Gumbo

GumboI’ve lived in Alabama for almost four years (wow, typing that makes me pause). Before I moved here, I doubt that I’d ever had gumbo once. I don’t think I’d ever tried okra–one of the key gumbo ingredients–except for maybe some of that fried stuff down at the Cracker Barrel. When Glenn brought home okra from the farm last year (and kept bringing bags and bags of it home every single week), I figured I’d better learn to make it. I started searching for recipes, not knowing what made good gumbo…well…good! I tried recipe after recipe, and they were all fine, but none was THE ONE. By the time summer was over, I was tired of trying and tired of gumbo.

Bowl O' OkraThis year, when Glenn brought home the first batch of okra, I was ready to try again. This time, I consulted the recipe of Paula Deen (you know, Paula Deen of the Food Network, the one who uses a pound of butter in every recipe?) of my neighboring state of Georgia. Why in the world had I not even considered looking at a Paula Deen recipe last year?! Well, for one thing, the last time I tried a Paula Deen recipe, I had a bit of a disaster. It wasn’t her fault. It happened when I made her outrageously delicious coconut cake for my own office going away party. My coworkers at the Baltimore Museum of Art requested I make my OWN GOING AWAY PARTY CAKE. Ha! I don’t blame them for asking me to make it–I had made it once before, and it was INSANE. It is an amazingly rich, sweet, wonderful cake, and I was happy to make it again (I wanted it too, you know!). I spent all evening on it…probably four hours total. I slaved over this cake, knowing it would be my last hurrah at the museum and knowing my colleagues were waiting patiently for it.

Finally, around 10:30 that evening, I finished it. I was exhausted. I was so ready to sleep. I picked up the cake to put it in the refrigerator until morning, and as I opened the refrigerator door, some unknown hateful spirit–perhaps some jealous Food Network Paula Deen competitor? Rachael Ray? Alton Brown?–picked that cake right off my palm, flipped it upside down, and it landed on the kitchen floor completely inverted. Yeah, there was no saving that one.

Chicken and SausageGlenn was sitting in the other room watching a baseball game. I quietly, to myself, in disbelief, said “Oh. My. God.” Glenn didn’t hear me. A little louder I said it: “Oh. My. God!” He suddenly sensed displeasure in the kitchen and looked my way. “OH. MY GOD!!!” I said a third time. This got his attention. He looked down the short hallway at me, standing at the refrigerator with the door hanging open and an empty cake plate in my hand. I saw his eyes look at my eyes, then the plate, then the open refrigerator door. His head slowly lowered until he reached the dead cake, smeared beneath my feet on the linoleum floor.

Make a RouxHe looked back up at me, his mouth open. I looked at him, my mouth open. After several minutes of staring at each other in silence, I smiled. Then he smiled. I laughed…a deep gutteral, insupressable laugh. Then he laughed with me, involuntarily making me laugh even harder. What else could we do? There was no saving this cake. It was carnage, pure carnage, and it had met its demise before anyone could even taste it.

So, we did the next best thing (actually eating the cake being the first best thing)…Glenn got out the camera and began to take pictures. First, we took pictures of the cake, splattered all over the kitchen floor. Then we took pictures of the two of us eating the cake off the kitchen floor–carefully–with forks…then without forks. Finally, we took pictures of our two cats eating the cake off the kitchen floor.

Gumbo 2009 003Then we emailed the pictures. Emailed them to my entire department, knowing they would all open them first thing the next morning, laugh, and then take pity on me when I didn’t show up with my–er, Paula Deen’s–cake. Waiting for me when I got to work the next day for my going-away party was a very lovely coconut cake made at a local bakery that someone had sneaked out to buy after they had watched the cake disaster unfold in my email photo array. One of my coworkers, soberly, cut the store-bought cake and passed the plates and forks around. We all sat down to eat it, and each of us looked around the table at the others. “It’s great!” I said, with a grateful smile. “Yes, it’s very good,” each one of my colleagues said politely as we tasted our slices. But I know what we were all thinking. Each of us, right at that very moment, was thinking the same thing. We were all thinking how much we loved, and how much we missed, Paula Deen.

RiceAnd that brings me back to gumbo. When you want a Southern recipe, always always always go to a Southerner! And be careful! Don’t drop your wonderful completed recipe all over the floor for godsakes! Yes, Paula Deen’s recipes tend to be over the top with fat and butter, but in this case, gumbo just doesn’t have a lot of fat in it anyway. The only neccesary fat in this recipe is five tablespoons of butter. It sounds like a lot, but remember this recipe feeds 8-10 people…so that’s not much at all. If you don’t want to use real andouille sausage, you can always substitute turkey or chicken sausage. The pork andouille, however, is what really makes this recipe authentic, so if you can do it, don’t skimp on the sausage.

Gumbo 2Gumbo recipe from Miss Paula Deen, Y’all!

