Bacon Optional

I’ve been doing OK lately at cooking and documenting healthy recipes. It’s true, two of my featured recipes in January came from Cooking Light. Then we hit Super Bowl weekend.

Along with Super Bowl weekend came the inspiration for a party menu theme: “wrapped or stuffed.” “Wrapped or stuffed” certainly leaves open the opportunity to use fruits and vegetables and grains, but one is much more likely to please certain crowds by using cheese and bread and…bacon. One of the dishes I served was cream cheese stuffed jalapenos with bacon topping (optional).
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These jalapenos were spicy, and a bit of work to clean out, so I ended up having a handful of extra ingredients this week. Somehow I came across a recipe for jalapeno corn fritters (yes, more fritters!) that could be made entirely with ingredients I had on hand. I don’t even remember what search terms I was using, or whether this was Pinterest, but I’d say I struck gold.

Jalapeno Popper Corn Fritters
From Closet Cooking

1.5-2 Cups corn kernels, frozen is fine
1/2 Cup flour
1 egg
scant 1/2 Cup cheddar cheese
, grated
1/4 Cup cream cheese, room temperature
2 jalapeno peppers (to taste, and depending on size), diced
2 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (optional)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon coriander seed
, toasted and ground
2 green onions, sliced
1 handful cilantro, chopped
zest and juice of 1 lime
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil, as needed

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Begin by toasting coriander seeds and then grinding in a spice grinder, clean coffee grinder, or with mortar and pestle.
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Prepare vegetables.

Yes, those are gloves! I recommend them for using with hot peppers.

Yes, those are gloves! I recommend avoiding direct skin contact with hot peppers.


Mix all of the ingredients (corn, flour, egg, cheddar cheese, cream cheese, jalapenos, bacon-if using, paprika, coriander, green onion, cilantro and lime juice) in a bowl.
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Heat a little oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Form mixture into patties, about 1/4 Cup each. Cook until golden brown on both sides, about 2-4 minutes per side.
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You could serve these with a creamy, buttermilk-based dressing, or consume them as is, like me. The recipe author even used a jalapeno popper flavored dressing.
These didn't even make it to the table before being consumed by my husband and me!

These didn’t even make it to the table before being consumed by my husband and me!

To add to the gorging, I also had some free bags of regular potato chips lying around and was thus inspired to make a potato chip cookie recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen. It may be the copious amount of butter, but they were extremely delicious. Now that the week is over, I’ll be cutting back on the cheese, butter, and bacon…I swear.
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Just the right spice, just the right heat: Chai Rum Hot Toddy

Hey mid-Atlantic and Northeast friends! It’s pretty cold isn’t it? Dang.

I’m not usually one to let weather affect me, or my plans. Of course this isn’t necessarily a good thing; there have been times I have been in slightly dangerous situations, and times when I have been quite physically uncomfortable. But a little rain? I’m still going to trek through Manhattan to try some diner I heard of, or walk the streets of Nashville in December with no umbrella. Snow is making it challenging to drive? I will walk to Trader Joe’s for groceries. I will say that I’m not nearly as hard-core as my dad, who went skiing the other day in -10 degrees Fahrenheit BEFORE windchill.

Along with variations on food, I can be tempted by an interesting cocktail when I dine out. Recently, at a fairly upscale restaurant (Red Rooster Harlem) I paid $15 for a variation on a hot toddy that I actually could barely palate. It had some kind of spice that made me cough, along with all three of my dinner companions (of course I made them try it). Based on my experience, I can’t really recommend this place in general, but the only perspective I have is from arriving promptly when the restaurant opened for dinner without a reservation on a Saturday night.

Guess what? I have all the ingredients to make my own variation on warm winter cocktail at home.

I incorporated not one but TWO homemade holiday gifts I had received: a spiced rum, and a chai tea concentrate. I realize that this means you’d have hard time replicating it, but I will include a suggestion that uses your own ingredients as a shortcut.
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Chai Rum Toddy
Name and ratios suggested by Imbibe
To make 2:
16 ounces of water, boiled in a tea kettle
2 bags of black tea, or English Breakfast
3 ounces of spiced rum, whatever brand you prefer, divided
2 heaping teaspoons of chai tea concentrate, divided

Pour hot water into a vessel to steep the 2 tea bags for 4 minutes.
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Pour tea into two serving glasses.

