Sunday, December 19, 2010

Butter Tarts

Last night was a bit unbelievable. But, the story starts at the beginning of the week. Knowing we had this party to attend on Saturday evening, I started thinking of what food I might make to bring. I was watching a(nother) recorded episode of "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" which showed chefs making their very favorite item for the holidays. One chef was making butter tarts, which I had never heard of before, but how could something called a butter tart be anything but great, right? I watched him make dough with lots of butter, and a filling of brown sugar, raisins and more butter. Sold!

Immediately I thought "I need to make these!" and then quickly remembered the upcoming party. Perfect! Because any recipe that uses nearly a pound of butter should definitely be shared with friends, and preferably brought to someone else's house to avoid eating all the leftovers!
We arrived at the party on Saturday evening with an over-sized platter of warm tarts. As I found a place to set the tray down, I explained that these were call butter tarts and that I learned about them from watching a tv show earlier in the week.

Now, here's where things took a turn for the unbelievable. The guys at the party knew what they were! See, the party was full of hockey friends, many of whom are Canadian. And, apparently butter tarts are traditional Canadian treat!! Crazy. What are the odds of randomly picking a brand new recipe to try out for a party, and it turns out to be a favorite of the host and their guests?

Butter Tarts
Inspired by Beau MacMillan's Carmelized Butter Tarts

Dough
Chez Pim's perfect pie dough
Since I can't do a better job of blogging the 'how to' than Pim already has, use her site for a perfect pie crust tutorial to see how simple ingredients with a straightforward technique can yield an unbelievable crust.


Filling
1/3 Cup butter
1 Cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons milk
1 egg
1/2 cup raisins
1 teaspoon vanilla

Divide dough into 18 pieces and press into tart pans. Put pans with dough in the fridge until ready to fill.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Cover raisins with hot water and let stand. Melt the butter, brown sugar and milk in saucepan and stir until the sugar starts to dissolve. Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool. Add vanilla, whisk in the egg and (drained) raisins.

Divide the filling among the tarts and bake until bubbly, about 25 minutes.

*Some notes- I used muffin pans, doubled the filling recipe above, and divided the dough into 24 pieces. I also par-baked the crust, which I would not do again, as some of the filling seeped out and practically cemented itself to the bake sheet. With that thought, I checked other recipes and discovered that some cream the butter & brown sugar instead of melting it on the stovetop, so that might help keep things in place next time. And there *will* be a next time.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Green Tomato Pickles


I haven't eaten a pickled green tomato in at least 20 years. Growing up, I separated the delicatessens into two categories - ones that offered killer kosher pickles while you waited for your food, and ones that offered killer kosher pickles AND tomato pickles. Sadly, down here in TX, the only time I've seen a green tomato in a restaurant was a fried offering on a menu. (A confession: I thought Fried Green Tomatoes was something created for the movie.)
Last month our CSA delivered green tomatoes and I gave our share to a friend who was excited to fry them up. The following week more tomatoes came, and another friend wanted to make fried green tomatoes. (Another confession: I have actually tried fried green tomatoes and they are pretty tasty!) The CSA kept sending more green tomatoes each week, and I suddenly remembered I could make pickles out of them! That week I called dibs.
I went to my recipe I use for pickling daikon (one of Charlotte's absolute favorite things - "more pickled radish please!") which uses apple cider vinegar and a mix of pickling spices. But, after running out of vinegar and breaking a jar while processing the first batch, I went to the store to load up on plain old white vinegar and dill seed so I could follow Marisa's pickled tomato advice. Ironically, she published a post about breaking jars about 5 minutes after I had blown the bottom out of mine. Side note: I've never bought dill seed before but I *must* find something else to make with them - they smell fantastic! Side note #2: I don't actually know Marisa, but my sister does so I'm taking that license to use her first name in my post.
And, I can't believe I haven't eaten a green tomato pickle in 20 years. Yes, that is present tense. Because they guys were just jarred yesterday, so I've got to wait at least a week before breaking the seal. Just to tease me, the recorded show I chose to watch off the DVR this evening was an episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate. And as I watched Michael Psilakis talk about his favorite garlicky sandwich from Katz's Deli, I paused the screen as he was about to take a bite and sure enough there were pickles AND pickled tomatoes sitting on his plate.

