Bits N Pieces

Posted July 11, 2017

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Crispy Salt-and-Vinegar Potatoes

Over the long July 4 holiday weekend we hosted an outdoor BBQ featuring Grilled Mediterranean Flank Steak with a Tomato-Basil Salsa (shown below) and wanted a couple of easy side dishes that would complement the entrée. Fortunately, Russ remembered he recently output a Crispy Salt-and-Vinegar Potatoes recipe that promised to be not only simple to make, but flavorful and wouldn’t fight the flavor profile of the meat.

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Ever start munching on those salt-and-vinegar potato chips, or the hand-cut fries drenched in malt vinegar and salt when cruising the boardwalk? Addicting right? Well, these spuds are like a grown up version of those savory snacks. Cooking the potatoes in vinegar seasons them from within, and a final drizzle boosts the flavor.

Vinegar is emerging as a functional food that not only adds interest to your meals, it may also significantly benefit your health. It has anti-cancer properties and shows promise for helping with heart health, brain health, and weight loss; and is said to be anti-glycemic and has a beneficial effect on blood sugar levels. There, now you should feel better about having some potatoes.

Just keep a close eyeball on them in the skillet. I was getting impatient that they weren’t crisping up soon enough so I raised the burner temp which resulted in charring the living sin on one side of the spuds in one of the pans. Not exactly the best way to impress guests…

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Our other side was sautéed fresh green beans with lemon zest, fresh thyme and olive oil.

Ingredients (serves four)

  • 2 pounds baby Yukon Gold potatoes, halved, quartered if large
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. distilled white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)

Directions

  1. Combine potatoes, 1 cup vinegar, and 1 Tbsp. kosher salt in a medium saucepan; add water to cover by 1”. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until potatoes are tender, 20–25 minutes; drain and pat (or air) dry.
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  2. Heat butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add potatoes; season with kosher salt and pepper. Cook, tossing occasionally, until golden brown and crisp, 8–10 minutes. Drizzle with remaining 2 Tbsp. vinegar. Serve topped with chives and sea salt.
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    Because we doubled the recipe, we used two cast iron skillets. Just make sure to keep an eye on them while cooking because they go from light brown to almost charred in a matter of minutes… I know, as that happened to one side of the ‘taters in one of my skillets, oops…

Recipe courtesy of bon appétit. Feature photo by Christina Holmes.

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Posted May 26, 2017

Another Great Reason To Use Your Cast Iron Skillet

Simple yet elegant, that’s what you get with Skillet-Roasted Rosemary Potatoes. We made them for son Dan’s birthday dinner along with a grilled boneless leg of lamb, and everyone adored the spuds. With only three other ingredients, it’s elevating the simple baked potato to a another level altogether, one you’ll want to repeat often.

The best kind of pan for roasting these potatoes is an old-fashioned cast-iron skillet. We used two 12-inch skillets for about 18 potatoes (36 halves) for six people and they practically disappeared. Smallish potatoes are best—2 or 3 inches in diameter—cut just in half, which keeps the interiors moist and creamy. Coarse sea salt, with the large crystals give a pleasant crunch without over-salting the potatoes—or kosher salt works nicely, too.

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Ingredients

  • 2 to 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 8-inch sprig rosemary; more to taste
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 8 to 10 small red potatoes or other waxy potatoes

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 425°F. Pour enough of the oil into a large cast-iron skillet, tilting it, to cover the bottom of the pan. Strip the leaves from the rosemary sprig and scatter them over the bottom of the pan.
  2. Sprinkle the salt over the rosemary. Scrub the potatoes, cut them in half, and set them cut side down on the rosemary and salt.
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  3. Roast on the lowest oven rack until the potatoes are tender and the bottoms are crisp and well browned, 30 to 40 minutes.

By Ruth Lively from Fine Cooking

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Posted January 24, 2017

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Two Simple Sumptuous Sides

Vegetable Side Dish Blog #2—
While I’m on the topic of veggie side dishes, I’m going to continue blogging in that vein for a couple of postings. In this particular post you’re getting a twofer (aka two-for-one.)

Roasting slender carrots whole gives this easy side dish—Roasted Carrots with Blood Orange and Rosemary—a dressy feel, as does using blood oranges, one of my all-time favorite citrus fruits. We recently served it with Steak Diane and Creamy Mashed Cauliflower.

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Our carrots were on the heftier side of slender so I roasted them covered in foil for 25 minutes, and after removing the foil, I drizzled the maple syrup all over and cooked for another 25 minutes. Perfect! Although this amount of time may knock it out of contender status for a weeknight.

The savory cauliflower puree (recipe follows) makes a perfect low-carb stand-in for mashed potatoes. It gets its fabulous flavor from garlic, buttermilk and a touch of butter and, best of all, it has about one-quarter of the calories of typical mashed potatoes. Next time I will not add the additional olive oil at the end, as I believe it made the dish just a bit too soupy.

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My bad however, was not steaming the garlic cloves with the cauliflower. In my defense, I actually looked at the recipe several times wondering when the garlic was supposed to be added. I saw it mentioned in Step 2, but actually thought it would make more sense to be steamed with the veggie—and of course that was exactly what was supposed to happen. So our mash had a very green garlic intensity instead of the soft mellow taste had it been steamed. Now you have no excuse…

Roasted Carrots with Blood Orange and Rosemary

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Buy fresh slender carrots with their greens.

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Zest and juice a blood orange.

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The color of blood orange juice is so vibrant!

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 lb. slender carrots, peeled and trimmed, leaving a smidge of greens at the top if possible
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 medium blood orange or regular orange; zest finely grated and juice squeezed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 Tbs. fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 Tbs. pure maple syrup

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Arrange the peeled carrots in a single layer on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet.

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In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, mustard, and orange zest.

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Roll the carrots in the mustard mixture, season with salt and pepper, then pour the orange juice around the carrots.

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After 20 minutes roasting covered with foil, uncover, drizzle with maple syrup and roast, uncovered, until tender and beginning to brown, 15 to 20 minutes more.

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 425°F.
  2. Arrange the carrots in a single layer on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, mustard, and orange zest. Pour over the carrots and toss to coat. Season generously with salt and pepper.
  4. Pour the orange juice around the carrots. Top with the rosemary. Cover tightly with foil and roast until the carrots are nearly tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
  5. Uncover, drizzle with the maple syrup, and roast, uncovered, until tender and beginning to brown, 15 to 20 minutes more. Gently toss, season to taste with salt, and serve.

Carrot recipe by Laraine Perri from Fine Cooking

Creamy Mashed Cauliflower

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Ingredients

  • 8 cups bite-size cauliflower florets (about 1 head)
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
  • ⅓ cup nonfat buttermilk
  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Snipped fresh chives for garnish

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Place the cooked cauliflower and garlic in a food processor. Add buttermilk, oil, butter, salt, pepper, and process until smooth and creamy.

Directions

  1. Place cauliflower florets and garlic in a steamer basket over boiling water, cover and steam until very tender, 12 to 15 minutes. (Alternatively, place florets and garlic in a microwave-safe bowl with ¼ cup water, cover and microwave on High for 3 to 5 minutes.)
  2. Place the cooked cauliflower and garlic in a food processor. Add buttermilk, two teaspoons oil, butter, salt and pepper; pulse several times, then process until smooth and creamy. Transfer to a serving bowl. Drizzle with the remaining 2 teaspoons oil (I would omit this step) and garnish with chives, if desired. Serve hot.

Recipe found on EatingWell.com

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Posted January 23, 2017

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Healthy Winter Side Dish

Looking for some inspiration when it comes to your vegetable accompaniments? A side of broccoli rabe makes a good counterpoint to rich hearty dishes in the Winter. And with leeks, you can never go wrong, so make sure to get this Sautéed Broccoli Rabe with Leeks on your radar for an upcoming meal. Here, bitter broccoli rabe is mellowed by the softened leeks and empowered by a hit of garlic and red pepper.

A limited number of ingredients and little in the way of prep or cooking, make this an ideal weeknight side dish. Initially what may seem like a lot of greens, actually cooks down to only about four servings so don’t cut back. The evening I made it, it was paired with two thick, bone-in pork chops that were sprinkled with adobo seasoning, pan-seared and finished in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes.

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Add the sliced leeks and some red pepper in hot oil until softened.

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It took closer to 7 minutes for the leeks to soften and begin to brown.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large, or 2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, very thinly sliced and thoroughly rinsed
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes
  • 1 lb. broccoli rabe, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 14 cups), rinsed and left slightly damp
  • 1 Tbs. finely chopped garlic
  • 1 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened
  • Kosher salt to taste

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After the broccoli rabe leaves have started to wilt, add the garlic and remaining red pepper, then cover and cook for another 15 minutes.

Directions

  1. In an 8-quart pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add the leek and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and cook, stirring often, until the leek is tender and beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. Add the broccoli rabe, toss, and cook until the leaves have wilted, about 1 minute.
  4. Reduce the heat to low, and add the garlic and remaining pepper.
  5. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the stalks are tender, 12 to 15 minutes.
  6. Stir in the butter until melted, season with salt to taste, and serve.