We have a ton of different types of drinking glasses, but darn, we don't have an authentic glass mug for hot toddies!

We have a ton of different types of drinking glasses, but darn, we don’t have an authentic glass mug for hot toddies!


If you're feeling fancy, add some kind of garnish (cinnamon stick, piece of orange or lemon rind, star anise pod). It will make a better picture :)

If you’re feeling fancy, add some kind of garnish (cinnamon stick, piece of orange or lemon rind, star anise pod). It will make a better picture 🙂

Measure about 1.5 ounces of rum and pour into each glass. Add a spoonful of chai tea concentrate and stir until combined. Drink immediately and feel warm and fuzzy.

Suggested variation:
16 ounces of water, boiled in a tea kettle
2 bags of chai tea
3 ounces of spiced rum
, divided
2 heaping teaspoons of honey, divided
A splash of milk or cream, to taste

Bundle up out there!

Having a (meat)ball

I keep having to remind myself to actively rotate through my pantry Asian ingredients. Sometimes I’m tempted to launch some kind of elaborate system for tracking how often I use certain items. Something that goes beyond the blue tape on the utensils and more closely resembles those charts in gas station bathrooms, where workers record the date and time it was last cleaned. I do think that keeping a rough inventory of pantry items is useful for reducing waste (and critical in professional kitchens), but perhaps this idea is a bit extreme for my two-person household. Either way, last week I decided it was time to use Asian ingredients again. I had set aside a recent Cooking Light magazine recipe that utilized a lot of what I had on hand. It also happened to be a meat dish, which I hadn’t cooked lately.

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Japanese Meatballs or “Tsukune”
From Cooking Light

Meatballs:
2 teaspoons sesame oil
3 ounces sliced shiitake mushroom caps
1 Tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
, divided
1 Tablespoons minced garlic, divided
1.5 Tablespoons dry sherry
1.5 teaspoons red miso
1 pound ground chicken or turkey*
(or pork, probably)
1/3 Cup panko
1.5 teaspoons cornstarch
scant 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
, to taste
scant 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1-2 green onions
, thinly sliced
1 medium egg white**

Sauce:
3 Tablespoons mirin (sweet rice wine)
3 Tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
1 Tablespoon dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 Tablespoon lime juice
2 teaspoons fresh ginger
, peeled and grated
1 chile, such as serrano, thinly sliced
Other ingredients:
Cooking spray
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

**1 large egg white was called for in the original recipe, which called for 50% more meat. I only purchased 1 pound, so I scaled everything back, but I didn’t use less than the 1 egg white. The meatballs were a little wetter and harder to keep together as a result, so I would suggest using less than 1 full egg white for 1 pound meat.

For the meatballs, first prepare to sauté the vegetables by prepping the first four ingredients.
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Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Once heated, add oil and swirl to coat.
Add mushrooms, 1.5 teaspoons minced ginger, and 1.5 teaspoons garlic; cook 2 minutes. Add sherry and cook until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are tender, about 3 minutes.
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Remove from heat and allow to cool while you chop and measure the remaining meatball ingredients. In a mini food processor, place mushroom mixture along with the red miso. Pulse until very finely chopped, scraping down as needed.
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Combine mushroom mixture, remaining 1.5 teaspoons minced ginger, remaining 1.5 teaspoons garlic, meat, and remaining meatball ingredients (through egg white) in a bowl. Shape mixture into 1 inch meatballs–approximately 24. At this point, if your meatballs are staying together well, you could skewer them onto 6 inch bamboo skewers so that they could be grilled on the stick. I did not do any threading (nor did other reviewers) and I don’t think it’s necessary.
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Chill for 30 minutes.

To prepare sauce, add mirin, soy sauce, sugar, and vinegar to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until slightly thickened (this took at least 5 minutes for me).
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Remove from heat. After sauce has cooled slightly, stir in juice, 2 teaspoons grated ginger, and chile. Split the sauce into two bowls, saving anywhere from 2-4 Tablespoons to serve with the finished meatballs.

