Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

My coconut conversion:

Chocolate Dipped Macaroons - Gluten Free!

The bane of my childhood candy experience was a Mounds Bar. I just didn’t get it. I would bite into the promising chocolate nugget, which would immediately give way to a chewy, shredded, nutty interior, that in, my opinion, had no rightful place in a chocolate bar. It was clearly the texture that I did not like. I was mystified by my friends, who bought super-sized packages of Almond Joys to scarf down when we went to the movies. Every Halloween, when my brothers and I would pile our loot in the middle of the kitchen table, gloating and eyeing trade-ups, my chocolate covered coconut bars were the first to offer up with no regrets. Sadly, my brothers were not so keen on coconut either, so the negotiating could get ugly.

As a parent, it baffled me that my children loved coconut. But as chief cookie baker, I stepped up to the plate and used coconut more and more freely in bars, cakes, and cookies. And, you know what? I, too, developed a fondness for this tropical “nut,” appreciating its flaky fresh and nutty interruption like a cool breeze in a sea of sugar. I guess you could say I grew up.

I eat coconut now, unforced, and prefer it paired with dark chocolate. Sometimes I make macaroons, a jumble of coconut bound together with egg white and condensed milk. Yes, the milk is icky-sweet, but it seems to yield the best juicy-soft interior, which is what prevents dryness and distinguishes a great macaroon. I’ve followed a recipe from Ina Garten from time to time, but switch out some of the sweetened coconut with unsweetened, which I find reduces some of the cloyness, and add a whiff of almond extract. Oh, and I always give them a generous dunk in dark chocolate, which has a magnificent grounding effect on, well, everything.

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Makes about 24

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
7 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
7 ounces unsweetened shredded coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces dark (70%) chocolate

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Combine the milk, coconut, vanilla, and almond extract in a large bowl and stir to blend.
3. Beat the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gently fold into the coconut.
4. Drop heaping tablespoon-sized mounds of coconut, about 1 1/2 inches apart, on the baking sheets. Bake on the two center shelves in the oven until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheets to ensure even baking. Remove and cool completely on a wire rack.
5. While the cookies are cooking, melt the chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water over low heat, stirring until smooth. Dip one half of each macaroon in the melted chocolate and transfer to a board or platter lined with parchment. Refrigerate until set. Store at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Greek Tomato and White Bean Stew with Feta and Ouzo

 A splash of Ouzo and a sprinkle of feta add Greek inspiration to this hearty vegetable stew:

White Bean, Kale, Tomato Ragout with Ouzo and Feta

I love hearty vegetable soups in the winter. They are quick to prepare and non-judgmental when it comes to emptying the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator for a healthy dinner. One of my favorite stocks is Italian inspired and tomato based, sometimes with a splash of wine, and often with a rind of cheese added into the mix to exude delicious umami flavor while the soup simmers. I’ll then finish with beans or grains and handfuls of winter greens which wilt in the simmering stock just long enough to soften without discoloring. For this soup, I tweaked my favorite method and took a detour further south to Greece for inspiration. A splash of Ouzo (a Greek anise liqueur) amplifies the fennel in the soup and adds an extra layer of flavor that rounds out the tomatoes’ natural acidity. Rather than submerging a rind of cheese in the stock, I sprinkled feta over the soup for garnish. I must say I was pleased with this little detour, and I hope you are too.

Greek White Bean Stew with Tomato, Feta, and Ouzo

Active Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced, fronds reserved for garnish
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, with juices
1 1/2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock for a vegetarian option)
2 to 3 tablespoons Ouzo or anise liqueur
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch lacinato kale (or chard)
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Crumbled feta for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and fennel and cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften, and the onion is translucent without coloring, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, thyme, and red pepper flakes and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato paste to blend and then add the wine. Simmer until the wine is reduced by about one-third, about 2 minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, 2 tablespoons Ouzo, the bay leaf, sugar, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning, and add a little more salt or another tablespoon of Ouzo if desired.
3. While the stew is simmering, remove the tough stems from the kale, stack the leaves, and slice crosswise into thin ribbons. 
Stir the kale and white beans into the stew and cook until the kale wilts, stirring frequently, 3 to 4 minutes. If the stew is too thick, top off with additional chicken stock and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Ladle the soup into serving bowls and serve garnished with crumbled feta and the reserved fennel fronds.

