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Festive Summer Supper

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Check out this recipe from the Williams-Sonoma cookbook called School Night: Dinner Solutions for Every Day of the Week. “Mediterranean Shrimp with Feta, Olives, &  Oregano” has a few things going for it:

  • Healthy.
  • Good for company, good for the fam.
  • Mostly assembly and one dish, plus a sauce pan of couscous.
  • Shrimp! Olives! Feta! Yum!
  • Fresh herbs! But dried oregano works too.
  • I made it for my dad on Father’s Day. Good vibes. Make it for someone you love.

Materials

  • Colander
  • Sheet pan
  • Paper towels or cling wrap
  • Medium saucepan
  • Fork (for fluffing couscous)
  • Deep casserole dish
  • Chef’s knife
  • Cutting board
  • Measuring spoons
  • Liquid measuring cup
  • Serving bowls

Ingredients

  • Box of couscous
  • Butter and kosher salt
  • 6 Roma tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil plus extra
  • 1 1/2 lbs frozen shrimp
  • Pitted kalamata olives, 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup
  • Crumbled feta cheese, 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup
  • 1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves or 2 Tablespoons dried oregano

Instructions

  • Thaw frozen shrimp in the fridge for a few hours in a colander on a sheet pan with cling wrap or paper towels draped over the top. Bring them to room temp and get rid of any ice crystals by running the colander under warm water at intervals and patting the shrimp dry as you make the couscous.
  • Make a box of couscous, following the directions on the package. I went ahead with a pad of butter and several pinches of salt, as called for my box. (The cookbook calls for Israeli couscous rather than the instant kind. I confess I’ve never made Israeli couscous, so you’ll have to comment if I’m missing out. The instant kind was yummy too).
  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Rinse, dry, and chop the tomatoes, placing them in the bottom of your casserole dish. Drizzle with the olive oil and mix well with your hands.
  • Bake for 8 minutes, until the tomatoes release their juices.
  • Check to make sure the shrimp is thawed. (The cookbook calls for raw, deveined shrimp but medium frozen ones cooked at the same temperature for the same time worked just as well).
  • Layer the cooked tomatoes with shrimp, olives, feta, and oregano. (The cookbook recipe calls for a half cup of both olives and feta, but I recommend more of each. Serve the remaining olives as an hors d’oeurve, or nibble while you’re cooking. Point is — jar should be consumed, some way or another.)
  • Bake 12 minutes. Drizzle the cooked casserole dish with olive oil and serve atop the warm couscous.

Serve with this simple, healthy Rachel Ray tomato, cucumber, red onion chopped salad if you want to round out the plate.

And finally, to end your summer meal, a berry pie. I adapted Joy the Baker’s Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Pie by substituting a pound of blueberries for the rhubarb, since zero out of three of my local grocery stores were selling rhubarb in June. (Wha??)

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I also substituted half the lemon juice for orange juice, and added some orange zest and lemon zest to the filling.

Instead of pecans, I used store bought roasted, salted almonds for the crumb topping. But don’t make my mistake — thoroughly mix the butter with the flour, and this is key — before you add the nuts — otherwise you’ll end up with sections of raw, unbrowned flour on the top of your pie.

As for the crust, cold ingredients are key — dice the butter and then put it in the freezer for a few minutes, and keep the buttermilk refrigerated until you use it. This hand-mixed, buttermilk-congealed pie crust is one of the easiest I’ve ever made. The buttermilk really helps things come together to form a smooth dough.

I made two pies — for Clark, and for Patrick, my father and my father-in-law — and I learned these helpful hints about freezing a pie from The Kitchn. Long story short, if you tightly wrap and freeze an unbaked pie, the juices from the berries won’t make the crust soggy when you eventually bake it. So freeze pies unbaked. Enjoy 🙂

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What’s Cookin’, Good Lookin’