This chile pepper from my garden might have had a real kick when it was fresh, but after drying out for so long it mellowed out too much! Definitely use a pepper with some heat; it's a crucial part of rounding out the dish.

This chile pepper from my garden might have had a kick with fresh, but after drying out for so long it mellowed out too much! Definitely use a pepper with some heat; it’s a crucial part of rounding out the dish.


Heat a grill pan or a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray or oil of choice. Place half the meatballs in the pan, as will fit, and cook until brown on all sides and 165 degrees F at the center, which should take about 10 minutes. Remove from pan and brush over with some of the sauce. Repeat with remaining meatballs.
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Serve sprinkle with sesame seeds and reserved 2 sauce on the side–the sauce really makes the dish. In fact, I don’t think it would hurt to double or 1.5x the sauce portion of the recipe.

*While delicious, when using turkey in these meatballs instead of chicken I found the turkey flavor to be more pronounced that I would have liked. For my husband and me, turkey brings to mind flavors of Thanksgiving, such as sage and thyme, even when those ingredients aren’t present! Sage and thyme certainly don’t mesh with the other ingredients in this recipe. Use ground chicken instead if you can.

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I continue to make the effort to thumb through recipes from my cookbook collection. This time I sought out Alice Waters’ suggestions for preparing bok choy, which I thought would be an excellent Asian side. I had purchased her newest book in conjunction with a talk she gave at my college’s club. I hadn’t heard her speak at length before, and it was clear that she has unshakeable vision and hope for the future of our food and eating. She is particularly driven, and amazingly optimistic, about things we can do to improve school meals.

Bok Choy Sautéed with Ginger and Garlic
From The Art of Simple Food II by Alice Waters

1 bunch of bok choy or 2-3 bunches of baby bok choy
2 teaspoons olive, coconut or other vegetable oil
4 garlic gloves, smashed
2 1-inch slices of ginger, peeled and smashed
Salt to taste
A splash of fish sauce

Remove blemished leaves from bok choy plants. Slice a small amount off the base and half, quarter, or leave whole, depending on the size. Soak in a bowl of water to loosen grit, rinse, and drain.

Heat a wok or heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil, then garlic and ginger. Cook until the garlic starts to darken in color and then add bok choy. Cook for several minutes, stirring and tossing, until it reaches your preferred level of tenderness.
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Season with a splash of fish sauce and a smidge of salt.

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Eat Ugly Food

Among the list of small contributions individuals can make to reduce food waste is to eat ugly food. Fight that primal, biological tendency to select only the most pristine pepper, the flawless fennel, the pure potato, the cleanest cucumber, or the blemish-free blueberry batch.

As I address this topic, let me pause to say that I struggle to walk the walk. The last time I went to the grocery store for produce, I scrutinized nearly every batch of cilantro on display before selecting what I felt was the perkiest. I am part of the problem.

Of course, as I sort through the bins, what I’m trying to do is get the best bang for my buck. At the end of the day, grocery stores probably throw out that slightly marred mango that keeps getting left behind. They are part of the problem, too. What if they charged a premium for perfect produce? With ugly items available, but at an irresistible price? Maybe someone would pay a lesser price. Maybe that lesser price makes the item fit into someone’s budget. Maybe for once healthy produce could be as affordable as junk!

Apples are in prime season right now. I heard a story on NPR the other day in which apple farmers talked about the fact that big box stores stipulate circumference requirements, and offer only 1/2 inch leeway. Read about the high standards of beauty that have been regulated in the U.S. (the links to the U.S.D.A. within this article work again, yay). I remember apple-picking a couple of years ago at a large orchard in Connecticut. There were apples all over the ground, tons of them, bruised and smashed or half-eaten and tossed to the side. Some were probably in fairly good shape, but people kicked them to the side. Of course no one wanted them–they wanted to spot their perfect apple and pick it from the tree. I was saddened by the prospect that these apples weren’t used at all.

My sister-in-law Maggie brought me back a ton of apples from picking this year, and they were all beautiful except for this one!

My sister-in-law Maggie brought me back a ton of apples from her own picking excursion this year. Here’s the only funny-looking one I found!

