Tomato Gazpacho

What’s one of the recipes you can make using the abundance of summer tomatoes? Gazpacho!

So let’s make gazpacho! Everybody’s doing it recently, including Cooking with Kyler, which is hosted by my husband’s cousin and his daughter. It’s appealing because it is simple, refreshing, and customizable.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a huge fan of cold soups in general, but I’ve recently warmed to the idea of a good gazpacho (see what I did there?) Especially when you add crunchy toppings.

Gazpacho is simple because you can basically dump everything in a blender or food processor. However, it’s a bit messy – be forewarned. It’s likely you’ll have to transfer the mixture back and forth between different containers since it won’t completely fit in the blender. Then you strain it–unless you don’t mind a little texture. The resulting soup is a unique color (which will splatter all over your counters as part of the process) and fun to serve presented in clear drinking glasses.

I wish the 2 pounds of tomatoes made more of dent in my harvest. Here’s what I collect every couple of days!
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Tomato and Cucumber Gazpacho

Adapted from Julia Moskin’s New York Times Cooking recipe

Approximately 2 lb ripe red tomatoes,

1 green pepper, such as bell pepper, Italian frying, or Anaheim pepper
1 cucumber, about 8 inches long
1 small onion (white or red)
1 garlic clove
2-4 teaspoons sherry vinegar
, to taste
Salt to taste
½ Cup extra-virgin olive oil
, plus more to taste and for drizzling

Optional and recommended toppings:
Hot sauce
Croutons-make your own with stale bread, butter, garlic and salt
Almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
Avocado, cut into cubes

Prep your vegetables: seed and chop pepper, peel and chop cucumber and onion, and core and roughly chop tomatoes.
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The onion in not shown because I had a leftover portion of a red onion in the fridge that I ended up incorporating.

The onion in not shown because I had a leftover portion of a red onion in the fridge that I ended up incorporating.


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Combine as much of the tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, onion and garlic you can in a blender. It’s highly likely you’ll need to work in batches, so have a large bowl handy for transferring portions back and forth.

Initial batch: I made it through the cucumber and most of the tomatoes before I was at the top!

Initial batch: I made it through the cucumber and most of the tomatoes before I was at the top!


Ingredients batch 2.

Ingredients batch 2.

Blend at top speed until the mixture is very smooth. This may take a few minutes. A rubber spatula is great for scraping down the sides as needed.

Add the vinegar and 2 teaspoons of salt. If your appliance allows, do so while the motor is running.

You can add more vinegar later, but I will tell you now that 2 teaspoons was not enough for me!

Pour in the olive oil slowly. The smooth mixture will become an orange-pink color and look like a salad dressing. dsc_4403
Additional olive oil can make the texture more creamy if it is watery.

Press the mixture through a strainer or run through a food mill to extract all the liquids and discard the solids. I was less than enthused about the idea of discarding the nutritious solids, but using my food mill resulted in such minimal solids that I felt OK with sending it to compost.

It's one of the few times year this gets used!

It’s one of the few times year this gets used!


Transfer to a large pitcher, preferably glass, and refrigerate until very cold. This could be done overnight. In the meantime, prepare any toppings. I used some very old cubes of bread from the freezer, cooked in butter with garlic.
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When you are ready to serve, taste to adjust the seasonings with salt and vinegar. Serve in glasses. You can serve over ice or even chill the glasses for the best effect.
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Present with toppings: chopped almonds, garlic croutons, olive oil and Tabasco all worked great for me.
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Why not enjoy outdoors?

White Bean Burgers with Tomatoes and Basil

I am so excited by how well this recipe turned out. It’s not every day that the leftovers of my meals are crave-able, but these veggie burgers were gone in a snap.
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The source of inspiration for these burgers was leftover basil.

I try not to buy basil in the winter. In the summer, I’m blessed with abundant basil that can be snipped as needed from the garden. But when I buy basil from the store, I’m always faced with leftovers in the fridge drawer. Which means I’m faced with the guilt of potential waste.

But I bought this basil for a special occasion. My husband and I have a tradition of spending the early evening hours of New Year’s Eve at home, making fresh pasta together. Romantic right? (Then we hustle off to a local friend’s house to attempt to be a little more “cool” and social). This time we made a fettuccine with bolognese sauce that was enhanced by the herbal touch of fresh basil leaves.

A few days later, I was on the lookout for recipes using basil, and settled on this one.

