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Archive for the ‘Just Thrown Together’ Category

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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It’s my new favorite, my breakfast to satisfy in so many ways and means. But there is also a thin measure of sadness when I make them, as I am the only one in my house that will ever be able to enjoy these. Mike doesn’t eat eggs- I know!- and Griffin doesn’t eat potato skins. I know! Who are these two? Sometimes, it befuddles me.

But it doesn’t stop me from enjoying a simple egg breakfast, or even dinner on my lone Wednesday evenings when the guys are both gone. I treasure those nights; an empty house, the music I love and a kitchen humming with singular possibilities. The food that I make for myself, for my ‘alone’ time is so different than what comes from the cookware on other nights. I can satisfy my appetite with nibbles of many different items, a bite of this or that, grazing from the fridge and pantry until my tummy says “Ahhh. Thanks. That’s good for now.” Maybe if it was how I supped all the time it would get old, possibly lonesome. But I don’t, so it balances those nights that Griffin charges down the stairs, hopping around in delight, and Mike comes beaming into the kitchen nearly singing “Something smells gooo-ood!”

But, about those eggs.

Baked eggs, well they’re nothing new. Called ‘Shirred Eggs’ if you want to get technical and all, you just place them in buttered ramekins or chafing dishes and set them in a hot oven until they are cooked to your liking. Dusted with salt and pepper, it’s a simple meal, especially if placed atop a slice of hearty rye bread, and maybe a slab of briny ham. Having a warm oven on to soothe the ravages of a bitter January night also makes them ever appealing. I had dropped a half dozen potatoes into the oven prior to running Griffin to his youth group night, and when I came home to a fragrant house, soft mealy potatoes and the desperate need to fill my gnawing mid-section, somehow the thought of a twice-baked potato morphed into a baked egg, encased in a crunchy potato skin and soon enough I was sighing happily through so simple and yet so great a repast that I could hardly believe it hadn’t been done before. But as I nibbled, sighed some more and gazed blithely at the scene on my plate, it saddened me to know that my family would never eat it. But if my Project365 Flickr friends are any indication, there is plenty of interest to be had out there, among the fervent internet web I have woven around this little blog.

Here’s what you do:

This dish requires nicely baked potatoes. You need skins that are good and sturdy to hold your egg. I like my baked spuds to be superbly soft and mealy and often bake them much longer than most people. The skins pucker, and they look like they’ve nearly collapsed inside. Be sure to have some potato size that will adequately hold an egg inside. The ones I baked were almost too small. Keep the oven on after the potatoes are done. Mine was set at 400°.

Once baked and cool enough to handle, slice the potato as if you plan to make Twice Baked- I cut a slip of skin off the top to make more of a cup-like shape. Scoop the interior- gently!  into a bowl and if you’re like me, add a small pat of butter, some good salt and a grind of pepper, and nibble on it while you make your eggs. Lay the bare potato skins on a baking sheet and place them back in the oven for maybe 5 minutes. This firms up the skin, making them more sturdy. I placed the skins in ramekins to help support them to hold the eggs, but that’s because mine were rather small. If yours are large enough, this won’t be necessary. Remember that if the skins tear or split, they won’t hold the raw egg.

Have a small measuring cup with a spout ready, and crack one egg in to it. Make sure your potato skin is already on the baking sheet. With the raw egg in it, it is difficult to move. Gently pour the egg into the skin. Season any way you wish. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake the egg until it is set to your liking. I am not a soft-set girl by any means, and I baked mine until they were very firm with only a small amount of soft egg left. The time needed will vary accordingly. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Top with cheese, bacon, seasoned bread crumbs- my way in the photos- or whatever suits your fancy. If firm enough, they can be sliced and eaten out of hand but I suggest sitting down with knife and fork, and quietly enjoying them with each rapturous bite.

And be sure to also use those slices you’ve cut away from the tops. With a bit of salt, they bake into the most delectable potato chip.