A UK study found that the amount thrown away due to “ugliness” amounted to 40% of fruits and vegetables, and the article made a point that this is particularly tragic considering that one in eight people worldwide are hungry. UntitledThe UN has taken notice of these shameful facts, and started a Think.Eat.Save campaign. It seems fairly recent. Apparently World Food Day was October 16, though the media I consume did not pick this up.

On a lighter note, I want to talk about a vegetable that is ugly even when it is looking its best–celeriac, or celery root. Like most root vegetables, celeriac works well roasted or mashed and can be very satisfying. Also like most root vegetables, it keeps for some time. I picked up celeriac as one of my CSA items a couple weeks ago and hadn’t gotten around to cooking it. Randomly, when I opened up my new momofuku milk bar cookbook the other day, the page that faced me was the recipe for celery root ganache.
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A friend recently brought over the cookbook for me as a wonderfully thoughtful gift. She reads my blog, and said that the author, chef Christina Tosi, uses leftover crumbs and components from various desserts in other concoctions at the restaurant, so she thought it might fit in with my philosophy. Of course, the ingredients lying around a restaurant kitchen are much different from a home kitchen’s. That’s OK–it’s still fun. If you have ever had a momofuku milk bar dessert, you understand that it might be worth it.

Adapted dish: Celery Root Ganache with Strawberry Sorbet and Ritz Crunch

Part 1
Recipe 1:
Celery Root Ganache

from the momofuku milk bar cookbook
makes 1.5 cups, which is a lot

1 medium celery root, peeled and cut into chunks
1 Tablespoon grapeseed oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
, freshly ground
milk if needed

5.25 ounces white chocolate
3 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons corn syrup or glucose
1/4 Cup cold heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Equipment needed: blender or food processor, mesh strainer or food mill (optional?), immersion blender

Preheat the oven to 325.
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On a large sheet of aluminum foil, toss the celery root chunks with oil, salt and pepper. Fold up to enclose and place on a baking sheet. Roast in oven until celery root is mushy, and hopefully caramelized. The cookbook says 30-60 minutes, but I wasn’t satisfied with the mushiness until around 90 minutes.
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Use a blender to puree the celery root. Add milk if needed to get a smoother puree.
DSC_5988Then press through a fine-mesh strainer, or perhaps a food mill, to get a baby-food like texture. You will need 1/2 Cup.
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This is where I started to wonder if this was worth it. I was pressing and pressing and not getting enough squeezed out of my mesh strainer. I had already added a good amount of milk at the blender stage so I didn’t want to thin it out too much. I spent a lot of time to get just a few tablespoons of smooth puree, so I eventually gave up and decided to accept a grainier texture.

In a microwave-safe dish, combine the white chocolate and butter and heat at 15-second bursts in the microwave, stirring in between. The mixture should come together but be barely warm, not hot.

Transfer chocolate mixture to a tall, narrow container like a quart deli container.
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In another bowl, microwave corn syrup for 15 seconds and then add to the chocolate mixture. Use immersion blender to combine. Then stream in heavy cream with blender running and buzz until it comes together in a silky, smooth texture.
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Add to celery root puree to this along with the extra salt.
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Taste to see if it needs any additional salt. What will it taste like? I will tell you what I thought: yogurt-covered pretzel, all the way.

Ganache should be chilled in fridge for at least 4 hours to firm and can be stored there long-term, in an airtight container.

Part 2
Recipe 2:
Ritz Crunch

Makes about 2 Cups, which is dangerous

1 sleeve Ritz crackers (110g)
1/2 Cup sugar
1/4 Cup milk powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
7 Tablespoons butter
, melted

Heat the oven to 275.
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Crush crackers with your hands in a medium bowl. Add the milk powder, sugar and salt and toss. Add melted butter; toss to coat.

Spread on parchment or Silpat-lined sheet pan.
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Bake for 20-25 minutes. It will be done when the clusters are slightly more golden and feel a little crispy.
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Cool completely before storing, in an airtight container. They can be stored at room temperature, in fridge, or in freezer.

Part 3
Strawberry Sorbet

This I purchased, on a late-season visit to Ralph’s Italian Ice.