White Bean Burgers with Tomatoes and Basil
Adapted from oh my veggies

1 can (15 ounce) cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 Cup sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped
4 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/3 Cup packed basil leaves
, torn
1/3 Cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 Cup panko
2 Tablespoons parmesan cheese
, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg
, lightly beaten

For serving:
4 buns (hamburger, kaiser rolls, challah rolls, etc – whatever you have leftover in your freezer after your husband is overzealous and claims that more people will show up at the party!)
Optional accompaniments:
Fresh basil leaves
Romaine or butter lettuce
Fresh mozzarella or provolone
Optional sauces:
Balsamic reduction
Pesto
Basil Mayo

Basil Mayonnaise
recipe
From the kitchn
Proportions roughly followed:
1/4 Cup packed basil leaves
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 medium garlic clove
, chopped
Zest of about half of one large lemon, about 1 teaspoon
1/2 Cup mayonnaise

Combine in a small food processor or blender.

Preheat the oven to anywhere between 385F and 400F (my oven runs hot so I opted for lower.)
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For the burgers, prepare your chopped sundried tomatoes and basil leaves.

Store-bought basil can be extremely dirty. Be sure to thoroughly wash by swishing in a bowl of cold water and then lifting out to leave the sand at the bottom of the bowl.

Store-bought basil can be extremely dirty. Be sure to thoroughly wash by swishing in a bowl of cold water and then lifting out to leave the sand at the bottom of the bowl.

In a food processor, puree together 1 Cup of the beans with the sundried tomatoes, olive oil, tomato paste, and garlic powder.
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The original recipe called for sundried tomatoes in oil, and less added olive oil, but I had regular sundried tomatoes. So I added some olive oil at first and discovered the mixture was still too dry and was difficult to puree, so I added more olive oil, up to the approximate amount above. Be on the lookout for the mixture seeming too dry. Next time I may experiment with adding some other wet ingredient to bring up the moisture content. Tomato sauce, perhaps?
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In a medium bowl, add the remaining beans and mash them with a fork. Stir in the pureed bean-tomato mixture, and add the basil and remaining ingredients, with the beaten egg added last.
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Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a measuring cup as a scoop, drop the burger mixture into 4 mounds on the sheet, and then shape each mound into a patty.

Note: this scoop-mound-shape method for forming a veggie burger was a worthy lesson on its own--thank you oh my veggies!

Note: this scoop-mound-shape method for forming a veggie burger was a worthy lesson on its own–thank you oh my veggies!


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Bake the burgers until they’re lightly browned on the outside and feel dry to the touch in the center, 20-25 minutes.
Mmmm yes to the melty mozzarella.

Mmmm yes to the melty mozzarella.


In the meantime, make your sauces! I made the basil mayo. I could have made pesto…but I still had some of the summer stock in the freezer.

Prepare your choice of buns with your choice of toppings.

Basil mayo followed by lettuce....

Basil mayo followed by lettuce….

...followed by burger, topped with balsamic glaze and more basil!

…followed by burger, topped with balsamic glaze and more basil!


How could you NOT crave this?

How could you NOT crave this?

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Feta-Brined Roast Chicken with Chimichurri Sauce

Brine is a magical thing. Besides its obvious role in pickled vegetables, an overnight brine has the ability to transform your average weekly roast chicken or even your holiday turkey from a bland or dry entrée to a juicy flavor bomb.

DSC_3219That is what I was thinking when I saved the brine from my feta cheese. The cheese was long gone, but it struck me that there had to be a use for that intensely flavored liquid, other than a future down the drain.

Once again, The New York Times Cooking website delivered. A recipe for feta-brined roast chicken, how perfect! Turns out Melissa Clark demonstrated it back in January. Her recipe includes instructions for creating the brine from scratch with chunks of feta cheese. Having some of the actual brine is even better.

What’s my twist? This time of year, it makes sense to make use of fresh greens and herbs and tangy sauces to brighten up rich meats. Herbs are thriving in the garden. I planted the oregano on a hot dry day in May and thought I killed it. Turns out it’s resilient, almost as resilient as the weeds!
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Along with parsley and some leftover cilantro, I blended together some quick chimichurri. You can do the same, with any combination of those three herbs, and with or without added heat.
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Feta-Brined Roast Chicken
from Melissa Clark of The New York Times

Leftover feta brine (7 oz)
Water to bring the total amount over 4 Cups (3.5 Cups)
2.5 teaspoons salt
, divided
1 whole chicken
2 Tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
, to taste
2 Tablespoons dried oregano
2 large or 3 small lemons, including zest
¼ Cup olive oil

DSC_3220To prepare the brine, add feta liquid, additional salt and water to a blender and whiz to combine. Select a container that will allow the chicken to sit mostly submerged in the brine; you can also use a large sealing plastic bag. Pour brine over chicken.

Place in refrigerator for at least 8 hours.

When ready to cook, discard brine and dry the chicken with paper towels. Allow to sit at room temperature for 1 hour.
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If you are hand-grinding the pepper now, settle in for the long haul! It took me forever to get 2 Tablespoons. Instead, I suggest using an electric spice grinder.