Jake Bellucci Le Creuset CC BY-NC-ND 2.0One of the things I love about winter is that it’s a season conducive to cooking in bulk — think soups, stews, casseroles, gratins, the list goes on. I have gotten into the habit of preparing one to two soups for the week on Sunday afternoons, and boy, has it been scrumptious, not to mention economical and time-saving. I thought I’d compile a list of my recent soup pursuits, with some of my forays into baking, fish, and why not, mashed potatoes thrown in for good measure. One of the pleasures of blogging for me is documenting what I cook throughout the year, so as I give into that, I hope that you find something posted here that you might consider trying. (Also, if you don’t already have one, I hope you’ll consider busying yourself an immersion blender… the one I recently acquired has been a godsend this winter, as evidenced by the list below. If not, a regular blender works too. Just a thought 🙂 ) Bon appetit!

tracy benjamin tortilla strips CC BY-NC-ND 2.0I first tasted this chicken tortilla soup recipe from Food and Wine at the home of my friend, Allison, on a much-needed getaway trip to Nashville, Tennessee. (The trip ended with the discovery of frozen pipes in our frigid condo, due to my flakiness in leaving the heat off just as Chicago morphed into Chiberia. Even our jar of olive oil was frozen solid, but that’s another story!) This soup makes clever use of the aforementioned immersion blender, thickening up the tomato/onion/garlic/five spice/chicken broth/cilantro base with fried tortilla strips, puréed. The cubed chicken is added raw and cooked conveniently in the broth, and chunks of avocado are mixed in at the end. It’s hearty, zingy, and deeply satisfying when topped with the usual Southwestern suspects: grated cheddar, homemade fried tortilla strips, sour cream, cilantro, scallions, and lime wedges.

Steven Lilley Broccoli CC BY-SA 2.0Padraic told me he felt like he was dining at Panera after eating Ree Drummond’s broccoli cheddar soup, and I took that as effusive praise! I used 2% milk instead of whole, and things turned out quite creamy nonetheless. The recipe starts with preparations for a roasted broccoli garnish, and proceeds with sautéing onions in butter, then simmering pieces of raw broccoli in a mixture of milk, half-and-half, flour, and nutmeg. Three cups of cheddar cheese are added, with the option of puréeing the mixture or breaking up the broccoli with a potato masher. I think this might be the most indulgent broccoli dish there is, but January/February is certainly a fitting time for it.

nick mote Lentil Macro CC BY 2.0Surprise, surprise, this recipe does not use a blender — no, instead, Ina Garten’s lentil sausage soup, from her cookbook Barefoot in Paris, is richly textured with softened vegetables, lentils, and chunks of sausage. In my unsuccessful search for the recommended French green lentils, I learned that French lentils are simply smaller in size, so I just bought the most petit ones they had in the store, which worked fine. The process starts by cooking onions, leeks, and garlic flavored with cumin, thyme, salt, and pepper; then celery and carrots are added. This mixture plus pre-soaked lentils, chicken stock, and tomato paste simmers for an hour, then pre-cooked sausage is added and warmed through. You finish it off with a drizzle of red wine vinegar or red wine, take your pick.

cookbookman17 White Beans CC BY 2.0Cristina Ferrare’s minestrone soup from the cookbook, Big Bowl of Love is another hearty, one-meal wonder. It’s basically a compilation of fresh vegetables, beans, and tomatoes, puréed thick and served with freshly grated Parmesan and a generous drizzle of balsamic vinegar. I couldn’t find an exact reproduction of the cookbook’s recipe on the inter tubes, so I’ve posted the recipe at the bottom of this entry.

PINKÉ Pyrex Casserole CC BY-NC 2.0Then, of course, there comes a time when enough soup has been had and a casserole — what else? — beckons. The notion of chicken tetrazinni was so delightfully retro to me that I felt compelled to whip up a behemoth batch of it. Who else but Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman, to guide me through layers of spaghetti, mushrooms, melted cream/Monterey Jack/Parmesan cheese, bacon, peas, and toasted bread crumbs? Hers is technically a turkey tetrazinni, which sounds delicious, but the only time I have cooked turkey on hand is the day after Thanksgiving. So I turned to The Kitchn for advice on poaching chicken breasts. Ree suggests adding up to two extra cups of chicken broth to the cheese/veggie/pasta mixture before baking it, even if it’s a little soupy. I second this — I added this amount and the consistency of the finished product was just right — cheesy but not overwhelmingly so, and moist. I skipped the chopped olives, but hey, that’s just me.

essgee51 Dill and Lemon 2 (20/365) CC BY-NC 2.0 Sometimes soup and casseroles don’t carry you through the entire week, which makes room for minimalist dishes like… salmon, roasted with lemon, butter, and dill. This is my go-to recipe for salmon — it’s as easy as melting butter with lemon juice and seasoning the fish with dill, minced garlic (or garlic powder), salt, and pepper. Comes out moist and flaky every time.