To bring the parts together:
Shmear cold ganache across small desert plate. Scatter the Ritz crunch around. Place a generous scoop of strawberry sorbet at center.
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Yes, even when shortcuts and substitutes, this dessert took me a couple of days and generated infinite dirty dishes. When I tasted the final product–with the icy cold, sweet but fruity-tart sorbet, the delightfully salty ganache, and the buttery Ritz crunch–my main thought was “wow.” Also, “Christina Tosi is a genius.”

Peanut Butter Pretzel Time

A bag of pretzels lasts a really long time in my house.

When I snack, which of course happens, I choose almost anything other than pretzels by themselves. They just aren’t tempting.

Until you add chocolate to them.

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This bag of pretzels, which we had because of a giveaway or something, is destined to be crushed up and mixed with peanut butter and chocolate to make peanut butter truffle balls.

This recipe looked shockingly simple. No oven needed! I regret to inform you that I found it to be a pain in the you-know-what. Keep reading though–it might still interest you!

Peanut Butter Pretzel Truffles
From The Girl Who Ate Everything post and her source How Sweet It Is
Makes 20-30 Truffles

1 Cup natural peanut butter
3/4-1 Cup salted pretzels

1 Cup milk chocolate chips, or other chocolate to your liking (I do think milk chocolate works best with peanut butter)

Chop pretzels in a food processor.
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Combine peanut butter and pretzels in a small bowl.
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Chill in the freezer until very firm, at LEAST 30 minutes (I attempted rolling the mixture at one point and had to put the mix back).

Still not firm enough

Still not firm enough


Roll the peanut butter mixture into approximately 20 balls about 2 teaspoons each. You can try using a melon baller and your fingers or a small spoon, or two small spoons, and prepare to get messy. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper and freeze until very firm, at least one hour more more.
These don't look like balls.

These don’t look like balls.


When truffles are hard enough, prepare chocolate by melting it in the microwave at 15-20 second intervals, stirring each time. Roll the frozen balls in melted chocolate. Refrigerate until the chocolate is set, about 30 minutes.
I did use bittersweet chocolate for some of the truffles.

I did use bittersweet chocolate for some of the truffles.


That one truffle in the back looks nice.

That one truffle in the back looks nice.


Here’s the issue: I hate getting my hands messy. I strongly dislike stirring natural peanut butter, tahini, etc. (my friend Kristen will tell you about my struggles and groaning about tahini) because it often gets my hands message and greasy.

This time I stirred the peanut butter with the long handle part of a wooden spoon, which was an improvement of my past experiences, when I used a shorter spatula, and the stuff got all over the handle somehow.
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As for the step of rolling the peanut butter mixture into balls? There was no staying clean then. And coating them in chocolate? The melted chocolate is warm! So guess what, it melted the peanut butter! It was a joke. I wish I had gloves.

Once the process was complete I determined that it is not worth it to make fancy little balls, for me at least. Sure, I have raved about other people’s homemade truffles and how cute they are in their little one- to two-bite portions. But in this case, it would be SO MUCH EASIER to make bars!

Step 1. Melt enough milk chocolate to spread on the bottom of a small square baking pan. Put in freezer until hardened.
Step 2. Spread peanut butter on top of the chocolate layer. Top with pretzels broken into smaller pieces. Put in freezer until hardened.
Step 3. Melt enough milk chocolate to spread on top of the peanut butter pretzel layer. Put in freezer until hardened. Cut into small bars. Refrigerate when not serving.

What do these bars remind me of? Take 5 candy bars!! I remember when the Take 5 came out (Wikipedia tells me it was 2004, when I was just starting the period of life when I made the vast majority of my own food and grocery purchasing decisions), and I thought they were made especially for me. This is coming from someone whose main weaknesses are ice cream and cookies, but who doesn’t dive into just any candy. Somehow, I even have the willpower to forgo the tin of chocolate kisses in the hallway at work, where I pass multiple times. The two mass-produced candies that I love are peanut butter M&Ms, and Take 5 candy bars. Those I would have a much much harder time passing up.

Feel free to take notes. It is my birthday today after all 🙂

Look how my lovely formica countertop hides the peanut butter spills!

Look how my lovely formica countertop hides the peanut butter spills!

The Urge to Preserve

I started to feel the impending change of season press upon me.

