minutes more.
6. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef and cook, breaking it up into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until browned and no longer pink, 3 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle with chili powder, cumin, chipotle powder and salt, and stir to coat; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add water and tomato paste, and stir until the tomato paste has dissolved into the water and forms a sauce to coat the beef mixture.
7. Serve the beef in the warm tortillas, about 1/4 cup each. Top with salsa, lettuce, avocado and cheese, if desired. Serve with lime wedges.
Make-ahead tips: Cool tortillas completely, place between layers of wax paper or parchment paper in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to two days. To serve, warm on a griddle or cast-iron skillet until starting to brown, if desired.
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)
The Kitchn: This lazy meatball soup is simple and comforting
There are a lot of ways to up the coziness factor of a bowl of soup, but my favorite is to add mini meatballs. Perhaps it's because I grew up on cans of Progresso Chickarina soup; for me, there's nothing more satisfying than digging into a bowl of soup and discovering a little meatball on your spoon.
This homemade meatball soup is pure comfort, with a brothy tomato base that's filled with al dente pasta, wilted spinach, and bite-sized meatballs. To ensure it's absolutely weeknight-friendly, though, there's a little shortcut involved: Instead of making the meatballs with traditional ingredients, sausage jumps in to make things extra-easy -- and arguably even more flavorful.
Sausage is the flavor-packed shortcut
Making tiny meatballs for soup can be a bit fussy. You have to mix together ground meat, breadcrumbs, aromatics, and maybe an egg, form them into small balls, and pan-fry or bake them before tossing them into the soup pot. Here, we're skipping all of that by starting with sausage. You'll simply roll uncooked Italian sausage -- free from its casing -- into tiny balls, brown them, then let them finish cooking in the simmering soup.
Since sausage is already filled with aromatics and spices, you hardly need to add much to the soup to get great results. As the sausage meatballs simmer, they'll flavor the rest of the soup in a short amount of time.
Sausage Meatball Soup
Serves 4 to 6
1 medium yellow onion
4 cloves garlic
1 pound uncooked sweet or hot Italian sausage
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 cup dried ditalini or small shell pasta
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 ounces baby spinach (about 5 packed cups)
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
1. Finely chop 1 medium yellow onion and mince 4 cloves garlic.
2. Remove the casings from 1 pound sweet or hot Italian sausages if needed. Form the sausage into 1-inch-wide meatballs (about 1 heaping teaspoon each), wetting your hands with water as needed to keep the mixture from sticking, and place on a baking sheet. You should have about 38 meatballs.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add half the meatballs in a single layer and pan-fry until browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Use tongs to carefully flip the meatballs and brown a second side, about 3 minutes more.
4. Transfer to a large plate (the meatballs will not be fully cooked). Repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and remaining meatballs.
5. Add the onion to the now-empty pot and saute until softened and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Pour in 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth and 1 can crushed tomatoes. Stir to combine, then bring to a boil.
6. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Stir in the reserved meatballs and any accumulated juices on the plate, 1 cup dried ditalini or small shell pasta, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the meatballs and pasta are cooked through, about 10 minutes.
6. Stir in 5 ounces baby spinach (about 5 packed cups), a few handfuls at a time, until just wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve garnished with shaved Parmesan cheese.
Recipe notes: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days or frozen for up to three months.
(Sheela Prakash is a senior contributing food editor to TheKitchn.com, a nationally known blog for people who love food and home cooking. Submit any comments or questions to email@example.com.)
Seriously Simple: Roast cherry tomatoes and garlic show off their versatility
As a chef and cookbook author, I always enjoy a challenge. So, given what we are all going through around the globe, I have tasked myself with developing dishes that offer a burst of flavor with few ingredients.
I've been combining various components to add to simple dishes to amp up their flavor, and I've come up with a recipe for a delightfully rustic cherry tomato and garlic sauce. It should be easy to find the basic ingredients for this dish right now. Hopefully, most of them are already in your pantry.
