Cottage Cheese Burgers

My mom used to make these for us when we were kids, and I’ve started making them for my kids, because they’re quick, easy, fun, and delicious. How’s that for a pitch? They’re also, if the internet is anything to go by, not a very common recipe, so I thought I’d go ahead and share them.

So, it’s a very free form recipe, but I use 16 oz cottage cheese, 2 thinly sliced scallions, 2 eggs, some grated Parmesan and salt to taste, and enough breadcrumbs to be able to form the mixture into patties (I’d start with a half-cup, and add more if you need to). Then form into about 8 patties, and fry in a nonstick pan (or well-seasoned cast iron) with a couple TBs of olive or other oil of your choice, over medium to medium-high heat. When they’re brown on one side, flip them over, and continue frying until cooked through. My advice would be to pick a cottage cheese with low moisture, or even strain it if it’s too liquid-y, and the smaller curd types work better than the large curds.

As long as you’re not adding very much more liquid, you could probably season them however you like, but part of the appeal for me is their simplicity, so I usually don’t. Oh, and, this is very important, to achieve their fullest potential, serve them with Russian dressing (or whatever they’re calling ketchup and mayonnaise mixed together these days).

Cauliflower and Chickpea Tacos

My cooking method these days is often to get an idea of what I want to make, Google several recipes, and then combine the best parts of each recipe, adding stuff I like, and getting rid of stuff I don’t like. Then the next time I go to make that dish, I have to recreate the whole process, so, instead, here’s a quick and dirty (and delicious) cauliflower taco recipe reminder.

Two heads of cauliflower + one can of chickpeas. Olive oil, cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika, chipotle chili flakes (couple pinches), salt, pepper. 400° for 25 minutes. Serve with cabbage slaw (1/2 head cabbage + olive oil + lime juice (about half a lime) + cilantro and salt), crema or sour cream, avocado, and queso fresco. Might be good with some kind of toasted almonds next time. Also, maybe double it.

Roast Chicken with Za’atar and Sumac

The essence of home cooking is asking ‘What do you want for dinner?’, and then everyone shrugs and says ‘I dunno’ or occasionally ‘Burritos’. So you head to the supermarket with no list, hoping that whatever they have on sale will inspire your next meal. I mean, I don’t know, maybe that’s just me, and everyone reading this is an expert weeknight meal planner, but I have a hunch that I’m not the only one.

In any case, as long as it’s not summer, and too hot for roasting, a whole chicken is a very respectable answer to the perpetual question of dinner. It’s fairly low effort, it’s almost always tasty, and you can go nuts with whatever seasonings strike your fancy. Look, you have to make your own fun, since it’s clear no one else in this family has any original dinner ideas.

Like a lot of my last-minute dinner ideas, this is a combo of two recipes, one — No-Fail Roast Chicken with Lemon and Garlic from Bon Appétit — for the method, and one — Roast Chicken with Sumac, Za-atar, and Lemon via The Splendid Table — for the flavor profile. And then you make adjustments based on what ingredients you have on hand, and your own experience and personal preference. For example, I trussed the chicken rather than slicing it open at the legs (because why would you do that?), and I used shallots rather than red onions, and I used a mixture of butter and olive oil. Oh, and I just tossed the spices on there without measuring them. Easy, delicious, and now you don’t have to worry about dinner again, until tomorrow night.

Cold Sesame/Peanut Noodles

A delicious summer dinnertime staple that also became a topic of debate when some members of the family called it ‘pasta salad’. It’s okay, we had a long discussion about genre and qualia, and now they only call it that specifically to annoy me.

Serves 4-6

For the noodles and sauce
1 lb. noodles, usually lo mein or spaghetti, but you can use any other type if you like. While you’re doing everything else, you can cook them according to their package directions, drain, and cool them by rinsing them with cold water.
1/4 cup canola oil, or other neutral oil (you can use refined peanut or sesame oil for this part)
1/4 cup sesame seeds
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1-inch finger of fresh ginger, minced
1/4 cup each of creamy peanut butter and tahini or sesame paste, or 1/2 cup total of either, depending on how you’re feeling, and what you have on hand
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 TB rice vinegar or black vinegar if you have it
2 TB Asian-style toasted sesame oil
1 TB honey
2 tsp (or more) sriracha, sambal oelek, or other chili sauce

Toppings, &c.
This is just what I put in this time, but I do it differently depending on what I have around/feel like. You could add cabbage, chicken, chilies, even other things that don’t start with the letter ‘c’. Just be aware that if you have a lot of toppings you might need to make extra sauce.
2 carrots, julienned
1/2 a large cucumber, halved lengthwise then sliced thin
1/2 lb. snap pea pods, halved
4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
5 or so scallions, thinly sliced
large handful of cilantro, chopped
roasted peanuts and sesame seeds

1. Heat the oil and sesame seeds over medium heat in a saucepan. When the sesame seeds start to turn golden brown, add the garlic and ginger, stir, and remove from heat. Continue stirring occasionally until it stops sizzling.

2. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients, stir, and let cool a bit before mixing with the noodles. Adjust the seasonings until it tastes good to you.

3. Toss in all your toppings, reserving some for a garnish if you like. Serve room temp, or chilled, whichever you prefer.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

I wanted to take my pickles for a test drive, so I made pulled pork sandwiches, and, I will say, both styles of pickle worked out just fine. The pulled pork is from this recipe for Carolina Style Pork BBQ Sandwiches from Epicurious, and look, the thing your slow cooker is best suited for is braising meat for a long time at a low temperature, which is kind of the same general idea as barbecue, but since it doesn’t involve any smoke, and does involve a lot of liquid, it’s not remotely the same thing. So this is really pretty good pulled pork, but it ain’t barbecue.

The cole slaw is shredded cabbage and carrots, with mayonnaise, yogurt, apple cider vinegar, and maple syrup. That’s kind of my usual go-to for cole slaw, but you can add other shredded vegetables, like onions, or apples (not a vegetable, I realize), or some fresh herbs or scallions if you like. I just throw everything in a bowl and then taste it and adjust it, you know, add more vinegar if it needs to be tangier, add more syrup if it needs to be sweeter. You can use sour cream or buttermilk or whatever sour-ish dairy you have in the fridge, I just like to cut the mayo with something. Oh, and don’t forget the salt, and some sriracha or other hot sauce, if you like it spicy.

Chicken Thigh Sandwich Number 1: Thai-Inspired

It all started when my husband brought home chicken thighs for dinner, and nothing else. He was planning on marinating and grilling them, but he only bought five thighs for our family of four (including two teenagers), and had no plans for sides, except ‘I think we have stuff for salad?’. We did have some leftover hamburger buns, so I suggested making sandwiches, and, honestly? It was a great idea, and we both ended up wondering why we hadn’t been making them all along. So, I don’t know if you’ve all been holding out on me, and secretly making chicken thigh sandwiches this whole time, or what, but I know like a thousand different ways to marinate chicken, and probably a million different toppings, so chicken thigh sandwiches done all different ways are the current weeknight dinner craze over here.

For the chicken:
The marinade I used was from Barbecued Chicken, Bangkok Style, found in True Thai by Victor Sodsook. The original recipe makes enough marinade for two 3-lb. chickens, so you can halve it, depending on how much chicken you’re making.

1 can (14 oz.) unsweetened coconut milk
2 TB yellow curry paste, or 1 TB curry powder
2 TB fish sauce
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup loosely packed cilantro, including stems, chopped
2 1/2 TB light brown sugar, or palm sugar
1/2 TB ground white pepper

1. Throw everything in a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth. Coat your boneless, skinless chicken thighs in the marinade (I mean, just get as many thighs as you want to eat, which is probably more than five), cover, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or up to 24.

2. Prepare a grill with low coals/heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade, and cook slowly on one side with the cover off for a few minutes, and then covered for another few. Flip, and do the same thing, for a total of about 20 minutes, or until they’re done/the internal temperature reaches 165° F.

For the sauce:
AKA, your secret weapon, Sweet-and-Spicy Dipping Sauce, also from True Thai

Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 TB Chinese-style chili-garlic sauce

In a small saucepan, bring vinegar and 1/2 cup sugar to a low boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to medium and stir in the rest of the sugar. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until it comes back to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and add the salt. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the chili-garlic sauce and remove from heat. Let cool and serve at room temperature. Go ahead and pour this stuff on anything, it’s the best.

For the peanut slaw:
I kind of just stirred together shredded cabbage and carrot, store-bought peanut sauce, lime juice, and salt, until I liked how it tasted. Then I added chopped up peanuts and cilantro. I didn’t have any scallions, but they’d probably be good, too.

For the cucumber relish/Ajaat:
There are lots of different recipes for Ajaat. This time I tried the one from Pok Pok by Andy Ricker, and it was good. It’s a little on the sweet side, though. Also, I couldn’t find any Thai chilies, or Serranos, which is what I usually substitute, so mine was made with Fresno chilies.

Makes about 2 1/4 cups
8 oz. medium, crisp, thin-skinned cucumbers, quartered lengthwise and sliced into triangles (about 1 1/2 cups)
3 oz. shallots, also quartered and sliced (abour 3/4 cup)
6 grams fresh red Thai chilies (about 4), thinly sliced
6 TB white vinegar
6 TB sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp kosher salt
Generous 1/4 cup cilantro leaves

Combine the cucumbers, shallots, and chilies. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, water, and salt, until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Pour enough to cover over the cucumbers, and stir well. You can eat it after just a few minutes, or cover and refrigerate for up to a day. Just before serving, sprinkle with the cilantro leaves.

For the sandwiches:
Use whatever kind of sandwich roll/bun you like (we had brioche). Split and top with a chicken thigh. Drizzle with the sauce, then top with slaw and relish. You could probably toast the buns if you like, but they were fine without.

I know it’s like four different things, but they’re all very easy, and some of them you can make ahead of time if you like. And they are so good, you guys! I promise you will be glad you got on the chicken thigh sandwich bandwagon before it was cool.