The weather certainly wasn’t providing any hints, as I was enveloped by hot, wet, soupy air all last weekend. I did notice brown and orange leaves start to accumulate around the edges of the streets in my neighborhood. It was the obvious things: all of a sudden, Labor Day passed, beaches closed, schools started back in session, and I was reminded that, being September, we are only one month away from October, the month it first SNOWED last year.

Fortunately, it is possible to capture the lushness of summer in a tupperware container! I long to keep the excitement of my garden treasures alive. Call it the urge to preserve.

Cue the whir of the food processor.

Bunches of my healthy basil plant and flourishing parsley plants in hand, it was time to make some sauces and condiments.
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Basil Pesto
Parsley Pesto
Fromage Fort

Pesto is one of the very few “recipes” I pretty much have memorized, and/or feel comfortable adjusting by taste and feel. It all started with a recipe Matt and I received from a cooking class put on at a now-closed local Viking Cooking School location.

Basil Pesto
From Viking Cooking School’s recipe packet for a Breads and Pizzas class
Makes about 1 Cup

1 large clove garlic, or to taste, peeled
1/4 Cup pine nuts
2 ounces/approx 1/4 Cup packed Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
, finely grated
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
2 Cups (packed) fresh basil
1/4-1/3 Cup extra-virgin olive oil
should be plenty

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Toast the pine nuts by putting them in a 350 degree oven for just a few minutes, watching closely and shaking the pan after the first minute or two. This can also be done in a dry cast iron or saute pan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Pine nuts will continue to brown if they sit in a hot pan.
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Combine garlic, pine nuts, cheese, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse to make a paste.
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Add basil and pulse.
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Drizzle in olive oil gradually, ideally with the motor running, until pesto reaches desired smooth consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning.
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Basil doesn’t retain its green color in pesto, when exposed to the air, so the best plan is to drizzle extra olive oil on top and put plastic wrap directly on the surface before refrigerating or freezing (it still tastes fine when it darkens). Pesto is both flavor and calorie rich, so I usually only use a little at time, which I can snag from the frozen container.
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While I was at it with the processing, I needed to deal with the variety of cheese cubes I bought on a whim at Fairway. (I swear, I have gotten much better about resisting the urge to impulse buy.) Cheese is one of those things that lasts a long time, making it easy for you to forget to use before it is too late. Fortunately, you can make something called Fromage Fort, a cheese spread, to transform the old cheese into something desirable for another week or so, and even use it for entertaining.
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Fromage Fort
From Alton Brown via Food Network online

1 pound left-over cheese, (cheddar, parmesan, ricotta, provolone, fontina, mozzarella, stinky blue cheeses all work*) at room temperature
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
, softened
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
1 small clove garlic

Grate hard cheeses and cut others into 1/2-inch cubes. Place cheese, wine, butter, herbs, and garlic in a food processor and blend until smooth, approximately 2 minutes. Serve immediately or refrigerate for at least 1 hour for a firmer consistency. Store in the refrigerator; consume within a week (no problem!).
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*I used 5 ounces of ricotta, 7 ounces of the miscellaneous cubes that were probably in the gouda and ricotta salata families, and 6 ounce of Wisconsin extra sharp cheddar. It was beyond delicious, especially broiled on some sourdough toast.

Parsley Almond Pesto
Adapted from Food and Wine

1 clove garlic
1 1/2 Cups lightly packed flat-leaf parsley
with thick stems removed
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 Cup olive oil
1/3 Cup unsalted almonds

Puree garlic and parsley with the salt in food processor. Drizzle olive oil in gradually, ideally with the machine running. Add the almonds and pulse to chop.
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This can be saved in the same way as the basil pesto. However, it keeps its bright green flavor much better in the refrigerator.

I served this with gnocchi I made from the King Arthur Flour website.
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and a recipe that served gnocchi with zucchini and tomatoes but substituted in the parsley pesto:

Recognize those tomatoes yet?

Recognize those tomatoes yet?


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I can still taste summer!

The Cucumber Conundrum

I am learning how different two years can be for vegetable crops!

I was wrong about getting lots of radishes and turnips. The zucchini hasn’t buried me. And my tomato crops, while not barren, haven’t produced so much that I have many to give away. As promised, here is the “after” picture.