Green Tomato Pickles
Adapted from Food in Jars

Ingredients:
3 lbs green tomatoes
2 C white vinegar
2 C water
2 Tablespoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon dill seed
10 whole garlic cloves

Equipment:
5 pint mason jars
canning supplies

1. Make brine of vinegar, water & salt. Heat to simmer and salt dissolves.
2. Wash green tomatoes and cut in wedges.
3. Sterilize jars and in each hot jar use clean hands to carefully place tomato wedges, two garlic cloves and 1/2 teaspoon dill seed. (Marisa added whole peppercorns and bay leaves - I intentionally omitted the bay, but complete forgot about peppercorn.)
4. Simmer lids, pour hot brine on top of tomatoes, apply warmed lids and screw on bands.
5. Process jars in boiling water for 10 minutes.
6. Remove and place on a dish towel or cooling rack. Let cool completely and ensure jars have sealed before storing in the pantry. If one doesn't seal, put it in the fridge instead.
7. Wait at least a week, or up to a year.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Strozzapreti (Ricotta dumplings)

My sister and I live nearly 2000 miles apart. We usually only see each other once or twice a year, and in the weeks leading up to these visits there is a flurry of email to discuss food. We like to eat out for a couple of meals, and I introduce her to something new (or new to me) in Houston's awesome restaurant scene. And we make sure to visit a local favorite. But, most of the email discussion centers around what we will cook together in the kitchen. We scour our lists of receipes we want to try that are labor-intensive (note to self to update this with a link when I finally get around to blogging more cooking from our visit) or ones that are simply more fun with another pair of hands in the kitchen. Or, something eye-catching that we decide to try together.

The inspiration for this was something I saw while watching Iron Chef America. Though their uber-creative offerings are usually not for the home cook, I was captivated by a ricotta dumpling that was presented as part of one of the courses. A ravioli filling without dough - how perfect! But first, we had to find a recipe and turned to the web. We discovered that not only have plenty of other people made ricotta dumplings out there, but it even has a name - strozzapreti - which litterally means 'priest choker.' Thank goodness for a wikipedia entry and all of the bizarre content it contains. Some recipes referred to these as gnudi. Many contained chopped cooked spinach, but I was set on re-creating some fluffy, white clouds.
We made the ricotta (check out pics from this ziti casserole with fresh ricotta!) and an amazing tomato-onion-butter sauce to nestle them in (do click this link, you won't be sorry!) Who know blending those three simple ingredients could be so awesome? The sauce recipe calls for removing the onion at the end of the cooking process and after putting them aside on a plate, they wound up getting eaten with our fingers before ever reaching the table. I honestly can't remember the exact recipe we used (this is when being a lazy blogger comes back to bite me) so feel free to change things up.

Strozzapreti
Adapted from Food52

2 cups fresh ricotta (or fresh ricotta made from 1 gallon of milk)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese grated
2 eggs
5 tablespoons flour sifted
nutmeg
salt
black pepper


If using purchased ricotta, drain for 1/2 hour so it looses the excess water.

Lightly beat the 2 eggs. In a bowl add the ricotta, eggs, sifted flour, 2 tablespoons of parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg freshly grated and use a fork to fold the ingredients gently. Taste for seasoning.

Line a tray with parchment paper.

Lightly dust your hands with flour and make little balls 1 inch diameter, using a teaspoon to help measuring the strozzapreti. Put the strozzapreti on the parchment paper as you go along leaving some space in between each. At this point you can refrigerate them until it's time to cook them (or even freeze them.)

In a large pot, bring water with a little salt to a boil and as soon as it reaches boiling point drop a few dumplings at a time. As soon as they float up remove them with a strainer and put in the serving plate where you have put half the hot melted butter. Finish cooking all the dumplings, serve with Hazan's tomato sauce and emaining parmesan cheese.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pesto Pasta with Tomatoes

This is, hands-down, the perfect quick summer meal. Spencer's been asking for pesto pasta for several days, and was all smiles last night upon discovering it had made on our dinner menu. I made an impulse purchase at the store and picked up a pint of the most beautiful assortment of adorable organic heirloom tomatoes. Do other people make impulse buys like this??
I do not have a green thumb. This is the second year in a row I purchased a few basic vegetables and herbs for our garden, and have very little to show for it. Last year we watched peppers form and grow, and then get eaten by birds and critters. We're watching a repeat performance this year as tomatoes change from green to orange to red, and then discover a big hole eaten into the backside. Very, very discouraging. But, luckily, there is one exception.
Basil. Ah basil. It seems that each year the basil plant is something that can't help but thrive. And, it (almost) makes up for the lack of productivity of the other plants. Because nothing more delicious, and easy, than freshly-made pesto. I am told that it freezes excellently, but I can't seem to keep from eating it all up during the summertime.
A couple tips about making pesto that I have learned from mistakes. Make sure you have LOTS of basil. Pesto is about basil flavor. I have screwed up in the past by adding too many nuts. It should be mostly basil, a bunch of cheese, a sprinkling of nuts, garlic to taste, and oil to your desired consistency. And, to prevent it from oxidizing and discoloring in the fridge if you're not using it all right away, float a small quantity of olive oil over the top.