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Made for Thanksgiving Dinner 2016

Bourbon Whipped Cream Topping, Oh My!

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You may have heard of famous Food Network Chef Bobby Flay and his TV show Throwdown with Bobby Flay, but if not, you can still create his luscious Throwdown Pumpkin Pie. For our Thanksgivng dinner, it was an excellent alternative to a regular custard pie and Russ’s new favorite pumpkin pie recipe. It was light, almost fluffy, with subtle but complex flavors from a varied list of ingredients. But I think the pièce de résistance was the Bourbon Whipped Cream topping!

Because of his wheat intolerance Russ used gluten-free graham crackers when making the crust. And son Dan, who’s not really a pumkin pie afficionado, was impressed how good it was. I even had a small bite and found the flavors amazing.

One step Russ didn’t think was necessary was straining the mixture into a bowl. First off, it was taking for-friggin-ever, plus it seemed to block much of the ingredients, so he aborted the process mid-stream. And that whipped cream topping? A real winner!

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A slice of pumpkin pie with the whipped cream on the left along with a piece of homemade cheesecake with chocolate chips.

Ingredients

Graham Cracker Crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups finely ground graham cracker crumbs
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly warm
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pumpkin filling:

  • 2 whole eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/4 dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped and reserved

Bourbon-Maple Whipped Cream

  • 1 1/4 cups very cold heavy cream
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped and reserved
  • 2 tablespoons Grade B maple syrup
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons bourbon (to your taste)

Directions

For the crust:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Add all the ingredients for the crust to a food processor and pulse until combined; it should feel like wet sand, and just come together.
  3. Spread the mixture evenly into a 9-inch pie pan, using your finger tips or the flat bottom of a glass. Firmly press the mixture over the bottom and sides of the pan.
  4. Put the pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake until the crust is light brown and firm to the touch, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

For the filling:

  1. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.
  2. Whisk together the eggs, yolks and sugars in a large bowl. Add the butter, pumpkin, cream, spices, salt and vanilla seeds and whisk to combine. Strain the mixture into a bowl.
  3. Pour the strained mixture into the baked pie crust and bake until almost set, about 1 1/2 hours. Remove and let come to room temperature. Refrigerate until chilled, if preferred.

Cook’s Note: The filling makes more than what is needed to fill the pie shell. You are able to freeze the excess.

For the whipped cream:

  1. Combine the cream, vanilla seeds, syrup and bourbon in a large chilled bowl and whip until soft peaks form.
  2. Garnish each piece of pie with a dollop of the whipped cream before serving.

Recipe courtesy of Bobby Flay

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Posted November 21, 2016

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Turkey Stock for the Bestest Gravy!

The countdown begins and the pressure is on—or at least it should be. Say what? Thanksgiving is the Holy Grail of family dinners where many of us go all out to make sure we serve the very best to our loved ones. Whether your favorite part of the meal is the stuffing, the sweet potato casserole, or the bird itself, one thing is for sure, the gravy better be damn good because it is such a key player in the overall success of the holiday repast. So I’m going to put the pressure on… with a pressure cooker that is!

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To save time, many people just add boiling water to a regular stock cube, which is fine for convenience, but lacks any depth of flavor, and it’s likely that you will be left with a very salty liquid, which does not compare to a proper homemade tasty stock. Or perhaps you just open a jarred, store-bought gravy and toss in some pan drippings and call it a day. Trust me, I’ve been guilty of doing both of these options in the past…

Nowadays, we start from scratch and make homemade stock, which is an easier process and less time consuming because we own a pressure cooker. It speeds the process up quite a bit, and helps seal in flavor that otherwise boils off into the air as the stock simmers and steams.

What is the difference between stock and broth? For the purpose of this blog, they are the same thing. You can make stock out of just about any animal bones by simmering them in a pot with water and aromatics, which are the veggies, herbs and spices that you add to flavor your broth.

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Since we’re talking turkey, start with around 4 pounds of turkey backs, wings and/or necks. We got ours from the Newtown Farmer’s Market when we put in our order for the T-day bird. And to obtain maximum flavor from the parts, hack them down with a meat cleaver into smaller pieces. This way when you brown them, all of the flavor from the bones seep out into the pot. The nutrition comes in part from the aromatics, but the biggest healing factor in stock is the minerals, collagen and gelatin that is leached from the bones.

A very basic stock is a pretty simple affair: it’s made with water, poultry, aromatic vegetables like onion, carrot, and garlic, and then herbs. The exact ingredients are up to the cook. If you don’t have access to fresh herbs you can use a large pinch of dried instead. You can also get creative! Use whatever root veggies or herbs that you have on hand and like the flavor of. The following ingredients are just what we used.

Once you learn how to make fresh stock, you’ll be hooked for life. So go forth with confidence and use your stock to make the bestest turkey gravy ever!

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Russ chops down the turkey parts into approximately 4″ pieces.

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The unpeeled veggies are also cut down to smaller pieces, and the garlic cloves are smashed.

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds turkey backs, necks, and wings
  • 2 large onions, unpeeled and quartered
  • 3-4 carrots, unpeeled and cut in chunks
  • 4 ribs celery, cut in chunks
  • 10 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 10 sprigs fresh parsley with stems
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 10-12 whole cloves garlic, peels left on
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 10 cups cold water (or up to the line in your pressure cooker)

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Brown turkey parts in batches in a little oil in the bottom of the pressure cooker.

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Pile the browned poultry parts onto a plate as you finish each batch.

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After scraping up browned bits with a little wine and a wooden spatula, add all of the ingredients and water.

Directions

  1. Brown the turkey parts: Heat the oil in the pot of your pressure cooker over medium heat. Add the raw turkey in a single layer and cook until lightly golden on all sides. All the poultry may not fit into the pot, so remove pieces as they are done, replacing them with a fresh raw piece. Note: You are not trying to cook the turkey all the way through; you are just browning the skin. You do not have to brown an already cooked bird, such as leftovers from a carcass.
  2. Brown the onion (optional): As you remove the browned chicken pieces from the pot, replace them with the onion quarters to brown them slightly. Adjust the heat to avoid burning any bits left on the bottom of the pot. Again, you do not want to cook the onions all the way through but just brown them. Remove from pot.
  3. Add the wine: With a wooden spatula, scrape up from bottom of pot any browned bits left from the bird parts and onion. (You could just use water if you don’t have wine.)
  4. Add the remaining aromatics and water: Add the browned turkey and onion, garlic, carrots, celery, salt, peppercorns, herbs and bay leaves. Then add remaining water up to the liquid limit line.
  5. Pressure-cook the stock: Cover and secure the lid. Raise the heat to high and bring the pot up to full pressure. This may take about 15 minutes. When your pot indicates that it’s at full pressure, lower the heat to maintain pressure and start timing. Cook for 45 minutes.
  6. Naturally release the pressure: After 45 minutes, turn off the burner and allow the pot to release pressure naturally. This will take about 15 minutes.
  7. Strain the stock: Place the sieve or colander over a large bowl and line with cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer. Carefully ladle the stock into the colander and strain. Discard the solids.
  8. Cool and place in refrigerator overnight. Remove solidified fat from surface of liquid and store in container with lid in refrigerator for 2 to 3 days or in freezer for up to 3 months. Prior to use, bring to boil for 2 minutes. Use as a base for soups, sauces and gravies.

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This is what the stock looks like after it cooks and before you strain off the solids.

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The strained stock cools before it goes into the refrigerator.

 

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Posted April 19, 2016

We Lika Dukka

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What to do with some leftover spring veggies? Taking stock of what was lurking in the crisper, I uncovered several ounces of fresh sugar snap peas and a handful of asparagus stalks. And then it occurred to me that our latest issue of Cooks Illustrated featured an article on sautéed sugar snap peas, which seemed like a good place to start.

Once I zeroed in on the ingredients, I was hooked! Pine nuts (love ’em), fennel seed (oh yeah), lemon zest (you bet), garlic, red pepper flakes and fresh basil, all winners! Of course there was no mention of asparagus, but since I didn’t have enough snap peas to start with, I decided to combine the two. This was also a teaching moment because I found out the combination of herbs and spices is called a dukka—an Egyptian condiment made of finely chopped nuts, seeds, and seasonings… and now I can pass this knowledge on to you…

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The toasted pine nuts and fennel seeds before they are chopped.

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Starting to finely chop the nuts, seeds, lemon zest and red pepper flakes.

Recipe title: Sugar Snap Peas with Pine Nuts, Fennel Seed and Lemon Zest. Insert the word “Asparagus” and I’m good to go! To ensure that the pods and peas cook through at the same rate, use a hybrid method that steams the sugar snap peas and asparagus briefly before sautéing them; the trapped steam transfers heat more efficiently than air does so that the veggies cook through more quickly.

Cutting the peas in half and the asparagus at a strong angle, further reduces the cooking time, so the pea pods retain more of their snap, and the pockets capture the seasonings rather than letting them slide to the bottom of the platter. Sprinkling the veggies with the dukka dresses up the simple preparation with distinct (but not overwhelming) flavor and crunch.