I realize that it looks a little silly for my sunflowers to tower over the Japanese maple tree.

I realize that it looks a little silly for my sunflowers to tower over the Japanese maple tree.

And before.
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On the other hand, there has been SO MUCH cucumber from the farm share. It’s a tough one to keep fresh and interesting. Cucumber is eaten almost exclusively cold; you can’t generally preserve it by, say, drying it out (Googling to check…oh wait of course you can), and freezing it messes with the texture, right? The most common thing to do is make pickles. And I don’t love pickles! (Another problem that reduced my pickling motivation: I have managed to kill two dill plants before I had a chance to use them. Are they a tricky plant?)

So far, I have made a warm cucumber soup and some tomato cucumber salads. This week, I branched out and made cucumber sorbet!

Simple Mojito Cucumber Sorbet

From Vegetariantimes.com

3.4 – 1 Cup sugar
1 ½ cups mint leaves
2-3 medium cucumbers
, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
ÂĽ Cup lime juice
2 oz. rum
, optional

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Naked cucumber

Naked cucumber

Side note: this is an awesome peeler.

Side note: this is an awesome peeler.

Bring sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Boil 1 minute, or until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, and add mint leaves. Cover, and cool.

Riley wants to know what I'm up to.

Riley wants to know what I’m up to.


Transfer mint syrup to blender or food processor, and process until mint leaves are finely chopped.
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Add cucumber chunks, and blend until very smooth.
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Chill in refrigerator until cold. Remove from fridge and stir lime juice and rum (if using).
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Churn in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions.
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Just getting started

Just getting started


I think we are there!

I think we are there!

Transfer to container and freeze.
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Note: Numerous variations on the theme of cucumber sorbet/ice cream can be found online. Many steep the mint leaves instead of blending them in, like this does. Most also strain out the solids from the cucumber as well. I can see the benefit of a smoother texture. However, I think the chewiness of this recipe made it feel especially icy-cold and refreshing.

This was served in place of a pre-dinner cocktail on a warm night.
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My utensil holder runneth over

It is easy to accumulate a lot of stuff. In the mindset of “more is better” one discovers the truth that all the extras don’t necessarily add anything to life. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Container Store, but the irony isn’t lost on me that it is a store full of stuff to hold your stuff. Life would be simpler with less.  For example, sometimes I wish we could own just one set of bed sheets that gets washed and put right back on the bed so I don’t have to struggle to figure out how to fold a darn fitted sheet!  Also, they say that when you have a lot of clothing you seem to never wear, turn the hangers the opposite way until you wear them once, and if there are hangers still turned after a few months, donate those clothes.
This is what gave me the idea to assess the kitchen utensils we own in a similar way. Take a look at the number of spatulas we have.
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How many do we really need?

On Friday night, my husband and I hosted a pre-event cocktail party for his fire department company. Upwards of 30 people were expected. If there is any occasion you put a lot of kitchen equipment to work, it is for this type of cooking event.  Yet I don’t know that we actually used that many different things.  We did confirm a suspicion that what we could benefit from more serving platters.

Here are a few pictures of the food.

Beef and gorgonzola on crostini, served on a platter borrowed from my generous mother-in-law!

Beef and gorgonzola on crostini, served on a platter borrowed from my generous mother-in-law!

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Two types of phyllo triangles, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen again: Spinach and Feta and Mushroom and Blue Cheese.

Polenta cakes with tomato bruschetta.

Polenta cakes with tomato bruschetta.


Now, I have put a piece of blue tape on each utensil of questionable worthiness. As soon as I use one, the tape comes off. I marked the calendar for 4 months from now.  Items with blue tape remaining are in serious danger of eviction!

Make it quick and make it quality

Last week I let someone else do the meal planning for me. I complained that the recipes were a bit of a hassle, and the dishes didn’t even come out that well. But the result was a balanced plate of food. This week, I challenged myself to plan a satisfying meal that would come together fairly quickly. And I would do the shopping myself.