Pesto Pasta with Tomatoes

1/2 lb pasta
1 pint small tomatoes, halved or quartered
1/2 - 3/4 Cup, or more, pesto
  - fresh basil
  - grated parmesan cheese
  - pine nuts
  - fresh garlic
  - olive oil
  - salt & pepper

  1. Put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil for pasta, and cook according to directions. Reserve 1/2 Cup pasta water.
  2. Fill food processor with washed & dried basil leaves. Add a generous amount of cheese, some pine nuts, a few fresh garlic cloves, salt & pepper and some olive oil. Pulse a few times, then add additional olive oil as needed for desired consistency. If not using right away, leave it a bit on the thick side. Scoop pesto into a dish, smooth out the surface, and pour some olive oil evenly over the top.
  3. Toss hot pasta with pesto to coat, thinning with reserved pasta water if desired. Gently mix in tomatoes. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Granola

Happy Summer Solstice! While the (ridiculously) warm weather has been upon us for a while now, summer is officially here! In the cooler months I like to make sure the kids have a hot breakfast before heading off to school, but that doesn't sound as appealing when the temps are over 80°F before 8:00 am. Like today. Seriously. Fortunately, the kids are in agreement with me that cool yogurt is the perfect way to start these steamy days, and home-made granola is the perfect mix in. And, if you haven't used up all your home-made jam on some pannukakku, definitely add some of that in too.
My hero Alton Brown shared his favorite recipe for granola, which quickly became our favorite recipe around here. Prepackaged granola is pricey, but organic rolled oats from the bulk bin are decidedly inexpensive. And, the part of me which needs to be in control (um, which admittedly is all of me) likes knowing (controlling) exactly what goes into the food which goes into our bodies.
I recently watched an episode of Diners, Drive Ins & Dives that featured granola pancakes, with the granola mixed into the batter! Looked delish. Anyone have a good recipe to convert this tasty home-made granola into a pancake??

Granola
Adapated from Alton Brown

Ingredients:

3 cups rolled oats
2 cups sliced or slivered almonds
3/4 cup shredded sweet coconut
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 250° F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts, coconut, and brown sugar.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine maple syrup, oil, and salt. Combine both mixtures and pour onto 2 sheet pans, lined with silpat. Cook for 1 hour and 20 minutes, or longer, rotating pans and stirring every 20 minutes to achieve an even color.
  4. Remove from oven, allow to cool thoroughly and transfer to an airtight container for storage.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

First, an admission that I don't like zucchini. I'm friendly with most vegetables out there, but not the summer squashes. I recall the first time I had zucchini bread as a child. I wasn't told what it was beforehand, and found it to be delicious! I especially enjoyed the long strings of what I thought were pieces of shredded coconut scattered throughout. Upon finishing, I was told what was really in it, but honestly I didn't believe that to be the truth. I did not like zucchini, but I definitely enjoyed that dessert.
Now that our family has joined a CSA, we get local veggies delivered each week. And with the summer season upon us, that means the omnipresent zucchini have arrived. I politely decline my portion of the share for this vegetable week after week. But last time I decided to take a single (albeit giant) zucchini from among the plethora of cucurbits in our haul.
I thought I'd make zucchini bread, and quickly found what is by far & away the most highly rated recipe for zucchini bread on foodnetwork.com. But it has three cups of sugar (ack!) and two cups of zucchini. My single zucchini would yield far more than that, and I did not want any leftover. I mentioned this situation to my sister who wisely suggested "you should totally make the chocolate zucchini cake from The Baker's Cafe Cookbook." Most folks have had zucchini bread at some point, but how about a chocolate zucchini cake? Here's the kicker - it has less sugar (two cups) and more zucchini (three cups.) I'm guessing because of the chocolate it doesn't need to be so sweet? I dunno, I'm just making things up here. But what I do know is that it is awesome. And so are the rest of the recipes in this cookbook. I routinely make The Baker's Cafe's Oatmeal Cake for dessert when bringing a meal for friends who just had a baby. That recipe alone (conveniently located on the opposing page to the Chocolate Zucchini Cake) is totally worth the price of buying this cookbook.
 
So, when you see your local farmers markets teeming with fresh zucchini this summer, remember this cake. And that it freezes well too.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake
As printed in The Baker's Cafe Cookbook

4 eggs
2 Cups sugar
1 1/4 Cups (canola) oil
1 Tablespoon vanilla
2 1/2 Cups flour
1/3 Cup unsweetened cocoa (good quality, such as Droste)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 Cups grated fresh zucchini (let drain for an hour, I have increased this quantity up to four cups, or whatever one shredded zucchini yields.)
1 Cup of chopped walnuts (or more if you like nuts)

Use mixer to combine eggs, sugar and oil. Blend in vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and blend. Fold in zucchini. Do not over mix. Stir in nuts.