This dish fondly reminds me of a lunch I enjoyed at a Venetian trattoria I visited a few years back. While none of us will be visiting Italy anytime soon, it's uplifting to enjoy a little "taste of Italy."
A colorful variety of cherry tomatoes are available right now; they are a cook's best friend while we await the real tomato season. They have little bursts of sweet flavor when tossed into a salad and are a nice surprise when halved and roasted in the oven — allowing their rich, intense caramel tomato flavor to come forward.
Rustic in flavor and presentation, this recipe can be served right out of the baking dish; so use a pretty one that can come to the table.
Make sure to mix the pasta well with the sauce for best flavor. You should plan on a few minutes to halve the tomatoes. but that's the most work you will do for this recipe. Serve this on its own with a mixed green salad.
This chunky, roasted tomato sauce is also delicious spooned over a simple piece of roasted or grilled fish, or you can spoon the sauce on top of crispy, toasted French bread slices (crostini). I often add a dollop of ricotta cheese or a grating of Parmesan cheese on top of the tomato mixture and serve it as a lovely appetizer. A glass of sparkling wine would be a nice addition to this meal.
—Add cooked shredded chicken to the pasta for a more substantial dish.
—Grill shrimp or scallops and place them on top of the pasta.
—Refrigerate any leftover pasta and serve chilled the next day, with cold roast chicken, salmon or halibut.
—Add a little balsamic reduction to the pasta.
Pasta with Roasted Cherry Tomato and Garlic Sauce
Serves 4 to 6
1 1/2 pounds ripe cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup fresh French breadcrumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound penne, fusilli or spaghetti pasta
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil
1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Put the tomato halves in a large oven-proof baking dish that can be brought to the table.
2. In a small bowl, combine the garlic, breadcrumbs, cheese, salt and pepper. Spoon evenly over the tomatoes. Spoon the olive oil evenly over the mixture.
3. Roast the tomatoes for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the mixture is bubbly, browned and slightly thickened.
4. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta for about 10 minutes, or until al dente. Drain well.
5. Add the pasta to the tomato mixture in the baking dish. Add the basil and toss well to combine so that sauce clings to the pasta. Serve immediately.
(Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including "Seriously Simple Parties," and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.)
How to make homemade Pop-Tarts
As we grow older and put more of an emphasis on healthy eating, it’s easy to forget some of the delicious desserts and sugary breakfast cereals we ate as children. And even though those sweet treats may not be healthy, it’s still fun to return to them every once in a while for a dose of comfort and nostalgia.
Sweets such as dirt cups, banana splits and oatmeal creme pies are some of the first that comes to mind when we think about desserts from our childhood. And one of the most famous packaged childhood treats of all tastes so much better when homemade.
For many, Pop-Tarts are nearly synonymous with childhood nostalgia. They’re also an easy and quick homemade snack, taking just over 30 minutes to make from scratch. If you're unable to make a trip to the grocery store for the store-bought version or you want to test your baking skills and try to impress your friends and family, you can make homemade Pop-Tarts using mostly pantry staples. This is just one of the many childhood desserts that you forgot existed.
Homemade Pop-Tarts with Brown Sugar Glaze
For the Pop-Tarts:
2 ready-made pie crusts
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 large egg
2 teaspoons water
For the Glaze:
3/4 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon milk, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a baking sheet.
Unroll one pie crust and press or roll out to an 11-inch circle. Gently press the pie crust into an ice cube tray, creating deep wells.
In a small bowl, stir together 1/2 cup brown sugar, cinnamon and the flour to create the pop tart filling.
Spoon the filling into the pie crust wells, dividing evenly. You may need to press the filling down gently.
Unroll the second pie crust and repeat the process of pressing or rolling out to an 11-inch circle. Carefully drape the second pie crust on top of the filled ice cube tray. Press around all edges and between the wells to seal the pie crusts together.
Trim pie dough with kitchen shears, leaving a half-inch border around the ice cube tray. Fold and roll edges to seal.
Invert the ice cube tray onto the prepared baking sheet. Cut the mini pop tarts apart (a pizza cutter works great for this step).