Combine the pepper, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, oregano and the zest of the lemons.
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Rub the mixture all over the bird. Cut the lemons in half and place at least 3 halves inside the chicken. Tie the legs together with twine.
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While the oven heats to 450 degrees, place an oven-safe skillet on a burner over medium high heat. Turn on your hood vent! Add oil, and once hot, set chicken in pan, breast-side up.
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Place the pan in the oven and cook for 50-60 minutes, checking once or twice to spoon the pan juices over the bird.
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The chicken is done when the juices run clear and/or temperature at the thickest parts reaches 165.
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Let chicken rest for about 10 minutes. Slice and serve with the pan juices, a little chimichurri sauce, and vegetables.
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How about some slightly burned yam fries on the side?

How about some slightly burned yam fries on the side?


With any luck, you’ll be enjoying both crispy wings and some of the juiciest white meat you’ve ever had. Enjoy!
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Pumpkin Grits with Sausage and Onion

This week, the Northeast suffered a MASSIVE weather event. HUGE amounts of snow were predicted from Monday night into Tuesday. “Be prepared,” we were warned. “Stock up!”

Even if it had turned out worse in my area, which only saw about 10-12″ and no power outages (some areas nearby were worse off), I sincerely question any large-scale concern about having enough food. Caring for babies, people with medical conditions, etc.? Yes you need to take precautions. But most of us? So the power is out for a couple of days. Most people’s stock of pasta and peanut butter would last them weeks!

I didn’t have to resort to peanut noodles…though that actually sounds good right about now. Earlier in the week, I had come across a great recipe that could incorporate more of my freezer stash: a half of a package of italian sausage and some pumpkin purée. On Sunday night I transferred the items to the fridge to thaw. The recipe also called for rosemary, which fortunately I had snipped before the bush was buried in snow. Alas, I had power and gas on Tuesday! Once the driveway was plowed, and the work-from-home workday ended, I prepared a rather refined dinner.
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Pumpkin Grits with Sausage and Onion
Adapted from The New York Times Cooking
Serves 2 as a meal

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
1 bay leaf
3/4 Cup cornmeal grits (or fine polenta, or coarse cornmeal)
water as needed according to package directions
about 2/3 Cup – at least 6 ounces pumpkin purée
1.5 Tablespoons unsalted butter
Black pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
, more as needed
1/2 to 3/4 pounds sweet or hot Italian sausage, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 large onion
, sliced into thin half moons
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Heat your water (3 cups in my case) in a medium pot with salt and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Gradually stir in the grits. Add the pumpkin.

Note: leaving a metal whisk in a metal pot as shown here is not a good idea.

Note: leaving a metal whisk in a metal pot as shown here is not a good idea.


Lower the heat so the mixture is at a simmer. Stir frequently until the grits are tender, about 30 minutes.

While the grits cook, prepare the sausage and caramelized onions.
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Heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add your sausage, rosemary and fennel seeds.
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Cook and turn until the sausage is browned and cooked, about 10 minutes.
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Remove sausage from pan and place on a paper-towel lined plate. There should be some oil remaining in the pan–if not, add some more. Add the onions and cook on low until they are soft and golden, 10 to 15 minutes.
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When the grits are tender, stir in butter and black pepper. Add additional seasoning to taste.
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Return sausage to the onion pan and heat through. Spoon polenta into two bowls. Top with sausage and onion. Garnish with additional rosemary.
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Enjoy the snow while it lasts!

Peppermint Fudgesicles

I can enjoy ice cream year-round, no matter the weather. Judging by the number of ice cream shops and frozen yogurt places in my suburban area, I am in good company. Where I grew up, in a small town, the ice cream places were seasonal. It was a special treat to play tennis with my dad outside on the high school courts and then drive to an ice cream shop on the outskirts of town–the one that made the best sundaes. Other times of year, it was rare to find our home freezer devoid of Breyer’s natural vanilla ice cream.

Some frozen treats are more refreshing than others. When the heat and humidity of summer finally arrived this year, right as the calendar was switching to September, I had a very particular craving. I wanted something on a stick. There’s something about the iciness of popsicles, and the fact that one can literally wrap one’s mouth around them, that makes me feel cooler, amidst the stickiness. Many of the bloggers I follow started making popsicles regularly in the past year. They offer recipes with interesting ingredients like butterscotch, pink lemonade, and strawberry with coconut. But those didn’t quite fit the bill. I wanted a fudgesicle.
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Hence my decision to make them at home. I did use Smitten Kitchen’s 2011 recipe as a guide. I particularly appreciate her inclusion of ounces and grams, because I have that digital kitchen scale that helps make measurement easy and requires fewer utensils. Once I had all of my other ingredients set out and was reaching for the vanilla extract, I thought, why not add this peppermint extract for extra oomph?
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Another note: I have yet to add real popsicle molds to my kitchen collection. No worries: a mishmash of free shot glasses, like mine, work just fine. If you have those little disposable paper cups some people keep in bathrooms, they would work great.
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Peppermint Fudgesicles
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Fudge Popsicles recipe