This veggie side dish is really, really good! Some other seasoning combinations could be: almonds, coriander seed and orange zest; or sesame seeds, fresh ginger and lemon zest. Because I always tend to measure seasonings on the broader scale, we had enough dukka leftover for a future vegetable side, so I put it in a small ziploc in the freezer until ready to use.

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The ingredients prepped and measured.

INGREDIENTS

  • tablespoons pine nuts
  • teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 12 ounces sugar snap peas, strings removed, halved crosswise on bias
  • tablespoons water
  • garlic clove, minced
  • tablespoons chopped fresh basil

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Our snap pea and asparagus side paired with a salmon patty.

DIRECTIONS

Do not substitute ground fennel for the fennel seeds in this recipe.

  1. Toast pine nuts in 12-inch skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until just starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Add fennel seeds and continue to toast, stirring constantly, until pine nuts are lightly browned and fennel is fragrant, about 1 minute longer.
  2. Transfer pine nut mixture to cutting board. Sprinkle lemon zest, salt, and pepper flakes over pine nut mixture. Chop mixture until finely minced and well combined. Transfer to bowl and set aside.
  3. Heat oil in now-empty skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add snap peas and water, immediately cover, and cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Uncover, add garlic, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until moisture has evaporated and snap peas are crisp-tender, about 2 minutes longer.
  5. Remove skillet from heat; stir in three-quarters of pine nut mixture and basil. Transfer snap peas to serving platter, sprinkle with remaining pine nut mixture, and serve.

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Posted April 12, 2016

Giving Mashed Potatoes a Run for Their Money

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I’ve always adored mashed potatoes. They are to me that quintessential comfort food that brings back fond childhood memories of Sunday family dinners. Even the pickiest of kids (which I was) usually eat mashed potatoes.

To kick it up a notch yet keep the “mashed” theme, we substituted parsnips for the potatoes and added sweet and savory notes with ingredients such as dijon mustard and honey. In a word “divine!”

This is the second time we cooked them and made sure that we purchased a larger quantity than the paltry 4 little “snips” our first go around. You can use a food processor, ricer, or potato masher to obtain your preferred consistency. Use as a side dish for anything that you would normally include mashed potatoes with. You’ll be surprised how much you like them!

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About 8-10 parsnips equal 1 1/2 pounds, depending on size, and yield about 3-4 cups of mashed parsnips.

Ingredients and Directions

  1. Peel 1 1/2 pounds parsnips and cut into 1-inch pieces (cut out the cores if they’re woody, which is the case in most of the larger parsnips.)
  2. Cook in boiling water until they can easily be pierced with a fork, about 7 minutes. Drain well.
  3. Purée the parsnips in a food processor (preferable), ricer, or masher.
  4. Add 2 tablespoons melted butter,
    1-2 tablespoon(s) cream or milk,
    1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard,
    and a 1/2 teaspoon honey.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Peeled, cored and sliced parsnips are ready to be boiled.

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Posted March 4, 2016

Pepita Power

If you’re in the mood for a tasty snack that doubles as a phenomenal health food, look no further than pumpkin seeds. We especially like them roasted with spices. Sometimes we just toss together any combination of spices, or as in this case, we used Emeril’s Southwest Seasoning (recipe follows) to make our Roasted Spiced Pepitas.

With a wide variety of nutrients ranging from magnesium to copper, protein and zinc, pumpkin seeds are nutritional powerhouses wrapped up in a very small package. They also contain plant compounds known as phytosterols and free-radical scavenging antioxidants, which can give your health an added boost.

Best of all, because pumpkin seeds are highly portable and require no refrigeration, they make an excellent snack to keep with you whenever you’re on the go, or they can be used as a quick anytime snack at home, too. So go ahead an make yourself a batch!

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Place raw pepitas into a medium bowl.

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Mix olive oil into seeds, followed by most of the dry seasoning.

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Layer onto a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle on remaining seasonings.

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Every 4-5 minutes turn pepitas with a spatula.

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Let tray of seeds cool to room temperature, then store in an airtight container.

FYI Men: Pumpkin seeds have long been valued as an important natural food for men’s health. This is in part because of their high zinc content, which is important for prostate health.

FYI WOMEN: Pumpkin seed oil is rich in natural phytoestrogens and studies suggest it may lead to a significant increase in good “HDL” cholesterol along with decreases in blood pressure, hot flashes, headaches, joint pains and other menopausal symptoms in postmenopausal women.

FYI INSOMNIACS (like me): Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of tryptophan, an amino acid (protein building block) that your body converts into serotonin, which in turn is converted into melatonin, the “sleep hormone.” Eating pumpkin seeds a few hours before bed, along with a carbohydrate like a small piece of fruit, may be especially beneficial for providing your body the tryptophan needed for your melatonin and serotonin production to help promote a restful night’s sleep. Zzzzzzzzzzz

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, or 375 on convection.
  2. Mix one pound of raw pepitas with one tablespoon of olive oil in a medium bowl.
  3. Mix together two tablespoons of Emeril’s Southwest Seasoning* (or your own combination) with one tablespoon of fine popcorn salt.
  4. Toss most of this mixture in with the oiled seeds until well distributed and then layer onto a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle remaining spices over the top.
  5. Roast for 20 minutes, turning with a spatula every 4 to 5 minutes. Let cool before eating or storing.

*Emeril’s Southwest Seasoning

  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano

Mix all together thoroughly and store in an airtight container.

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Totally addicting!!

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Posted January 24, 2016

It’s Time That Broccoli Rabe Gets Some Love

Not a big fan of broccoli rabe, we wanted a dependable, quick broccoli recipe that promised to deliver less bitterness and a rounder, more balanced flavor. We found that blanching the rabe in a large amount of salted water tamed its bitterness.

Then the blanched rabe is sautéed with ingredients that complement its strong flavor, such as garlic, red pepper flakes, and sun-dried tomatoes. Plus this method keeps the vegetable a bright green instead of the somber dark green that is often served.

It paired real well with our leftover lamb roast and potato gratin and made quick work of preparing a weeknight meal. A squeeze of fresh lemon and/or a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan would likely be a tasty finisher.

Ingredients

  • bunch broccoli rabe (about 14 ounces), washed, bottom 2 inches of stems trimmed and discarded, remainder cut into 1-inch pieces
  • teaspoons table salt
  • tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
  • medium cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes 
  • ¼ cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, cut into thin strips
  • tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  • Table salt
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Heating oil, garlic, red pepper, and sun-dried tomatoes in skillet.
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Adding the blanched broccoli rabe to the other ingredients to heat through.

Instructions

Using a salad spinner makes easy work of drying the cooled blanched broccoli rabe. This recipe can be turned into a main course pasta dish. Increase the oil to 4 tablespoons and toss the broccoli rabe with 1 pound of pasta, cooked al dente. Season to taste with salt and ground black pepper, and serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

  1. Bring 3 quarts water to boil in large saucepan. Stir in broccoli rabe and salt and cook until wilted and tender, about 2 1/2 minutes. Drain broccoli rabe and set aside.
  2. Cool empty saucepan by rinsing under cold running water. Fill cooled saucepan with cold water and submerge broccoli rabe to stop the cooking process. Drain again; squeeze well to dry.
  3. Heat oil, garlic, red pepper, and sun-dried tomatoes in medium skillet over medium heat until garlic begins to sizzle, about 3 to 4 minutes. Increase heat to medium high, add blanched broccoli rabe and pine nuts, and cook, stirring to coat with oil, until heated through, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt; serve immediately.

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Posted October 25, 2015

Andalusian Spinach with Chickpeas

A classic Arab-influenced specialty of cooked spinach braised in olive oil together with chickpeas and spices, this simple peasant soup is often served with toasted or fried bread doused with vinegar and hard-boiled egg added at the end. We made it as an accompaniment to a seared flank steak—but with the fried bread, and or pine nuts and parsley, it could suffice as a light meal.

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Recipe found in our copy of  “The New Spanish Table” by Anya von Bremzen.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 packages (10 oz each) fresh spinach, or 2 medium size bunches, tough stems discarded
  • 1 can (about 15 oz.) chickpeas, with their liquid
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon sweet (not smoked) paprika
  • 1 small pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 small pinch of ground cinnamon
  • 1 large pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • 4 plum tomatoes
  • 1 small pinch of sugar
  • Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of saffron, pulverized in a mortar and steeped in 2 tablespoons very hot water
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 6 slices baguette,1/4-inch thick each (optional)

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Cooking the garlic and spices.

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Adding the chopped tomatoes to garlic and spices.

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Chickpeas added to the tomato mixture.

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Using a mortar and pestle to create the paste.

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Measured vinegar and mortar mixture.