8-10 servings

3 large boneless skinless chicken breast halves

salt and pepper

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 pound smoked sausage, cut into 1/4-inch slices (I used a little less than that…about 3/4 of a pound. Also, I used smoked andouille sausage)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

5 tablespoons butter (she calls for margarine, but come on, people…go for the good stuff)

1 large onion, chopped

8 cloves garlic, minced

1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1/4 bunch flat leaf parsley, stems and leaves removed, coarsely chopped, plus chopped leaves for garnish

4 cups hot water

5 beef bouillon cubes

1 (14-oz) can stewed tomatoes with juice

2 cups sliced okra (she calls for frozen, but I had PLENTY of fresh)

4 green onions, sliced, white and green parts

1/2 pound small shrimp, peeled, deveined and cooked

1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken until browned on both sides and remove. Add the sausage and cook until browned, then remove. Sprinkle the flour over the oil, add 2 tablespoons of butter and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until brown, about 10 minutes. Let the roux cool.

2. Return the Dutch oven to low heat and melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter. Add the onion, garlic, green pepper and celery and cook for 10 minutes. Add Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste and the 1/4 bunch parsley. Cook, while stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Add 4 cups hot water and bouillon cubes, whisking constantly. Add the chicken and sausage. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes. Add tomatoes and okra. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Just before serving add the green onions, shrimp, and chopped parsley. I like to serve gumbo over jasmine rice. It would also be great with some nice crusty bread.

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Pear Galette

Pear Galette after baking2I’m gonna make this short and sweet, folks. Never make a pie again. Seriously. And this is coming from a pie-aholic. I LOVE pie. I love apple pie, pumpkin pie, peach pie, blueberry pie. I love ALL pies. And I have to admit, I’ve gotten pretty good at making pies. But I seriously never have to make one again, because I have discovered the galette. Easy. Not messy. You can accidentally put a hole in your crust (not that I ever do that) and it does. not. matter. Galettes are every bit as buttery, fruity, and flaky as pies, but with half the work. Glenn and I even might have said, just under our breaths, that we might perhaps possibly like this better (GASP!) than a pie!! AHH!

 

 

Kiefer Pears

These pears (which are, as best as we can tell, Kiefer Pears) came from my brother-in-law’s property. They’ve been growing there for years and they are absolutely wonderful for baking. He does not do a thing to them all year: no fertilizing, no pest control, nuthin’, and they come out perfect. I’m sure you could use any pears for this recipe, but if you can find some Kiefer Pears, you won’t be sorry. Do not pass GO, do not collect 2oo dollars. Go make this now. NOW!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pear Galette--Rolled out dough

 Keifer Pears, Sliced

  Pear Galette before baking

Pear Galette after baking

  

Pear Galette, adapted from Martha Stewart

Martha’s recipe serves 8, but I adapted it to serve 2. We ate every last bite of this galette, so if you have more than two, you should probably double it.

All-purpose flour, for work surface

1/2 recipe Pate Brisee (see below)

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/4 cup granulated sugar

pinch of salt

2 large ripe pears, sliced quite thinly. It’s up to you how much crunch you want left in them

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 large egg

sugar for sprinkling (about a tablespoon)

3 tablespoons homemade caramel or pear syrup (the first time I made this, I had homemade caramel left over, so I used that. The second time I made it I had no caramel, but I did have some pear syrup from my father-in-law’s pear preserves. I just drizzled it on top. It was excellent. Martha Stewart’s recipe tells you to heat up some apricot jam, strain it, and brush it over the galette. That sounds great too, but I’d loose the straining part–why make it hard on yourself.) 🙂

 

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.

2. Sprinkle work surface with flour. Roll out dough to a 14-inch round, about 1/4-inch thick. Transfer dough to prepared baking sheet and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 1 hour.

3. In a bowl, mix together cornstarch, sugar and salt. Add pear slices and toss until evenly coated. Mound pear mixture on top of dough, leaving a 4-inch border all the way around. Fold dough over pear mixture, overlapping where necessary and gently pressing to adhere the folds. Transfer galette to refrigerator and let chill, 20-30 minutes (yeah, right…I was too hungry to do this last step).

4. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, beat egg with some water. Brush edges of dough with egg, and springle edges (or the entire thing!) with sugar. Dot top of galette with butter. Transfer to oven and bake until crust is golden brown and juices are bubbling, about 45 minutes (you might check on this and dab up any pear liquid that seeps out onto the parchment so it won’t burn. Pears are VERY juicy).

5. Remove galette from oven and drizzle with caramel, syrup, or apricot jam.

 

Pate Brisee (Pie Dough), from Martha Stewart

Makes 1 double-crust or 2 single-crust 9- 10-inch pies.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8-10 seconds (or, just use a pastry cutter, which I did because my food processor is broken and never to return)

2. With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process for more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together: if it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time (or, use a fork, like the girl with the broken food processor did.)

3. Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least an hour. Dough may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month (or for the next day, which is when I made this galette again).