Anne White Yukon Gold Potatoes CC BY-NC 2.0I made a batch of these super easy, quick, and straightforward mashed potatoes to go with the salmon. It’s another find from Cristina Ferrare’s cookbook, Big Bowl of Love. I love this recipe because it turns what you normally think of as a special occasion, holiday side into a week night staple. The most work and time intensive part is peeling, boiling, and mashing the potatoes — after that’s done, you just add butter, milk, and salt, but in proportions that consistently produce a creamy, fluffy, apporiately-salted mash. The addition of lemon zest may sound strange, but I find that it brightens and freshens the dish in a beautiful way. Then again, I’ll add lemon to anything. A handful of chopped scallions add a peppery bite to the creamy potato canvas. I find that making mashed potatoes during the week is really quite practical — the leftovers can bulk up another quick-cooking protein a few days later or be packed in a lunch.

Tom Gill Apples CC BY-NC-ND 2.0Speaking of packing lunches, the discovery of a homemade scone in my lunch bag is worth the effort, I think. Lately I’ve been on a scone kick, as mentioned here. It’s the byproduct of my newly acquired “mini scone pan,” allowing you to just drop the dough into a greased pan, and the fact that scones are so versatile — good for breakfast, lunch, dessert… These apple and cheddar scones combine roasted chunks of tart fruit with a salty, cheesy bite, and the dough is non-fussily brought together in the bowl of an electric stand mixer — no messy wielding of a pastry cutter or hauling out of a food processor. The pre-roasted apples, grated cheese, dry ingredients (flour/sugar/baking powder/salt), and wet ingredients (butter/cream/egg) are simply combined in a single bowl and mixed together on low.

Screen Shot 2013-02-14 at 9.01.41 PMWith regard to other baked goods, this Valentine’s Day I was in the mood to make something chocolate, but I wanted to bypass some of the more decadent, ultra-sweet chocolate desserts. I still wanted to make something special, something I don’t normally make. I landed on Love and Olive Oil’s Orange and Dark Chocolate Biscotti, featuring my favorite chocolate-fruit flavor combination. The orange notes come through strongly, and the chunks of dark chocolate impart a subtle richness and decadence of flavor. I love the hearty crunch and mild sweetness of biscotti — making it at home transports you to your favorite café and gets the coffee pot percolating.

zoyachubby Basil CC BY-ND 2.0A second Valentine’s Day experiment, this time for the main course, was seared scallops with basil olive oil pistou. Somehow seafood is romantic to me, it’s the first thing that comes to mind when I imagine a Valentine’s Day dinner. I’m somewhat shy to say that this was my first time cooking scallops at home, but searing them proved quick and easy. Pistou (pronounced pee-stew) is a French term, and it’s similar to pesto: a mixture of herbs, garlic, and olive oil (in this version the herbs, parsley and basil, are blanched first. I’d never thought to blanche herbs before — aside from the nuisance of repeatedly hand wringing them dry, the blanching did make the sauce more delicate.) The pistou is spooned under each scallop and fresh herbs are sprinkled on top for a simple but slightly elevated presentation. The pistou certainly distinguishes this scallop dish and imparts lots of fresh flavor, but I have to say, it’s oily. I doubled the recipe, and even leaving out about 1/3 cup, the oil still saturated the plate. You might consider scaling back on it by paying closer attention than I did to the food processor.

