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Posts Tagged ‘simple’

My Wednesday evenings are one night of the week where both of my guys are gone, and I have been really treasuring the ‘Alone’ time, pampering myself with candlelight, a glass of wine, classical music and usually some simple meals that are for my mouth only. Do you eat differently when you’re alone? And I don’t mean standing over the sink munching on peanut butter off a spoon, or eating dry cereal by the handful while watching TV, what I mean is, do you take the time to really nurture yourself with good food when you’re alone? Because you should. It’s delightful, really. And with the way most people seem to cram their lives with activity and movement, some time alone is one aspect of our lives that we so desperately need. I know that for myself, I thrive on having some time that is just mine. And my life is pretty simple too; I don’t have much now that pulls me in every direction but that doesn’t change my need to be with myself, to remember what I like and enjoy, to be kind to the ‘Me’ that I know, to who I am. I’ve been this way ever since I can remember.

So my Wednesdays are a treasure. It’s my time to let go a deep sigh as I take in the empty house, and peruse the fridge for a few simple ingredients to fill my tummy. Since I won’t be off-putting to my egg-hating husband, many of these meals will include the cooking of eggs. One week it was a spicy dish of cooked chorizo and potato, topped with a hard-cooked egg, there was the phenomenal and by far most popular of blog posts when I made the shirred eggs in potato skins- that occurred on my solo Wednesday evening, and then just recently, with the desire to make something unique, I created a roasted rutabaga and poached egg dish that was divine, yet so simple and amazing.

(I tell you, I am happy this winter light seems to be gone!)

I need to confess something about eggs; while I love them dearly, and really, think that it is one food item that I will never give up eating, I have been rather stubbornly affixed to only consuming them when cooked good and solid. I’ve had an aversion to the soft yolk ways for as long as I can recall, and I simply can’t say why. I don’t care for them scrambled either, and no matter how well they’re scrambled, so soft and pillowy and silky smooth, I just won’t eat them. I think it must be the texture. As I’ve grown and watched my food tastes change, the one aspect of it that I’ve noticed is that formerly despised foods were all about texture over flavor. Still, as I can now manage mushrooms, squash, tomato, avocado and a host of other goodies that were once verboten on my table, I draw the line at scrambled eggs. Still, the fact that I just knew this roasted rutabaga dish required a poached egg, that I then went ahead and made, beautifully, is huge growth for this egg lover. And I may never look back again.

The roasted rutabaga has become, at this latest stage of winter, a rather treasured foodstuff. That and parsnips are slowly integrating themselves into my life and I welcome them warmly. I diced the rutabaga into small pieces and tossed them with some oil and seasoning and set the pan in a 400° oven. I stirred them once, and about 20 minutes later, they were toasty and browned, smelling fantastic. The egg poaching method is standard; a pan of water with a teaspoon of white vinegar, bring to a boil, create the vortex in the center and slip the egg into it, reduce heat and allow to cook to your desired stage. I made two, and they were both perfect. As was the evening, alone and content.

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What’s that, you say? Ajvar? Is it AHJ-VAR? AGG-VAR? How do you say it?? And what the heck is it?!?

It’s delicious, delightful, piquant, sweet and when spread on a toasted pita, a tiny slice of food heaven. The origin is Balkan in nature, and it shares it’s etymology with caviar, although there is no fish roe involved.

And it’s pronounced EYE-VAR. As with most foods that pass through this little blog of mine, it has a story. A pricey one. And it goes like this.

I love ethnic foods, and the more eclectic and unique the ethnicity is, the better I like it. I’m happy to browse any manner of unusual food market I come across, my eyes trailing the shelves, fingering the ingredients found there and trying to determine if I know what is is, first and foremost, and if I can take it home and use it. I am so blessed to live in a very culturally diverse city, and within many channels and pockets of the population one can find amazing stores full of ingredients that will elevate simple home dining. In the middle eastern market that I frequent in Columbia Heights, where the pita bread is often so fresh that the bags are still warm, I came across a jar of a bright red condiment that caught my eye. Roasted red peppers, roasted eggplant, garlic, oil. Oh my, what’s not to love? Despite the hefty price tag, I took one home. Big mistake.


I toasted some of that wonderful pita bread and slipped it through the bowl of bright red Ajvar in front of me, lifting it to my mouth. I was lost. I fell hard and fast for this sweet, somewhat spicy and cool relish. Mixed with a bit of plain yogurt, I could eat it night or day. And I did. I made pilgrimages back to that market for more bread, for more Ajvar. The price always got me, but I forged on. I loved the stuff. But like all good things, bested as they can be by economic downturn, I had to suspend my tastebuds desire for it and stop driving back to that store to buy another jar.

But I didn’t forget. There would be a day to enjoy it again. I was certain of it.

Like for many, that economic downturn hasn’t really let up it’s grip on us, and being the case, I’ve yanked up the bootstraps and found ways to further stretch the dollars and yet not go without some of the foods I really love. But it took coming across a superbly simple recipe for Ajvar to prompt me into actually making this at home.

What could be simpler than roasting vegetables to a nice rich blackened state and running my big knife over them? Because, you know, when looking at this, I yet again get that feeling that I wish I hadn’t waited so long.

Ajvar
recipe source unknown (somewhere in Internet land)

1 large eggplant, sliced in half the long way
2 red bell peppers, split in half and de-seeded
2-4 garlic cloves (optional)

Preheat oven to 450° and adjust one rack to the lowest level in your oven. Cover a baking sheet with foil and spray the foil with cooking spray. Place the vegetables cut side down on the sheet and lightly mist the tops with cooking spray. This is optional, but I find it helps with the charring.

Roast the vegetables on the lowest rack until the tops of the peppers are black and wrinkly, and the eggplant has softened. Depending on your oven, this could take anywhere from 15-30 minutes, or maybe more. Check regularly to monitor. If your house is like mine, you may need to de-activate your smoke detector. This is a fragrant and hot process.

Remove the sheet when the veggies are ready and allow to cool completely. At this point, you can either place them in a food processor to blend, or simply mince them on a cutting board. I used the cutting board and my big chef’s knife. It took me about 2 minutes. Place minced veggies in a bowl, add about 1/4 cup of good quality olive oil, and then season to taste with salt and pepper. If you want it spicy, feel free to add crushed red pepper, or if you can find it,  ground szechuan peppercorns would be amazing in this. I prefer mine on the mild side. It can be served room temperature, but the flavor will develop after a day or two in the fridge.

Eat it with toasted pita, carrots, or spread on hearty crackers. It tastes wonderful when mixed with a little plain yogurt too. I also think it would be delicious served over pasta.

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There are certain foods that are superstars of nutritional value, simple to prepare and easy on the pocketbook yet are really kind of ugly ducklings in terms of aesthetics. If we eat with our eyes first and foremost, and if we didn’t know that these foods were not only powerhouses in being good for us AND very tasty as well, we would take one look at them and likely turn away in scorn. Take lentils for example. These tiny legumes are so rich in the good things we need for our bodies. But I imagine there’s a huge population of people simply turned off by their unfortunate lot in the food world beauty contest. Cooked to perfection and placed in a bowl, they resemble more a pile of mud than something amazing you want to eat.

Now doesn’t that sound delicious?! Can’t wait to dig in!

I do get it. Really, I do. If it wasn’t for the copious amounts of fragrant dhals and mounds of aromatic Indian food that I’ve come to adore in my life, I might not exactly be in the Lentil Fan Club. But I am. And I think that everyone should. As legumes go, the lentil is one that you can take from dried form to beautifully cooked with hardly a second thought. Even the largest brown lentils will cook up nicely in about 20-30 minutes, the smaller pink and red ones turn delightfully smooth even faster, making the lentil a smart choice to keep on hand for a hearty meal. With added vegetables, it turns into a perfect soup. Served over rice, maybe with a salad and you’ve got a complete meal. Add in one of the heady fragrant spices of Indian cuisine, such as fenugreek or cumin -or in this case, both- and you’ve got a delicious creamy, slightly spicy and overall compelling meal with little more than boiling some water and a measuring spoon or two.

By far and away my favorite lentil is the French Puy, also known as the French Green lentil. It’s smaller than the brown, larger than the more colorful red and pink and will also cook up easily, all the while retaining it’s shape more without turning mushy. While the mushy lentil does have it’s place, I really prefer some texture to them. The Puy has a somewhat higher price tag than the brown, but I think it’s worth it. The flavor too, is deep and earthy, a bit more intense over the somewhat gritty taste I’ve come across in the brown.

My first exposure to lentils was as a wee lass in elementary school. Our schooling, up until I was in 5th grade, centered mostly around a loosely defined cooperative that rented space in an old Catholic school building. We had some pretty progressive education, I guess these days it ties in best with home schooling, and one year we did volunteer work at the Renaissance Festival in a soup booth, making both Beet Borscht and Lentil Soup. I did not like the lentil soup much, but I was a kid. Forgive me for thinking it was odd among my usual repertoire of fish sticks and Rice-a-Roni.

Then in college, I had a roommate for a time who was a vegetarian and loved to cook. On occasion I would tag along with her on her trips to The Wedge Co-Op, back in the long ago days when it was so tiny that barely two people could stand in any aisle. I often had no clue about the foods she would buy but I asked her endless questions and when she cooked she would share some of her meals with me. One meal was lentils, and although I didn’t fall down in love with them, I had a better idea of them than what my childhood memories had given me. Still, it took cementing my love of Indian food for me to begin actually making them at home. Once I did discover how good they could be, really there’s no stopping me now. If only I could convince The Teen to try them.

One of these days, maybe.

Dhal with Green Lentils
adapted slightly from The Curry Book by Nancy McDermott

1 c. french puy green lentils, rinsed and sorted
4-5 c. water
1 t. ground turmeric
1 t. fenugreek seeds, crushed
1/2 t. ground cayenne
2 t. cumin seeds
3 cloves finely minced garlic
2 T. finely minced fresh ginger
1 medium onion, finely minced
1 medium tomato, chopped

In a large saucepan, bring 4 cups of the water and lentils to a boil. Skim off any foam that may form. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the turmeric, fenugreek and cayenne. Allow to simmer, uncovered, until lentils are tender- approximately 25-35 minutes. You may need to add more water as the lentils cook to prevent them from sticking.

When lentils are tender, heat a small skillet over medium heat with oil of choice. Add the cumin seeds and cook until they become dark and fragrant, and begin to pop. Add in the onion, garlic and ginger and reduce the heat, sauteing gently and stirring occasionally until the vegetables are soft, about 5-7 minutes. Stir the mixture into the lentils and blend well. If the lentils are soupy, you can raise the heat and simmer the mixture to reduce the liquid. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn and stir it to keep blended. When cooked to your desired consistency, stir in the tomato. It will thicken slightly as it stands. Season with salt if desired.

NOTE: It’s unlikely you can find fenugreek in anything other than seed form. To crush them, use a dedicated spice grinder if you have one, or place them in a sealed plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin, a meat tenderizer or other hard implement. The seeds are pretty solid. Don’t be surprised if doing it by hand requires slight effort. It’s totally worth it for the flavor.

This dish definitely gets better with some time to sit in the fridge. It can be made with the smaller colored lentils but keep in mind that the cooking time will be much quicker, and it will have a different texture. One cup of red lentils will need less water, about 3-4 cups.

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Last year wasn’t my favorite year. Come to think of it, 2008 tossed some bombs my way and it all seemed to carry over, spreading out over time and trying to suck all the life out of me at every turn. As 2010 approached, and I looked back on the 12 months behind me, it was a bit sad to see that I’d paid far too much attention to the valleys in my life, and forgot to take in the view from the peaks.

Life is all about valleys and peaks. We’re up, we’re down and when we’re not, there’s the climbing out of the abyss and of course, slipping as we fall back into it. Sometimes our peaks are long, straight paths that resonate with light and glory, and we feel great. For a long time. Life is good and we breathe easy. But we slip, once more. The valleys can be dark. It’s hard sometimes to keep remembering that it doesn’t last forever. I’ve struggled to keep my chin up, part of me wishing fervently that this time of trial would just end already because really, I’ve had quite enough, thank you. Then I always realize that I’m climbing once again.

One aspect of 2010 that I’ve really wanted to do more of was to keep focused on the good, even when it seemed like there was nothing but darkness all around me. Fortunately, we’re only 6 weeks in, and what few dark moments that presented themselves passed rather quickly. It’s exciting to see the Earth changing around me, to notice with delight that there is still light at 5:45pm, that the tilt of the sun has changed enough to make 15° in February feel way different than it did in January. Or December. We’ve been absolutely dumped on in terms of the snowfall, and it’s given us quite a gorgeous landscape to look out over, and some stellar cross-country skiing. But beyond the natural turn that is happening, and the shorter amount of time between us and the arrival of Spring, it seems like there’s a whirlwind of good happening around me too. I hope to be able to share much more of what it entails as it pans out, but right now it’s slowly starting to twirl, like a tentative pirouette, moments of time pressing together and gradually expanding that are quietly whispering “Soon. Be Patient.”

The famous poem ‘Desiderata’ by Max Ehrmann has a line that says “… and whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” For a long time it just never felt clear to me, it felt more like I was standing still while the world twisted and moved on around me. That’s changing, as is my perspective and I’m grateful. I’ve had this sensation inside me for a while now that I’m standing at the edge of a cliff, and everything in me knows that I just have to leap despite the voice in my head that’s saying “No- step back! You’re really scaring me!” I’m in my Indiana Jones moment, on the edge of that precipice. And this is my leap of faith. There is a bridge there that will catch me, even though I can’t see it.

There is one aspect of this extended time of trial in my life, and that is being available to just stop and enjoy those tiny moments along the way that can be so easily overlooked. Sitting down for a cup of tea one day really opened my eyes as the square cup seemed to fill my hands so perfectly. Moments of clarity that come from spending days with my almost 2-year old niece Nina,losing track of myself for awhile as I see life through her eyes. A Fall hike on a misty day that seems to leave the world around me at a standstill, smothered in the thick, wet air.

And with food too. Simple, easy and nourishing; stopping myself long enough to savor my lunch or an afternoon snack, taking the time to taste, smell and appreciate what’s in front of me.

I’ve spoken out for these garlicky white beans before, urging you to try them and fall in love with their simplicity like I have, the endless ways they can be dressed up as a quick yet nutritious meal. One bright and sunny afternoon I set out to simply stir together this favorite of mine, and as I perused the pantry, fridge and countertop, I reached for a can of tuna, half an avocado and some washed spinach, which when paired this time with lime zest and juice instead of lemon, made yet another winning combination. Great taste, good for the body and with the first few bites, apparently very good for the soul.

White Bean and Tuna Salad
by Kate

1 15-oz can great northern beans, drained and well rinsed
1 3-oz can of tuna, drained
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or minced
1/2 a ripe avocado, diced
1 c. fresh spinach, washed and chopped
Lime zest and juice to taste

Fresh thyme (optional)

In a medium skillet, warm about 3 tablespoons of oil and add garlic, sauteing gently until lightly browned. Add in the beans and tuna and warm, stirring to combine. When hot and steaming, add about half the spinach and stir until wilted slightly. Repeat with remaining spinach. Grate in some of the lime zest and squeeze in about 2 tablespoons of the juice. Stir and taste. Season with salt and pepper, more lime zest and juice if desired. Remove from heat and scrape into a bowl. Add the avocado and gently mix it in. Sprinkle with thyme and serve warm with rye crackers if you wish, or toasted pita bread.

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Winter weekends sure can be a mixed blessing. You’ve got an entire day spread out in front of  you with endless possibilities; time on your hands and hours to make just the way you want, and yet, if you’re like those of us in Minnesota, you often wake on those long days to crackling cold air and sunshine thats full of promise but delivers nothing in warmth.

Those are the days that just require waffles.

There’s something about a crisp and aromatic waffle that deems it a culinary perfection for a chilly winter morning. A morning that you know needs to lead to a productive day. A morning where the coffee pot seems to be endlessly working, where your pajamas are often more desirable than a pair of blue jeans, mornings such as one that finds you casually sipping your brew, and noticing that the bright sunshine has highlighted your neglect of the vacuum cleaner, the dustmop and a Swiffer cloth or two.

I’m sure others can relate, right?

I grew up with Sunday morning waffles. It was eagerly anticipated to come down the stairs to the pungent scent of the percolator on the stove as it bubbled away, competing with the creaky old waffle iron, hissing emphatically, cranking out perfect rectangles of golden hued delectable treats. I do love pancakes, especially ones that stray off the beaten track of breakfast food; pancakes with shredded apples and yogurt in them, bananas and pecans in a whole wheat pancake, chocolate chip flecked ovals cooked to soft perfection and then topped with summer cherry sauce. Pancakes even spread with peanut butter and eaten out of hand. Oh, do we know about pancakes in this house, yes we do. But waffles, why there is really no other means needed to enjoy them other than good butter and syrup, because the waffle, in all it’s dented glory is the perfect palate to top with a few slices of cold butter and then drizzle warm maple syrup over to run through tunnels, cubes and edges to dress them in sweet buttery delight. Those edges crunch, the syrup absorbs and the bites come together in the mouth, a marriage to linger over, knife and fork in hand, coffee to the side. I’ll eat pancakes for dinner, and often we do, but waffles are strictly breakfast, and best on the weekends when their sturdy personality buoys you up for the long day ahead.

And who wouldn’t love the crunchy and wholesome addition of some cornmeal to the waffle?

I’ve made cornmeal studded pancakes before, and really, they’re pretty good and all, but there’s something about the added crunch of cornmeal on batter placed in the waffle iron that just sort of gets me right there. I don’t know how to describe it any more than that. And when I came across the recipe for these crunchy beauties on Kristin’s lovely blog, somehow I knew I would adore them like a treasured memory so I put together a double batch. People, I made waffles for hours, it seems. Hours. Did I care? Oh no, not at all. You see, after I made the first one and dressed it appropriately, I consumed it with gusto. My tummy, loving the introduction of it, politely asked for another. And I complied. The batter seemed endless, but I stockpiled waffles for the next few days and two packs to go into the freezer. We are happily away in waffle ecstasy. Don’t bother to look for us, ok? We’ll be fine, really and I will come back when they’re gone and do it all over again.

Oh yeah, and after I ate that delicious breakfast, it spurred me on to clean my house from top to bottom and boy, did it look nice in the dazzling but cold winter sunshine then. All thanks to a perfect little cornmeal waffle.

Buttermilk Cornmeal Waffles
(from Kristin at The Kitchen Sink Recipes, slightly adapted from Gourmet magazine)

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)
1 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stoneground
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
6 tablespoons vegetable oil plus additional oil for brushing waffle iron

Into a large bowl sift together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Repeat sifting 2 more times.

In another large bowl whisk together eggs, buttermilk, and oil. Add flour mixture all at once and whisk just until combined.

Preheat a waffle iron and preheat oven to 200 °F.

Brush waffle iron lightly with additional oil. Spoon batter into waffle iron, using 1/4 cup batter for each 4-inch-square standard waffle and spreading batter evenly, and cook according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer waffle to a baking sheet and keep warm, uncovered, in middle of oven. Make more waffles with remaining batter in same manner, brushing waffle iron with more oil before adding each batch.

Serve waffles with syrup.

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It’s not often that I wish something so rich, so decadent and addicting on my readers. Me, of the ‘You should try this quinoa!’ and ‘Have you ever had such amazing black beans!’ and “Ooooh! Soup!‘ posts that gently encourage health through your food and yet when I come across such an incredible recipe for hot fudge sauce, something that takes all of about 10 minutes to make for an indulgent return of gasping through each sultry chocolate-y mouthful, here I am devilishly trying to get you all to break those hard-core resolutions with a spoon and a wink. On top of ice cream, even.

But please do so, if you are so inclined. While I am a firm believer in taking control of one’s health, of making the changes in your body and spirit that give you the wherewithal to pump your fist in the air and shout “YES!” when you step on the scale, or easily slip those old jeans over your hips,  at the same time I also emphatically feel that we can’t achieve our successes when we deprive ourselves of everything in the name of health. Life should be about balance. Enjoy some hot fudge, really enjoy it but not every day and for Pete’s sake, please share it with those you love because that’s what food is all about, isn’t it? The look on their faces when they spoon the first deep dark bite into their mouths and run their tongues over the silky smooth sauce and you’ll be fist-pumping for yet another reason because you totally made someone’s day. Make that one of your resolutions this year too, hmmm?

Decadent Hot Fudge Sauce
(from The Silver Palate Cookbook, with adaptations)

4  1-oz squares unsweetened Bakers Chocolate
3 T. unsalted butter (NO substitutions- be WILD people!)
2/3 c. water
1/3 c. sugar
1/3 c. light corn syrup
Pinch sea salt
1 T. pure vanilla extract (or get even more crazy and add real rum, cognac, amaretto……you get the idea)

In a small saucepan over very low heat, melt the chocolate and butter together. Do not stir, but occasionally agitate the pan to distribute the heat. Alternately, you can use a double boiler. In another small pan, bring the water to a boil.

When the chocolate is fully melted, pour the boiling water into it, then stir in the sugar and corn syrup. Stir to combine and bring back to a boil. Reduce the heat so that it simmers gently, but not violently, and allow to boil for about 10 minutes. You can stir it occasionally, but it’s really not necessary. After 10 minutes, remove it from the heat and stir in the flavoring. Allow to cool for 20 minutes or so, then spoon it over ice cream.

This can be chilled too, and reheated in the microwave. Stir to combine before serving. Enjoy it immensely.

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Well now…..how do I follow up on those amazing shirred eggs? What epitome of blogging can I reach, after a feature on The Kitchn page of Apartment Therapy, days in a row of well over a thousand hits per day on the blog, a Twitter post that ran rampant with RT’s and an endless run of traffic to my Flickr page?

By posting about meatballs. Whooo boy….I know how to maintain a mighty pace, don’t I? Maybe I should create a meatball with a baked egg inside of it. Life would be good then, wouldn’t it? I might just go out on top, revel in all that eggy glory. My husband would be even more thrilled then. (psssst…..he hates eggs. The popularity of that egg post was almost too much for him.)

So I had put off posting on these meatballs, even though they were a reality back when the calendar read 2009, because, well….they’re meatballs. They’re not that inspiring. Good thing those eggs came along to beat it off the top of the queue.  There are some people to whom a meatball is worthy of culinary greatness, but really, they’re nothing more than chunks of meat and seasonings, baked to perfection, seared in a skillet or simmered in potent broth. Not too special, are they?  And once finished they don’t really stand up and pose all that well. Photographing them wasn’t exactly the most anticipatory item on my To-Do list. I was too busy being gape-mouthed at what madness had been stirred up by those eggs.

But then, I remembered how these meatballs tasted. Oh Lord, they were delicious.

But they normally would join soup, stew and chicken as the dishes that I just can’t make myself photograph, and yet for whatever reason, once I put these on a plate and adjusted the light in the room, they really jumped out at me and made themselves heard. Good thing, I suppose, as the January issue of Bon Appétit magazine boldly claims the humble Meatball as it’s Dish of the Year and throws out no less than five ways to make them for yourself. As if we need any proof. Commencing Meatball Education 101.

Simply because I love the name Albondigas, as the Spanish apparently call a meatball, I zeroed in on that recipe to start my more thorough meatball training, which may be furthered through Spicy Pork Meatball Banh Mi, a delightful All’amatriciana meatball dish, the Lamb Köfte and then end, happily stuffed by all things meat, tiny and round, with the Morrocan Meatball Tagine. I’m pretty sure that Griffin will be glazing over in joy when our lessons are finalized.

Is it possible that having a good background helps with proper meatball photography?

The original recipe in the magazine is an Ancho Chile Soup with Poblano Albondigas, but I knew that those little orbs of ground meat and roasted poblano chiles would be just as delicious all on their own, and with some young house-guests coming for a few days, I needed something simple, but filling, and desirable to both the youngest, who was not quite two years old, and both the adults.

These meatballs had immense flavor from the cumin and oregano, and the subtle flavor of roasted chiles. I think a roasted jalapeno would really make these more intense. Instead of making them in a soup, I baked them under a layer of fire-roasted tomato sauce, and to give them some substance, I added about a cup of rice to the meat mixture. Our sweet niece Nina ate so much of it that she languished happily on my lap, her toddler belly stuffed and round, satiation apparent on her cherubic face, and her 9-year old brother, who initially shook his head at the offering actually went back for seconds. Our meatball learning has happily begun.

Poblano Albondigas
From Bon Appétit magazine, January 2010

2 large, fresh poblano chiles, split in half, cored and seeded
1# ground beef (15% fat recommended)
1/2 c. coarsely grated zucchini
1/4 c. finely grated onion
1/4 c. Panko breadcrumbs
1 large egg, beaten to blend
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 t. dried mexican oregano
1 T. ground cumin
1/2 t. kosher salt

Heat oven to Broil. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and lay the peppers on it. Spray the peppers. Broil, watching closely, until skins are charred and blackened. Remove from oven and place in bowl, then cover with plastic wrap. Allow to steam until cool, then peel the charred skin away and finely chop the peppers.

Mix beef with peppers and remaining ingredients. Using moistened hands, shape mixture into 1″ balls, about a tablespoon each. Place on foil covered rimmed cookie sheet and bake at 375° until cooked through, about 20-25 minutes.

KATE’S NOTES:
I used ground turkey in place of the ground beef. You won’t get much fat run-off at all with that substitution. I did not have any zucchini on hand so I shredded some spinach and added that instead. It was a wonderful flavor. I think that adding some corn puree to this recipe would be amazing- half a cup of corn blended in a food processor with just enough liquid to make a coarse puree. If doing so, more breadcrumbs would be necessary to hold the mixture together. Hmmmm….next time?

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Those Sugar Plums, the ones that dance in the head during the long winter slumber in the most familiar Christmas story that’s likely ever been written. How did I get to be this age, with a teenager and a husband, long gone away from treasured annual reads of that classic story each year, the retelling of Santa’s magical visit, and not have any clue what a real sugar plum entailed? I want to kick myself.

Because, I’ll tell you something, and this is no small truth. Had I known about these delightful, sweet and simple little treats prior to this past week, how easy they are to put together and how eager and surprised everyone looks when you pull out a container and say “These are Sugar Plums. Yes! THOSE Sugar Plums!” I’m telling you, it would be all I need and I’d have been cranking out these nutty fruit-filled, orange-scented orbs the moment the calendar page flipped over to the month of Christmas.


My hope now is that I don’t go so far into overkill that I never want to see a dried apricot again. The delight and flavor and simplicity of these might possibly have that effect on me. Good thing Christmas is just a few days away. It’s a bit embarrassing, really, to be so interested in food of all kinds, the history of it, the stories it can tell and not be aware of this confection. But that’s what we have friends for, isn’t it? To enlighten us? To share the wealth?

And little could be simpler than combining rough-chopped nuts and dried fruit in a food processor along with honey and orange juice and whirring it all into an utterly fragrant crush of flavor. Even the rolling of the mixture was contemplative, as the sun warmed my backside and Miles Davis kept me company with his sultry trumpet. A late afternoon of putting together a Christmas fiction and ballet classic that I know I will love for years to come left me feeling a lot more festive than I have been lately. With the addition of a fragrant tree, dragged through a snowy wood, and boxes filled with a lifetime of memories and nostalgia also added some much-needed holiday spirit to my life. If all I need to do that is a few packages of dried fruit and some bags of nuts, then holidays from now on could become much more simpler. One can only hope, anyway.

Sugar Plums

Recipe from Field Guide to Candy by Anita Chu; Quirk Books, 2009    (and Susan)

2 cups almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup pitted dates
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
Unsweetened flaked coconut for rolling

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

2. Combine almonds, apricots, dates, cinnamon, and zest in a food processor and process into a finely ground mixture.

3. Add orange juice and honey, and combine until the mixture becomes a sticky ball.

4. Pinch off pieces of the mixture and form into 1-inch balls. Roll in coconut. Place on the baking sheet and chill for about 1 hour until firm.

KATE’S NOTES:
I used two cups equivalent of nuts, utilizing pistachios and pecans as well as almonds. It’s my holy trifecta of nutty favorites.  I might have used figs in place of dates, and on another go-round of this recipe, I probably will do just that along with dried cherries. The possibilities are endless for substitutions. Use raisins both black or gold, dried cranberries, currants, pineapple, mango. Other nuts like peanuts, walnuts, brazil nuts. Try it with lemon juice and zest for a different background of flavor.

I also added a teaspoon of ground nutmeg to the mix. Cinnamon and nutmeg are culinary best buds. They really get along so well together that it’s a shame to leave one out when the other is present.

I added a bit more honey and orange juice, as the amount in the recipe didn’t seem to be enough to make the mixture as sticky as it needed to hold together. Adjust it according to your taste preferences.

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{{{I’m doing my first guest post over at The LoveFeast Table today! Yeah!}}}

Apple Crisp is so Fall, so perfectly suited for the October-November loop, and so willing to apply anyone’s simple signature to it’s luscious ingredients that it has sort of gone beyond being a favorite dessert, becoming more like that old dear friend that never fails to bring sunshine to a dreary day.

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The smell of apples and cinnamon baking is a comfort that threads itself under your skin. It’s no surprise that the most popular of pies and scented candles are usually ‘Apple Pie’, long celebrated as All American and breathing remnants of home and Mom. Apple Crisp is simpler than pie, ready with a few turns of the peeler and knife, chunks of cold butter cut into crumbly flour and brown sugar to bake into a delicately scented crunch atop soft and juicy warm apples.

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The addition of crystallized ginger in this recipe is wonderful; a gentle hint of warmth and a touch of it’s sweetness made the crunchy topping extra flavorful. I’ve been making Apple Crisp since I was barely old enough to see over the top of our stove, and had to stand on a chair to be able to work the peeler, my Mom by my side watching to make sure I didn’t hack off a snippet of skin here and there. She showed me how to peel an apple whole, with a long dangling strip, and how to carefully carve out apple cores and slice them uniformly so they would bake evenly. Now I have a device that peels and cuts your apples all in the turn of a crank, making any kind of apple dish quick and easy. So when I was faced lately with a chilly night and an unidentifiable need in me to seek a little comfort, a good book and a warm plate of this crisp seemed to be in order. Just taking in the first thin whiffs of the aroma seeping from the oven took the edge off whatever empty spot had formed inside.  Apple Crisp was always a prominent item in our Fall kitchen, topped with cold ice cream releasing a thin river of creamy white over the still warm fruit. It’s a memory that tastes like home, if memories come with flavor which almost all of us know that they do. And maybe that night, I needed a memory to soothe me, the feeling of someone by my side watching over me. I know Mom would have loved this version as well.

I’m a nut for almonds – ha! pun intended- but there is little in terms of dessert items that I don’t think can be helped and favored by the addition of chopped almonds. For this recipe, I scattered chopped almonds over the apples in the pan before sprinkling on the topping, and also sifted the fine almond flour from the chopped pieces into the topping mixture to add even more flavor. To do so, just pour the chopped almonds into a wire sieve and shake it over whatever you wish.

Fabulous apple and almond flavor pours through every bite, whether topped with ice cream, whipped cream or yogurt……

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Or not……

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And yes, I did eat it for breakfast. Wouldn’t you?

Apple Crisp with Crystallized Ginger Topping
adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, via The Heavy Table

Kate’s Advice- Make the topping first. Your apples won’t turn brown that way.

Heat oven to 375°. Butter a 8″square baking dish, or equivalent and set aside.

For the topping:

3/4 c. AP flour
3 T. brown sugar
1 T. white sugar
2 T. crystallized ginger (I chopped mine fine- it would have been WAY chunky otherwise)
1/4 t. salt (omit if you use salted butter)
1/2 t. cinnamon
4 T. butter, cut into chunks

Mix all ingredients except butter in a bowl. Work the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until it’s relatively chunky. Don’t mix it down to a fine sand. Chill until ready to use.

5 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 T. white sugar
1 T. AP flour

Toss apples with flour and sugar and place in baking dish. Sprinkle topping over the apples and bake for 30-40 minutes or until filling is bubbly and top is browned.

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For those with an Iron Chef mentality, the one that can open a fridge or pantry, see half a dozen different items and create a meal from them in a few blinks of an eye, giving them a workable name can often be a lesson in futility.

Take this amazing and delicious, light and airy breakfast I made for myself lately. It defied definability.

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You see, while it looks like scrambled eggs all fluffy and moist, it was comprised mostly of roasted acorn squash and baked potato, with eggs stirred into it to extend it’s nutritional value. Plus, the thought of just eating leftover spuds and squash for breakfast, without a protein or complimentary option, like crazy-delicious wild rice sausage, would have been unthinkable. I mean, yeah I’ve done it. It just hasn’t lasted me all that long, causing the ‘Second Breakfast’ syndrome to rear it’s ugly head.

But it has no name. It has defied all appointed options, like Scrambled Squash, or mundane offerings like Breakfast Scramble- this ain’t no Denny’s here- and yet ever since I made it, tasted it, loved it and then subsequently devoured it like I was starving, I have wanted more. Another shot at greatness to see if my one-time deal was more than some kind of fluke.

This is what I did. I had half a roasted acorn squash, all creamy moist and tender, and a baked potato in it’s wrinkly jacket and I placed them in a bowl and mashed them well with a fork. I stirred in two eggs that had also been blended well, then whisked the entire mass until it was smooth and fully homogenized. I poured it into a pan and crossed my fingers. Soon it was setting, thanks to the eggs, and I turned it gently. It started to act like a frittata, but with a loftier personality. It snubbed it’s nose at scrambled eggs, and ignored any attempt to be an omelet. It cooked up beautifully and smelled incredible, and when I finally scraped the finished product into a bowl with the cooked wild-rice sausage- have I mentioned how I LOVE this item? No? Oh my……L.O.V.E- and sprinkled a bit of salt and pepper over it, my first bite was rapturous and even a bit other worldly.

It tasted of potato, and it tasted of egg. It combined the best of both those ultra-favorite breakfast items into one big glorious dish, and yet as I sat enjoying it, savoring each bite and mentally patting myself on the back at my genius, I could not, for the life of me, decide what to christen it.

So fellow food lovers and bloggers, any ideas???

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