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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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Caramelized onions have become pretty common and ubiquitous. They’re everywhere, gleaming from tart crusts and mixed with all sorts of extras and I should be really tired of them, shouldn’t I?

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But I still find myself slicing an enormous pile of onions, ridiculous in it’s volume and placing them in my 25-year old skillet with the high sides to contain the mass. There’s a nice shimmery pool of olive oil and butter awaiting those translucent slices, and even though my mind is telling me that it’s way too much- did I really need to slice all five of those huge things?- I have to calmly tell myself that with patience and time, some brown sugar, a little kosher salt and a hundred or so turns of the spoon,  it will reduce itself appropriately to fit into a two-cup container. And it does. I must feel I have precious little else to do with my time but keep watch over a pan on the stove for an hour or so.

As the mass cooks and pops, and I stir, stir, stir and stir some more to cook them as evenly as possible, I find myself poking through the fridge to see what I can do to kick my inner Iron Chef into action. Sure, I may think that making a big pan of these burnished beauties is a fine idea, in reality, I often jump into a process of cooking with nary a hint of what my final outcome of that ingredient will be. But I am creative. Something always happens. I pull out the half decimated container of fresh sage leaves and wonder ‘Hey! Haven’t I heard something about frying sage leaves?’ and then I think that fried sage leaves would be amazing with those onions so pretty soon my house is even more fragrant and I find myself glad that I am home by myself at this point. It’s unfair to subject anyone to amazing cooking smells when you have no idea how you plan to utilize it all.

So let’s back up, shall we? There’s the onions, the fried sage leaves crumbled to crispy bits and a container of gorgonzola. All this combination really needs is some sort of vehicle to get it to my mouth. Crostini? A spoon? Fingers?

Flatbread? With spinach pesto??

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Somebody pinch me. I’ve created heaven. If I disappear for a bit in a daze of an herb and onion induced food coma, honed to razor sharp perfection by gooey gorgonzola, this might be why.

For the flatbread recipe, go HERE.

For the spinach pesto recipe, go HERE.

And if you’re looking for something really simple but with incredible flavor, make these garlic and lemon infused white beans, and then stir some of the onions into them. Hmmm…..this could be heaven too. It’s a toss-up.

Oh and then as if that wasn’t enough, I added them to roasted garlic and sauteed shrimp and lots of fresh herbs that went over delightfully toothsome whole grain pasta, and it turns out that something celestial happened right there in that dish as well.

Sorry….have I just made you hungry???

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Apple, Brie and Sweet Salty Praline Quesadillas
By Kate

One medium sized apple of choice, shredded and squeezed to remove excess moisture (I used Honeycrisp)
Two sliced Brie cheese
Sweet Salty Pralines (method follows)
Two Flour tortillas

In 8″ skillet, heat one tortilla until starting to crisp and brown. Remove to plate and add second tortilla to pan. While second tortilla heats, spread shredded apple over warmed tortilla on plate and top with pieces of Brie. Scatter pralines over the top. Cover with second tortilla and place back in pan. Reduce heat to low and cover, allowing to heat slowly. Carefully flip tortilla once during heating. When cheese is melted, place on plate and cut into wedges. Serve hot.

To make Pralines:

In a medium sized skillet, melt a tablespoon of unsalted butter over medium heat until foamy. Add in a cup of pecans and stir to coat. Cook, stirring regularly for about 2-3 minutes, then sprinkle in two tablespoons of brown sugar and one teaspoon of sea salt. Stir to coat pecans, breaking up any chunks that form. After a minute or two, carefully pour two tablespoons of water into the skillet and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring regularly, until syrup thickens and pecans are fully coated.  Pour onto a plate and spread to cool, being careful not to touch the caramel.

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Stone fruits are fickle little things. They can be at once a juicy sweet perfection, and yet also a rock hard, gritty and sour disappointment. They taunt us endlessly with their possibilities, rarely consistent and yet so tempting.

The tiny purple Italian prune plum has the means to bridge this gap between hope and despair in the mere fact that it simply begs to be cooked in order to reach full enjoyment. The flesh when raw is acceptable; it’s fairly sweet with a decent amount of juice, but given just a brief turn in a warm skillet and it becomes something sublime and intoxicating. Poach it with some deep red wine and the experience soars.

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These days I’m needing all I can get to fill the yawning gap inside me, brought about by Harmon’s cancer diagnosis. The turn to Fall is often one choked with melancholy for me; the loss of summer’s warmth and the mountains of fresh produce, the chill in the air and shutting down the flower beds. Our September has been more glorious than imaginable. We’ve been graced with warm and languid days followed by cool crisp nights that begged for open windows and a light blanket. In our semi-rural neighborhood of open fields and ponds, the geese have gathered in massive droves and flown their missions overhead by the hundreds with noisy and eye-catching appeal. The field mice are much more active, giving our intrepid hunter an endless supply of ‘gifts’ to try and bring to us. Baskets of winter squash are appearing in the Farmers Markets. There are shocks of color through the trees as the thick greens of summer give way to Autumn’s richly burnished palate. But I feel like I am in a state of flux. We just have no idea how the last course of Harmon’s life will go, and for me, I just want to be here with him soaking up what remains of our time together. I feel like Autumn will pass by my windows while I snuggle my old friend and begin to consider life without him. It’s slightly ironic, and painfully so that in this transition of seasons outside, within the walls of our life we are transitioning as well from life to death, a golden leaf withering in front of our eyes into the silence of eternal winter.

So the need for something to soothe is evident. I don’t want much these days, wishing for little effort in exchange for nutritional gain. There were delicious and knobby Oatmeal Sweet Potato Muffins that spoke of Fall, tinged with cinnamon and warmth. I found an extremely deep sense of comfort in a simple hard-boiled egg and warmed cooked potato sprinkled with a dusting of sea salt. A package of tiny gnocchi dumplings became  crispy and soothing after a sear in brown butter and topped with tender sage leaves, and in the midst of the past few days, where my tears have been so close to the surface that most anything can bring them springing to life, a few of these poached plums have been a perfect foil to fill the pit in my stomach that threatens to engulf me. I sneak them from the bowl in the fridge, where they sat silently as their original use for a delicious cake fell to the wayside while sorrow took over. After a few days, and some stealth tactics of enjoyment, I did manage to cook up a quaint and tiny little coffee cake, richly hued in these dark purple slabs, crunchy with almonds.

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This is a coffee cake unlike any coffee cake that I’ve known before. Thin, somewhat crisp, not too sweet and thoughtfully simple, is a lesson in cake’s alter ego, that which doesn’t comprise itself of towering airy layers sporting thick rolls of buttercream. It can shed that cloying nature, throw off the layer-icing-layer makeup and just be fabulous without fuss. You don’t even need rich and succulent wine soaked prune plums to make it; any ol’ plum will do, or perhaps a good firm pear or a gently caramelized apple.

Wine Poached Prune Plums
by Kate

Wash, split and pit any quantity of prune plums- I used a full container from the grocer; it probably had about 1-1/2# in it. In a deep skillet, combine 2 T. chunky fruit jam of choice (I used Thomson’s Sweet Cherry Preserves), 2 T. red wine (I used a syrah) and 2 T. of water. Heat gently to melt jam, stirring to combine everything. When warm and a few bubbles have been seen around the edges, add as many of the halved plums as you can, cut side down. Cook gently, without stirring, for about 5 minutes. Turn plums over. Cook about 2-3 more minutes and remove to a bowl. Add remaining plums and cook, adding to bowl when done. Pour any juices over the plums and gently turn to coat the fruit. Allow to sit as long as you can. The more time, the deeper the flavor. Chill in fridge.

Prune Plum Coffee Cake

3/4 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. sliced almonds (I had whole; I broke them up first)
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
6 T. butter
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 t. pure vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350°. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the sugar and almonds and process until almonds are ground. Add flour, baking soda and salt and pulse twice to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse sand. Add in egg and yolk and extract and pulse until combined. Spread batter in pan and top with poached plums, pressing them into the batter. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until cake is firm. Allow to cool for 15 minutes or more, then release the spring.

KATE’S NOTES:

This cake could be better, I’m sure of it. While always wary of using a food processor to make a batter, thinking that the spinning blades tend towards overkill more than gently combining, I would be interested in doing this in a different method. The cake, while good, was a bit dense. The batter quantity is small, and 40 minutes in the oven resulted in browned and crisp edges. I love that on a cake, but many don’t. It was, with it’s almond base and simple design, an amazing flavor. It might come out slightly better if baked in a loaf pan too. At any rate, there is much to experiment with this recipe.


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I’m not sure why, but I’ve been rather shy about mint in my cooking career. Did I have a traumatic experience with mint at some point in my life? The overdose on wintergreen Life Savers that I went through as a child? Why has mint not been forefront in my culinary dishes?

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I haven’t an answer, but as of late, I seem to be making up for lost time on the mint appreciation. It’s been all over the place.

I love it muddled in a glass with chilled green tea poured over it. I’ve shredded it into salads and sprinkled it in pilafs. I ate some over sweet melon chunks, sighing in contentment at the contrast in flavors. It’s wonderful mixed with fresh oregano in any corn dish (hint: leftover cooked fresh corn, cut from it’s cobs needs nothing more than fresh oregano, fresh mint, a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Toss it on a salad. You’re welcome)

Mint has been a regular in my fridge as of late and I’m only just beginning to understand the reaches to which this herb can go. A huge thick bunch is about $1.50 at the grocer, and wrapped in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag, it lasts for quite some time in my fridge. The last thing I ever thought I would be doing would be eagerly and gleefully searching out recipes that will include mint. Or making them up, as it turned out. Like this Lemon Mint Potato Salad with Green Beans.

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I browse hundreds of food sites, recipe sites and food information in any given week. I am always undertaking a study of food in all it’s glory from the amazing array of food blogs both stellar and odd, to the sites that talk food, culture, nutrition and diet. I know that somewhere in my browsing I came across a dish similar to this because it’s the only way I can think that it got into my brain at some point, and the mere action of holding onto a bunch of mint at the grocer made it jump front and center, to the spot where all my creativity pours out. It’s rare that I really smack a home-run the very first time creating a recipe from scratch, but this one worked. On all levels. The crunchy beans, moist potato and superbly tart and lemony dressing, with hints of mint and dijon mustard come together in a lovely symphony of simplistic eating. I was sad when I was full.

lemon mint potato salad collage

Lemon Mint Potato Salad with Green Beans
by Kate

1# ‘B’ Red potatoes, quartered and steamed to tenderness
1/2# fresh green beans, blanched and shocked to cool
1/2 c. fresh mint leaves, washed and dried
Juice of half a lemon
2 t. lemon zest
1/4 c. olive oil
1 T. dijon (or other brown, deli style) mustard
1 oz fresh goat cheese, crumbled
Salt and pepper

Place potato and beans in a medium bowl. In a small measuring cup, whisk together lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, mustard, goat cheese and 2 T. of the mint until smooth and creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. It will be very tart and lemony, with a subtle mustard zing. Pour over potato mix and gently stir to coat. Serve room temperature or chill for an hour or more before serving. Top with mint leaves and extra salt and pepper before serving.

SIDE NOTE:
The kind folks at Ile De France cheese regularly send me free cheese to try at home, and I am very grateful for their generosity. The goat cheese used in this recipe is one of their offerings, a 10.5 oz chunk that is fresh and flavorful, with a subtle hint of herb and grass and a terrific texture that crumbles easily, melts superbly and whisks smooth in any number of options. It lasts for a good long time wrapped up properly. Thanks so much Ile De France!!

iledefrance

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