DIRECTIONS

  1. Rinse but do not drain the spinach. Place the spinach in a large, wide saucepan over medium heat and cover the pan. Cook the spinach in the water that clings to its leaves until wilted, 4 to 5 minutes, stirring a few times. Transfer the spinach to a colander and squeeze out the excess moisture by pressing a large spoon against the spinach. When just cool enough to handle, chop it medium-fine.
  2. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over med-low heat. Add half of the garlic and cook, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the red pepper flakes, cumin, oregano, nutmeg and cinnamon and stir for a few seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring, until the mixture is slightly thickened and reduced, about 5 minutes. Add the spinach and chickpeas with their liquid and bring to a simmer. Add the saffron, sugar, salt and pepper to taste and cook uncovered, stirring once or twice, until the spinach is very tender and has absorbed some of the liquid, 8 to 10 minutes.
  3. While the spinach is cooking, place the remaining garlic in a mortar and, using a pestle, crush it to a paste. Add the vinegar to the mortar and stir the garlic mixture into the spinach. Cook until the flavors meld, 2 to 3 minutes. Let the spinach cool to warm, about 15 minutes, before serving.
  4. (OPTIONAL) If serving with the fried bread, pour olive oil to a depth of 1/2-inch into a small skillet. Heat it over med-high until a piece of bread placed in the hot oil sizzles on contact. Working in two batches, fry the bread until golden and crisp, about 45 seconds per side. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bread to drain on paper towels.
  5. To serve the spinach, spoon it into a shallow serving dish. Arrange the fired bread slices around the spinach and serve.

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Posted September 3, 2015

End-of-Summer Green Beans Braised with Tomatoes

Summer is winding down and so is some of our fresh herbs and vegetables. One crop at it’s tail end is our pole beans. We’ve become so accustomed to quick-cooking green beans just until crisp and bright, that we hadn’t thought of tender slow-cooked beans. Until Russ remembered our favorite braising author Molly Stevens!

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With a quick thumb-through of her All About Braising cookbook, we located the recipe for End-of-Summer Green Beans Braised with Tomatoes. When left to braise for an hour with summer ripe tomatoes, the beans become supple, sweet and oh-so satisfying. If you don’t have any growing in your garden, stop by a farmer’s market and pick up some locally grown ones as the season is winding down. It’s a great way to cook beans that are beginning to bulge and show signs of being overly mature, as ours were. As Molly says, do not substitute skinny haricot verts.

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 to 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 anchovies, minced
  • 1 lb. green beans, topped and tailed
  • 1 1/4 c chopped ripe tomatoes OR one 14 1/2 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 1/2 c water
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. The aromatics: Heat the oil in a large lidded skillet (12 to 13 inch) over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté gently until it releases its fragrance and just begins to show touches of gold on the edges, about 2 minutes. Do not let the garlic brown.
  2. The braising liquid: Add the anchovies and oregano, smashing the anchovies with a wooden spoon to blend them into the oil, and sauté for a minute longer. Immediately add the green beans, stirring and tossing to coat them with the oil and seasonings. Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Add the water and season with salt and pepper.
  3. The braise: Cover, lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and braise the beans, stirring occasionally and checking to make sure that they are not simmering too energetically. Lower the heat if needed. Continue to braise gently until the beans are completely soft and are beginning to wrinkle but not splitting apart or falling open, about 1 hour.
  4. The finish: If the beans are swimming in sauce, remove the lid, increase the heat, and boil for 3 to 5 minutes until the sauce is the consistency of a loose tomato sauce that generously coats the beans. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve hot or warm.

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This veggie dish was so good we had it two nights in a row, first with some grilled chicken breasts, and again with grilled tuna steaks.

 

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Posted August 5, 2015

Grilled Peaches, Sweet or Savory

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Maybe you’ve grilled fruit before, maybe not. I think I did, years ago, but can’t be real sure. Yet this summer I came across numerous articles on the subject and couldn’t get it out of my mind. Then a few weeks ago the opportunity presented itself when I had two ripe peaches that needed to be dealt with before they turned—you know what I mean—all of a sudden a perfectly ripe peach is brown and mushy and has to be thrown away.

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When grilling some chicken breasts for dinner one weeknight I thought “why not cut the peaches in half and grill them too?” With some Milanese Gremolata flavored olive oil and a splash of a good Tangerine Balsamic vinegar, I brushed the cut side of each half and placed them directly on the hot gas grill. The length of cooking time will depend on the ripeness of your fruit and the heat of the grill, usually 5 minutes will suffice. In my case, I turned them once to get grill marks on both sides then once removed, sprinkled the peaches with a smattering of fresh basil and mint picked from our herb garden and added a light sprinkle of sea salt.

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The result was one of the simplest, most satisfying side dishes I’ve had, as well as one of the easiest ways to impress yourself or a backyard full of partygoers. While some stone fruit purists might be wary (“If you already have sweet, ripe peaches, why mess with perfection?”), most will be convinced after one bite. They were a perfect pairing for the chicken and quinoa and brown rice side.

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If you prefer the grilled fruit as a dessert as opposed to a savory part of the main meal, consider adding cinnamon sugar butter, or drizzling them with honey and a dollop of vanilla yogurt. Whatever your preference, this is the time of year to experiment with ripe fresh fruit!

“One of the extraordinary things about grilling — it’s a public event, it’s a theatrical event, it’s a social event” ~Steven Raichlen

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Here are two more savory recipes I ran across that sound tempting:

1. Ingredients for Savory Grilled Peaches
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar
  • 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black peppercorns
  • 2 large fresh peaches with peel, halved and pitted
  • 2 1/2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

peaches-with-blue-cheese-for-web

Directions:

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, stir together the white sugar, balsamic vinegar, and pepper. Simmer until liquid has reduced by one half. It should become slightly thicker. Remove from heat, and set aside.
  2. Preheat grill for medium-high heat.
  3. Lightly oil the grill grate. Place peaches on the prepared grill, cut side down. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the flesh is caramelized. Turn peaches over. Brush the top sides with the balsamic glaze, and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Transfer the peach halves to individual serving dishes, and drizzle with remaining glaze. Sprinkle with crumbled blue cheese.

2. Ingredients for Sweet Grilled Peaches

  • 4 large ripe peaches
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white rum or Amaretto
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch ground nutmeg
  • Chopped Marcona almonds for garnish

Directions:

  1. Rinse peaches and blot dry. Cut each in half and discard pits. Combine melted butter, brown sugar, rum, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl.
  2. Mix thoroughly until sugar dissolves then set aside. Oil and preheat grill to high heat.
  3. Grill peaches until nicely browned, 3 to 4 minutes per side, basting with rum butter glaze.
  4. Serve at once, spooning any remaining glaze over the grilled peaches. Garnish with almonds, if desired.

LYNN’S PARTY NOTE: Use grilled pineapple slices as as base for the peach halves and fresh cilantro as garnish. The peach rests nicely in the cavity from the cored pineapple and adds a visual decorative note.

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Posted June 8, 2015

Strawberry Fields Forever

Nothing beats the flavor and fragrance of fresh-picked strawberries! June is ever-anticipated in our household because it is fresh strawberry season! And while you can get them all year long in the supermarket, the season for delicious, to-die-for local berries is very limited. So as soon as we got back from our trip out to Western PA., I stopped at a local farm nursery and picked up two flats—that’s 16 quarts—of just picked strawberries.

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sliced.berries

I immediately dumped them all in a cool bath in the kitchen sink to wash off the sand and debris. You cannot soak the fruit because it will zap away the flavors. Strawberries are best when prepared and eaten in the same day, but if you must keep them longer, store them in your refrigerator. Arrange the berries in a shallow container, separating out any damaged berries. Cover them loosely, and keep at 35 degrees for best results. Do not remove the caps or wash the berries until you are ready to use them. When caps are removed before use, the berries lose some of their moisture. Washing early tends to bruise them and the berries lose their freshness.

Washing strawberries is a bit of tricky business. You see strawberries are frighteningly like sponges — they tend to soak up as much water as they can get into contact with. So, long story short, give strawberries a quick rinse in cool water and a swift pat with a clean cloth or paper towels to dry them off when, and only when, you’re ready to eat or cook with them.

Obviously we couldn’t eat 16 quarts by ourselves so we froze most of them in vacuum-sealed freezer bags. That way when strawberry season is over, we have them for many months to come for use in fruit smoothies or other applications.

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Strawberry-Pie

Some favorite ways to eat them are sliced atop a bowl of cereal; with plain or vanilla yogurt; whole with a smattering of splenda; and in fruit or summer salads. Russ takes it up another notch with his homemade strawberry ice cream. And if his son Dan is in town, we concoct his favorite—a fresh strawberry pie with a graham cracker crust.

Here’s an interesting twist on an old favorite: chocolate covered strawberries. But in this case the chocolate is on the inside of the inverted berry and stored in egg cartons—Inside-Out Chocolate Strawberries—brilliant! I saw it on Pinterest and can’t wait to make some of my own for an upcoming party.

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INGREDIENTS

  • 24 to 36 medium strawberries
  • 1 cup (6 ounces) NESTLÉ TOLL HOUSE Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
  • 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream, or 2 tablespoons Kahlua (my choice)
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar

INSTRUCTIONS

REMOVE stems and part of inner parts of strawberries to form a small bowl. Cut a sliver off of bottom of each strawberry so that strawberry will stand on end; discard slivers. Or, don’t slice off the bottom and store in an egg carton.
PLACE morsels and cream in small, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on HIGH (100%) power for 30 seconds; stir until creamy. If necessary, microwave at additional 10-second intervals, stirring just until morsels are melted. Let cool slightly.
PLACE cream cheese and powdered sugar in large mixer bowl. Beat until creamy; beat in chocolate mixture.
PLACE cream cheese mixture in large pastry bag with star tip or spoon into gallon-size heavy-duty plastic bag with a 1/4-inch-wide opening cut at one corner. Pipe mixture into strawberry cups, filling cups completely and then mounding mixture on top of each strawberry. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. For best flavor, consume within 24 hours.