2 Tablespoons / 21 grams / 3/4 ounce semisweet chocolate, chopped or as chips or chunks
1/3 Cup / 67 grams / 2 1/3 ounce granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon / 7 grams / 1/4 ounce cornstarch
1 1/2 Tablespoons / 8 grams / 1/4 ounce unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Cup fat free milk
1/4 Cup heavy cream
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 Tablespoon / 7 grams / 1/4 ounce unsalted butter

Set a medium saucepan over very low heat. Add the chocolate and gently melt, stirring until smooth.
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Incorporate sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, milk and salt. Turn up the heat slightly and cook mixture until it thickens, stirring often. This will take no shorter than 5 minutes and could take 10. Remove saucepan from heat. Add butter and stir until melted. Add peppermint extract.
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Be careful not to over-pour…when the peppermint extract came out of the bottle and into my spoon a little too fast to capture, I feared I had ruined the whole batch (spoiler alert: I didn’t.)

Mix well. Allow to cool slightly, and then pour into shot glasses.

It's easier to transport the fudgesicles to and from the freezer if you corral them in a single container, like this Pyrex.

It’s easier to transport the fudgesicles to and from the freezer if you corral them in a single container, like this Pyrex.


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Now the popsicles need to be frozen slightly before the adding the sticks. If you try to stick them too early, the fudge mixture won’t support the stick enough to stay centered. On the other hand, you can’t let the popsicles freeze too much or you won’t be able to get the stick in, nor will the mixture adhere to the stick, for holding, once frozen. Deb from Smitten Kitchen said it would take 30 minutes for the mixture to freeze enough to add the sticks, but this will really depend on how much you let your mixture cool, or how cold your freezer is. After 30 minutes, my sticks were still flopping over. At this point, I had to go to bed, so I couldn’t wait. I made it work: with scotch tape, I supported the sticks so they would stay centered. Why not?
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The next night, the fudgesicles were fully frozen and ready to be enjoyed.

Remove them from the freezer, and dip the glass in a mug of warm water until the popsicle melts enough on the sides to pull out.
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Mini fudgesicle!

Mini fudgesicle!


Now this is summer.

Swiss Chard and Prosciutto over Polenta

I’m due for a follow up on the last post, Chard Stem Hummus! What did I make with the de-stemmed leaves? Something unbelievably easy. Swiss Chard and Prosciutto over Polenta.
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You probably already know that the chard leaves lend themselves to a wide range of recipes. The leaves show up in recipes calling for some tomato here, a few dried fruits and nuts there, a touch of vinegar, or perhaps a little cheese. Last week I enjoyed Chard, Caramelized Onion, and Gruyère Crepes; also easy and delicious. I recently finished skimming through the expansive the book Vegetable Literacy, by Deborah Madison. Deborah lists the following as good companions for chard:DSC_9290

  • olive oil, butter, sesame oil
  • quinoa, rice, potatoes, white beans, lentils, chickpeas, pasta
  • garlic, thyme, cilantro, basil, cumin, saffron, nutmeg
  • fresh lemon, aged red wine vinegars
  • eggs, cream, Gruyère, Parmesan cheese, tahini
  • My selected recipe is spot on with several of the recommendations. As for eggs, I’m not one of those people who thinks to reach for eggs as a dinner ingredient (besides in crepe and other batters or dough). However, in this recipe I can easily imagine the soft polenta replaced with soft scrambled eggs, served with some rustic toast on the side.

    Swiss Chard and Prosciutto over Polenta
    Adapted from Cooking Light on myrecipes.com
    Scaled to serve 2

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    a few slices prosciutto or pancetta
    , about 1 ounce, cut or torn into 1/4-inch pieces
    Cooking spray
    1 Tablespoon garlic
    , minced
    3/4 Cup low-sodium chicken broth
    1/2 Tablespoon fresh thyme
    , chopped
    4 Cups Swiss chard leaves, coarsely chopped
    1/8 teaspoon sea salt
    1/8 teaspoon black pepper
    1 Cup prepared polenta
    , cooked from yellow cornmeal by following this recipe (scale down by at least half if feeding only 2 people) or freshly made instant polenta cooked according to package directions
    1/8 cup (.5 ounce) Parmesan cheese, shaved

    Head a large skillet over medium heat and spray with cooking spray or olive oil. Cook prosciutto about 10 minutes, until crisped. Removed the crispy pieces from pan and set aside.