Pasta with Pesto, Potatoes, Shrimp and Green Beans

Aug-Sept 2009 041Last weekend was my husband’s birthday. To celebrate properly, I made him work on our if-you-touch-it-it-might-collapse garage…all week. Actually, we both took the whole week off from work and called it a “work-cation” to make it sound like so much more fun! But really, there was very little “cation” in it at all. This garage has been on our to-do list since we moved into our house three and a half years ago. We’ve been slowly gutting it of the makeshift cabinets and falling-down plywood walls to remake it into a workshop/storage area. Living in a tiny bungalow built in 1940 means we have precious little closet space, so the thought of having this much extra storage is worth a week of hard work (I think?).

 

 

Green Derby Snap BeansSo, on Friday night, after working so hard all week on our rotting, termite-infested garage, I planned to take Glenn to Bottega for his birthday–kind of a reward to both of us. Turns out it was even more of a reward than I ever thought it would be. Early Friday morning I woke up around 2 am to the sound of something falling. It sounded like a “Wooooosh! Thump!” Being startled in the middle of the night, and having my whole life taken over by garage renovation, my first thought was “Good lord, the garage fell over!”  I got out of bed immediately, tried to wake Glenn who was completely unresponsive, and ran out to the garage. It was still standing (of course!). Thinking that I must have just heard some thunder or had ingested too much wine the night before, I went back to bed. The next morning, Glenn and I woke to the very strong smell of fresh wood and two very large gum tree branches laying off to the side of our front porch–having fallen barely 6 inches from the house. Apparently one branch broke off, hit another branch on the way down, bent the hanging edge of our gutter 180 degrees, and landed in the rhododendron. 

 

Beans, Potatoes and ShrimpYes, we were very, very lucky that we did not wake up to a hole in the house–or worse. We know. But still, there were two giant tree limbs laying in our rhododendron, and picking them up was not going to be easy. On Friday morning, after running a few errands and locating our handsaw, we got to work on cutting up the tree limb and carrying it to the curb for the city to pick up. It took us about two hours. We may have said a few curse words. At the tree. At our neighbors for not helping us. At the garage for being so old and making us already exhausted before having to deal with this. &*$^% garage!  I will never allow you to store my extra stuff!!

 

Toasting Pine NutsThat dinner at Bottega was looking better and better. After long naps, we awoke, cleaned ourselves up to look presentable, and had one of the best dinners ever. Glenn had Rabbit Torino (rabbit, stuffed with plums and rosemary, and wrapped in pancetta). I had the most wonderful duck breast I’ve ever had with farro (a type of grain, sort of like quinoa), apples, braised carrots, and arugula. People, it is HARD to get duck breast and rabbit breast right. It is sooo common for it to turn out tough. Both the rabbit and the duck were very moist, tender, and flavorful, not gamey. For dessert we split a white chocolate bread pudding (what garage? what tree? what stinky neighbors?). But the very best thing I had at Bottega–the thing I kept thinking about all weekend–was my appetizer: handmade pasta with shrimp, new potatoes, pine nuts, and pole beans,  all in a very rich and buttery pesto sauce. Add the full bottle of wine we consumed to this and you’ve got yourself a birthday party!

  

New Potatoes, SlicedI will tell you that I thought about this pesto sauce like a new boyfriend (er, before Glenn, of course). I had to recreate it. So, Monday night, I tried my best to at least get all the elements right. Rather than pole beans, Glenn had just harvested some Derby String Beans. I thought that would be a fine substitution. I also had a lot of basil in my own garden that needed to be harvested soon–so I made a very easy pesto sauce.  New potatoes? No problem. Toasted pine nuts? Got ’em. Shrimp? Got some nice Gulf shrimp right around the corner at the market. Handmade pasta? With not enough time to handmake some pasta, I just used some lasagna sheets and halved and quartered them. (I just tried to renovate a garage for godsakes! Gimme a break, will ya?)

   

 

Frank Stitt Wanna Be Pesto with Pasta, Beans, Potatoes and ShrimpAnd what element did I taste in Frank Stitt’s (Chef at Bottega) homemade pasta that made it truly decadent? What one food item made this dish over-the-top?

Butter! Oh yes, Mr. Stitt does not skimp on the butter–and I was determined to not skimp on it either! We don’t want to make Mr. Stitt angry when we copy his recipes, now do we?

I have to say, though I did not make the wonderfully delicate handmade pasta that I had at Bottega, and I think my version of this dish needed about a quarter cup more pesto (and, yes, even more butter!), for my first attempt at this, it turned out very well. I will definitely make it again–perhaps when I have more time to make the pasta myself. 

 

 

 

Glenn with DrillYou may be wondering just how much work got done on that garage by week’s end. Well? It still looks very much under construction, but we did get some of the worst of the jobs completed–we framed in the front, replaced a wall in the back–but there’s so much more work that needs to be done before we can inhabit it in any way. I think I’m sensing another “work-cation” coming soon–followed by a dinner out!