Pour batter into a greased and floured bundt pan. Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean (this was 60 minutes for me.)

Cool in pan for 20 minutes, then invert on a plate.

Frost cooled cake with Cream Cheese Frosting: (This makes a lot, I reduce the amounts by 1/4)

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 Tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Cup + 2 Tablespoons confectioner's sugar, sifted

Use mixer to blend cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add vanilla and sugar and beat until very smooth. Drizzle over cooled cake. Optional: garnish with additional chopped walnuts.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Key Lime Pie

Did everyone else out there know that key lime pie contains shockingly few ingredients? And, that a 6 year-old can do practically all of the work for you? And, you can teach him a cool chemistry lesson along the way? What dessert could be more perfect?

I attempted this dessert for the first time when a neighbor dropped off half a bag of key limes as they were headed out of town for an extended trip. (Are key limes used for anything besides making pie?) She kindly lent us her lime squeezer as well, so we were all set. I turned to the web to research the 'best key lime pie recipe' and discovered something shocking - they are all almost identical. Which, when you consider the chemistry involved, isn't that shocking. Though, I confess the first all-nighter I ever pulled in college was trying to make sense of results from a chemistry lab experiment, so admittedly it's not my strong suit.
Back to how simple this is. First, give your 6 year-old a bag of key limes and have him zest the skins (with repeated instructions to 'stop when you see white.') He'll skin a knuckle and ask for a band aid. After he skins a second knuckle you'll probably have enough zest and can let him stop.

Then, after halving the limes, let him use the squeezer to get a measured amount of juice. Yes, there will be a lot on the table and down his arms. Luckily, one bag of key limes contains more than twice as many are needed.
Let him slowly stir as the filling ingredients are combined, and explain how the acid from the limes is reacting with the sugars in the condensed milk, and he'll be able to feel it thickening up. Tell him about your chemistry all-nighter in college. At age 6, the thought of staying up all night sounds unbelievably cool, and not the least bit painful.

While it sets up, give him a bag of graham crackers and a meat tenderizer. So far, I've still always had to transfer it back to the food processor to get fine enough crumbs for the crust, but the kid definitely gives it a good head start.
I don't bother with a topping, though either meringue (you'll have egg whites left over) or fresh whipped cream are encouraged.  And, if you want to get fancy, you can sugar some thin slices of key lime for garnish.

Key Lime Pie
Adapted from America's Test Kitchen, and numerous other sources

Filling:
Several teaspoons of key lime zest
1/2 Cup freshly squeezed juice from key limes
1 can sweetened condensed milk
3 or 4 egg yolks (we get farm eggs, so sizes are inconsistent, and so were the recipes found on the web anyhow)

Crust:
1 Cup graham cracker crumbs
4 Tablespoons melted butter, cooled a bit
3 Tablespoons sugar

Directions:
  1. Zest the key limes, then halve and squeeze enough to yield 1/2 Cup of juice.
  2. Whisk the zest with egg yolks for a couple of minutes until light. Add the sweetened condensed milk, and then the key lime juice. Mix until combined, you'll feel it thickening immediately, then set aside for 30 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, pound graham crackers, or skip this and put them in the food processor. Any box of graham crackers will have a recipe on the back to tell you how many of their whole crackers should be used to make a graham cracker crust. Feel free to follow their guidelines instead of these proportions. Some recipes call for maple syrup, but I like the crunch of sugar for this. Add the sugar, drizzle in the melted butter and pulse to combine.
  4. Press the crumbs onto the bottoms and up the sides of a 9" pie plate, and put the empty crust in a 325 oven for ~15 minutes, which should be exactly how much time you have left to wait on the filling.
  5. Remove crust from the oven (let cool a bit if you have time remaining) then pour in filling and cook for an additional 15 minutes.
  6. Let cool on a wire rack and then refrigerate for several hours, or overnight. It's fine to keep it covered or uncovered.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Summer Couscous Salad

In Houston, it's already been in excess of 90°F on a daily basis for a while now. Summer is here. Which means time for lots of visits with friends and relaxing by the pool. And eating. As someone who has trouble planning a weekly meals, or even a daily menu, I recognize that this approach of 'winging it' definitely doesn't cut it for entertaining larger numbers of people. Sure, the kids and I do just fine for a weeknight dinner pulled together from random assortment of staples from the fridge and pantry. So, summertime means I am forced to do some meal planning.
This couscous salad is one of my favorites. It's great as a light lunch for a small group, either by itself or on top of some salad greens. It a great salad to add to a buffet of summer salads. And, if bbq meats are on the menu, as is often the case during summertime, feel free to omit the chicken from this one. It's served cold, but still tastes fine at room temp. We're ready for the heat!