Elegant Sides: Pureed Cauliflower

A light and silky alternative to mashed potatoes:

Silky pureed cauliflower

Can you ever get tired of potatoes? No, you firmly say, and I would agree. Sometimes, however, a fluffy-creamy-comforting side dish is called for, and potatoes (shocker) just don’t do the trick. Usually it’s simply a menu issue, meaning potatoes are not a perfect match to the main dish. Think shellfish, for instance, such as scallops or shrimp. Or a cuisine that doesn’t traditionally include potatoes. Step in, cauliflower. There’s something a little magical about this gnarly crucifer. Eaten raw, its flavor is pronounced in an earthy, grassy, unmistakably cruciferous way. When steamed, it transforms into something else, morphing into a buttery, milder version of itself – slightly sweet, a little fresh, and beautifully enhanced with, yes, butter. When roasted, it becomes something else entirely, evoking adjectives which include caramelized, nutty, and crisp. I made this puree recently to accompany a dinner of slow-cooked lamb. It goes equally well with just about anything.

Cauliflower Purée

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Makes about 2 1/2 cups

The chicken stock adds great flavor to the purée. If you prefer a vegetarian version, substitute vegetable stock. Alternatively, you can use water, but adjust the seasoning accordingly.

1 large head cauliflower, florets and core cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, loosely packed
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1  teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for garnish
Fresh thyme leaves

Place the cauliflower and chicken stock in a large pot. Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the cauliflower is very tender, about 20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the cauliflower to the bowl of a food processor. Add 1/4 cup of the chicken stock and process until smooth. Add the cheese, butter, garlic, salt, and pepper and process to blend. If the purée is too thick, thin with additional spoonfuls of the stock to your desired consistency. Serve garnished with fresh thyme leaves and extra black pepper.

Grilled Beef Skewers with Green Chile Sauce

Lean into the heat with these spicy grilled steak skewers:

When the weather is hot and shouty, then why not shout back with skewers of fiery meat? These steak skewers are not only cooked over a flame, they are bathed in a heady lime and garlic marinade that tenderizes and infuses the meat with bold flavor and kicking spice. And don’t stop there: Raise the flavor and heat bar further by serving the skewers with a feisty sauce inspired by Zhoug, a green herb condiment hailing from the Middle East. It’s a heat-spiked herbaceous blend that’s a cross between chimichurri and harissa – arguably a match made in heaven. You can keep the steaks in large pieces, or, better yet, cut into strips and thread on skewers for fun party food. Serve the sauce on the side, so the meat can be dabbed or generously swiped – leave it up to your heat threshold to dictate the amount. 

Skirt steak, flank steak, or hanger steak are great cuts that love a marinade, which helps to tenderize their natural toughness. When cutting the meat into strips, be sure to slice across the grain (the way that the muscle fibers are aligned). By doing this, you will cut up the muscle fibers which would otherwise increase chewiness. Grill the meat quickly over direct high heat for best results.

Grilled Skirt Steak Skewers with Green Chile Sauce

Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes plus 4 to 6 hours marinating time
Serves 4 to 6 as a main course

Marinade:
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon Sriracha
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds skirt steak, cut against the grain in 1 inch strips

Sauce:
1 large poblano pepper, stemmed, coarsely chopped
1 large jalapeño pepper, stemmed, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 cup (packed) cilantro sprigs
1 cup (packed) Italian parsley sprigs
1/2 cup (packed) mint leaves
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Prepare:
1. Whisk all of the marinade ingredients together in a small bowl. Place the steak strips in a resealable plastic bag or glass container with a lid. Pour the marinade over and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours.

2. Make the sauce: Place the peppers and garlic in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Add the cilantro, parsley, mint, lime juice, cumin, and salt and process to blend. With the machine running, add the oil, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the sauce is thick but pourable. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt if desired.

3. Remove steak from the refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling. Thread the strips on pre-soaked bamboo skewers and discard the marinade.

4. Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat. Grill the skewers over direct heat until charred and cooked to your desired doneness, 5 to 8 minutes depending on the thickness of the meat. Serve with
 the spicy green chile sauce.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Beat the heat with Caribbean-style Jerk Chicken:

Grilled Jerk Chicken Legs

Jamaican Jerk is a thick and heady Afro-Caribbean marinade chock-a-block full of ingredients. Don’t let the lengthy list of spices and aromatics deter you. All you need is the fire of a grill to unify the flavors and create a spicy-sweet finger licking dinner – perfect for a summer barbecue. The heat in the marinade traditionally comes from Scotch Bonnet peppers (super hot). I’ve modified that with jalapeños – but feel free to go all out with a scotch bonnet (carefully seeded with gloved hands!) if you dare. And remember – as with most meat marinades, the longer the chicken can soak in the marinade, the better the flavor.

