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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Italian-American Wedding Soup

This recipe is brought to you by the letter E…for escarole. Escarole, that vegetable that makes me groan, because it tastes so bitter raw. Which means I have to make an E for effort to cook it, and when I do, I always feel the need to do something complicated instead of simply sautéing it. Yes, I know this is MY problem.

I was surprised to discover that escarole is a fairly normal ingredient to add to Italian Wedding Soup. The Italian-Style Wedding Soup flavor of Campbell’s used to be one of my favorites as a kid. Yet I’m not sure I have had soup by the same name since then, and I had never made it at home. Of course, it is just a name, and there’s a good chance I have had a chicken-broth-based-vegetable-soup-with-meat-and-sometimes-pasta. Did you know that “wedding soup” was a mistranslation, and the original Italian phrase actually meant “married soup,” because of how well meats and green vegetables marry together? Now you know.

I really enjoyed how this came out using the slow cooker. The meatballs were so tender. Each vegetable added something interesting to the overall flavor. And with the chicken broth base, it definitely came out tasting like comfort food.

Italian Wedding Soup with Escarole
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

DSC_6095Because I only had 1 pound of ground beef instead of 1.5, I scaled most of the entire recipe down by 25%–including using 3/4 of my 2 beaten eggs. I’ll spare you that silly instruction on the ingredient list (I probably could have gotten by with just 1 egg).

Besides keeping close to recommended ratios for keeping meatballs together, the recipe is, of course, flexible. If you increase the greens, like I did, be sure to compensate with added broth.

2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs (I used panko run through the food processor, but it would have probably worked in its original form)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
(I used 1 pound, as mentioned earlier)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
8 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
(I used 6)
3 large carrots, chopped (I used 3/4 Cup)
2 pieces of celery, chopped (I used 1/2 Cup)
1/2 onion, chopped (I used 1/4 Cup)
2 tablespoons snipped fresh oregano or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed (I used 1 tsp dried)
3/4 teaspoon dried basil (I used 1/2 tsp)
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder (I used 1/2 tsp)
2 bay leaves (I used 2 small Long Island bay leaves collected during a foraging tour with Wildman Steve Brill)
1 small head escarole (8 ounces), trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch strips (I used 6 ounces sliced escarole and 3.5 ounces of a mysterious green from my CSA I believe was mustard greens)
1 cup small pasta (I used whole wheat orzo because I had it – 3/4 Cup)
Fresh oregano sprigs (optional)

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Escarole

Escarole

Mustard greens?

Mustard greens?


In a large bowl, combine eggs, onion, bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper.
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Add ground beef; mix well.
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Shape mixture into about forty 1-1/4-inch meatballs.
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Now it is time to choose your method for browning the meatballs. One possibility is to use a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil, and brown meatballs, half at a time, draining on paper towels. I tried this for the first half, and turning the meatballs was a challenge. It was much easier to bake them in oven at 350, turning once, for 10-15 min total.

In a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine broth, carrots, dried herbs and spices, if using (oregano, basil, garlic powder etc.) the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Gently add meatballs.
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Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 6 hours, or on high-heat setting for 3 hours, stirring in fresh oregano (if using), pasta, and greens during the last 20 minutes of cooking.
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Ladle into bowls. Garnish if desired. Sit back and enjoy.
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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.”

Soup’s On

Something tragic happened earlier this month. My oven stopped working.

It was the day after my birthday, and I had plans to make pizza. I wanted to top it with barbecue chicken, because not long ago someone (who may or may not have been my husband) opened a second jar of barbecue sauce when we already had an open one in the fridge…but there’s no need to get into that.

The oven was failing to heat up on multiple settings, so as I grieved, I improvised by using the outdoor grill as an oven.

The oven failure comes at a time when we are starting to feel the chill outdoors. That means it is time to start baking, right? I read a lot of summer seasonal recipes in which people reference the fact that “you may not want to turn on your oven!” because of the heat. Honestly, I think I use the oven almost equally in summer and winter! I don’t think I’ve consciously decided not to use my oven because of the weather…perhaps I’m not discouraged because we have central air conditioning and cool tile floors. But how quickly I forget! Now I’m flashing back to the apartment I lived in right out of college, the top floor of a converted house, and how I survived one Long Island summer without air conditioning. I’m pretty sure I avoided the oven then.

Anyway, the point is, I don’t necessarily gravitate to the oven in fall. The thing I start thinking about when it comes to fall is SOUP.

Of course, soup is a great way to incorporate miscellaneous vegetables. So later that week, I found a recipe that utilized CSA peppers and eggplant, along with leeks. With the help of the immersion blender, Matt was persuaded to eat and ENJOY something with eggplant! Pretty much any roasting vegetable could be incorporated in a soup like this.

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Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Soup
Adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious
Makes 4 servings

1 eggplant (about 1 pound), halved
~12 ounces red bell peppers
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion
, chopped
~1 Cup/1 leek, halved lengthwise, dunked in cool water to remove grime, and thinly sliced crosswise (white and pale green parts only)
3 large garlic cloves, minced
4 1/4 Cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
4 Tablespoons fresh basil
, chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1.5 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Parmesan cheese shavings

As you can see, Matt pulled out his tools and made a fair attempt to diagnose and potentially repair the oven. Now a week and a half later, the repairman came, only to say he has to order a part and come NEXT week to see if that fixes it.