Summer Couscous Salad
Adapted from Sandra Lee, via Stephanie Kreml


1 1/4 Cup whole wheat couscous (bulk section of grocery store)
2 1/2 Cups chicken broth and/or water
1 12 oz jar marinated artichoke hearts, drain and reserve 1/4 Cup of liquid
1 1/2 Cup red cherry tomatoes
1 orange bell pepper
3 scallions, thinly sliced on a diagonal
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 large English cucumber, diced
2 cooked chicken breasts, diced (leftover rotisserie works great)
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 Cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
Put broth and/or water on stove to boil. While waiting, begin to cut up vegetables and chicken and place in a large bowl. Add couscous to boiling liquid, remove from heat and cover for five minutes. Finish preparing remaining veggies. After 5 minutes, uncover couscous and fluff with a fork. Transfer the couscous to the large bowl with the veggies and chicken and toss gently.

Create dressing by whicking together reserved liquid from marinated artichoke, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour over the couscous mixture and toss gently to distribute dressing.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Pannukakku (Finnish oven-baked pancake)

Though not even halfway through, 2010 can already be defined by a few significant events in my life. Most impactful is the fact that Jim accepted a job out of state, but that will happily soon transition to a job back here and we are anxiously awaiting his move home. Towards the end of last year our family began enjoying a tradition of eating foods from different countries Jim visited for work, but 2010 is the year we discovered pannukakku from our Finnish friends right here in Houston.
The inspiration for making this the first time (yes, we've had it twice now, and I have no good excuse for not blogging about it earlier) was strawberry season. After spending the morning together with my friend Rebecca picking strawberries with our kids, we returned here to make jam. Luckily, Charlotte (mostly) waited until after we paid to dive in to what we picked.
Part way through the jamming processes, Rebecca thought out loud "Do you know what is a great way to eat fresh jam? Spoon some on to pannukakku!" Since my kids love all breakfast carbs, and pannukakku was described as an 'oven-baked pancake' there was no way this wouldn't be a hit. She called her husband for a reminder of the recipe, then a little math ensued (did we have enough deciliters of milk, or did we need to buy more?) and finally we were rewarded with the golden goodness.
A couple pics of the finished product from strawberry and blackberry jam sessions - yum!!
Yes, the kids help picking and mashing. Ironically, I had to go out to ebay to buy a vintage Foley food mill, exactly the same one my mom had growing up that I remember her using to make applesauce. I'm sure the one I purchased is older than I am - if you're curious about that number, just ask Charlotte how old she is, and she'll be sure to add how old her mommy is too.
OK, so fast-forwarding to this past weekend. Rebecca returned with her daughter, and again we took the kids outside of the Houston city limits to pick blackberries. And we made more jam. Lots more jam. About twice as much as we had made a couple months earlier. Mmmm - blackberry jam! We had been originally planning to eat the fresh blackberries with sweet cream, but instead decided to make more pannukakku that could be covered with blackberry jam AND sweet cream. A-ma-zing!

Last time we also ate the pannukakku with savory topping of lox and dill, but warm pannukakku with warm, not-quite-fully-set jam is one of Spencer's all time favorites.

Pannukakku
Adapted by Rebecca Rautio, from the classic Finnish cookbook Kotiruoka (Home Cooking) via her Finnish mother-in-law.


3 eggs
3 1/4 cups milk
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 tsp salt
toppings of choice (jam, cheese, smoked fish)


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a jelly-roll pan (or similar pan with a thick rim) with overhanging parchment paper, if you have, and grease the parchment paper. Otherwise grease the pan liberally.


Beat the eggs for several minutes, until thick and light. Mix together the remaining ingredients in a separate bowl, and then mix into the pannukakku. Let the batter rest 10 minutes, then pour into the prepared sheet pan. Bake 30 minutes, until fluffy and lightly golden in some spots. Cut into squares while still warm, and serve.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Asparagus, Peas & Penne

Springtime! Asparagus season! The conclusion of Passover! All of these thoughts were swimming around my head yesterday as I tried to figure out a menu for dinner. "A big pasta feast" is what Spencer had announced, and we all agreed. I had purchased a few of pounds of asparagus a day earlier with no special plan in mind. Am I the only one out there who buys excessive amounts of produce on impulse?