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is my very loose interpretation of  Frank Stitt’s Handmade Pasta with Pesto, Shrimp, Beans, and Potatoes (I can’t remember the actual name of it!)

This served two people–one of those people was extremely hungry. Also, I really made this up as I went along…so you could add or subtract whatever you wish.

1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts

2 medium new potatoes, cooked and sliced

6 lasagna noodles, cooked, halved and quartered

a handful (about a cup) of string beans (or pole beans), string removed and cut to about an inch

1/2 pound of shrimp, peeled and deviened. I salted and peppered these quite liberally. You know, cause I’m a liberal.

2 tablespoons of butter (if I made this again, I probably would have used even more! WOW!)

about a cup of pesto (see my recipe below)

salt and pepper to taste

 

Here’s basically what I did. First, I toasted the pine nuts in a cast-iron skillet.

Then, I cooked the potatoes for about 15 minutes (or until they were tender). I put the lasagna noodles in the same water for about 10 minutes. Because there were only 6 noodles, it was easy to just lift them out of the water to drain them. Then I removed the potatoes and sliced them and sprinkled them lightly with kosher salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, I put the beans in the same water to blanche them for about 3 minutes.

Then I put everything into a large skillet in this order: butter first (till it melted), then shrimp (for about 3 minutes…until they started to turn pink), beans (I gave them another 2 minutes or so), cut up noodles, potatoes, pine nuts, and finally pesto. Mix everything up until the pesto covers all.

 

My basic pesto recipe (this was not quite enough pesto, in my opinion. Next time I’d probably add about a 1/4 cup)

1/4 cup chicken stock

handful of basil (stems removed)

1 clove garlic (I hate pesto that is too garlicky. Some people like more garlic…so add more if you do!)

1/8 cup parmesean

approximately 1/4 cup olive oil–possibly a little more to bring it to a looser consistency

salt and pepper to taste

Note: I usually add walnuts or pine nuts to my pesto, but because there were pine nuts in Frank Stitt’s recipe, I decided to leave them out. Also, I wanted my pesto to be thin, not thick.

 

Put everything but the olive oil into a blender or food processor. Blend while streaming in the olive oil until it gets to be a nice consistency. Some people like a thick pesto, but I prefer mine fairly thin–like a vinagrette.

Check for seasoning–add salt and pepper if necessary. The parmesean will make it fairly salty, though.

Goat Cheese-Stuffed Red Peppers

Red Peppers

These beauties are called Lipstick Peppers. They are sexy, aren’t they? Red, lucious, puckered and ready for a mammoth, sumptuous smootch. And I am, indeed, completely head-over-heels in love with them.  My husband often brings these home from the farm along with a similar variety called Carmen Peppers. Both have more sweet flavor than a basic red bell pepper, though you could easily use bell peppers for this recipe instead.

Just like any person you love, the first thing you’ll want to do to these peppers is change them. (Insert sarcastic emoticon here.) To make these peppers even better than they ever thought they could be, stuff them with the uber-lucious cheese of all cheeses–goat cheese–and serve them alongside a juicy, medium-rare cheeseburger. The goat cheese and peppers are alternately creamy, tangy, and sweet and go perfectly with a savory burger. I love this combination so much, I’ve actually thought of putting the stuffed peppers right on top of the hamburger. Maybe next time. Let’s not go overboard, okay? We’ll want to keep some excitement in the relationship for when things get a little boring later on.

 

 Stuffed peppers before cooking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuffed Peppers with Hamburger 3

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

 

These peppers would go perfectly with any beef dish, or just eat them by themselves for a great vegetarian meal that is quite filling on its own. Either way, the combination of goat cheese, bread crumbs, garlic, and olive oil makes any relationship palatable.

 

Goat Cheese Stuffed Red Peppers

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1.5-2 oz goat cheese (I love Belle Chevre)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 medium red peppers (I use Carmen or Lipstick peppers, but you could use any type of red peppers for this. Just remember that larger red bell peppers will require about twice the filling)

 

Slice peppers in half lengthwise. Remove seeds and ribs.

Mix the rest of the ingredients in a small bowl.

Stuff each pepper not too tightly, but not too loosely (I usually heap the stuffing a bit).

Place stuffing side up on a parchment- or aluminum-lined cookie sheet. Roast for about 20 minutes on 375 degrees, or until the stuffing starts to brown.

Chicken and Cous Cous with Cucumber and Goat Cheese

People, I don’t have to tell you…it’s hot. In about mid-July I was still using my oven–I couldn’t part with it. But now? Well, me and the oven are through. I’ve broken up with it and told it to go find love in a more northern clime. It’s not going to get any here. I will consider making up with it in mid-October, right about the time I’m craving pumpkin bread. I’m a user.

For now, I’m only considering recipes that require stove-top cooking for under 20 minutes. That’s all I have to give. Rices and pastas are great for this time of year because many of them you can eat hot or cold and they just don’t require much cooking. Plus, you can add anything you have on hand, and you’ve got yourself a fairly substantial meal.

Have you ever tried pearl cous cous? I LOVE IT. Pearl cous cous is larger than regular cous cous–meaning each individual piece of pasta is about the size of a stud (earring that is. I know what you were thinking). I love the texture more than regular cous cous and it seems so much more filling to me.

  Cucumbers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This a great dish for the summertime, when it’s too hot to cook, and you’ve got so many cucumbers, you are running out of things to do with them. Start out by chopping up a cucumber. Season it with salt and pepper. I always use sea salt to season vegetables.

  Cucumbers + Pine Nuts

 

 

 

 

Add toasted pine nuts

 

  

Cucumbers + Pine Nuts+ Goat Cheese

 

 

 

 

Add goat cheese

 

 

Cucumbers + Pine Nuts + Goat Cheese + Chicken

 

 

 

 

Add cooked chicken breast

 

  Cucumbers + Pine nuts + Goat Cheese + Chicken + Cranberries  

 

 

 

Add dried cranberries

 

    Cucumbers + Pine Nuts + Goat Cheese + Chicken + Cranberries + Cous Cous

 

 

 

Add cooked pearl cous cous

 

 

  Cucumbers + Pine Nuts + Goat cheese + Chicken + Cranberries + Cous cous + Basil

 

 

 

 

Add herb of choice. I like basil.

 

 

 

 

That’s it! This can be served warm or cold. Enjoy! 

 Final_Chicken and Cous Cous with Cucumbers, Pine nuts, Cranberries and Goat Cheese

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicken and Cous Cous with Cucumber and Goat Cheese

Serves 2-3

Feel free to play around with these ingredients. Glenn said he would have preferred a little less cucumber. I on the other hand, normally don’t really like cucumber, but I loved it in this dish. I think it really worked well with the goat cheese.

1 medium cucumber, chopped and seasoned with salt and pepper

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

2 oz goat cheese (I absolutely love Belle Chevre goat cheese. It’s local and it’s so creamy and tasty.)

1 large chicken breast, cooked (I seasoned mine with sea salt and pepper and cooked it in olive oil in a cast-iron skillet)

1/4 cup cranberries

1 cup pearl cous cous (cooked according to package instructions). I added a sauteed Vidalia onion to this (about a 1/4 cup of onion)

Salt and pepper to taste

Handful of chopped basil on top (parsely would also be good)

Banana Coconut Ricotta Muffins

Banana Ricotta Coconut Muffins

My husband told me the other day about peanuts and Coke. Apparently there are people in this world who dump peanuts into Coke and drink it like that. Am I the last one to hear about this? Am I just too young? Or too Yankee? Isn’t there something in the Bible about not mixing salted legumes with a syrupy carbonated beverage? Yeah, I think it’s in Leviticus. Glenn the blasphemer says it’s delicious and is completely unrepentant about how much of it he drank as a cherubic little blonde southern boy. I can just hear him now saying “Yes ma’am!” and “I’m fixin’ to drink this Coke with peanuts!” He says the saltiness of the peanuts mixes with the sweetness of the Coke, and two things just don’t seem to fit together end up making something that might make a little tow-headed Glenn slap his grandma! And you can’t get more Southern than peanuts + Coke, by the way.

Southerners seem to be really good at this–putting stuff together that just doesn’t seem to fit–and making it taste wonderful. Have you ever heard of mayonnaise cake? It’s sounds downright nasty at first; but if you think about it, mayonnaise has the tanginess and creamy consistency of sour cream. I know I’ve put sour cream in cakes before…haven’t you? So, maybe it’s not such a stretch.  

Mixing Banana Coconut Ricotta Muffins

Last week I had some homemade ricotta cheese left over…just enough to feel guilty about throwing away, but not enough to do much with. So, I decided to try it in muffins. With a little maneuvering to make sure the ricotta was balanced out by a wetter dairy product (um, that would be milk, and “wetter” is not a good word), this recipe came out great. The muffins are so moist and have a slight tang–as if I had added buttermilk or sour cream. The sweetened coconut is an excellent contrast and adds texture. A sprinkle of turbinado sugar (or just regular granulated sugar) creates a nice sweet crunch on top. 

Yes, those are my feet.

 Yes, those are my feet.

 

I don’t care how hot it is outside, these are absolutely worth the 18-20 minutes your oven is on.

   Banana Coconut Ricotta Muffins Side Shot

 

 Even peanuts + Coke couldn’t compete.

 

Muffins with Butter part 2

Vegetable Burritos with Red Pepper Cheese Spread

Fresh Veggies from JVUF

Some women get flowers. I get vegetables.

 

Pink Beauty Tomatoes, Yellow Straight Squash, Zephyr Squash, and Orient Express Eggplant

I’m totally fine with that. Because I’m a vegetable geek, that’s why. Especially when the vegetables are Pink Beauty tomatoes, Zephyr squash (that’s the two-toned variety above), Orient Express eggplant and Cherokee Purple tomatoes (these actually have a purple hue to them). Their names are so lovely, it’s hard to think of them as just tomatoes, squash, and eggplant.

How many of these things can I stuff into one meal without dinner being called “Pile O’ Vegetables with Vegetables on the Side”? Well, here’s a case in point. The other night I made vegetable burritos using eggplant and squash, but instead of just plain ol’ cheese, I used a red pepper cheese spread I made a couple of nights before. The spread is really a dip, and I got the recipe from Smitten Kitchen. It’s great as a dip, but I liked it even better spread out on a flour tortilla to rest my sweet veggies upon (they are high-maintenance veggies). Another note about the dip: the recipe on Smitten Kitchen calls for just red bell peppers, but my husband brought home hot red peppers (Sahuaro peppers), so that made for a really spicy kick that was great with the vegetables and flour tortilla. If you don’t want the extra spice, just use red bell peppers.

 Red pepper cheese spread

 Essentials: sea salt and a glass of wine

  Sauteeing Squash and Eggplant

 

I used the Pink Beauty tomatoes to make a very simple salsa with onions, a couple of small jalapenos from my own garden, lime juice, salt, and pepper. You could throw some garlic in there too if you like.

 

I'd gladly trade you my bone for just a tablespoon of salsa

I'd gladly trade you my bone for just a tablespoon of salsa

 

Add some canned black beans, and you’ve got yourself a burrito-type thing. A delicious burrito-type thing! Maybe not exactly what you’d get in Mexico, but if it’s good, who needs authenticity, right? I think the red pepper spread really made these excellent burritos. Also, the fresh sweetness of the tomatoes was a nice compliment to the savory eggplant and squash.

 

Blog Grilled Veggie Burritos with red pepper cheese spread

 

Veggie Burritos with Red Pepper Cheese Spread

Makes enough for 2-3 large burritos

Olive oil

Sea salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste

1 medium squash (or zucchini), cut into 1 inch peices

1 medium eggplant, cut into 1 inch peices

A small can of seasoned black beans (you can use plain black beans too. They won’t be quite as flavorful, but they’ll have less sodium.)

Flour tortillas (burrito sized)-I use Mission Flour Tortillas, though the number of Mexican grocery stores in my neighborhood is so high that it is really a crime for me to be using store-bought. Shame on me.  

Salsa (see recipe below or use salsa from a jar)

Red pepper cheese spread (see recipe below or use some cheddar or monterey jack cheese instead)

 

Sprinkle the eggplant and squash with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Before I do anything else, I cut the eggplant and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. I let the eggplant sit for about 15 minutes. The salt actually takes the bitterness out of the eggplant–which is generally the thing that most people don’t like about eggplant. So, do that, and then you can take the time to make the spread or salsa while the eggplant rests.

Make the spread and salsa and warm the beans in a small saucepan on low heat.

Saute the eggplant and squash in some olive oil over medium-high heat for about 5-8 minutes, depending on how crunchy you want your vegetables. I like them semi-crunchy, but browned nicely on the outside. If you like them a bit more tender, turn down the heat and saute for a few more minutes.

Meanwhile, microwave the flour tortillas for about 30 seconds each. I usually microwave each one separately (mainly because there are only two of us), but you could also warm them in the oven or in the microwave all at the same time; just follow the directions on the package.

Spread about 2-3 tablespoons of the red pepper cheese spread onto each tortilla.  

Spoon about a 1/4 cup of salsa onto each tortilla

Spoon about a 1/4 cup of beans onto each tortilla

Place the vegetables on top

Fold the tortilla. I fold the bottom up like a diaper (I know, that is an icky analogy, but don’t think too hard about it, okay?), then I fold each side in like I’m wrapping up my little burrito to go out into cold weather (um, just fold it however works. eh hem…moving on)

 

for the salsa

1 tomato, chopped

1/4 cup onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 jalapeno, minced

juice of 1/2 a lime

1/2 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)

1 tablespoon of chopped cilantro (if desired)

Combine all the above. Allow salsa to sit for a few minutes so the flavors marry (and forever live happily ever after). Again, if you don’t like anything too spicy, just leave out the jalapeno.

 

for the red pepper cheese spread

Got this recipe from Smitten Kitchen

Macaroni and Cheese with Dried Sungold Tomatoes and Proscuitto

 

Blog Macaroni and Cheese 017My dad told me that his mother would make a cake and a pie every week. Oh Grandma, the standards you’ve set are simply too high for me to reach! But perhaps there is something I can aspire to. When I was eight years old my parents took us to my grandmother’s house for some sort of holiday or special dinner. She made macaroni and cheese. Real macaroni and cheese. You know, like not from a blue box. With bread crumbs on top. And real, actual cheese that came from a cow. And what did I do? This Gen-Xer turned her nose up. “No thanks grandma! I’ll take the stuff in the blue box with powdered cheese. Thanks though!”

My poor mother coaxed me to eat it by telling me this was homemade macaroni and cheese, and I should thank my grandmother for taking the time to make it. Bleh.

Like most of us, with age I’ve come to understand there is absolutely no contest between the boxed stuff and the real stuff. And I’m perfectly happy with just simple mac and cheese with pasta and cheese and maybe some onions and mustard powder. But last night I had about ten teeny tiny Sungold tomatoes and some proscuitto left over from this pizza recipe and, heck, who doesn’t like cheese + ham + tomatoes? Nobody in this house. Especially this guy:

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So, to get as much flavor out of the tomatoes as possible, I cut them in half, placed them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, sprinkled them with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and let them dry in the oven at 225 for about an hour. Of course, you can do this ahead of time, and put them in the refrigerator. If you have larger tomatoes, you’ll have to dry them longer; but these adorable little guys didn’t need much. For extra flavor, put some unpeeled garlic cloves on the cookie sheet too.

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For the macaroni and cheese, I always start with a roux, add milk, mustard powder, bay leaf, and onions, and finally the pasta and cheese. Grandma would be proud. For this recipe, I added the dried tomatoes, and their flavor had really concentrated after drying them. I also added two large slices of proscuitto, torn into small peices.

Making a roux

Making a roux

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Add milk, onions, and seasonings

Add milk, onions, and seasonings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Add the cheese, tomatoes and proscuitto

Add the cheese, tomatoes and proscuitto

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Bake this for about 30 minutes (or until it’s bubbling and the cheese on the top begins to brown) at 350 degrees. Rather than put the whole concoction in another casserole dish, I just bake it right in my *oven safe* dutch oven. It’s easier, and someone in this house (husband) doesn’t have to wash more than one dish. We like to keep the customers happy.
 
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By the way, dried tomatoes are great on pasta, on pizza, or just by themselves. Drying tomatoes is great for reviving icky winter tomatoes that don’t have much flavor. I got the idea from smittenkitchen.com.

 

Macaroni and Cheese with Dried Sungold Tomatoes and Proscuitto

Fills a small dutch oven or a small casserole dish (if you’re using a 13 x 9 dish, double the recipe. We love mac and cheese in this house, but that’s simply way too much for us).

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons all purpose flour

1 tablespoon powdered mustard

3 cups milk (I use skim, but feel free to go wild and use 2% or !! WHOLE!)

1 small onion, chopped

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 lb pasta (like elbow macaroni or penne)

12 oz of grated cheese that melts well (I always experiment with the cheeses, depending on what I have. Last night I had about a 3 oz mozzerella,  3 oz ricotta*, and about 6 oz of cheddar. My other favorites, if I remember to get them beforehand, are gruyere and fontina)

4 oz grated parmesean to sprinkle on top

 

  1. Heat water (plus dash of salt) in large pot and cook pasta–I usually take it off the heat about 2 minutes earlier than the directions call for since it will continue to cook in the oven.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  3. Melt butter in dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat. When melted, add the flour and mustard and whisk continuously for about 5 minutes
  4. Add milk, onion, paprika, and bay leaf, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally
  5. Once milk has thickened a bit, add the all the cheese except for the parmesean
  6. Stir in the cooked pasta and mix it well until the cheese is all melted
  7. Mix in the proscuitto and tomatoes
  8. Sprinkle grated parmesean on top
  9. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes or until the mac and cheese is bubbly and browning on top.

*ricotta does not necessarily melt well, but it is a soft cheese and is tasty even if, in the end, it isn’t thoroughly melted.

I promise not all my posts are going to be pasta and/or pizza with lots of cheese (though there is plenty of that!). I’ll get some lighter things on here soon. My rule of thumb is, when I make something heavy, I eat 1/2 a portion and save the rest for leftovers.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

When I think of cheesemaking, I think of sitting under a cow or goat for fresh milk, stirring said fresh milk in a giant heated vat, and adding enzymes that I would buy, um, where exactly does one buy enzymes?  But thanks to David Lebovitz and Simply Recipes, I realized that making ricotta cheese at home is frighteningly easy (frighteningly because I’ll be making it every night!).

Making ricotta cheese, step one.

Not cheese yet

All you have to do is bring whole milk, whole milk yogurt, vinegar, and salt to a boil and let the mixture gently boil for one or two minutes.

Almost cheese

Almost cheese

Take some cheesecloth (which you can buy at pretty much any grocery store), and place it inside a large bowl. Pour the mixture in the bowl, making sure the edges of the cheesecloth stay above the mixture.

Take up the cheese cloth, draining the whey from the curds, and tie it (you may need an extra pair of fingers) to a long spoon or spatula. Hover it over a deep bowl (mine wasn’t quite deep enough) or the sink (as above). Let it drain for about 15 minutes. You can serve it immediately, put it on pizza or pasta, or put it in the refrigerator for up to three days.

 

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Homemade ricotta is much much better than any ricotta you get from the grocery store. It has a fresh, milky smell, and is perfect on this recipe for pizza with fresh vegetables and proscuitto. I’ve also used it in muffins (gasp!) to replace buttermilk or sour cream. If you do use it as a replacement for these, just make sure you balance the recipe out by adding a bit more milk so it doesn’t get too dense.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese (adapted only slightly from Simply Recipes

Makes 2 cups

2 quarts whole milk

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (I use Fage)

Optional: 1/2 cup heavy cream (I did not use this, but if anyone does, tell me how you like it)

2 teaspoons white vinegar

1 1/4 teaspoons salt (the original recipe calls for 1 tsp. of salt, but I thought it could have used more)

Pizza with Sungold Tomato Sauce, Three Cheeses, and Proscuitto

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Pizza is a giver when it comes to providing a delicious and healthy meal that can be changed up each and every time you make it. A lot of times, when people make homemade pizza they want it to taste like the traditional brick-oven or carryout pizza, and when it doesn’t, they are disappointed. I’ve learned that you cannot treat homemade pizza like brick-oven pizza (unless you have a brick oven, which I do not). Homemade pizza is its own creature, and Glenn and I have discovered that we like it better than most pizzas we get out. I make it many different ways depending on what we have, but I always start with a good crust.

Definitely take the time to make a homemade crust–it is absolutely worth it. I use my Kitchenaid stand mixer, which makes it easier, but of course you can do this with a hand mixer or spoon. Because the dough has to rise for an hour, I make the dough as soon as I get home from work (it takes about 10 minutes at the most), then while it’s rising, I prepare the toppings or do something else that I have to do. All you have to do then is roll out the dough onto a pizza stone or a small cookie sheet greased with olive oil. I like to sprinkle some uncooked corn grits onto the pan too, to give the dough a bit of texture, but it’s not necessary. Also, I double the recipe and freeze half the dough, so the next time all I have to do is remember to get it out of the freezer before I leave for work. Yeah, I admit that’s hard sometimes.

While your dough is rising, make the Sungold Tomato Sauce. Whenever my husband would come home with these tiny little Sungold tomatoes, the only thing I could think to do with them was to put them on salads. Booooring. I decided to try a tomato sauce with them. Can you guess what the problem with that is? Well, lots of tiny tomatoes come with lots of tiny skins, so you end up having a sauce that’s almost all skins. And am I going to sit around and peel 4 cups of tiny little Sungolds? Dang it, I’m just not.

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So, I decided to use one of my most favorite kitchen appliances to help me out. But… you’ll have to wait a minute for that. Stick with me here, folks.

In a medium saucepan, I sauteed an onion, carrot, stalk of celery, and garlic in olive oil, then added about 4 cups of the Sungolds and some basil from my garden. Really, you can guesstimate here…it doesn’t have to be exact. 

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Saute everything on medium heat for about 30 minutes–until the tomatoes have all softened and lost their shape. Add salt and pepper. Then, pour the sauce into a blender or food processor. Since my food processor died a couple of weeks ago, I used a blender and it worked great. Oh yeah, I love blenders. They are so powerful for such little appliances. And in this case, it totally took care of all those skins, just processing them into the yummy, tangy pulp that they turned into.

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Spread the sauce over the dough. I used about a 1/2 cup of sauce and froze the rest for later. On top of that, add about 8 oz of fresh mozzerella, about a 1/2 cup of homemade ricotta, and shavings of good parmesean–maybe about 10 shavings or so. Top with about 1/2 cup of Sungolds, sliced in half. Place about 2 slices of good proscuitto, torn apart, evenly on top. Add more if you like pork!

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Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the crust starts to brown around the edges and all the mozzerella has melted.

Pizza is great to experiment with, and it will hold almost any kind of topping you can think of. Pair sweet or tangy things (tomatoes) with salty ones (proscuitto). If you don’t have time to make sauce, just slice the tomatoes in half and place them on the dough with a little olive oil and cheese. You can’t go wrong…

 

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Basic Pizza Dough

Makes crust for one small pizza (this feeds two people)

1 2/3 cups flour (plus extra if you knead it by hand)

1 /2 teaspoon salt

1 package active dry yeast

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup warm water

Mix the dry ingredients, and add the wet ingredients and mix well. Knead for 10 minutes or use the dough hook on your stand mixer. Rub some olive oil over the dough, and place it in a bowl covered with a clean towel. Allow to rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until it has doubled in size.

 

Sungold Tomato Sauce (you can use pretty much any tomatoes for this)

1/4 cup olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

about 4 cups Sungold tomatoes (plus or minus)

a handful of basil leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and saute for a minute or two (don’t let the garlic brown). Add the tomatoes and basil.

Allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes or until the tomatoes have lost their shape. Add salt and pepper.

Blend or process mixture for about a minute in a blender or food processor.

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