As you can see, Matt pulled out his tools and made a fair attempt to diagnose and potentially repair the oven. Now a week and a half later, the repairman came, only to say he has to order a part and come NEXT week to see if that fixes it.


This is where an oven WOULD have come in handy–the original recipe called for roasting the vegetables on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 450°F. I once again turned to the grill, cranked up high to try to keep it over 400.

Pierce eggplants all over with fork. Transfer, cut side down, to baking sheet. Roast until tender, about 45 minutes.
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In the last 15 minutes of the eggplant’s cooking time, char bell peppers over a flame or in a broiler until blackened on all sides.

The blacker they get, the easier they are to peel.  These were a challenge.

The blacker they get, the easier they are to peel. These were a challenge.


Carefully add to a ziplock bag, sealed, and set aside for about 10 minutes.

Allow eggplant to cool slightly, then remove and discard peel. Chop eggplant into large pieces. Rinse pieces under running water. Drain well and set aside.
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Take out peppers, and peel, seed and coarsely chop.
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Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and leek and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute.

Stir in eggplant, peppers, chicken stock, and tomato paste. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered until vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes.

Stir in basil and thyme.
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Either cool slightly before using a blender to puree the soup in batches, or turn off heat and use an immersion blender to blend in the pot. Once blended, season with salt and pepper, and add butter and lemon juice (general side note: if you are making soup and upon tasting think it is missing something, try lemon juice). Warm over low heat if soup has cooled too much.

Transfer to bowls, and garnish with shaved Parmesan cheese.
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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
¼ 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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Get Pot-lucky

Last weekend was a full weekend. On Saturday, we had a friend in town visiting so we went to a Yankees day game. On Sunday morning I was participating in the Color Run and then in the afternoon had a party to which I was expected to bring something. When we arrived home on Saturday evening, I still didn’t know what I was making.

A peek into my pantry revealed that I had some neglected sweet potatoes. I wondered about making potato salad with sweet potatoes, and with a little research I settled on this. From the time I started brainstorming to the time the salad was done was probably just 45 minutes. The parsley was in my garden and everything else was in my pantry or fridge. Score!

This salad has a lot going for it. There’s potential for substitutions, it develops flavors overnight, and it can safely sit out and be eaten at room (or outdoor) temperature. My vegetarian friends liked it, but I bet it would have been even tastier with bacon or prosciutto! (Check out this recipe for a fall or winter sweet potato dish, with prosciutto, that will knock your socks off).
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Summer Sweet Potato Salad
Adapted from a recipe by “NINABSLOAN” on SparkRecipes
Serves 6-8 if it is a main side dish, and many more at a potluck

1.5 pounds sweet potatoes or yams (about 2 potatoes that are on the large size)
1/2 C dried cranberries
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1/3 C pecans, chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Dressing:
4 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
salt and pepper
to taste

Set a pot of water to boil. Peel and cube sweet potatoes.
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Add potatoes to water and boil until tender but still firm. Meanwhile, prepare remaining ingredients:
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Combine with drained sweet potatoes and then toss with dressing.
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Chill and serve. Could it get much easier?

Even better in a festive bowl!

Even better in a festive bowl!

Bready Goodness

I am very lucky to have a husband who likes to bake breads, pizzas, rolls, etc. I bought him some sourdough starter a couple of years ago, and ever since, as he has kept it alive with regular “feedings,” and remained fairly committed to using it often. Since we are a family of two, and we liked to vary our diets, this habit keeps our freezer well stocked with pre-made pizza dough, or leftover bread which I have sliced or cubed. (That is one thing he doesn’t do — put away the leftovers. After all the work he puts into the risings and the kneadings, once it comes out the oven, he would have it left out on the counter going stale for hours or days if it wasn’t for me! I suppose we make a good team.)

The reason I mention this is because I had some wheat sourdough bread cubes in the freezer that really needed to be used. Bread pudding is such a flexible recipe, someday perhaps one day I’ll even be able to make it up as I go along without reference. This time I found a recipe from the Tillamook County Creamery that matched up with ingredients I had on hand, plus some greens I had been craving. Perhaps my version will similarly inspire you, but you may feel confident enough to make it your own!
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Savory Bread Pudding
from Tillamook
Serves: 4 (Original recipe served 6-8, but I halved)

2 egg yolks
3 eggs
1 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
13 oz (~1.5 C) milk
8 oz (1 C) heavy cream
4 oz (1/2 C) plain greek yogurt
(crème fraiche, sour cream, or buttermilk are all great substitutions)