And no-so-coincidentally, I received an email with link to a Martha Stewart photo slideshow with dozens of asparagus recipes. No disrespect to Julia Child, but forget about the Julie & Julia blog, I could spend the next months and a half making each of these recipes. Camembert & asparagus bread pudding, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, asparagus soup... (note to self: don't forget to make asparagus soup this month!) And then I spied a recipe for asparagus, peas and radishes with fresh tarragon I had made from an issue of Every Day Food a few years back. If you have never tried this combination of flavors, it's unbelievable. (Yes, I know, you don't see any fresh tarragon in the photo above. Oops.)

But, pasta was clearly to be the plan for the night. Inspired by the asparagus and pea combination, as well as another asparagus and pasta recipe in the slideshow, a very simple idea formed for dinner. Yum, yum, yum.

And, a little-known fact. When we were (older) kids, our family drove 70 miles one way to visit a pick-your-own asparagus farm. Seriously.

Asparagus, Peas & Penne
Inspired by a few Martha Stewart asparagus recipes

8-10 oz penne, or another short pasta
2 lbs fresh asparagus
1/2 lb frozen green peas
1/4 C chopped fresh tarragon
2 Tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1/4 C shredded or shaved parmesan cheese

Bring large pot of salted water to boil and add penne. Set timer 3 minutes shorter than recommended cook time on box. Meanwhile, wash asparagus, trim off ends and cut into 1 1/2" lengths. When timer sounds, add asparagus to boiling pot of pasta and boil for two additional minutes. Add the frozen peas, return to boil, and allow to finish cooking for one more minute.

Reserve 1/2 C of pasta water before draining everything together. Don't worry about getting all of the water out while draining. Transfer to a bowl and toss with tarragon, olive oil and salt & pepper. Add some reserved pasta water, or not. Serve with parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Artichoke Bottom Antipasti

I don't really know what to call this. It's not my creation. I have to give props to Dee. I can cook, but I need a plan. A while back Dee hosted a weeknight dinner in her home (only hours after new kitchen appliances were installed - brave!) for a dozen hockey wives and we were treated to quite a feast. Everything was awesome. I left there learning that white bean bruschetta is amazing, and it has since been added to my party appetizer rotation. I also learned that preparing a simple 'salad' served in artichoke bottoms makes it worthy of a food blog entry.

Though the ladies' night was last year, I have to confess that I hadn't gotten around to making these until recently because I was a bit taken aback by the price of the bottoms at my favorite grocery store. But, Spencer's Sunday school took a field trip to a grocery store I usually avoid, for excessively high prices, where I discovered a reasonably-priced (Safeway) store brand of marinated artichoke bottoms. I grabbed two jars - labeled artichoke crowns - and was already anticipating the treat to accompany our meal that evening.
Since so many months had passed, I pulled the 'salad' components from memory. It can definitely be tinkered with depending on personal preference. The trick for presentation and mouth appeal is to cut everything in a very fine dice, about 1/8" cubes. This isn't really finger food (though our 2 1/2 year old has other opinions as she cups it with both hands) so I'd recommend serving as antipasti for a sit down meal, not for stand up appetizer.

Artichoke Bottom Antipasti
Inspired by Dee Paradine

1 12 oz jar marinated artichoke bottoms (approx. 8)
1/4 C finely diced celery hearts
1/4 C finely diced English (seedless) cucumber
1/4 C finely diced roasted red pepper
1/4 C finely diced tomato
A few tablespoons Italian salad dressing, or oil & vinegar
Salt & pepper

Dice all veggies and toss together in a bowl with salad dressing, or oil and vinegar, and season with salt and pepper to taste. If you are making this in advance, put salad in a small container in the fridge until ready. To serve, arrange artichoke bottoms on a serving plate and fill with salad.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Scallops and Pasta

I have a new infatuation. I've known about The Pioneer Woman for quite a while. Heck, I even have a printed copy of her Penne a la Betsy included in my Tastebook. And her cooking site held the answer when I needed to figure out what on earth to make with the load of turnips that showed up from the CSA last year (answer = turnip gratin!) But, I had never actually read anything on her blog that was not related to cooking. Until this week.
First a word of caution, don't start reading this unless you have an hour or two of uninterrupted time carved out. Because you won't want to stop. It's the real life story in blog form (to be published in a book next year, and already optioned for a movie!) of how she met her husband. I think this reading is probably for the ladies, but guys could definitely take some pointers on how to make your woman feel... special.
All of this has nothing to do with Scallops and Pasta. Except for the fact that I stumbled across this recipe when I was browsing around her site. And when I saw this I immediately craved it, even though I don't have a cast iron pan to make that beautiful sear. Then I went to my favorite grocery store they had giant sea scallops on sale. Score.
My kids and I love seafood. With a husband out of town (still) we are enjoying it more often than not these days. And yes, I cook like this for myself and two small kids on a Wednesday. We're worth it.