    I love the flavor added with this step, but it sure makes a mess of the stovetop!

    I love the flavor added with this step, but it sure makes a mess of the stovetop!


    Add garlic and stir into the drippings in the pan for about 30 seconds. Pour in broth and add thyme. Raise the stove temperature to bring the mixture to a boil. Allow to boil for about 5 minutes to reduce by half.

    Add chard, salt, and pepper. Toss to incorporate.
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    Cover the pan. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until chard is tender, about 3 minutes.

    Spoon over polenta and top with prosciutto and Parmesan shavings.
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    Chard Stem Hummus

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    I made a cooked vegetable dish this weekend that I fully intended to share on the blog. It displayed a medley of farm-sourced ingredients and required quite a bit of time to stir and cook. When it finally finished, I sat down and ate it…and didn’t like the flavor. One of the vegetables I incorporated was kohlrabi, and I think it was too dominant in the dish. More importantly, the vegetables were supposed to soften after pan frying for so long, and the kohlrabi didn’t. It stood out. It may have even been burnt–I couldn’t tell. The dish was edible, but it needed a lot of tweaking before sharing. Fortunately, it wasn’t served to guests–only to my husband, who years ago would have run away if I tried serving him a dish with kohlrabi. He didn’t love it either, but he ate it. I’m so proud of how far he has come.

    It got me thinking about the people, young and old, who won’t eat vegetables, and their noble partners who, out of concern for the health and well-being of loved ones, find ways of sneaking in nutrition. Do you know one of those people? Maybe YOU are a sneaker. You probably use up even more of the vegetables you buy than I do, because you plan to throw them into a food processor to make a secret sauce, or soup, or dressing. In my ongoing search for recipes that use the Swiss chard stems, I found this recipe for a chickpea, tahini, and yogurt dip with hidden Swiss chard stalks. Last summer I pickled some stems, which was great for preserving, but I rarely reached for them in the fridge. When I tried this grilled Swiss chard stem recipe, I didn’t seem to have enough stems to make it substantial…and then some of them even blew off of the grill while they were being cooked! When tasting the hummus recipe I made this Monday, one would never guess it has Swiss chard. What a difference from that weekend vegetable medley! Are there those with the opposite view of a stealthy vegetable cook, who insist that each vegetable be featured prominently and celebrated, who are less than impressed with this approach? Perhaps. But this dip is undeniably delicious, and I do give the Swiss chard stems some of the credit.

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    Chard Stem Hummus
    From Martha Rose Shulman of The New York Times

    4-5 ounces pound Swiss chard stalks, from about 1/2 pound bunch, sliced
    Salt to taste
    2 garlic cloves
    (to taste), peeled
    heaping 3/4 Cup cooked chickpeas (about half a small can), drained and rinsed
    2.5 Tablespoons stirred sesame tahini
    4 Tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
    2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
    , to taste
    1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly toasted on the stovetop
    1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

    Steam chard stalks over 1 inch water until tender when pierced with a fork, 15 to 20 minutes.
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    Collect the rest of your ingredients.
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    Drain the Swiss chard stems well, about 10 minutes. Add to a food processor along with your chickpeas.
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    Purée, stopping the machine from time to time to scrape down the sides.

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    Using a mortar and pestle, mash garlic with 1/2 teaspoon salt until you have a smooth paste. Add to chard stalks and chickpeas. Process until smooth.

    After the first whirring...

    After the first whirring…


    Wipe out the same mortar to grind your toasted cumin seeds.

    Add to processor along with tahini and yogurt and run the machine until smooth once again.

    With machine running, add lemon juice, olive oil and a touch of salt to taste. Test the dip for seasoning, and then transfer to a bowl.

    The final product!

    The final product!


    Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley, for garnish, and serve with crudités, along with some wonderful homemade whole wheat pitas.
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    Stay tuned for what I made with the leaves this time!
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    Chicken Thighs with Caramelized Fennel

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    Once upon a time, I disliked fennel. When people are introduced to fennel for the first time, often they are told it tastes like black licorice, something people generally love or hate. Am I the only one who thinks it is sad that people are more familiar with the taste of a candy than of a vegetable? Anyway, I always hated black licorice. But with enough exposure to fennel, I love it! When generously dressed with olive oil and fresh lemon, it makes a great raw salad. It pairs well with cheese (shaved Pecorino Toscano or Parmesan Reggiano in particular), takes on a pleasant sweetness when partnered with other roasting vegetables, and complements braised chicken and simmered seafood. I challenge naysayers to keep trying. Hey, even I eat brussel sprouts (blech) if I perceive they have been prepared well.