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Posted May 7, 2015

Appetizer Twist Times Two

TWIST 1:

I mentioned in a recent blog that good friend and partner in crime, Rosanne, created a gorgeous, and super tasty appetizer platter. While she plated several different hors d’ oeuvres, one favorite stand out was a Pea Pesto Crostini, (pictured bottom right) recipe courtesy of Giada Delaurentis. Perfect for spring not only in color, but using peas as a substitute for the pesto!

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Ingredients

Pesto:

  • 1 (10-ounce) package frozen peas, defrosted
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning
  • 1/3 cup olive oil

Crostini:

  • 8 (1/2-inch thick) slices whole-grain baguette or ciabatta bread, preferably day-old, * see Cook’s Note
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 8 cherry tomatoes, halved or 1 small tomato, diced

Directions

  1. For the pea pesto: Pulse together the peas, garlic, Parmesan, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper in a food processor. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil until well combined, about 1 to 2 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
  2. For the crostini: Preheat a stovetop griddle or grill pan on medium-high heat. Brush both sides of the sliced bread with olive oil and grill until golden, about 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the bread to a clean surface and spread 1 to 2 tablespoons of the prepared pesto on each slice.
  3. Top with tomato halves and serve.

*Cook’s note: If you don’t have day-old bread on hand, you can dry out fresh bread by putting the slices in a preheated 300 degree F oven until slightly crisp, about 5 minutes.

NOTES from Rosanne:

“When I originally made the crostini, I heated some olive oil and pressed some garlic into it to baste the bread slices.

I had that and the pesto leftover and even a couple of ounces of whole peas.  I sautéed some shrimp in the leftover garlic oil and combined that and the leftover pesto and peas with some linguini for a delicious pasta dish.”

TWIST 2:

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Our contribution that evening was quite simple. And our twist was using a wasabi mustard in the deviled eggs. To make perfect hard boiled eggs every time, I use this method:

Fill a pot with as many eggs as you want and cover with cold water an inch above the eggs. Bring to a rolling boil and shut off the burner. Since I have a gas stove, I just leave it on the burner. Let sit for 12 minutes, drain and pop into an ice water bath for 15 minutes. Drain and peel immediately.

On the cutting board Russ rolled up some Serrano ham slices and added a hunk of Iberico cheese. Needless to say we didn’t have to order appetizers at the restaurant that evening!

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Posted 3.14.15 Pi Day

Kalettes (what the!?)

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Kalettes is a brand new vegetable; a small green and purple sprout with curly leaves. It is a cross between two real ‘Superfoods’, brussels sprouts and British kale. A fresh fusion of sweet and nutty, the inspiration behind Kalettes came from a desire to create a kale type vegetable which was versatile, easy to prepare and looked great. Not only do they have great flavor but they can be cooked in a variety of ways; sautéed, roasted, grilled or eaten raw.

Kalettes are the product of 15 years of hard work and dedication (using traditional breeding techniques) from the British vegetable seed house Tozer Seeds. They are a non-GMO vegetable developed through traditional hybridization and not genetic modification. Known as Flower Sprouts in the U.K., this delicious vegetable has now made its way across the pond and is called Kalettes in North America. The name was changed to appeal more to America’s obsession with kale’s health benefits.

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On a food shopping mission for the coming week, one of our listed item was brussels sprouts, and lo and behold, right next to them was this package of Kalettes. Intrigued, we quickly made a decision to swap out the sprouts for the “New Veg on the Block.”

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Of all the different ways to cook them, our first choice was to roast at 450º for 10 minutes. First tossed in a bit of olive oil and kosher salt, we spread them out on a parchment lined baking sheet with sliced raw garlic halves. End result? They tasted very much like brussels sprouts but with leafy protrusions (that can easily get charred with this method.) Next time we’re going to slice in half and sautée them…

What are you waiting for? Make sure to pick some up on your next food shopping foray!

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Posted November 12, 2014

carrot.platter

If you dream about carrots it means you will have prosperity and health… Hmmm, imagine if you ate them? Carrots are one of the rare vegetables which are more nutritious cooked than raw.

Courtesy of the fresh ginger, these carrots have a nice spicy kick, but a touch of maple syrup mellows them. Try to keep the size of your carrot “sticks” as consistent as possible so they cook at about the same rate; err on the smaller size if you have to.

This side dish accompanied one of my all time “Sentimental Favorites,” Orange Juice Chicken (you can find the blog under the tab of the same name.) And yes we did serve with creamy, garlicky mashed potatoes and homemade gravy. Be sure to fill the chicken cavity with aromatics to add another depth of flavor. This time around I stuffed it with lemon halves, small whole shallots, fresh rosemary and parsley sprigs, and a couple of celery sticks. After the chicken is roasted and rested, discard the stuffed ingredients, EXCEPT for the shallots, they make a fabulous side!

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Ingredients for Gingery Carrots:

  • 1 Tbs. maple syrup
  • 2 tsp. fresh lime juice
  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb. carrots, trimmed, peeled, and cut into sticks about 4 inches long and 1/3 inch wide (see tip, below)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 Tbs. minced fresh ginger

Directions:

  1. Combine the maple syrup, lime juice, and 1 Tbs. water in a small dish and set near the stove. Set a shallow serving dish near the stove, too.
  2. In a 10-inch straight-sided sauté pan, heat 1 Tbs. of the butter with the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted, add the carrots and season with 3/4 tsp. salt. Toss with tongs to coat well. Cook, gently tossing occasionally at first and then more frequently, until most of the carrots are well browned and tender when pierced with a fork, 6 to 9 minutes (if the carrots aren’t fully tender but look like they’re burning, reduce the heat to medium).
  3. Reduce the heat to low, add the remaining 1 Tbs. butter and the ginger and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan with a heatproof rubber spatula, until the butter has melted and the ginger is fragrant, 15 to 20 seconds. Carefully add the maple syrup mixture and cook, stirring, until the liquid reduces to a glazey consistency that coats the carrots, 15 to 20 seconds.
  4. Immediately transfer the carrots to the serving dish, scraping the pan with the spatula to get all of the gingery sauce. Let sit for a few minutes and then serve warm.

OPTIONAL: Sprinkle with sesame seeds and/or chopped fresh parsley for a more interesting presentation.

TIP: To prep the carrots, cut each crosswise into 4-inch lengths and then halve each piece lengthwise. Put each piece on a flat cut side and slice lengthwise 1/3 inch thick.

by Susie Middletonfrom Fine Cooking

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Posted August 18, 2014

Summer’s Finest

August is the perfect time to cook with some of nature’s finest bounty: fresh corn, tomatoes and basil! Whether from your garden or a local farm stand, you can’t beat their taste this time of year. And because the summer weather has been fabulous on the East Coast, the result has been a bumper crop of each.

The following recipes are a combination of a favorite go-to dish in the summer, the Caprese Salad, as well as a few new ones we’ve tried—and will become go-to dishes in the future. In both corn salads we used the sugar and butter corn.

These first two are from the recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated, and are so flavor-packed you can’t help but oohh and ahhh with every bite. Just make sure to use the freshest ingredients possible, grocery store-bought produce most often doesn’t measure up.

Sauteed Corn with Bacon and Leeks

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To create corn side dishes with rich, toasted flavor, strip the corn from the cobs when they are raw and then cook the kernels in a nearly smoking skillet. It is important not to stir the corn for a few minutes to give it a chance to brown. Once the corn is cooked, mix in plenty of salty, savory ingredients to balance the sweetness. Finally, an acidic component rounds out the dish. Because fresh corn can vary in sweetness, this recipe calls for seasoning with a range of cider vinegar.

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 pound leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced thin, and washed thoroughly
  • Salt
  • 4 ears corn, kernels cut from cobs (4 cups)
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh chives
  • 1-2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • Pinch cayenne pepper

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INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Cook bacon in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until crispy, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towel–lined plate. Pour off and reserve all but 2 tablespoons fat from skillet.
  2. Add leeks and 1/4 teaspoon salt to fat in skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer leeks to large bowl and wipe out skillet.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon reserved fat in now-empty skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add corn and sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook, without stirring, until corn is browned on bottom and beginning to pop, about 3 minutes. Stir and continue to cook, stirring once or twice, until corn is spotty brown all over, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Transfer corn to bowl with leeks.
  4. Stir in chives, 1 tablespoon vinegar, cayenne, and bacon. Season with salt and remaining vinegar to taste. Serve.