Using a fork, quickly press around the edges of each pop tart to seal the filling inside.
Make an egg wash by combining egg and water in a small bowl, whisking until pale and frothy. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg wash onto the pie dough.
Bake the homemade Pop-Tarts 18 to 20 minutes, until golden on the bottoms. Let cool for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the Pop-Tart glaze by mixing the powdered sugar, third-cup brown sugar, milk and vanilla in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 25 to 30 seconds, then stir until smooth.
Frost the tops of your Pop-Tarts and serve (after ensuring that the filling is not too hot to eat), or let cool completely before storing in an airtight container.
Stress baking? Then you need to try this calming new bread technique
LOS ANGELES - Pastry chef Dyan Ng's pan-roasted honey brioche isn't just new; it's revolutionary. She created it for the brunch menu at Auburn "to give people something different that they've never tried before."
"As a cook, I don't want to be showy, but I always want to do something different," Ng says.
Ng cites Auburn and its surroundings as her inspiration. When Eric Bost was opening the restaurant on Melrose Avenue, he called Ng, then the pastry chef at Michael Mina's restaurant in Baltimore's Four Seasons hotel. Bost said, "Hey, I'm looking for a pastry chef. Do you know any?" Ng immediately replied, "Yeah, me, chef."
She was excited for the opportunity to return to L.A., where she had moved from the Philippines as a child. She stayed to start her culinary career after high school before going to Las Vegas to cook in the kitchens of Alain Ducasse, Francois Payard and Guy Savoy. Those years of intense training in French techniques gave Ng the skills and freedom to create original takes on classics, like this brioche.
Ng first developed a formula for a milkless brioche extra rich in butter and eggs so it wouldn't taste like pain au lait. And though the brioche was delicious, she said, "It was just a delicious French bread." She then caramelized the top of the loaf with honey butter while it baked but wanted the bread to be more tender all the way through. So she decided to cook the dough completely on the stove while basting it with honey butter.
"I hadn't seen this technique before, but I can't say it hasn't been done," Ng said. "Honestly, I didn't think it would work, but I nailed it on the first try." Ng then went on to perfect it. To achieve just-right tenderness in stovetop pan-roasting while creating layers of flavor, she landed on putting the rich dough through five stages of proofing over three days.
I didn't know any of that when I first tasted it. I just knew I wanted to find out what Ng was doing throughout brunch service. My seat faced Ng's pastry station and I couldn't stop staring. Framed by the floor-to-ceiling glass door between the open kitchen and dining room, Ng stood over a portable burner and kept swirling a skillet with a small golden dome peeking over the lip of the pan as it slid around. Now and then, she'd spoon sauce over the slowly ballooning top with the circling arm swoop of a meat cook basting a steak. Even from my perspective some 20 feet away, I could see Ng's focus and calm. I wanted what she was having.
The brioche itself, yes, but also the process of making it. The final step happens tableside, when Ng pours honey-butter caramel all over the deeply browned brioche. Over that sugary aroma is a sourdough tang and the kind of cultured-butter scent that borders on cheese.
It's all very confusing until you take a bite. It has the yeasty depth of sourdough without the self-righteous austerity, the buttery richness of brioche with an almost custardy egginess, the welcome bitter edge of dark caramel seeping into the bread and running all over the plate.
Ng's years of mastering French pastry are clear in this brilliant technique that's actually easy to execute even if it takes days. The genius is in its simplicity. Her technical skills translate into just-right proportions of five ingredients that yield foolproof dough, and the two-night proofing ensures the bread stays tender on the stovetop while holding its shape and caramelizing to a dark brown.
Testing this recipe at home over the weeks that the coronavirus changed this city and country, I found that it not only worked perfectly every time in every variation but also provided a welcome peace.
At each non-proofing stage, this brioche demands your attention and rewards it with sensory pleasure. The dough slaps the mixer bowl with a steady low thwap, thwap, thwap. When you gather the soft mass into a ball, its silky stretch delivers a deep tactile joy. So too does cutting and shaping the cool smooth dough into rounds. You can inhale its yeasty scent whether it's baking or cooking on the stove. With the latter, you enter zen mode, watching the dough slowly poof as you baste it with honey butter that bubbles and darkens into caramel. You have to be present in every sense. In our current state, it's a wonderful place to be.