    I’ve been perusing the new cooking site on nytimes.com. So far, I’m a big fan. You can do a recipe search based on (single) ingredients, and many of the recipes are straightforward. A search of “fennel” led me to this Braised Chicken Thighs With Caramelized Fennel recipe, a near perfect match with my pantry, fridge, and CSA box. This recipe is particularly appealing because it creatively uses the fennel fronds as well as the bulbs, and even calls for fennel seeds. It is simple and delicious. The hardest part is slicing your fennel thinly. Fortunately, the caramelization process is forgiving of imperfect technique.
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    Braised Chicken Thighs With Caramelized Fennel
    adapted from Andrew Scrivani of the The New York Times
    Makes 4 servings

    For the fennel frond puree:
    1 large or 3 small cloves garlic, roughly chopped
    ½ teaspoon lemon zest, grated
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    ⅓ Cup extra virgin olive oil
    1/2 Cup fennel fronds
    from 2 large fennel bulbs

    For the braised chicken and caramelized fennel:
    2 Tablespoons vegetable oil, such as sunflower, grapeseed, or canola
    4 bone-in chicken thighs (about 2 pounds)
    ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
    2 large fennel bulbs
    , thinly sliced
    1 onion, thinly sliced
    ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
    1 Tablespoon white wine, liquor, or beer
    1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

    Trim fennel bulbs, separating fronds for the purée.
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    Combine about 1/2 cup fronds, chopped garlic, lemon zest and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a blender or food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add 1/3 cup extra virgin oil and purée.
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    DSC_9050Halve fennel bulbs lengthwise. Carefully slice with a mandoline or sharp knife into thin slices. I’m not convinced mandoline is the way to go, because it struggles with the tougher leaves. Also, it would have been easier if my fennel bulbs were slightly larger.

    Prepare chicken by seasoning with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. In a large skillet over high heat, heat 2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil. With high heat, you need an oil with a high smoke point. The original recipe called for extra virgin olive oil, but I always burn that. I pulled out sunflower oil for this.
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    DSC_9049Add chicken and brown until skin is crisp, about 8 minutes.
    Transfer to a plate – it will be finished later on alongside the caramelized vegetables. You’ll be reusing pan with drippings for the vegetables. I transferred my chicken to a baking sheet and put it to the oven temporarily, because I thought it would need extra time being bone-in. Turns out it didn’t need that much time before it reached 165 F.
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    Add fennel seeds to skillet and stir. After 30 seconds, add fennel and onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

    I should note that my since my fennel bulbs and onion were rather small, you may want to scale up if you are looking to satisfy four people for a meal, rather than two people plus leftovers.

    I should note that my since my fennel bulbs and onion were rather small, you may want to scale up if you are looking to satisfy four people for a meal, rather than two people plus leftovers.


    Reduce heat to medium and let the vegetables go until they are caramelized, stirring occasionally (about 15 minutes). Add liquor (I used white wine, which was open) to deglaze the bottom of the skillet; cook until liquid has evaporated, about 1 minute.
    About halfway there.

    About halfway there.


    Place chicken on top of the fennel-onion mixture. Pour a little water into the pan and cover. Reduce heat to medium-low and and cook until chicken is up to temperature. If there is any excess liquid, let it simmer off with the pan uncovered at the end. Stir in lemon juice.
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    Plate chicken atop vegetables and pour over the fennel frond purée.
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    Kitty outtake:
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    Fresh Gnocchi & Baby Zucchini with Pan-friend Squash Blossoms – Blue Apron

    This post is the third in a series in which I review one of the services that provides pre-portioned ingredients and recipes, delivered to your door. The first was Hello Fresh, then Plated, and now Blue Apron.
    See: Salmon Salad – Plated and Hello fresh – hello leftovers?

    Like I did for the others, I signed up for Blue Apron through a promotion. It may have had to do with the process of entering that code, but I was a little put off by the fact I had to fully commit my credit card and ordering information before I could select the meals that were going to be covered. I saw the recipes they were featuring in the upcoming weeks. I discovered that while I wasn’t permitted to mark off individual recipes for my next delivery, I could fiddle with my meal preferences (whether I ate meat, fish, etc.) in order to get what I wanted. From some of the reviews, I see that people don’t always receive their top picks. I was pretty excited about the three meals kits I would be getting: Pan-Seared Drum and Tomato Jam with Himalayan Red Rice Risotto & Asparagus, Fresh Gnocchi and Baby Zucchini with Crispy Squash Blossoms & Lemon Brown Butter, and King Trumpet Mushroom Steam Buns with Miso Butter & Japanese Sweet Potato Salad.
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    I felt good about the recipes because several of them used ingredients I never have or had never even tried. Like Hello Fresh, I had to order three meals of two servings (I could, mercifully, order only two with Plated). The pricing is very similar, at $10-$12 per person per plate.
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    Blue Apron’s delivery came in a giant box. It was thoroughly lined with padding, which kept the ingredients well-protected.
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    Everything arrived in great condition. Blue Apron uses the same brand of freezer packs as Plated to keep highly perishable items, like fish, cool at the bottom of the box. I liked the use of brown bags for packaging some of the smaller, miscellaneous ingredients. There was a mix of items that did and did not need refrigeration, but they were small enough to stick in the fridge either way.
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    As usual, I executed the fish recipe first. I enjoyed the fish itself, and appreciated the accompanying ingredients, but the dish as a whole seemed overly simple. I had the same issue as before with the rice being bland at first, until I realized that I needed to be truly liberal with salt and pepper. Perhaps I should have added extra garlic–the recipe called for two cloves and they gave me a whole head, which happen to be pretty old.