Scallops and Pasta
only slightly tweaked from Scallops 'n Pasta

1/3 lb pasta
1 lb (about 10-12) whole giant or jumbo sea scallops
1 Tablespoon oilve oil
1 Tablespoon butter
1 small onion, finely diced
1 cup chopped tomato
1 cup white wine or stock (chicken or seafood)
a few tablespoons of parsley, chopped
freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt and pepper

1. Cook the pasta in salted water per the instructions on the box. Drain and set aside.

2. Dice onion and tomato. Chop parsely. Use paper towels to pat the scallops until they are very dry. (See picture above to find the one scallop which was not thoroughly dried.)Season with salt and pepper on both sides.

3. Heat a large frying pan or saute pan over high heat. When hot, swirl in the olive oil. Add the scallops to the pan, not touching so that they can sear properly. Cook for 2 minutes without touching then flip and cook for another 1-2 minutes until cooked through. Remove to a plate.

4. Turn the heat to low. Add the butter and the onion. Saute for 3-4 minutes then add the tomatoes.

5. Turn the heat to high and add in the white wine. Use spatula to scrape up bits in the bottom of the pan while it is bubbling. Add cooked pasta, throw in the parsley and stir well to let the sauce coat the pasta. Top with the seared scallops.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Black Bean Soup

OK, I've confessed before that sometimes menu planning is driven by what is on sale at the grocery store, and when I see the price drop on red bell peppers I am reminded how much the kids and I enjoy black bean soup. It's the red bell pepper which seems to be the trigger, because the rest of the ingredients are almost always on hand. Another part of the delight is that it is a meal which encourages condiments - always a hit with little kids.

This is not a dish I had ever ordered at a restaurant before, nor had I ever even eaten it before trying it at mom's house a couple years back. Who knew that black bean soup was so delicious? OK, so maybe others out there already knew this, but it was news to me. Topped with shredded cheese, diced avocado, a squeeze of fresh lime juice and soy-flaxseed tortilla chips (another item I would have never tried on my own ) and it's true comfort food that is healthy and easy. So easy I had made the whole pot before realizing I hadn't taken any pictures. Oops.

Black Bean Soup
Closely followed from "Black Bean Stoup"

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 ribs celery with greens, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 bay leaf
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 (15-ounce) cans black beans
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
Salt and pepper
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable to make vegetarian)


Heat a medium soup pot over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil to the hot pot, then onion, celery, and garlic. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, then add red peppers and continue to cook. Drain and rinse 2 cans of beans, transfer to a flat-bottomed dish and mash with a potato masher (or fork.) Add mashed beans, plus one can of whole beans (with liquid) to the pot. Season with cumin, coriander, salt and pepper. Add tomatoes, then stock to achieve desired consistency (maybe be more or less than 2 cups.) Add bay leaf and bring soup to a bubble. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes over low heat. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Serve into bowls and add favorite toppings - fresh lime juice, diced avocado or guac, shredded cheese, torilla chips, sour cream...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Greek Orzo with Meatballs

I've been cooking, and our family has been eating. And (most of the time) I remember to take pictures, but there seems to be a disconnect between that step and writing the blog. So, as I sit down at lunchtime, I thought I'd peek through the photo lying in wait, and start trying to catch up. Do I start with the oldest? The most recent? After browsing the albums, I knew I had to start with this one - yummy comfort food!
My sister shared the inspirational link for this dish. As soon as I saw it, I knew I'd be making it. Soon. I was planning to make Swedish meatballs during (Jim's) week in Sweden, but somehow I ended up making this Greek dish instead! So, the meatballs themselves I used in this dish were not the recipe from the link above. Nor were they a real Swedish meatball either. In fact, I'm not sure they were the right ones to accompany these flavors, so I would do something else next time. But, in the spirit of forging and succeeding in blogging during lunchtime, I don't want to delay sharing the secret to this deliciousness.
The way the orzo bakes in the broth (instead of cooking, then draining) is so wonderfully creamy, especially when combined with the cheese on top. This is definitely comfort food in my book. And, love the excuse to use my (no longer quite so) new pot!

Greek Orzo and Meatballs
Only slightly modified from Ivy's Feast

2 Tablespoons (Greek) olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 cloves finely chopped garlic
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 1/2 cups whole wheat orzo
4 cups (1 box) chicken broth
4 ounces creamy feta cheese, crumbled (for topping pasta last ten minutes of baking)
1 pound of ground meat made into meatball (use Ivy's or your favorite recipe)

Preheat oven to 350°. Heat the olive oil in enameled pot over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and bell peppers and saute until onion is tender, 8 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano and dill, saute 20 seconds. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 1 minute. Take pan off of the heat and add the orzo and chicken broth. Stir to combine, cover, then transfer to oven and bake for 30 minutes.