Jerk Chicken
Serves 6

Marinade:
6 garlic cloves
4 scallions, chopped
2 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded (optional)
1 (2-inch) knob ginger, peeled, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

6 chicken legs and/or breasts with skin and ribs

Method:
1. Place the marinade ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process to form a paste. Arrange the chicken in a large baking dish. Rub the marinade all over the chicken and under the skin where possible. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
2. Prepare the grill for indirect cooking over medium heat. Grill the chicken over indirect heat until charred and golden brown and thoroughly cooked through, 30 to 45 minutes, depending on size and thickness. During the last few moments of grilling, move the chicken to direct heat to char the skin as needed.
3. Serve garnished with fresh chopped parsley.

Quinoa Bowl with Tomato, Corn, and Avocado

Summer Salad Tomato Corn Avocado

When it’s too hot to cook, try serving a big summery salad for your main meal. Not just a simple garden salad, but a satisfying bowl layered with crisp veggies, grains or legumes, and fresh herbs. The combination is fresh, filling, and light – guaranteed to hit the spot on a warm day. This salad bowl includes the classic summer veggie trio of sweet corn, tomato, and avocado – tumbled together with protein-rich quinoa and mounded over a bed of kale. No need to cook the corn – summer corn is juicy and naturally sweet, and it’s crispness adds great texture to the quinoa. As always, you can tweak the ingredients to your taste. Feel free to substitute another grain for the quinoa, such as wild rice or bulgur. As for the kale, a quick rub of the hardy leaves with oil and salt helps to soften them and coax out their flavor. Alternatively, choose another more tender green, such as arugula or spinach, and skip the rubbing step.

Tomato, Corn, and Quinoa Bowl with Kale and Avocado

Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
Serves 4

Dressing:
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 small garlic clove
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dash of hot sauce, such as Tabasco
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil 

Salad:
1 small bunch Tuscan/Lacinato kale, ribs removed, torn into bite-size pieces
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt
3 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
2 ears of corn, uncooked, husked, kernels cut from the cobs
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 poblano pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup tricolor or red quinoa, cooked and cooled
1 small handful Italian parsley leaves, chopped, about 1/2 cup
1 small handful cilantro leaves, chopped, about 1/2 cup
1 ripe but firm avocado, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1. Whisk the lime juice, vinegar, garlic, mustard, honey, salt, black pepper, and Tabasco in a small bowl. Add the oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly to emulsify.
2. Place the kale in a large bowl. Drizzle 1 to 2 teaspoons oil over the leaves and season with a generous pinch of salt. Rub the leaves until thoroughly coated (this will help to soften them).
3. Combine the scallions, corn, peppers, tomatoes, quinoa, parsley, and cilantro in a separate bowl. Pour about 1/4 cup of the dressing over the salad and gently stir to combine. Mound the salad over the kale. (Or divide between individual serving bowls.) Top with the avocado and drizzle with additional dressing to taste.

Roasted Baby Beet Gratin

Roasted Beet Gratin

This recipe is one of my favorite ways to eat beets, especially in the winter when rich gratins are warm and satisfying. It’s also a great way to introduce the beetroot to any skeptical family member. Small or baby beets are mild and sweet, and their flavor is less assertive than their grown-up relatives. In this recipe, they are thinly sliced and smothered in layers of garlic-infused sour cream flecked with orange zest and a generous shower of nutty Gruyère cheese. All of the ingredients meld together, and while the beets are present, they are not overwhelming in flavor. As they cook, the beets release their juices and saturate the dish with spectacular color, which makes this one of the prettiest gratins I have seen. So give it a try, and let the skeptics eat with their eyes – and also hopefully with a fork.

Roasted Baby Beet Gratin

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Makes one (8 by 8-inch) gratin or 6 to 8 (4-ounce) ramekins

2 cups (16 ounces) sour cream
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Unsalted butter
16 baby beets, about 2 pounds trimmed, scrubbed clean
4 ounces finely grated Gruyere cheese
Finely chopped thyme leaves

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter an 8 by 8-inch square gratin dish (or individual ramekins). Whisk the sour cream, garlic, orange zest, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a bowl.
2. Thinly slice the beets with a mandolin or knife.
3. Arrange 1/3 of the beets, slightly overlapping in the baking dish. Spoon 1/3 of the sour cream over the beets, carefully spreading to cover. Sprinkle 1/3 of the cheese over the top. Lightly season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of thyme. Repeat with two more layers.
4. Transfer the gratin to the oven and bake until the beets are tender and the gratin is bubbly and golden, about 50 minutes. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm.