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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Sourdough Chocolate Cupcakes with Espresso Icing

Sometimes you need to make cupcakes simply because you have some cute paper baking cups.
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OK, you caught me, the red, white and blue paper cups were not the only reason I planned to bake for our Memorial Day party on Monday. Another reason is that the recipe puts the sourdough to use again! Plus, I had all the other ingredients on hand.

Memorial Day certainly lived up to its reputation as the unofficial start of summer. I could not have asked for a more perfect day to spend almost entirely outdoors. Right away, I started the sourdough part of the cupcake batter so it could sit for its allotted time, and then spent the entire morning finishing up weeding and planting my flowers, herbs, and tomato plants in the gardens around my yard. During the afternoon, Matt and I socialized on the deck with friends and family, serving these cupcakes for dessert after enjoying a delectable shrimp boil and a couple of grilled pizzas.

Shrimp boil with potatoes and corn and a few crab legs--why not?

Shrimp boil with potatoes and corn and a few crab legs–why not?

DSC_8664The cupcakes were irresistible to our crowd, even members of which have a fair amount of self control when it comes to sugar. You can certainly swap in a different icing without the coffee flavor if you are serving to children. Espresso powder (another pantry ingredient that hadn’t been getting much use lately) has the magical effect of intensifying chocolate flavor in baked goods, so I suggest leaving it in the cake portion, if you have it in the first place. And if you don’t have sourdough? Well, if you’re the type who loves baking, get on that. Or just use another favorite chocolate cake recipe.

Sourdough Chocolate Cupcakes with Espresso Icing
Adapted from King Arthur Flour to make cupcakes
Makes about 18 full-sized cupcakes

Cake Batter:
1 Cup sourdough starter
, fed and “rested”*
1 Cup milk , whole or 2% is better (I improvised with skim plus a little heavy cream)
2 Cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 Cups granulated sugar

1 Cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 Cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon espresso powder
(optional)
2 large eggs

Espresso Icing: (this has been scaled down for cupcakes–you’ll need the original recipe’s quantity, or more, if making a layer cake)
2 teaspoons espresso powder or instant coffee dissolved in 2 teaspoons hot water
1/2 Cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) butter
~1/3 Cup plain Greek or regular yogurt
, or you can use buttermilk or sour cream
4 Cups powdered confectioners’ sugar

*This is where you have to plan ahead. The sourdough starter needs to be fed regularly anyway, so you could do the feeding the night before to have it ready for this recipe. Remember you may have to “feed” the starter again after taking out a Cup, depending on whether it is overflowing. The process we follow is to discard 1 Cup, add 1 Cup flour and 1/2 Cup water, stir, and let it sit out for 2-4 hours before returning to the fridge. I remembered late that the discarded cup can be used to start a new batch of sourdough, so I could have also fed that to make my batch for the cake.
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To make the cake:
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the starter, milk, and flour. Let this mixture rest for 2 to 3 hours in a warm place. It may start to bubble a little bit, and should smell slightly sour in a pleasant way.
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In a second bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the sugar, oil, vanilla, salt, baking soda, cocoa, and espresso powder.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the sourdough mixture to the creamed mixture, combining gently until it all comes together.
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The King Arthur Flour recipe warns you that the batter starts out very “gloppy,” and I agree with that description! Eventually it smooths out.
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Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease or spray your pans or muffin tins and then pour or scoop in the batter.
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Bake for about 25 minutes to start, and use a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center to check that it comes out clean–that means it’s done.

Remove and allow to cool.
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To make the icing:

My espresso powder had hardened into chunks, which wouldn't break up easily, so after a minute or two, I simply removed the chunks from the liquid.

My espresso powder had hardened into chunks, which wouldn’t break up easily, so after a minute or two, I simply removed the chunks from the liquid.


Dissolve the espresso powder or instant coffee in the hot water, and set it aside. I suppose you could use 2-3 teaspoons of strong coffee in its place.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. While it melts, sift the confectioners’ sugar into a large bowl. To the butter, add the yogurt, buttermilk or sour cream and mix well. Keep an eye on the pan and bring just to a boil.

Pour the mixture into the bowl with the confectioners’ sugar along with the espresso/water. Beat slowly until any lumps are gone. The icing will be very thin and drippy, so it is best to let it cool and stiffen for a bit before spreading on the cupcakes.

Let's just say that the drops of icing disappeared by the end of our party.

Let’s just say that the drips of icing disappeared by the end of our party.


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Salmon Salad – Plated

Last year, I ordered a box from Hello Fresh so I could test out the recipe-kit home delivery service. These types of meal kits are now delivered by a growing number of companies, suggesting that the model appeals to a substantial number of people. Or perhaps it is a fad. It would be great if these were an answer to the question I often hear from my single, on-the-go friends: if I buy ingredients to cook at home for myself one night, what am I supposed to do with all the excess? I’m only one person! I’m not so sure these boxes are the perfect solution. My conclusion about Hello Fresh was that its meal options were good and the prices fair, but the ingredient ratios were off, the instructions incomplete, and the serving count questionable. I also wished that Hello Fresh could somehow consider the fact I have a more well-stocked pantry than most.

A friend of mine had high praised for Plated, another service aimed at simplifying home cooking. Taking advantage of a promotion, I decided to give this one a try as well. I selected a seafood choice for one of my meals, once again, since fish is expensive. I’m also trying to incorporate the recommended two servings of healthy fish per week. My second meal choice was a pulled barbecue chicken with a pico de gallo salsa.

To assess Plated, let’s start with the packaging. The box is lined with an insulated bag.
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The meat and fish are stored in the bottom of the box, covered with frozen packs that are reusable.

I will add these to my growing collection of ice packs!

I will add these to my growing collection of ice packs!


Then there’s the produce, some of which is in its own packaging, and some of which I find in the larger bags labeled by recipes.
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The fresh tomatoes didn’t fare too well with this; they were packaged near a heavy can of beans and ended up bruised.

I saw that these bags were labeled “Greenbags,” which sounded familiar to me but I couldn’t recall the features.
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I got excited when I thought they might be biodegradable, but when I looked them up I didn’t see that in the description–they are meant to absorb the ethylene gas that can make produce ripen and rot too quickly. At least I can reuse them for other fruits and vegetables.

I wasn’t ready to cook the day the box arrived, but it was easy to transfer the individual packages to the refrigerator. The next day, I pulled out my ingredients and recipe card for Seared Salmon Salad with Tomato Sherry Vinaigrette.
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Seared Salmon Salad with Tomato Sherry Vinaigrette
From Plated

1 medium tomato, seeded and minced
1 shallot, minced
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 bunch of chives, minced
1 Tablespoon honey
1/4 Cup sherry vinegar
3 Tablespoons of olive oil
, divided
1 Cup arugula
3 ounces frisée
3 ounces radicchio
1 small head butter lettuce
2 fillets wild Alaskan salmon
salt and black pepper

The first step on Plated’s card is “Prepare ingredients.” This is where it provides instructions such as “Rinse X. Rise and Mince X. Slice X.” I included some of those directions in my list of ingredients, like I usually do. Basically, the salad dressing is made first, and then most of that is tossed with the greens.
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Right away, I made some disappointing observations. The shallot was fairly large, and the tomato was not. They were basically the same size. I made the executive decision to use 2/3 of the shallot, which was probably still more than necessary.
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Seeding the tomato.

Seeding the tomato.


To make the dressing, combine tomato, shallot, chive, juice of one lemon, honey, and sherry vinegar.
You can see that the tomato is a little mushy.

You can see that the tomato is a little mushy.


Really, this is how the honey comes? Normal people don't have honey at home?

Really, this is how the honey comes? Normal people don’t have honey at home?


Gradually add 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, whisking to emulsify. Taste and add salt and pepper to season.

The next set of challenges involved the salad greens, which are to be combined in a large bowl. After everything is washed, the frisée is to be trimmed first to discard root (I didn’t seem much of a root), the radicchio needs its core removed and a thin slice, and the arugula can go in as is.
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The instructions for the butter lettuce were “rinse and tear into bite-size pieces.” The problem: the head of butter lettuce was very, very sandy and gritty. That is not going to dissipate with a “rinse”–the only way to get rid of the grit is to slosh the separated leaves in a bowl of cold water, lift them out (leaving the dirt behind), and then rinse again in a colander/salad spinner. Unless you’re sure that people ordering this plate know about the persistent grit, I think it’s important to include cleaning tips like this.
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In addition, this was a massive amount of salad. I started with one bowl, but had to switch to a larger bowl to accommodate it all. I still had trouble keeping everything contained during the next step, which is to pour in half of the dressing and toss to coat.

Bowl attempt # 1.

Bowl attempt # 1.


I'm pretty sure this is the LARGEST bowl I have.

I’m pretty sure this is the LARGEST bowl I have.


Time to prepare the salmon. The instructions say to rinse and pat dry with paper towels. I’ve never been a rinse-r of meats and fish, but since the salmon was sealed in some kind of liquid, I followed directions. The fillets were very soggy, so the drying step was key.