While orzo is baking, make meatballs. Sautee on stove top until brown on all sides and cooked through.

After 30 minutes, remove pot from the oven and stir pasta gently. Add meatballs, pushing them into the pasta slightly. Then sprinkle with feta cheese and return to oven, continue to bake another 10 minutes until the sauce is bubbling. Let stand for 10 more minutes before serving, the pasta will absorb moisture as it cools

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Simply Spiced Fried Chick Peas

First a confession. I ate a whole batch of these in one sitting! They are wholly addictive! I'm not sure if the nutritional benefit of chick peas is completely offset by the fact that they are deep fried, but I'm going to cling to thinking that this is a healthy snack. I like to keep chickpeas around the house to make hummus - being allergic to sesame means I can't buy it already prepared at the store. But, I enjoy that so much I end up eating way too many pita chips. Sigh.
When I stumbled upon the inspiration for this snack, I was excited to have another use for the pimenton my sister had given to me as a gift a few years earlier. The first place I tried substituting it was in a Chicken Paprikas dish, and it was not a good idea. Waaay too overpowering when it was the primary spice. But, for this salty bar snack, the pimenton is perfect.

Simply Spiced Fried Chick Peas

One 15 oz can chick peas, or equivalent amount of dried beans
1 Cup canola oil
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 - 2 teaspoons pimenton

1. Thoroughly rinse, drain and dry chick peas by setting over colander with paper towel for several hours, or overnight. If you are in a hurry, as I often am when the urge strikes to make this snack, spread chick peas in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in 250 oven for about 20 minutes.

2. Heat oil in small, deep sauce pot over medium high heat. Add a single chick pea to the oil as it heats up. When the chick pea begins to sizzle, you'll know the oil is at the right temperature.

3. Add half of the chick peas to the oil and fry for ~10 minutes. Keep a close eye to avoid burning. Remove (with a high temp safe utensil!) and drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining chick peas.

4. Toss hot, drained chick peas with salt, pepper and pimenton. Share with friends if you can keep from eating them all yourself!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Chocolate Mousse

Valentine's Day! Since the kids came along, my sweetie and I haven't been able to continue our tradition of dining out on Valentine's Day. So, in recent years we started having our indulgent meals at home with the family. And, of course, they must be finished with a decadent dessert. This year, that requirement was met by chocolate mousse.
I know there are those out there who will balk at making this recipe because it has raw eggs. Or, simply because the level of effort can be kind of a pain. But, it doesn't actually take that long - I think my husband occupied the kids for less than 1/2 hour which let me put the whole thing together, start to finish. And, I promise, this is well, well worth the results.
A few key pointers for those who are sold that the reward is worth the effort. First - you can make this with Baker's chocolate, but this is certainly one of those times when you can go ahead and splurge. Second - don't omit the coffee. We are not a coffee-drinking house, but a good lesson learned over the years is that almost all chocolate desserts are kicked up a notch with a small amount of coffee. For this, and other dessert applications, I keep a small box of instant coffee singles on hand.
The best part about making chocolate mousse this year? The oversight that Valentine's Day fell the day before my sweetie left town for work travel, and that I ended up with six portions left in the fridge the next morning. Clearly, one should not give that much chocolate, sugar & coffee to little kids when single-parenting, so I confess I over-indulged a bit. (And made one neighbor very happy.)

Chocolate Mousse
As adapted by David Lebovitz from Julia Child's recipe

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 ounces unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup dark-brewed coffee
4 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup, plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum
1 tablespoon water
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Heat a saucepan one-third full with hot water, and in a bowl set on top, melt together the chocolate, butter and coffee, stirring over the barely simmering water, until smooth. Remove from heat.

2. Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside.

3. In a bowl large enough to nest securely on the saucepan of simmering water, whisk the yolks of the eggs with the 2/3 cup of sugar, rum, and water for about 3 minutes until the mixture is thick, like runny mayonnaise. (You can also use a handheld electric mixer.)

4. Remove from heat and place the bowl of whipped egg yolks within the bowl of ice water and beat until cool and thick, as shown in the photo above. Then fold the chocolate mixture into the egg yolks.

5. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until frothy. Continue to beat until they start to hold their shape. Whip in the tablespoon of sugar and continue to beat until thick and shiny, but not completely stiff, then the vanilla.

6. Fold one-third of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the remainder of the whites just until incorporated, but don't overdo it or the mousse will lose volume.

7. Transfer the mousse to a serving bowl or divide into serving dishes, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, until firm. (May be kept in fridge up to 4 days, though it likely won't be around that long!)