Sauteed Corn with Cherry Tomatoes, Ricotta Salata, and Basil

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If ricotta salata is unavailable, substitute feta cheese. Because fresh corn can vary in sweetness, it calls for seasoning with a range of lemon juice.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
  • 4 ears corn, kernels cut from cobs (4 cups)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 6 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 1/2 ounces ricotta salata cheese, crumbled (1/3 cup)
  • 1/4 cup shredded fresh basil
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons lemon juice

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INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Heat oil and garlic in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is light golden brown and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer garlic to large bowl, leaving oil in skillet.
  2. Return skillet to medium-high heat and heat until oil is shimmering. Add corn and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, without stirring, until corn is browned on bottom and beginning to pop, about 3 minutes. Stir and continue to cook, stirring once or twice, until corn is spotty brown all over, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Transfer corn to bowl with garlic.
  3. Stir in tomatoes, half of ricotta salata, basil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Season with salt, pepper, and remaining lemon juice to taste. Sprinkle with remaining ricotta salata and serve.

Caprese Salad

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caprese.salad

There is no right or wrong way to make this versatile salad (although some may argue this point.) But it is imperative to use top-rate ingredients, including good mozzarella. (Is it really necessary to say this anymore??) Hothouse tomatoes and rubbery processed mozzarella are unacceptable. Over the years, I have seen this salad made with beefsteak tomato slices, grape, cherry, and roasted plum tomatoes. It can be plated, mixed in a bowl with olives, skewered and stacked. So don’t feel tied down to the list of ingredients. Experiment until you end up with your own favorite.

Often seen on menus as “Insalata Caprese” (salad in the style of Capri), it originated from the Isle of Capri in the Campagna region of Italy in the 1950’s.
-Buffalo mozzarella cheese is produced in Italy
-Basil is abundant in that country as well as the Roma style tomatoes that grow so well in the volcanic soil around Italy.
-The tri-color salad of red, green and white represent the colors of Italy.

ingredients

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes (about 4 large), sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh basil or arugula leaves, washed well and spun dry
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled, if using arugula instead of basil
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Drizzle of balsamic reduction
  • fine sea salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

On a large platter arrange tomato and mozzarella slices and basil leaves, alternating and overlapping them. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper, spread fresh basil leaves (whole or sliced) over the salad, and drizzle with olive oil and the balsamic reduction, which can now be store-bought.

appetizers

Or use small cherry or grape tomatoes and alternate with mozzarella balls and basil leaves on wooden toothpicks. Arrange on a platter and drizzle with EVOO and balsamic reduction. This photo was taken earlier in the summer when Rosanne Zarrilli contributed this appealing appetizer to an outdoor BBQ.

 

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Posted March 27, 2014

Ever scratch your head and try to conjure up something different to serve as your vegetable component? I’ve often had friends ask “what else is there besides broccoli, carrots, beans and asparagus?” Here, scallions graduate from a garnish to a side, and a wonderful one at that!

Molly Stevens’ Sweet Braised Whole Scallions
(from her “All About Braising” cookbook)
Serves 4

2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pound scallions (about 5 bunches, or 3 dozen)
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh tarragon or 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 lemon
Scallions are usually just a pretty face. Sliced into dainty coins, they doll up a homely bowl of chili and float like lily pads in murky dipping sauces. But treat them right and they’re proud and delicious, all by themselves.

Five bunches of scallions prepped for cooking.

Five bunches of scallions prepped for cooking.

Lop off the roots and tops, pile them in a buttered baking dish, and scatter on a bit more butter and either tarragon or parsley, depending on your mood and your herb supply (I’m a huge tarragon fan so that’s what we used). Pour in just enough water to get them steaming, then stick them in the oven to brew, tightly covered.

Half an hour later, an oniony-rich perfume will be wafting about and your scallions will have mellowed and collapsed. Crank the heat to boil down the glaze and roast the tips. The final, non-negotiable step is squeezing on some lemon.

What remains is sweet, soft middles, blurred herb-smoked edges, and sparks of lemon, which you can twirl around your fork like spaghetti, which we did as a side for a couple of pan-seared T-Bones. Even though the recipes says it serves four, Russ and I ate the entire batch between the two of us, they were oh so delicioso! It’s also acceptable to cut them up like a proper vegetable side, but you may not wait long enough because the aroma is ever so tantalizing…

Uncooked scallions with butter and water waiting to go into oven.

Uncooked scallions with butter and water waiting to go into oven.

Directions:

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Using about 1 1/2 teaspoons of butter, generously butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
Trimming the scallions: Trim the root ends and 1 1/2 inches off the green tops of the scallions. Arrange half of the scallions in the baking dish so the bulb ends are lined up at one end and the greens are toward the middle. Place the other half of the scallions in the opposite direction, so you end up with a double layer of scallion greens across the center of the dish and a single layer of bulbs and each end of the dish.
The braise: Pour the water into the dish. Cut the remaining butter into slivers and dot it over the top of the scallions. Season with the tarragon or parsley, salt, and pepper. Cover the dish tightly with foil, and slide onto the middle rack in the oven. Braise undisturbed until fragrant and tender, 35 to 40 minutes.
The finish: Remove the foil from the dish, and increase the oven heat to 450 degrees. Roast the scallions for 10 minutes, then shake the pan back and forth to coat the scallions with the glaze that will have formed. Continue roasting until the liquid evaporates and the edges of the scallions are beginning to brown, another 5 minutes or so. Squeeze over a few drops of lemon juice to taste, and serve hot or warm.

Finished dish of aromatic braised scallions fresh from the oven.

Finished dish of aromatic braised scallions fresh from the oven.

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Posted March 13, 2014

Go Nuts, I Do!

Ever since I can remember, I have adored nuts of every kind, and in almost everything I eat. As a kid, my favorite candy had nuts in them as did my ice cream choices, like Vanilla Swiss Almond, Rocky Road, Buttered Pecan. And in our grade school years, Mom baked homemade cookies, brownies and fudge — all with nuts. But my most favorite nut treat of all was at my grandfather’s bar where he had a hot cashew machine. After hours of playing outside, we would traipse into the bar (I guess it was legal back then to allow minors in bars?) and belly up to the counter for an orange pop (this was Michigan remember) and some hot salted cashews. My love affair continues to this day…

The Lord Nut Levington "Nut Case" with 6 different flavors.

The Lord Nut Levington “Nut Case” with 6 different flavors.

Did you ever try the Spicy Thai Lime and Chili Cashews from Trader Joes? Heaven! And Blue Diamond has an assortment of spiced nuts like Lime & Chili, Wasabi & Soy, and Habanero BBQ. Addicting! You can see how my sweet tooth morphed into a preference for savory over the years. My latest find is the Lord Nut Levington peanut selection with fabulous flavors named El Cheddarales (cheddar cheese and Jalapeño), Thai Dyed (thai curry and lemongrass), Rebel Mary (spicy bloody mary with lemon, celery and pepper), Mamma Mia (tomato, garlic and cheese), and Wingman (hot buffalo)… do these have my name written all over them or what? The minute I laid eyes on an Internet article about these nuts, I did a Google search and put in an order.

Chicken stir fry with cashews.

Chicken stir fry with cashews.

During the week I transport a homemade salad to work that includes chopped walnuts, or if I’m ordering a lunch salad at a restaurant, I prefer one that has some almonds, peanuts, walnuts, or pistachios — a salad seems incomplete without nuts! It’s not out of the ordinary for me to add some chopped nuts to cereal, hot or cold. And what a perfect snack! A holiday favorite is dark chocolate bark with almonds and a touch of sea salt. In stirfrys, they are a must-add ingredient. Even fish coated in crushed pistachios elevates the dinner to another level.

Trader Joe's Thai Lime and Chili Cashews.

Trader Joe’s Thai Lime and Chili Cashews.

By now I’m sure you’ve heard of all the hype about eating nuts as part of a healthy diet that can be good for your heart. Consistent evidence for the positive health benefits continues to add up. The Mayo Clinic claims people who eat nuts as part of a heart-healthy diet can lower the low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol level in their blood. High LDL is one of the primary causes of heart disease. Eating nuts may reduce your risk of developing blood clots that can cause a fatal heart attack. Nuts also appear to improve the health of the lining of your arteries. Hey, whose to argue??

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but if you want to live longer, a handful of nuts may be a better bet, researchers reported last November. The biggest study yet into whether nuts can add years to your life shows that people who ate nuts every day were 20 percent less likely to die from heart disease, cancer or any other cause over 30 years than people who didn’t eat them. Even peanuts, which technically aren’t nuts but legumes, helped.

Need more convincing? Studies have found that people who eat nuts have all sorts of biological benefits: less inflammation, which is linked to heart disease and cancer; less fat packed around the internal organs; better blood sugar levels; lower blood pressure — and even fewer gallstones. Last May, researchers reported that people already eating a healthy diet who added nuts or olive oil to their diets were less likely to suffer memory loss and last February scientists reported that they cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes by 30 percent.

“As a good source of protein, heart-healthy fat, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and several antioxidants nuts are one of nature’s nutrient-rich foods. But stick to a handful. More than that daily might pack on the pounds.”
— NBC News Health and Diet Editor Madelyn Fernstrom

And finally a shout-out to Marcona almonds which seem to be on all the hot menu lists and specialty food stores shelves lately. The gourmet almonds from Spain are that popular. What are they? A Marcona almond is far sweeter, moister, and delicately soft, and they’re slightly shorter and plumper in appearance compared to the traditional sweet almonds typically found at the market. Russ has been ordering them from our favorite Spanish supply company La Tienda, and knowing my passion for spicy foods and nuts, he made a fabulous treat of spicy marcona almonds which had a healthy hint of smoked hot paprika — yum!

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Kaffir Lime Leaves

The kaffir lime leaves are also popular in Indonesian, Thai (for dishes such as tom yum), Cambodian, Burmese, Laos, and Malay cuisines.

The kaffir lime leaves are also popular in Indonesian, Thai (for dishes such as tom yum), Cambodian, Burmese, Laos, and Malay cuisines.

Posted February 19, 2014

In contrast to the lime, it is the leaf of the tree, and not its fruit that is prized by cooks for the distinctive lime-lemon aroma and flavor in making Thai dishes. The fragrance and essence of the kaffir lime leaf is incomparable. Due to their special and irreplaceable flavor, it is so important that when following a Thai recipe you should take the time to find the real mccoy.

And we did just that over a decade ago when a Thai recipe from one of my Asian cookbooks called for kaffir lime leaves. We were caught by surprise (in more ways than one), first, to find them at Wegman’s in the Princeton area. The second shocker was the price — $39.99 a pound! But when you usually only need fewer than a dozen leaves, you’re actually paying for less than an ounce. Don’t ask me what recipe we made all those years ago, because I can’t remember… but what I do remember is the abundant sweet citrus bouquet that lingered to the nose and the touch, mmmmm!

Being that Thai food is one of our favorite cuisines, a recent cover article from Bon Appétit featuring sumptuous stews caught our attention. One in particular “Thai Beef Stew with Lemongrass and Noodles” stood out as a must try. (I’ll post the recipe blog at a later date, but if you can’t wait, you can find the recipe in the February 2014 issue.) This time around we had difficulty finding the leaves, fresh or frozen, at any of the grocery stores or specialty markets in the area; and we didn’t feel like a hike to Princeton! So the next best option was googling them on the Internet. We came across ImportFood.com which carries a wide range of Thai ingredients, cookware and recipes. We received our shipment within 2 days of the order placement. (Standard Pack, 1.5 oz, approx 40-45 fresh leaves was $14.95 which included 2 day shipping.)

Tom Yum Soup

Tom Yum Soup

Another Thai recipe that I adore, is Tom Yum Soup. Aside from being one of the most popular soups in Thailand, Tom Yum Soup has many health benefits, due to its potent combination of herbs and spices. In fact, Thai soup is currently under scientific study, as it appears to have immune-boosting power as a natural remedy for cold and flu viruses. Included in this version of the soup (by Darlene Schmidt), is coconut milk (officially “Tom Khaa”) which adds both richness and flavor while still keeping the soup super healthy.

Ingredients:
  • 3-4 cups chicken stock (enough to serve 2 people)
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, lower 1/3 finely minced
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves
  • 12-14 medium or large raw shrimp, shelled
  • 2 Tbsp. fish sauce 
  • 1-2 small red chilies, minced OR 1/2 tsp. dried crushed chili (to taste)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • optional: a handful of cherry tomatoes
  • generous handful fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced thinly
  • 1 green and/or red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1/2 can coconut milk (add more or less to taste)
  • 1/3 cup fresh coriander, roughly chopped
  • optional: additional red chilies, OR Nam Prik Pao Chili Sauce (1-2 tsp.)
  • optional: 1 tsp. brown sugar, and a sqeeze of lime juice

Preparation:

  1. Pour stock into a deep cooking pot and turn heat to medium-high. Add prepared lemongrass to the pot, including upper parts of the stalk you didn’t mince. Boil 5 to 6 minutes, or until fragrant.
  2. Reduce heat slightly to achieve a nice simmer. Add garlic, chili, lime leaves, and mushrooms to broth. Continue simmering for another 5 minutes.
  3. Add shrimp, bell pepper, and cherry tomatoes (if using). Simmer 5-6 minutes, or until shrimp are pink and plump.
  4. Turn down the heat to low and add 1/2 can coconut milk plus fish sauce. Test-test the soup for spice and salt, adding more chili and/or fish sauce (instead of salt) as desired. If too sour for your taste, add 1 tsp. brown sugar; if too salty, add a squeeze of lime juice. Add more coconut milk if you want your soup richer/creamier, or if it’s too spicy for your taste.
  5. Serve in bowls with fresh coriander sprinkled over.

****And here’s a great drink for your leftover leaves:
Tequila Infused Kaffir Lime Leaves

Ingredients:
One fifth (1/5 gallon) Tequila
1 oz (about 40) fresh kaffir lime leaves
1/2 fresh key lime

Method:
Use top quality agave tequila. Thinly-slice the kaffir lime leaves. Place the sliced lime leaves at the bottom of a bowl, then add the key lime–squeezing out the juice, leaving the lime peel in the bowl. Pour your tequila over this, and cover it. Let the flavors infuse for about 10 days. That’s it!
Serve over ice with a bit of agave nectar.

NOTES:
When buying, mature darker green leaves are preferred for use over the younger, less aromatic leaves.
To store kaffir leaves, place them in an airtight container or zip lock bag; refrigerate two to three weeks. Freezing is best for preserving flavor.

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Posted February 17, 2014
Found on CookingChannelTV.com

We have whipped up many a stir fry and find they make for a quick weeknight meal while providing a healthy dose of crisp vegetables. And while we usually use a wok, this recipe called for a medium nonstick skillet which created some accumulated juices from the beef that gets added back into the mixture at the end. Use a wok or drain the juices if you desire a drier outcome.

Chili Beef Stir Fry with Scallions and Snow Peas
Recipe courtesy of Aida Mollenkamp

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons chili-garlic sauce
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mirin or sherry 
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil 
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 pound flank steak, trimmed and frozen briefly
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 
  • 6 scallions, ends trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 12 ounces snow peas
  • (optional) 1 red Thai Chili, thinly slice crosswise, or red bell pepper for less spicy dish

DIRECTIONS

Whisk the chili-garlic sauce, soy sauce,  mirin, honey, sesame oil, and cornstarch  together in a small bowl and set aside. Cut the beef lengthwise along the grain into 3 or 4 (2-inch) wide pieces. Slice each piece of beef across the grain into paper thin pieces, about 1/8-inch thick. Pat the beef dry and season well with salt and pepper, to taste. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium nonstick skillet over high heat just until smoking. Add the beef and cook, stirring rarely, until well browned, about 4 to 5 minutes.
Raw meat strips cut about 1/8" thick.

Raw meat strips cut about 1/8″ thick.

Remove to a plate.Return the skillet to the stove over medium-low heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, half of the scallions, the garlic, and the ginger, and cook until just fragrant and starting to color, about 30 seconds. Stir in the snow peas, and cook, stirring occasionally, until bright green, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the chili-garlic sauce mixture, then remove the pan from the heat, and add the beef and accumulated juices. Toss to coat and transfer to a serving platter. Serve immediately sprinkled with remaining scallions.
Plated Chili Beef Stir Fry with Scallions and Snow Peas over brown rice.

Plated Chili Beef Stir Fry with Scallions and Snow Peas over brown rice.

Lynn’s spin on this recipe was to use chili sesame oil and thin slices of a Thai red pepper for color and an added heat note. We also drained off the accumulated beef juices, but might not do so the next time around. The end result was chock full of flavor and spicy enough to satisfy us. But remember, you can always tone down the heat with a few adjustments to the spice ingredients and swapping out a sweet bell pepper for the hot Thai chili.

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Posted February 4, 2014:

Winter Squash Carbonara with Pancetta and Sage

I am an avid pasta lover, mostly in the three cooler seasons. So it’s always a treat when visiting another town to come across a novelty pasta shop such as La Bottega which is all about Italy, and where I had the good fortune to spend some time last October. Nestled in the Quaint Olde Mistick Village in Mystic Connecticut, La Bottega carries only the BEST from Italy ~ from Marcato Pasta makers and Bialetti coffee pots to Fontanini displays and Murano Glass jewelry. Their pastas come in an exhilarating array of shapes and colors, and they also carry numerous sauces to go with your pasta of choice. If you are ever in that area, make sure to drop in.

Of course there are many, many stores much closer to home, including local grocery stores like McCaffrey’s, Wegman’s and Trader Joe’s, to name a few, that stock a healthy assortment of interesting pasta types. And then there is always the Internet where you can search to your hearts content, but I digress.

Recently, in the February 2014 issue of Bon Appétit, I spotted a wonderful recipe “Winter Squash Carbonara with Pancetta and Sage”  and decided right then and there that Russ and I must get that on our weekly menu soon. It called for kabocha squash which I have seen in the grocery store on many occasions, but have never purchased or cooked with. And since the store didn’t have it when I was shopping for the rest of the ingredients, I substituted butternut squash (as per the magazine’s suggestion.)

Bon Appétit Comment:
This carbonara is named for its rich and creamy sauce — except it doesn’t use a drop of cream or a single yolk. The secret is the squash purée, which gets its silky texture from the squash itself (and yes, some olive oil.)