Season with salt and pepper.
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Heat about 1 Tablespoon of olive or other vegetable oil in a pan over medium heat–something nonstick but heavy would be best. When hot, add salmon, flesh-side down, and cook until golden on the outside, 3-5 minutes. Repeat on the other side, careful not to overcook beyond medium-rare.
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Arrange salad on two plates and place salmon on top. Spoon over some of the reserved dressing.
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Do you see how much salad this is? The plates would have to be massive to hold all of the salad.

Do you see how much salad this is? The plates would have to be massive to hold all of the salad.

My husband joined me for dinner and suffered through some of the bitter elements of the salad. Perhaps this recipe wasn’t the best choice for us because of the salad; I could have done without the frisée myself, since I find its frizzy texture only appropriate in very select dishes, and I already knew the radicchio would be strong. Of course, I could have easily left those parts out. The salad dressing was tasty and paired well with the salmon, but it needed more tomato and could have had more honey or sugar to balance all the bitterness.

As you may have guessed, I reached a similar conclusion for Plated as I had for Hello Fresh: it may not produce the best results for newbie cooks, or those who tend to follow recipes word-for-word. It certainly doesn’t guarantee proper portions for the selected number of “plates,” which means that people aren’t cutting back as much on food waste as they might think. As long as you keep that in mind, you might enjoy the healthy, high-quality ingredients and the convenience of avoiding a trip to the grocery store.

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

Scallion Pancakes with Ginger Dipping Sauce

There are some weeks when I hardly cook at all. Last week was one of those weeks. I figure that I generally cook at least three times a week, often four. This week I cooked once. The rest of the nights were dining out and leftovers. There were plenty of leftovers for lunches and snacks, thanks to the huge batch of meatballs that came out of Smitten Kitchen’s lamb meatballs recipe (which used up some pretty old feta cheese). Then Matt brought home the rest of the individual pastrami sandwich he ordered for lunch from Harold’s New York Deli. To get some perspective on the size of their portions, I once took a picture of a single slice of their cake next to a wine bottle, which matched it in length. Too bad I can’t find that photo.

It’s as though I’m still in that pre-vacation mode, careful to be realistic about how much time I’ll actually have to cook before the kitchen is abandoned for restaurants or food truck tasting events. As a result, I didn’t have a whole lot prepared when Mother’s Day crept up, and I had the assignment of appetizers for my family gathering.

With leftover scallions, ginger, shredded mozzarella and other italian cheeses from home, the provisions of my mom’s pantry, and a dozen and a half button mushrooms, Matt and I cranked out two crowd-pleasing hot apps with little to no shopping, and minimal labor!

DSC_8555I did a variation on this stuffed mushroom recipe. I will admit that hollowing out the mushrooms is a bit labor-intensive.
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This is an accomplishment for me, considering that I generally bite off way more than I can chew when it comes to recipes for entertaining. In addition, the first recipe I ever tried (and still use) for scallion pancakes is much more challenging, and has added steps. The most difficult part of making scallion pancakes is getting the scallions distributed throughout the dough, and not having them squeeze out everywhere and make a mess. The other recipe I use, an older one from Cooking Light, adds slippery sautéed mushrooms to the mix; those little suckers don’t like to stay in the dough.

But for a simple Sunday afternoon appetizer, a simplified recipe is the winner. You get most of your flavor from the dipping sauce, and it is much less messy to make.

Scallion Pancakes with Ginger Dipping Sauce
from Ming Tsai via The Food Network
Makes at least 24 slices of pancake for dipping

Pancakes:
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1 Cup boiling water
1/2 Cup scallions
, sliced
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 Cup canola oil

Salt and black pepper

Ginger Dipping Sauce (makes more than you need for 1 recipe of pancakes):
1/4 Cup soy sauce
1/4 Cup vinegar
, preferably Chinese rice vinegar, but don’t worry about substituting other light vinegars you have
1/4 Cup scallions, sliced
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon sugar

First, prepare the dough, which needs to rest for 30 minutes once made.
Sift flour into a bowl or a food processor. Pour the boiling water in at a steady stream while mixing, either with a wooden spoon or spatula or in a food processor. Add water until a ball is formed. After starting to mix with a spoon, we switched to mixing by hand to get the dough into a ball.
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Let dough relax for at least 30 minutes, under a damp towel, while you slice and dice.
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Prepare the dipping sauce. My substitution for Chinese rice vinegar was half seasoned rice vinegar and half regular white vinegar.
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Prepare a lightly floured surface and roll out the dough into a thin rectangle. Brush to the edge with sesame oil.
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Sprinkle evenly with scallions. Leave a little bit of room around the edges. Season with salt and pepper.
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Roll from the long side like a sponge cake. Cut with a knife into 4 pieces.
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(I should have gotten more pictures of this next part, but I was distracted. Guests would be arriving soon, and my dear husband needed assistance.)