    The recipe I am featuring here is the gnocchi and baby zucchini recipe; this one came out great!

    I will say that on the day I unpacked the box, I looked over the squash blossoms, the very top item. I was shocked to see in blaring text that they were a product of Israel.
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    Now, I know my produce can come from various parts of the world a different times of the year. But I felt that Blue Apron had specifically alluded to the fact it is spring in the United States, and it is the season to pick the blossoms from the zucchini plants here. Nevermind that it is a little early for that. I felt slightly misled.

    Fresh Gnocchi and Baby Zucchini with Crispy Squash Blossoms & Lemon Brown Butter
    From Blue Apron
    Makes 2 servings

    4 whole squash blossoms
    1 small lemon
    1/2 lb baby zucchini
    1/4 Cup rice flour
    2 Tablespoons butter
    1/3 Cup pecorino cheese
    , grated
    10 ounces fresh potato gnocchi
    Approx. 2-3 Tablespoons of canola oil, for frying

    Start by washing and drying the produce.
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    DSC_8903Set a large pot of salted water over heat to bring to a boil for the gnocchi for later. Remove the stems and pluck the stamens out of the squash blossoms. Reserve two of the whole flowers to fry. Roughly chop the other two flowers.

    Take the lemon and remove some of the yellow rind with a peeler. Avoid the white bitter pith. Finely mince the rind and measure 2 teaspoons to set aside. Cut the lemon in half. Take one of the halves and half that, so that you have a wedge for serving with each of the plates.
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    Cut the tops and bottoms off of the zucchini and discard. Slice the zucchini in half lengthwise and then crosswise so you have quarters. Set aside.
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    DSC_8907Now we fry the flowers. Combine the rice flour and ⅓ cup of water in a medium bowl to create a batter. It may seem very thin.

    Coat the bottom of a medium sauté pan with oil and heat until very hot. If you flick a little water into the oil and it sizzles, it is ready to go. Dip the whole squash blossoms in the batter, allowing any excess to drip off. Because my batter was so watery, I felt like hardly anything stuck. Perhaps I could have added less water.
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    Transfer the battered squash blossoms to the pan and cook until crispy, 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt. Set aside.

    Discard the oil from your sauté pan, pouring it into a heatproof bowl to cool first. Carefully wipe out the pan.

    Time for the lemon brown butter sauce. To the same pan, add the butter and melt. As a warning, the pan may have retained so much heat that the butter already starts to melt and brown without turning the heat back on at first.
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    Watching closely, cook until the butter foams, and swirl around until it becomes golden brown and smalls nutty, about 2-3 minutes.

    Add the chopped squash blossoms and lemon zest and cook, stirring frequently, 5 to 10 seconds, or until thoroughly coated.
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    Add the zucchini and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 3-5 minutes. Once the squash is tender, stir in the juice of your lemon half.
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    In the meantime, add the gnocchi to the pot of boiling water.
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    The gnocchi should be done and tender in 2-3 minutes, when it floats to the top of the pot. Use a slotted spoon or strainer to transfer the cooked gnocchi to the pan with the cooked zucchini and brown butter. If the zucchini isn’t tender yet, transfer the gnocchi temporarily to a separate bowl.
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    I love the little ridges! These reminded me of Alf.
    ALF Season 1

    Pour in most of the Pecorino cheese, keeping a few pinches for serving. Scoop ¼ Cup of reserved pasta water and stir into the mixture.
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    Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve the gnocchi on 2 dishes, topped with a fried squash blossom each. Sprinkle with the remaining Pecorino cheese.
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    Once I scooped out what I felt was two servings, there was about one serving left in the pan. I was underserving because my husband and I had snacked beforehand, and were eating a salad as well. For once, I was content with the quantity of food that came out. And the taste was wonderful. The lemon flavor really shined, balanced by the salty cheese, and the tender gnocchi and zucchini created a very pleasant mouthfeel. I would have liked to see the fried blossoms come out crispier; improvements could be made to the batter. This will be a great recipe to return to when the squash blossoms are harvested here in New York!

    Blue Apron Rating (on a scale of 1-5):
    Ordering: 2
    Packaging: 4
    Ingredients (freshness): 3
    Recipe accuracy (quantities, ratios): 4
    Instructions: 4
    Recipe uniqueness: 4
    Accuracy of portion sizing: 4
    Taste: 5

    Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon and Red Peppers

    I hope you aren’t one of those people who envisions the color yellow or orange when thinking of cheese.

    kraft-mac-and-cheese 2If you are, I’m sure you have lots of company. How many of us were introduced to macaroni and cheese as a child in the form of Kraft’s infamous blue boxes and the orange cheese sauce? Heck, I enjoyed it then. My mom would add cut-up hot dogs, which probably made a huge difference in boosting the bland taste of that cheese. Then there’s baked cheddar Goldfish, another childhood staple (and a fairly good snack choice). At some point, the color orange became associated with enhanced flavor.

    This upbringing was misleading! I was duly educated during a tour of the Cabot Cheese facility a few years ago. Cheese should be white, not yellow! Sure it can be a natural additive that gives cheese an orange hue. And OK, apparently it is added, or left out, to signal where the cheese was made. But in the case of Kraft macaroni and cheese, some people believe the dye his harmful. And when think about the main ingredients, isn’t it a little odd? When was the last time you saw yellow milk?

    Now that I have finished my tirade, I am going to tell you about my adapted macaroni and cheese recipe, that happens to come out orange. Ha! It is naturally colored that way because I include the spice turmeric. Someone had recently reminded me about turmeric’s purported inflammation-relieving properties, which made me want to use it.
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    I adapted a recently published Cooking Light Chicken-Broccoli Mac and Cheese recipe that has turmeric on the ingredients list, but I left out the chicken and substituted red bell pepper for the broccoli. I also followed some of the methods in another recipe from Betty Crocker that had the same ingredients I wanted to use.
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    I had been looking for a recipe that uses bacon, because I had a little left in a package that was expiring. I never hear anyone else dealing with this. Am I the only one in the world who has trouble using up bacon?

    Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon and Red Peppers
    Adapted from Cooking Light and Betty Crocker

    6 ounces uncooked pasta, such as macaroni (of course), shells, penne, or rigatoni (my favorite)DSC_8697
    2-3 slices of bacon, to taste, roughly chopped
    1 (about 6 ounces) red bell pepper, thinly sliced
    2 (about 1 ounce) green onions, sliced
    1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
    1 Tablespoon garlic, minced
    1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
    1 1/4 Cups low-fat milk
    , 1% ideal
    1 Cup low sodium chicken stock,
    OR 1 teaspoon of Better-Than-Bouillon Chicken Base dissolved in 1 Cup hot water
    1/4 Cup all-purpose flour
    about 1 1/4 Cups (5 ounces) sharp cheddar cheese, shredded; I used this amazing cheese
    1/4 Cup panko
    1 Tablespoon butter

    With the two different recipes, there are two approaches: 1. cooking the bacon and vegetables and sauce in a pan and then transferring everything into a casserole dish to bake for awhile, and 2. cooking the bacon and vegetables and sauce in the same pan you will put in the oven to broil briefly. I chose 2. One less dish to wash!

    In a medium saucepan, cook pasta according to package directions, leaving out the salt.

    Prepare your vegetables of choice, chopping or slicing them down so they aren’t much bigger than your pasta of choice.
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    Cook bacon in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until browned. Remove the bacon from pan with a slotted spoon. Pour all but 1 1/2 teaspoons of the drippings out of the pan.

    Such a tiny amount of bacon!

    Such a sad, tiny amount of bacon!

    Add peppers and green onions to the pan and sauté over medium heat for about 4 minutes.
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    Add in the garlic and cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with turmeric; cook 30 seconds, stirring frequently.

    Have your other ingredients measured and ready! Also, preheat oven to broil.
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    With a whisk, combine 3/4 teaspoon salt, milk, stock, and flour. Add mixture to pan and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook until thickened, about 2 minutes, and then turn off the heat.
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    Add pasta mixture and about half of the cheese and toss together.
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    Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Melt 1 Tablespoon of butter in a dish and combine with panko; sprinkle over pasta mixture. Top with bacon.

    Looks like a party, doesn't it?

    Looks like a party, doesn’t it?


    Broil 2 minutes or until cheese melts and just begins to brown. Watch closely. It might not brown evenly. No worries. The imperfection means it is real food!

    Enjoy your creamy and naturally cheesy macaroni and cheese!
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