Ng is back in Auburn's kitchen preparing desserts for its takeout meals. She's worried about her family in the Philippines, but she's grateful to be in the restaurant, which feels like a second home. Reflecting on all that's changed since Auburn's last brunch service, Ng said, "I think there's going to be a different connection for me when I'm cooking. I just want my food to be more nurturing."
This brioche definitely is, in taste and in the baking process. Ng didn't create it for these times, but it's exactly what we need now.
—By Genevieve Ko, Los Angeles Times
PAN-ROASTED HONEY BUTTER BRIOCHE
2 hours, plus 3 days proofing. Makes 1 dozen.
This technique, which is revolutionary and satisfying to execute, requires serving the brioche right away and works best if you're making just one to four at a time. I found the ideal balance to be doing a few on the stovetop to eat right away, then baking the remaining dough balls for the most delicious rolls to enjoy anytime with or without the honey butter. Or you can skip the honey butter and simply tuck all the dough into a pan for a brioche-meets-sourdough loaf.
1 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons salted butter (250 grams), preferably cultured high-fat
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (333 grams)
1/4 cup granulated sugar (50 grams)
1 envelope active dry yeast (7 grams) or 20 grams fresh cake yeast
5 large eggs (250 grams), room temperature
2 1/4 pounds unsalted butter (1,026 grams)
2 cups honey (680 grams), preferably light amber
1. Make the brioche: Take the butter out of the refrigerator and cut into tablespoons. Place on a plate in a single layer to soften. When you press into a piece, it should yield to pressure like Play-Doh. Use more butter to lightly butter a large container or bowl.
2. While the butter softens, combine the flour and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Sprinkle the dried yeast or crumble the fresh yeast on top, then add 2 eggs. Beat on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened, scraping the bowl if needed. Continue mixing while adding the remaining 3 eggs one at a time. Scrape the bowl and raise the speed to medium-high. Continue beating until the wet dough flaps against the side of the bowl, about 5 minutes. The dough will still look broken and cling to the sides of the bowl at this point.
3. Pick up a piece of butter, smash it a little between your fingers, then toss it into the mixer while the hook beats on medium-high speed. When it completely disappears into the dough, add another piece in the same way. Keep going until all the butter is incorporated. This will take about 10 minutes. (The mixer may jump on your counter, so hold the machine steady with one hand while adding the butter with the other.) The machine's beating will heat up the dough, but the butter will help cool it down to prevent it from breaking. The dough is done when it's smooth, shiny and stretchy. If you hook a finger into the dough and pull, it should hang like Silly Putty. Don't overbeat or the dough may break.
4. Remove the hook and use your hands to scoop the dough out of the bowl. Holding it over your work surface, pass it back and forth between your hands, gathering the sides under until the dough is very smooth on top. Lay it in the buttered container and gently press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the dough so it doesn't form a skim, then cover the container with a lid or another sheet of plastic wrap stretched taut. Let proof at room temperature for one hour, then transfer to the refrigerator for 12 hours.
5. Cut 12 pieces of wax or parchment paper into 5-inch squares. Generously butter one side of each square. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, uncover and, pressing a bench scraper or sharp knife straight down into the dough, cut into 12 even pieces (about 74 grams each if you've got a scale).
6. Holding a piece of dough with both hands, flatten it slightly, then pull the edges under to form a tight ball. Put the ball in one palm, then cup your other hand around the ball and rotate that hand to tighten the ball further while giving it a perfectly round shape. The dough will be sticky, but don't flour your hands or the dough. Transfer the ball to a buttered paper square, top side up. Repeat with the remaining dough. Arrange the balls on a sheet pan, spacing an inch apart. Drape a sheet of plastic wrap gently over the pan and let the dough proof at room temperature for three hours. Cover the pan from edge to edge loosely with plastic wrap, then refrigerate for 12 hours.