Take one of the four pieces and gently twist three times, like a Tootsie roll wrapper. As you are doing this, it should stretch the piece a bit lengthwise. Take that snake and make a spiral, like a lollipop.

This definitely doesn't look like a lollipop. Do what you can-it doesn't have to look good at this stage!

This definitely doesn’t look like a lollipop. Do what you can-it doesn’t have to look good at this stage!


Take a rolling pin to this circle and flatten into a 5 to 6 inch pancake. Repeat.
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The pancakes are then basically fried in canola oil. If you have a larger nonstick pan, you can do more than one at a time. With a smaller pan, I fried one at a time, adding canola oil as I went. You need a good coating of canola oil in the pan to get a golden brown.
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Cut into wedges (I prefer using kitchen shears) and serve immediately with dipping sauce. They will be gone before you know it!
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Tuscan Soup

It has been two weeks since we returned from our vacation to Italy and France, and I haven’t yet recovered from withdrawal. I long to return to days of wandering through historic cities in the spring sunshine. The jet lag lasted about five days before dissipating, but these cravings have lingered.

Italy was a feast. My main impression of the food is that people love meat, based on the abundance of meats we tried and encountered. Cured meats and sausage and porchetta. Yes, there was some excellent pasta (mostly enjoyed in a meat sauce), one excellent roasted shrimp “secondi” and two times I ordered a market-fresh (but not necessarily stellar) Mediterranean fish. I should have sought out vegetables more often. In Florence, I enjoyed one outstanding, flavorful chickpea soup, where some of the chickpeas had been blended to create a thickened, creamy base. Sadly, it was served at a restaurant where there service was so poor that I left fuming–we were treated almost as if we were invisible. Later that week, I had a lentil soup as part of a no-nonsense, prixe-fixe lunch at a restaurant frequented by locals, and it was terribly bland and uninteresting–clearly reflecting its place as part of a “value” lunch.

I don’t want to sound unimpressed with the trip; we loved the vibe of Italy, and savored numerous inspiring dishes. Here’s a small sample of our photos. Hover your mouse over each picture and click to view full captions.


It was rather timely to come across this Tuscan vegetable-based soup recipe last week, on the website Blue Apron, a grocery subscription service. The less fortunate part was that I couldn’t find toscano (also known as lacinato) kale! Tuscan kale is darker green and flatter, without the curly edges, and I really wanted to use it. After trying four stores, I resigned myself to a fact I already knew, that toscano kale is woefully out of season here right now, so I shouldn’t be using it anyway! Regular kale it is.

I will admit that a big part of the recipe’s draw for me was the soft-boiled egg on top–I am such a sucker for a runny egg. Drool. On a side note, is there anything more disappointing in life than when you expect the egg yolk you are being served at a restaurant will be runny and it’s not?

I have made poached eggs many times (they don’t always turn out great) but for some reason, I never made soft-boiled an egg. What an epiphany! It’s a much less messy-and still healthy-way to enjoy the liquid yolk.
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Tuscan Ribollita Soup with Soft Boiled Egg
From Blue Apron
2-4 servings

Part 1 ingredients:
1 onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
salt and pepper to taste

Part 2 ingredients:
about 8 ounces kale (any type)
1 14.5 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3.5 Cups vegetable broth

salt and pepper to taste

Part 3 ingredients:
2 slices sourdough bread
, or 1 large sourdough roll, cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 Cup parsley, coarsely chopped
1/2 Cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 eggs (or more for additional servings)
salt and pepper to taste

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The reason I divided the ingredients into three parts is that you can use your time more efficiently by prepping the ingredients for each part while the previous set of ingredients are cooking. I did all my mise en place at first, which took quite some time, and then I was less occupied during the cooking stages. One could do dishes during those down times, of course.

Firstly, take your eggs out of the refrigerator to come to room temperature. Perhaps you are one of those lucky ones who has such fresh eggs you don’t need to refrigerate them in the first place? I envy you. Fill a small saucepan with some water and a pinch of salt and set aside for later.
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In a large pot, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium. Add the onion and garlic and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until softened. Add carrots and a little bit of salt and pepper. Cook the mixture for a few minutes, until the carrots have softened.
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Put the small saucepan over heat so it comes to a boil.

To your large pot, add all of the Part 2 ingredients (beans, diced tomatoes, kale, vegetable broth, and crushed red pepper flakes).

See why you need a large pot?

See why you need a large pot?