I must confess, we did serve this dish on “Meatless Monday” which is not a BIG stretch from the rules since it contained just an ounce of pancetta per serving. In my mind, the meal just would not be the same without the intense flavors of this Italian bacon — unlike American bacon, which is most often smoked, pancetta is unsmoked pork belly that is cured in salt and spices such as nutmeg, pepper and fennel. It’s then dried for a few months…

WIKIPEDIA FACT:
There are two basic types of Pancetta, the ″arrotolata” (rolled) and “stesa” (flat). The “arrotolata” is mainly used sliced as part of antipasti, the “stesa” is often used chopped as ingredient in many recipes.

As with most recipes, we often add our own personal twist to the ingredients and/or the directions. In this case, we substituted all natural, garlic parsley fettuccine for the regular fettuccine/linguine originally called for; and definitely liked the end result!

Winter Squash Pasta Carbonara
Winter Squash Pasta Carbonara

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 oz. pancetta, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh sage
  • 1, 2-lb. kabocha or butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/2″ pieces (about 3 cups)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 12 oz. linguine or fettuccine
  • 1/4 cup finely grated pecorino, plus shaved slices for serving
  1. Heat oil in large skillet over med-high heat. Add pancetta, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 8-10 minutes. Add sage and toss to coat. Use a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta and sage to a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Add squash, onion and garlic to skillet; season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, 8-10 minutes.
  3. Add broth, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until squash is soft and liquid is reduced by half, 15-20 minutes. Let cool slightly, then purée in a blender until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Reserve skillet.
  4. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.
  5. Combine pasta, squash puree, and a 1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid in reserved skillet and cook over medium heat, tossing and adding more pasta liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta, about 2 minutes.
  6. Mix in 1/4 cup Pecorino; season with salt and pepper. Serve pasta topped with reserved pancetta and sage, shaved Pecorino, and more pepper.

NOTE: Squash purée can be made up to 3 days ahead.

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Posted January 24, 2014:

Holy Moley Lynn’s Great Guacamole

Back in 2000 I came across an article in the July issue of McCall’s magazine (is it even in existence anymore?) titled “Spice up Your Independence Day.” One of the recipes was for Chunky Guacamole (recipe follows.) I have made it countless times ever since and it is always a hit!  Only one other guac recipe has satiated our appetites as much, and that is the homemade guacamole made right at your table in a lava stone at El Vez on South 13th Street in Philly. Alas, that experience was over a decade ago so I can’t vouch for it today.

But I remember the very first time I ever attempted to make anything with avocados, back in my mid-twenties. My sister Pat and I had tasted some guacamole at a local restaurant and decided we would try making our own. Either the recipe didn’t specify, or we missed the step, but we cut up the entire avocado, skins and all. Needless to say, it was a black and bitter mess. It was many years before I attempted again, but I’m glad I did.

A fun piece of avocado trivia: The name of the tropical fruit can be traced all the way back to the ancient Aztec word for “testicle.” Not too appetizing I know…

After some more hits and misses, I wondered if it was true, that if you added the pit to the guacamole, it would prevent it from turning brown. Somehow the notion had gotten out and I believed the old wive’s tale. But anyone who’s tried the method can attest, the pits are really effective at preventing browning only on the part of the guacamole’s surface they touch. While it helps minimally, the best “umbrella” seems to be plastic wrap tamped down snugly to the surface of the dip, to limit as much oxygen exposure as possible. Better yet, use lemon juice, avocado pits and plastic wrap. Or just eat it really quickly. I have found that after a day or two, the surface is darker but you can mix it in with the brighter stuff underneath and it’s still presentable.

Lynn brought her guacamole to Maureen Evans Kelly's 50th birthday party. Colleen Carroll, Chrissi Sullivan and Patti Carroll discuss the merits…

Lynn brought her guacamole to Maureen Evans Kelly’s 50th birthday party. Colleen Carroll, Chrissi Sullivan and Patti Carroll discuss the merits…

My practice has been to buy the avocados early in the week, putting them in a brown bag with bananas to encourage ripeness. By Friday night or Saturday morning when I’m ready to mix up a batch, the avocados are the perfect ripeness. However, if they ripen before you want to use them, place them in the refrigerator where they’ll last for 2 to 3 days.

A WikiHow Note: Avocados are a unique fruit in that they do not ripen on a tree. They become ripe after they have been harvested, and this oftentimes occurs at your residence. Unless you are going to enjoy your avocados immediately, it is best to purchase them when they are still hard so you can control the ripening process. Once you learn how to ripen and store avocados properly, you can enjoy the tasty fruit that is loaded with nearly 20 essential nutrients, including vitamins, potassium and fiber. Place your unripe avocado in a brown paper bag along with an apple or banana if you want your avocados to ripen faster.

Make sure to combine onion, slat and lime juice for twenty minutes before adding other ingredients.

Make sure to combine onion, slat and lime juice for twenty minutes before adding other ingredients.

Scoop out the avocado, finely chop tomatoes and jalapeños, and cut up the cilantro while marinating the onion mix.

Scoop out the avocado, finely chop tomatoes and jalapeños, and cut up the cilantro while marinating the onion mix.

The final product! If not eating right away, make sure to cover with saran wrap and tamp down so that no air is between the guar and the wrap.

The final product! If not eating right away, make sure to cover with saran wrap and tamp down so that no air is between the guar and the wrap.

Chunky Guacamole Recipe:

  • 1/4 cup each finely chopped red onion and fresh squeezed lime juice.
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4-5 large ripe Haas avocados, halved, pitted
  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded, diced
  • 2 whole fresh jalapeños, seeded, finely minced
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, or more to taste

In large bowl, combine onion, lime juice, salt; let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes (don’t omit this step)
With spoon, scoop ripe avocados into bowl with onion mixture. Coarsely mash with potato masher or fork. Stir in remaining ingredients.
Cover surface directly with plastic wrap; refrigerate up to 24 hours before serving.
Serve with tortilla chips or as an accompaniment to other Mexican food.

Great on super nachos too. So go ahead and make a batch for your Superbowl party!
Or just because…

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Posted January 8, 2014:

Karen Mortka is amazed over the fact that Russ is grilling a paella!

Karen Mortka is amazed over the fact that Russ is grilling a paella!

Russ has a penchant for everything Spanish and so it was no surprise when he purchased a “grill” specifically to accommodate his paella pans. (You can also use the device for a variety of other cooking methods and recipes and in tandem with your other grill.) And so it was, the maiden voyage of this grill, last August in our backyard entertaining Karen and Ed Mortka.

Now you have to understand when I say Russ “has a penchant for everything Spanish,” I’m not kidding! Pretty much every single ingredient that went into the paella, other than the fresh fish, was imported from Spain. (Russ is also fluent in speaking Spanish, watches Spanish television and reads Spanish novels and newspapers.) We — mainly Russ — have made many paellas over the years, but this one was the first time we “grilled” one.

A good seafood paella is a minimalist affair, with few other ingredients besides seafood and rice, and the flavor depends on a good rich fish stock. So instead of discarding the peels from shellfish, start a collection and keep in the freezer until ready to create your own stock. Making seafood stock is similar to making chicken stock; it takes time and attention, and the final result makes it worth the effort. Best to do on a weekend afternoon. Here’s a sample ingredient list:

INGREDIENTS

  • 4-6 cups shellfish shells, from shrimp, lobster, and/or crab
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced or chopped
  • 1 carrot, roughly sliced or chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, roughly sliced or chopped
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • Several sprigs parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10-15 whole peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons salt
Ed Mortka is concerned that his wife Karen may be getting too interested in purchasing her own paella grill after the "how-to" lesson from Russ.

Ed Mortka is concerned that his wife Karen may be getting too interested in purchasing her own paella grill after the “how-to” lesson from Russ.

Paella perfection, with clams, shrimp and scallops cooked with saffron and piquillo peppers.

Paella perfection, with clams, shrimp and scallops cooked with saffron and piquillo peppers.

The main dish was based largely on a recipe from The New Spanish Table, a recipe book by Anya von Bremzen who divides her time between Spain and New York. Russ combined Anya’s recipe with some alterations he noted from a paella recipe in Fine Cooking. We omitted the monkfish and squid (not something Lynn is fond of!) So instead we added scallops. Russ sautéed them on the “other” grill and added them on top of the finished paella.

Seafood Paella A La Marinera Ingredients (our altered version)

  • 5 cups shrimp shell stock
  • 1 large pinch of saffron
  • 5 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt
  • 10 garlic cloves, 8 crushed with garlic press; 2 minced
  • 2 lg. ripe tomatoes, cut in half and grated on a box grater, skins discarded
  • 1 1/2 tsp. sweet (not hot) paprika
  • 1 3/4 cup short- to medium grained rice
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 12 small littleneck clams
  • 12 jumbo shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 3/4 lb. scallops
  • 1 dozen or more piquillo pepper strips
  • 2 lemons, cut into wedges, for serving
  • Allioli, homemade

The dinner started with an awesome baked manchego cheese appetizer with honey and marcona almonds that Karen brought. To die for! And for dessert Russ made a wonderful flan with fresh strawberries, all in keeping with the Spanish theme of course!

karens.flan

Cena perfecta es!

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