7. Remove the pan from the refrigerator and remove the outer sheet of plastic wrap. Let proof at room temperature for three hours.
8. To pan-roast in honey butter, follow these instructions for cooking one roll. You can cook up to four rolls at a time, using a small skillet for one roll, a medium skillet for two or a large skillet for four. Increase the butter and honey proportionally: Use 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) butter and 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons (2 ounces) honey per roll. Melt the butter and honey together in a skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When the mixture starts to bubble, set a 4-inch-round, 2-inch-high ring mold in the center of the skillet. Turn the heat to low, then cup one hand over a risen dough round and gently invert the dough into that hand and carefully peel off the paper with the other hand. Gently tip the dough into the center of the ring, tucking it in if needed.
9. Set a timer for nine minutes. Start spooning the honey butter over the dough and continue basting it for 30 seconds. If any air bubbles appear, gently pop them. Take a break, then go back to basting now and then, swirling the mold while basting to ensure dough doesn't stick.
10. When the timer goes off, very carefully slide a spatula or bench scraper under the dough and ring mold and flip both together back into the pan. Set the timer for nine minutes again. Baste for 30 seconds, then take a break. Baste the dough and swirl the mold every once in a while.
11. Turn the heat to high and set the timer for 3 1/2 minutes. The honey butter will begin to bubble rapidly and start to caramelize. Use a small offset spatula to push and slide the bread in the ring mold around the pan to evenly caramelize the bottom. When the bottom of the bread is dark golden brown, after about 1 1/2 minutes, carefully slide the spatula under the dough and ring mold and flip it over. Reduce the heat to medium as the caramel takes on a dark brown color and add 3 tablespoons water to prevent it from burning. Continue pushing and sliding the ring mold around the pan with the spatula and add more water if the caramel starts to darken or thicken too much. It should be the consistency of maple syrup.
12. When the timer goes off, slide a spatula or bench scraper under the ring mold and dough and lift the bread out of the pan and flip onto a wax or parchment paper-lined pan. Let cool for a minute, then slide the small offset spatula between the bread and ring mold to release the bread while lifting off the mold.
13. Transfer the bread to a serving dish. Pour the hot caramel sauce through a fine-mesh sieve set over a cup with a spout, then immediately pour the sauce over the bread. Serve hot. Repeat with the remaining bread dough balls, butter and honey.
Baked Brioche Rolls Heat the oven to 350 degrees. After the dough rounds have finished proofing in step 7, uncover the pan. Bake until light golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of one through the bottom registers 190 degrees, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, divide the honey butter ingredients between two large skillets. Melt over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Continue cooking until caramelized to a light golden brown, then carefully transfer the hot buns to the pans, dividing evenly. Spoon the honey butter over the buns until well-glazed on top and dark golden brown on the bottom, three to five minutes.
Divide the buns among serving plates. Strain and pour the hot caramel sauce over the buns. Serve hot.
Brioche Loaf Butter a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan. After the dough has chilled in step 4, transfer to a clean work surface and press into a 9-inch-wide by 6-inch-long rectangle. Roll the rectangle along its length in three turns, then press the seam shut. Center the roll in the pan seam side down. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let proof at room temperature for three hours, then refrigerate for 12 hours.
Remove the pan from the refrigerator. Let proof at room temperature for four hours, then remove the plastic wrap.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake until golden brown and an instant-read thermometer registers 190 degrees, 30 to 35 minutes. Unmold the brioche onto a wire rack. You can cool it and enjoy it plain at this point or glaze it with honey butter while it's warm.
If you want to glaze the loaf, melt 6 ounces butter and 4 ounces honey in a medium skillet over medium heat. Melt, stirring occasionally, then continue cooking until dark caramel in color and thick. Slowly pour it over the warm loaf to coat. Serve warm.
The unglazed baked brioche loaf and rolls can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to one day or in the freezer for up to three months. Thaw if frozen and, in both cases, refresh in a toaster oven or hot oven to serve warm.