Season with salt and pepper. Increase the heat to bring the soup to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium and simmer 6 to 8 minutes, smelling and tasting to see if the flavors have come together enough for your liking.
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Add the bread cubes, half the parsley, and half of the Parmesan cheese to the soup and stir.
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If you feel there is not enough liquid, it is fine to add a little water (especially if you are using a rich vegetable stock). Let the soup cook, without stirring, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until thickened. Add even more salt and pepper to taste!
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While the soup is simmering, gently place the eggs in the saucepan of boiling water. Cook for exactly 5 minutes. Have a small bowl of cold water ready, and transfer the eggs into the bowl with a slotted spoon. Then run the eggs under more cold water for 30 seconds. Gently peel the eggs (be careful) and set aside.

Fill two bowls with soup and place one soft-boiled egg in each. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and parsley.
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That’s what I’m talking about!

Matzo Lasagna

Happy Easter! Happy Passover!

We returned from vacation just in time to enjoy the spring religious holiday celebrations. With my interfaith household, there is a little bit of everything. It is a delicious time of year. In spite of the absence of leavened bread, the Passover Seder meal is one of the most highly anticipated meals of the year in my husband’s family. Much of it centers around the famous beef brisket, which is paired with the hottest horseradish they can track down. If you’re curious, this year’s verdict was that Holy Schmitt’s had the best heat and flavor combination, and the Atomic blew everyone away, but wasn’t so flavorful otherwise.

It is no secret that one can create highly adequate substitutions for traditional dishes using matzo or matzo meal. (Egg, of course, produces magical effects even without yeast.) When my husband was young, he would come home from school almost every day during Passover and make matzo pizza. Story has it he was so proud of himself for this “invention.” God knows he can’t handle going more than a few days without his beloved pizza. I even got him this T-shirt for his birthday last year.
DSC_3999When we were in Paris, we passed over the bridge filled with “love locks“, and while we did not add our own, I thought this one at center might as well have been left by Matt.
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When I was making matzo crunch/chocolate caramel matzo brittle for the Seder the other day, and some pieces were accidentally overlapping, Matt had the bright idea of matzo lasagna. A couple of days later, we decided to extend our vacation bonding time and cooked together with leftover matzo. We created two savory matzo lasagnas that incorporated cheeses and the remains of two different kind of pestos from the freezer.

This hardly deserves a written recipe, because you could throw whatever you want and whatever you have in the layers. Various sauces, vegetables, meat…even leftover brisket! Lasagna normally has a ricotta and egg mixture, but we didn’t have ricotta so we left that out. I found when searching Google for “matzo lasagna” that the top recipes use cottage cheese–didn’t have that either. I made one combined bowl of shredded mixed cheeses and split it between the two lasagnas. There are classier recipes out there. Needless to say, it’s hard to go wrong with melted cheese, sauce, and a carbohydrate vehicle.
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Version 1:
Matzo Lasagna with Red Sauce and Basil Pesto

2.5 sheets matzo crackers, broken to fit your two-serving baking vessel
about 1.75 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
a little more than 1/2 ounce pecorino romano cheese, shredded
about 1/3 ounce parmesan cheese
about 1/2-3/4 Cup your favorite jarred marinara/tomato sauce
(ours is from Vincent’s Clam Bar)
about 1/4 Cup prepared basil pesto

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
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Start with a quick spritz of cooking spray at the bottom of your pan. Add a little tomato sauce.
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Then spread some basil pesto on the pieces of matzo going on your first layer.

It is easier if you spread the pesto on the matzo before setting it in the pan, but this works too.

It is easier if you spread the pesto on the matzo before setting it in the pan, but this works too.


Sprinkle about 1/3 of your cheese mixture atop the pesto, and then pour a little tomato sauce on top of that. Repeat with at least two more layers, reserving cheese for the top layer.
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Cover with aluminum foil and bake for at least 10 minute to bring up to temperature. Remove the foil layer and bake for about 5 minutes more. If you wish, turn the oven to broil for a quick two minutes to brown the cheese.
This is what it looks like WITHOUT extra baking/broiling time, which I recommend.

This is what it looks like WITHOUT extra baking/broiling time, which I recommend.

Version 2:
White Matzo Lasagna with Parsley Pesto

2.5 sheets matzo crackers, broken to fit your two-serving baking vessel
about 1.75 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
a little more than 1/2 ounce pecorino romano cheese, shredded
about 1/3 ounce parmesan cheese

Béchamel sauce:
1 small shallot,
minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour, a little more will be needed if using skimmed milk
3/4 Cup milk, fuller fat is best
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, a little more if using skimmed milk
1/2 Cup low-sodium chicken broth
a few Tablespoons prepared pesto
(parsley almond in this case)
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Prepare the sauce: heat a saucepan on medium-high and add the butter to melt. Cook shallots, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring frequently and controlling the heat to prevent browning, about 1 minute.
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Slowly whisk in the milk and chicken broth.
DSC_8385 Bring the mixture to a boil and continue whisking until the sauce has thickened and coats the back of a spoon, 10-20 minutes, depending on the type of milk you are using (add a little more flour if it isn’t thickening after 10 minutes).

Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in a Tablespoon or two of the prepared pesto. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.

Spray the bottom of the pan with cooking spray. Spread a layer of pesto cream sauce.
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Start your layering with some pesto-covered matzo.
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DSC_8395Layer on the mixed shredded cheeses and more pesto cream sauce. Continue with these layers, finishing with shredded cheese on top.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 20 minutes to heat through. Remove the foil layer and turn the oven on broil. Add pan back to oven to broil the cheese for 2-3 minutes.

Here’s a side by side peek at the delicious mush:
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As they say in France, “bon appétit!”

Spicy Potato and Cheese Galette

Don’t you love it when things come together? When what you are looking for falls right into your lap? When everything clicks?

I wish I had this experience for something other than cooking inspiration.
In the past week or so, I have been very strict about not purchasing groceries, so that I really focus on using what I have. The reason is that I will be taking a brief hiatus from cooking. I will be otherwise occupied in the coming weeks. You can expect some kind of report afterwards. Let’s just say it is for a fun reason. And I will still be eating well. And let’s also say that I may be enlarging my ecological footprint by taking a plane. OK, OK, so I’m going on vacation! To ITALY and FRANCE! *Excuse me while I daydream*

This has gone OK, this grocery abstinence. One of that last perishable items I faced was a leftover bag of russet potatoes. I should note that I know these take a long time to “perish,” so while I wouldn’t necessarily need to worry about a couple of weeks for potatoes, these have been diminishing for awhile.

Back to talking about how things work out: I popped over to Joy the Baker‘s blog, and what do I see but “Roasted Potato Galette with cheddar and chives.” She made it look and sound delicious…and the fact that she made a Jack Bauer reference hooked me even more. I had been considering homemade knishes, but I felt lazy about mashing the potatoes (if I was truly lazy, I would have avoided a recipe that involved pastry!)

Spicy Potato and Cheese Galette
Adapted from Joy the Baker

For the Crust:
1 1/4 Cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 Cup/1 stick cold unsalted butter
scant 1/3 cup cold buttermilk

    OR

in my case, 2 heaping tablespoons of plain yogurt mixed with 4 tablespoons of nonfat milk to start. Make a splash extra for times like now when we are still suffering through winter’s dry air which leads to extra dry flour

For the Filling:
2 russet potatoes, mostly peeled and sliced into 1/4″ rounds (plus 1 extra for snacking)
2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
(to taste)
1/2 Cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3 Tablespoons chives, finely chopped
1 large egg, beaten

Make the crust, which needs resting time.

    Cheater method

:
Cube your butter and then pop it into the freezer to keep it extra cold.
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In the bowl of a food processor, process flour, sugar and salt. Take butter out of freezer and add to processor, pulsing until the butter is distributed throughout the flour in pebbles.

Pour into a bowl. Create a well in the mixture and pour in milk mixture.
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Use a fork to bring together, distributing the moisture throughout the flour. If it’s not coming together, add a little extra milk/yogurt.

Is your lightly floured work surface ready?
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Dump out the shaggy dough mixture. Press it into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
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Make the filling:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Move the top rack to the upper third of the oven.
Peel and slice your potatoes.
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Place rounds on the sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle on Old Bay Seasoning and toss to coat evenly. Spread the potatoes to minimize overlap as much as possible.
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Bake until tender and delicious, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven.

To assemble the galette:
Beat the egg and set aside. Line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper with a little oil added and set aside.

Roll the dough into a rough circle about 1/4″-thickness. By no means do the edges need to be perfect. Move the dough to the center of the prepared baking sheet.

Lightly brush the middle of the the crust with egg.
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Add a layer of cooked (and slightly cooled) potato slices to the center of the pie crust, leaving about 2-inches of pie crust surrounding on all sides. Scatter shredded cheddar cheese and chives. (I may have only had freeze dried chives. I hope you can forgive that.) Repeating, adding a second layer of potato slices and cheese and chives. Add more potato slices until it looks about right–remember if you made extra potato like me some will stay out) top with the final portion of cheese and chives.
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Trim edges that are super uneven from the crust, leaving about 1 1/2-inches on all sides. Brush the edges with egg wash. Fold the sides up against the potato stack and gently press to seal. Brush the outside of the pie crust edges with egg wash.