1/2 Tablespoon butter, to butter casserole dishes
10 oz stale bread cut into 1 inch cubes (some bread pudding recipes insist on weak white bread, but for this recipe you can use hearty bread like my wheat sourdough, whole wheat, French, Italian, or rye. If your bread doesn’t feel stale, dry it out in a hot 350°F oven on a sheet pan for 7 minutes)
5 oz cooked bacon (smoked turkey, ham, or sautéed mushrooms, for vegetarians, can be substituted. I ended up making two smaller dishes that incorporated the bacon and one that simply left it out for a vegetarian version)
1 teaspoon minced fresh sage (thyme, rosemary, or parsley can all be substituted)
3 oz caramelized onions*
4 oz kale, briefly sautéed in
olive oil, with
1/2 Tablespoon garlic
3/4 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2-1 teaspoon ground black pepper
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I highly recommend planning your schedule to make this recipe the day before you want to bake it. As you can see, you need to cook bacon, toast bread, and sauté greens before you can even assemble the dish to go in the oven. *Having a batch of caramelized onions done in advance will be helpful. Otherwise, you’ll be waiting way too long for dinner to be ready, like I was. I was starving by the time I was caramelizing the onions via two different shortcuts (they worked fine for the purposes of this recipe, but the onions were definitely more of a weird mushy texture I wouldn’t have wanted to use for anything else).
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DSC_4324So I made extra kale with garlic and put it on sourdough pizza crust that had been sprinkled with olive oil and parmesan cheese and topped it off with some crumbles of goat cheese.
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But I digress. Here are the instructions:

To make the egg mixture, whisk together egg yolks, whole eggs, salt and garlic powder until well blended. Add milk, cream, and yogurt and whisk until smooth. Set aside.
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Butter a casserole dish (at least 1.5 quart capacity) or multiple smaller baking dishes. Take half the bread and layer among the bottom of the dishes, then half of the bacon, half of the sage, half of the caramelized onions, half of the greens, and half of the cheese. Sprinkle with ~1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Repeat with remaining half of ingredients, sprinkling cheese and then remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper on last. Carefully pour custard over filled dishes, soaking evenly. You want all of the bread to be wet, so push down into custard if necessary.
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Cover dish and refrigerate at least one hour and preferably overnight. Uncover and bake in an oven pre-heated to 325°F for approximately 40-50 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 157°F or until gently puffed and lightly browned. Allow to cool slightly, then scoop into bowls to serve; serve warm.

Pictures–especially ones taken with my cell phone camera because I am too hungry and excited the next day to get a real camera–don’t do this kind of comfort food justice. Eat up!
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Bake it into a cake

Last week, I kept seeing in the freezer a container of leftover canned pumpkin and thought, I better use that up.  Pumpkin is generally though to be a fall/winter ingredient, and we are heading straight into summer, based on the weather forecast.  I do wish that pumpkin recipes better matched up with the standard quantity in cans, because there is always some remaining!

As I said before, my first idea for using a leftover ingredient often involves baking a dessert.  Fortunately, this was going to be a welcome addition to my husband’s family’s Easter meal gathering the next day.

Pumpkin Roulade with Ginger Frosting

Adapted from Ina Garten’s Food Network Recipe

For the cake:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3 extra-large eggs, or 4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

For the filling:
8 ounces cream cheese
scant 4 ounces plain yogurt (I used greek)
1 1/4 C confectioners’ sugar, sifted
~2 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup minced dried crystallized ginger
pinch of kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 13 by 18 by 1-inch sheet pan (also known as a jelly roll pan?). Line the pan with parchment paper, or in my case a silpat, and add grease and flour to that–it is very important so the cake doesn’t stick!

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Place the eggs and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high until light yellow and thickened (this goes faster if your eggs have fully come up to room temperature). With the mixer on low, add the pumpkin, then slowly add the flour mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Finish mixing the batter by hand with a rubber spatula. Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the top springs back when gently touched.

While the cake is baking, lay out a clean, thin cotton dish towel on a flat surface and sift the entire 1/4 cup of confectioners’ sugar evenly over it. (This is to prevent the cake from sticking to the towel). Remove the cake from the oven and immediately loosen it around the edges with a rubber spatula. Invert cake squarely onto the prepared towel. Peel away the parchment paper or silpat.
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Gently roll the warm cake and the towel together (without squeezing), starting at the short end of the cake. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Ina’s recipe calls for 12 oz Italian marscapone cheese, 1 1/4 C confectioners sugar, and 2 tablespoons of heavy cream. My beloved Trader Joe’s was out of marscapone, so I followed a reviewers suggestion of using cream cheese. Since I only bought one package, I thought I needed to beef it up closer to 12 ounces. But there was plenty of frosting — I probably could have just used the cream cheese and reduced the sugar to 3/4 Cup. I also used the skim milk I had on hand rather than buying a container of heavy cream.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, and milk/cream together for about a minute, until light and fluffy. I added just enough to milk to reach the desired consistency. Stir in the crystallized ginger  and salt.

To assemble, carefully unroll the cake onto a board with the towel underneath. Spread the cake evenly with the filling.

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Reroll the cake in a spiral using the towel as a guide. Remove the towel and trim the ends to make a neat edge. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve sliced. (I refrigerated to preserve for the next day, and sliced immediately before serving.)

Ta-da! My first roulade:
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