John Robinson Lemon and lime CC BY 2.0Two final dinner recipes — last night I tried this fish taco recipe in lieu of Lent. It’s refreshing and light all around, a much-needed break from all these hearty, thickly puréed soups I’ve been making. You can use any white fish, I used cod — flavored with a marinade of lime juice, minced garlic, cumin, chili powder, and vegetable oil. For a healthier meal, the fish is grilled, not fried. The tacos are dressed with a cabbage slaw combining shredded cabbage, sliced red onion, cilantro, and more lime juice and veggie oil. Additional toppings include salsa, sour cream, and sliced avocado. (I opted against bottled salsa for an easy-to-make salsa fresca, containing chopped tomatoes, a squeeze of lime juice, some diced red onion, and a pinch of salt.) Last but not least, what could be easier than this lemon spaghetti recipe, authored by the one and only  Giada Di Laurentiis. You literally whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese, and boil noodles, then make a few tweaks with pasta water, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and fresh basil (or in my case, dried). Couldn’t be simpler, and couldn’t be more delicious.

So there you go… a kitchen sink’s worth of good food links. Hopefully it stimulates some upcoming cooking adventures in your own kitchen. Thanks for reading, and please let me know if there’s a better recipe out there for salmon, mashed potatoes, soup, fish tacos, etc. etc. Happy hunkering down this winter!

Hearty Vegetable Minestrone Soup
From Big Bowl of Love

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 small zucchini, diced
  • 2 cups broccoli florets, cut small
  • 1/2 small cabbage, shredded
  • 1 cup cauliflower cut into small pieces
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 (28-ounce) can of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans white navy beans or cannellini
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked small tube, shell-shaped pasta, or orzo
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • fresh basil
  • red pepper flakes
  • balsamic vinegar, for drizzling

Instructions

  • Heat a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and heat until hot. Quickly add the onion, and sauté for 5 minutes, until the onion starts to caramelize. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds.
  • Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute; then add the water and stir. Simmer for 2 minutes. Add carrots, celery, zucchini, broccoli florets, cabbage, cauliflower, and salt. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the vegetables start to release their juices.
  • Add the canned tomatoes and chicken stock. Bring to a gentle boil. Add the beans and stir. Cover and gently simmer on low heat for 45 minutes.
  • In a blender, (or with an immersion blender), purée three-quarters of the soup until semi-smooth. Pour back into the stockpot and stir well. This will thicken your soup.
  • Adjust the seasoning (taste for salt; you will probably need to add more — 1/4 teaspoon at a time, so you don’t oversalt). Bring the soup back up to a gentle boil. Add the pasta and stir well so the pasta doesn’t stick. Cook the pasta for about 5 minutes or until al dente. You don’t want to overcook the pasta. Ladle into heated bowls. Garnish with 2 tablespoons freshly grated cheese per serving, fresh basil, and red pepper flakes to taste. Drizzle about a teaspoon of olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the top.

Getting Creative with Salmon

roaming-the-planet CC BY-NC-ND 2.0I don’t know about you, but salmon is a staple of weeknight suppers at my house. It becomes a matter of finding unique ways to prepare it — ways to  diverge from what is in my mind the most ubiquitous and fundamental of salmon flavorings, lemon and dill. This mild, herby pairing allows the moist, slightly sweet taste of the fish to reign supreme, and for this reason, us home cooks flock to it, or should I say swim. But there comes a time when I want my salmon to pack a zingier, zestier punch — metaphorically speaking, that is, but yes, citrus and citrus zest do figure in. Sometimes that’s accomplished with a thick crust of fresh herbs, or a bed of caramel iced onions. Today, though, I’m taking my inspiration from a glazed carrot recipe of Ina Garten’s, melding fresh ginger, orange juice and zest, butter, and maple syrup to form a sweet, peppery, and mildly acidic sauce for the salmon as it bakes in the oven. The result is light and invigorating:

Salmon with Orange and Ginger

Ingredients

1 pound salmon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons honey
Kosher salt
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

Tools

Baking dish
Paper towels
Measuring spoons
Measuring cups
Rasp grater
Juicer or fork
Saucepan
Wooden spoon

  • Lightly grease a square baking dish and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Pat the salmon dry with paper towels and place it in the dish.
  • Combine 1/2 cup water, the butter, honey, 2 teaspoons salt, and fresh ginger in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer.
  • Simmer the mixture for 15-20 minutes. Stir in the orange juice and orange zest.
  • Pour the mixture over the salmon, turning the salmon to make sure all sides are generously coated.
  • Bake in the oven skin side down for 25 minutes, or until flaky when prodded with a fork.