Bake until golden brown and bubbling. Joy said it would take 15 minutes for this–for some reason it took mine about 25. Remove from the oven and observe the bubbling buttery beauty. Dig in.
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Green Cake

St. Patrick’s Day was last Monday. I enjoy the holiday, but it’s not because I am one-eighth Irish (in fact, I have very little personal connection to my European roots). It’s because I love the color green! Green holds a very close second place position to my favorite color, cornelian red (Let’s Go Red!). Green and brown were my main wedding colors (see below). And we all can agree that green has a positive connotation, especially this time of year.
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When I came across a recipe for a naturally green cake, on a new site I’ve been following, I couldn’t resist. It used up parsley I had been working through, and made a dent in a leftover package of mint. These herbs are frequently called for in the Mediterranean dishes I’ve been craving. Specifically, the first part of the mint was used in mint and pistachio tabbouleh I served alongside Red Pepper and Lamb Pita sandwiches.
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I was very intrigued by the recipe. The cake has an added benefit of freshening one’s breath. You can’t say that about just any dessert or breakfast item, can you?
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I didn’t have enough of the herbs for a full-sized cake, so I scaled it down to 1/4 of the original recipe. It is fairly easy to do if you have a kitchen scale and you can figure out divisions in your head, or, like me, you have a nerdy husband (or calculator) nearby.

For those of you without a kitchen scale, I tried to closely translate the ratios into measuring cups and spoons.

If I needed another reason to try it out, I saw that this recipe was adapted from a recipe in the cookbook from Roberta’s, a well-known restaurant in Brooklyn. I’ve only visited the restaurant once so far, and I can report only positive things about the food.

Roberta’s Parsley Cake
Adapted from Food 52’s Adaptation and scaled down by 75% to fit one 8″ cake pan (a smaller pan would work too)

1 Cup parsley leaves, tightly packed
1/4 Cup mint leaves, tightly packed
41 grams (3/16 Cup, or a little more than 1/8 Cup) olive oil, plus oil for the pan
72.5 grams (a little over 1/2 Cup) all-purpose flour
3.75 grams (1 1/4 teaspoons) cornstarch
1.75 grams
(a little over 1/2 teaspoon) kosher salt
2 grams
(about 1/3 teaspoon) baking powder
1 large egg
, at room temperature
82 grams (a little less than 1/2 Cup) sugar

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First, make the herb-oil mixture. Add parsley and mint to a blender or food processor, and process at low speed. You may need to stop from time to time to stir the herbs into the blade.
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Increase the speed to medium and add the olive oil, a little at a time, until mixture is fully combined. The recipe says to keep the mixture a little stringy rather than obliterating it. Use a rubber spatula to scrape all of the parsley mixture out of the processor/blender and into a bowl, and refrigerate until ready to use.
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In another bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking powder.

In a stand mixer, whip the egg for about 30 seconds.
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Add the sugar and turn up speed to high, running until the mixture is very thick and turns a pale yellow color, a few minutes.

Turn the mixer speed down to low and add the herb-oil mixture.
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With the machine on low, carefully add the dry mixture and mix until just combined.

Refrigerate the mixture for at least 6 and up to 24 hours. This apparently develops the color. I transferred the mixture right away to my cake pan, which is lined with parchment paper and oiled, but you can also use a different container for the cake-batter-resting stage.
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How nice, my silicone lily pad lid fits perfectly!

How nice, my silicone lily pad lid fits perfectly!


Time to bake! Preheat the oven to 340°F. Bake time will vary significantly 12-20 minutes, so be sure to use a toothpick or cake tester to check for doneness. Rotate the cake at about 8 minutes. The top should only brown slightly; turn the heat down if it becomes too brown.
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Let cake cool in the pan. To serve, make serving-size squares or wedges of cake. The cake may be delicious with vanilla ice cream and lemon zest. Mine was enjoyed warm with butter.
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The cake was excellent, particularly the texture. I must have enjoyed olive oil cakes in restaurants before, but I don’t think I ever made it at home. This cake also had a wonderful herbal aroma–honestly, the best way to describe it is a mojito smell! I was skeptical about the cake’s appeal, and wondered if the color would be “too much” for some people. One of my favorite ways to keep food from being wasted is to share it with others, so I brought several plain pieces to test on–I mean, offer to– my church bells choir-mates at rehearsal.

As it turned out, no one even hesitated to try the cake. Everyone liked it. I would like to believe it was not only because they were in a festive St. Patty’s Day mood.
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Spice-Roasted Salmon with Green Beans and Rice

The whole spring-forward-daylight-savings-thing is a killer. In spite of the fact I tried to go to bed early last Saturday night, I was dragging every morning thereafter. My distaste was only slightly dampened by noticing sunlight later in the evenings. If only there was a way to experience the thrill of extra daylight without losing sleep. Can’t the clock switch from 4:00 to 5:00 pm on a Monday?