As you should know this is not my strength: I often end up spending more than an hour, somehow, bringing together a single dish. Yet the April issue of Cooking Light was jam-packed with recipes for 80 meals under 40 minutes, and I was inspired (not so inspired that I could resist substituting in a recipe that I know would add to my clock time…but at least I acknowledge my silly ways). The meal was assembled in one hour, with only a little grilling help from my husband. So here it is! Protein (yes, fish again), vegetable and starch.

Grilled Sea Bass with Tarragon Beurre Blanc
Raw Shaved Asparagus With Lemon Dressing
Rosemary-Garlic Roasted Potatoes

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Game plan: Prepare the potatoes and garlic; preheat the oven. If you’re going to use this ambitious asparagus recipe (simpler alternative from CL: Asparagus with Lemon and Pecorino), start shaving the stalks and do about half before you put the potatoes in the oven. Finish shaving the asparagus, then preheat the grill/grill pan for the fish. Make the sauce while grilling the fish.
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Raw Shaved Asparagus With Lemon Dressing
Adapted from Jonathan Waxman’s recipe in his cookbook Italian, My Way
DSC_4533Check out my signed copy! ———->
Serves: 4 to 6

ÂĽ cup hazelnuts, toasted and crushed
1-1 1/2 pound asparagus, ideally from a local farm
Juice of 1 lemon
ÂĽ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, grated

Directions
Toast the hazelnuts on a baking sheet for 5–8 minutes in a preheated 350° oven; cool and then crush in a towel using a rolling pin (which helps remove the skins).

Wash and snap the asparagus spears at their base, setting bases aside for another use. Upend a small bowl, place a spear on the flat bottom and, using a vegetable peeler, gently shave long thin slices.
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Eventually, I discovered that it was easier to do my first shaves with the asparagus pressed flat against the cutting board. Once it got thinned, I moved to the bowl. Be patient and forgive yourself if you can’t get all long, perfectly thick slices.

In a separate bowl, mix the lemon juice with the olive oil and add sea salt and black pepper. When the rest of the meal is ready, toss the dressing with the hazelnuts and asparagus. Serve with Parmesan sprinkled around.

Rosemary-Garlic Roasted Potatoes
Adapted from Cooking Light
Serves: 2

several large garlic cloves
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

14 ounces baby potatoes
1-2 small thyme sprigs
2 rosemary sprigs
1/4 teaspoon kosher or ground sea salt, divided (or to taste)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, if you have it

Directions
Preheat oven to 450°. If the potatoes are larger than fingerling potatoes, cut in halves or quarters. Smaller potatoes can be kept whole, but medium sized ones benefit from more surface area for crisping!

Place unpeeled garlic cloves, olive oil, potatoes, thyme sprigs, and rosemary sprigs in a large bowl; toss to coat. Arrange potato mixture on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper. Bake at 425-450° for 25 minutes, stirring halfway and then checking for doneness toward the end of cooking time. Squeeze roasted garlic cloves out of their skin and return to potato mixture. Sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt and parsley.
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Grilled Sea Bass with Tarragon Beurre Blanc
Adapted from Cooking Light again
Serves: 2

Sauce:
1/3 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons shallots, chopped
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 large tarragon sprig
1.5 tablespoons butter
, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon fresh tarragon, chopped

Fish:
2 (6-ounce) meaty white fish fillets, without skin — The recipe suggested halibut, but my grocery store didn’t have it. It also said cod or tilapia could be substituted (and would save money), but I couldn’t imagine how those would stand up so well to grilling, which I had my mind set on. The meatiest looking fish they had was the sea bass.
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray

Combine first 4 ingredients in a small heavy saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Cook until liquid is reduced to 2 tablespoons. Remove from heat; strain through a fine sieve over a measuring cup, pressing mixture with the back of a spoon or spatula to release liquid.
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Discard solids. Return liquid to pan. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, stirring with a whisk until butter is incorporated. Stir in tarragon.

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Even at $19.95 a pound, I ended with a piece with a bunch of bones. Grrr.

Sprinkle fish evenly with salt and ground pepper. Heat a large grill pan over medium-high heat. Note: grill pans are great, but ours can be a beast to clean up. That’s why I like about the outdoor grill. It either doesn’t need cleaning…or maybe the grill fairy takes care of it?

Coat pan with cooking spray. Add fish to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Serve with sauce.

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There it is–the makings of a great meal!
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