I really didn’t feel like cooking when I got home from the gym last Tuesday evening. I was tempted to make my dinner out of a mishmash of snacks and cheese; maybe I’d go as far as to open some boxed pasta or a can of beans. The fact that I had fresh fish in the refrigerator, waiting to be cooked, meant I needed to overcome these impulses.

I’m glad I sucked it up. It doesn’t take long to put together a fresh, complete weeknight meal like this, getting in my omega 3s and vitamins. Green beans and salmon cook quickly (especially with subjective measures of done-ness, so you can be even quicker if you want) and rice is hands off. I only had to chop 3 small things and measure a couple of others. Easy breezy!

The spice seasoning for the fish is garam masala. I have been making garam masala by toasting fresh whole spices at home, and one of the last times I made it, I made a pretty large batch.
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While we’re on the topic of spices, I have a reason to mention my spice cabinet organization.
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As you can imagine, it can be hard to keep track of a dozen little by-the-ounce plastic baggies of spices. Occasionally I relocate them to other empty spice containers, but they take less space in the bag. I found stackable plastic flat containers at the Container Store which have 6 shallow compartments. I can arrange several spices front to back in the compartments. Then I label the front with dry erase marker with each item in order. This way, I can see what I have with a quick glance, and I’m maximizing the space.
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What’s my organizational scheme for the rest of the spices? Well, you know how it is with your own kitchen. I just have a feel for where to find certain ones, particular ones that are used together in the same recipes. This is one of the reasons it is so utterly challenging to cook in someone else’s kitchen, isn’t it? (At least, the majority of someones who don’t alphabetize their spices.)

Back to the cooking! A note on timing and temperature: the steps to this meal include boiling some basmati rice, blanching the green beans, sautéing the green beans, and pan-roasting the fish. My husband will tell you, I have a “thing” about my food being served at the proper temperature (and I pay close attention to this at restaurants). That usually takes the form of me wanting hot food to be served noticeably hot. You’re going to want to eat your salmon freshly cooked, so it should be the last thing you finish, obviously. I wanted to minimize dirty dishes, so, while the rice was cooking, I blanched the green beans and then sautéed them first in the same pan I planned to use for the salmon. While the salmon was finishing up later, I gave the beans a quick reheat in the emptied blanching pot.

Then everything got cold as I was taking pictures, of course. No one ever mentions that!

Spice-Roasted Salmon with Yogurt Sauce
For 2
Adapted from Cooking Light

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 sustainable salmon fillets, 6 ounces each
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt,
divided
about 4 Tablespoons plain Greek yogurt, 2% preferred
1 Tablespoons green onions
, thinly sliced, plus extra to garnish rice
1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1 lemon
, cut into wedges

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat.

Sprinkle fillets evenly with garam masala and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add fillets to pan, skin side down. Cook about 7 minutes; turn over, and cook 1-2 minutes or until desired degree of done-ness and temperature.
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While the salmon is cooking, combine ingredients for the sauce. Whisk 2 1/2 teaspoons oil, 1/8 teaspoon salt, yogurt, green onions, and lime juice in a small bowl.

The original recipe called for a combination of creme fraiche or sour cream and yogurt for the sauce. I only had Greek yogurt, which is my go-to substitute for creme fraiche and sour cream anyway, so I used the yogurt alone. It still tasted great to me.

Dollop mixture onto fillets, when serving, along with lemon wedges on the side.


Indian-spiced Green Beans

From Martha Stewart Living

1 teaspoon kosher salt
, plus more for seasoning
1 pound string green beans, stem ends trimmed
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1/2 large or 1 small yellow onion (about 4 ounces
), thinly sliced into rounds or half-moons
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced

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Remember, you can keep your fresh ginger in the freezer to make it last so much longer!

Remember, you can keep your fresh ginger in the freezer to make it last so much longer!


Bring a pot of water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice and water. Once water is boiling, add 1 teaspoon salt and string beans.
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Cook about 3 minutes (the beans should turn bright green), and drain into a colander. Transfer to ice bath and slosh the beans around. Drain again.

Set the large skillet over high heat, and add vegetable oil. When hot, add mustard seeds, and cook about 30 seconds, until seeds start to pop.
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Add onion, and cook, stirring until they begin to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add ginger, and cook 1 minute more. Add reserved string beans, and cook, stirring until hot. Season with salt to taste.
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Dinner is served! I realized later that my salmon was incorrectly placed here with the skin side up.

Dinner is served! I realized later that my salmon was incorrectly placed here with the skin side up.

Mmm, that's better.

Mmm, that’s better.