These green beans make a light, crisp compliment to the fish:

Ingredients 

1 pound string beans
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 small onions
Freshly ground pepper

Tools

Large pot
Colander
Large bowl
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Sauté pan
Wooden spoon

  • Blanch the green beans for 1 1/2 minutes in a large pot of boiling, salted water.
  • Drain the beans and immediately place them in a bowl of ice water.
  • Zest the lemon and mince the garlic, then mash these ingredients with 2 tablespoons butter.
  • Chop the onions. Then place the olive oil and the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat and swirl to coat 🙂
  • Sauté the onions for 5-10 minutes, until translucent and just starting to brown.
  • Add the green beans with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper and sauté the beans until they’re warm. Voilà.

Embracing the Selfie Ethos

Cristian Iohan Ştefănescu #selfie CC BY 2.0We are all the stars of our own movies, the protagonists of our own stories, but it seems, with the “selfi(ie) generation” at the helm, as a society we’ve become more self-consciously so, keen on having an audience. Lately I’ve been wondering if this is such a bad thing — as my Facebook feed is inundated with babies and couple shots and cool views from exotic locales, it seems there’s more to the culture of selfies than narcissism. It has to do with a basic appreciation of life, a move toward sharing and celebrating the little moments.

I wonder if the selfie ethos is shaping us to savor our lives a bit more, to be more ebullient and overflowing and public with our little victories — more connected as a result of social media, not less.

There is an interesting CNN article about “the upside of selfies” that reveals some surprisingly positive statistics: according to Common Sense Media, one in five teens reports to feeling more confident as a result of social media, versus 4% feeling less confident. 29% of 13-17 year-olds report that social media made them feel less shy.

According to Rebecca Levey, the founder of a video platform for tweens, social media is an opportunity for kids with niche interests to find each other. It’s also a place for tweens and teens — and full-grown adults — to make their voices heard about important issues.

The New York Times has a name for such tweens and teens, and some of those full-grown adults — it’s called “digital natives,” folks who never had to adapt to the internet, for whom a virtual reality was always a matter of fact. Apparently, these so-called millenials are “the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than their two immediate predecessor generations had at the same age.” Who can knock ‘em for cheerleading their way through, for slapping a selfie on a genuinely difficult struggle?

I’m increasingly inclined to view my friends’ status updates, hashtags, and photo uploads as something to celebrate. Hear me? I want in on the minutiae of your life — it’s life-affirming to share it.

In the meantime, allow me to indulge in the selfie culture myself, by showing you what I made: muffins! That’s right — look at me, look at what I made! Orange marmalade muffins. They’re delicious. Or at least, I think so. Me. Myself(ie). And I. Here’s the recipe:

Orange Marmalade Muffins
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks

Ingredients

2 oranges
2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda

Tools

Microplane zester
Cutting board
Sifter
Mixing bowls
Measuring cups and spoons
Stand Mixer with paddle attachment

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Grate the zest of the two oranges. Measure the flour and sift it into a bowl.
  • Cream the butter and the granulated sugar.
  • Add the eggs and mix until combined.
  • Add the flour and the brown sugar and mix until just combined.
  • Combine the buttermilk and the baking soda. Add it to the mixture and stir until just combined.
  • Stir in the orange zest.
  • Line a muffin tin with paper liners and fill 2/3 full with batter. Bake until light brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle of the muffin comes out clean, about 13-15 minutes.
  • I had enough batter to repeat a second time, making six more muffins. Fill the empty muffin cups with water.

Midnight Pasta + American Nostalgia

Screen Shot 2013-06-18 at 12.37.05 PMIn Not For Bread Alone: Writers on Food, Wine, and The Art of Eating, distinguished authors such as Joyce Carol Oates and Wendell Berry discuss food-related topics with the same intelligent, playful, and occasional dark voices that characterizes their literary work.

I particularly like the essay by Joyce Carol Oates, “Food Mysteries.” She sticks to her signature tone — wry and unsentimental — avoiding the nostalgia trap. Through a collection of anecdotes including her Hungarian grandmother, cafeteria food, and dinners with poets, she manages to translate ironic food observations into a genuinely compelling portrait of human nature, and its mysteriousness. One observation comments on “American nostalgia.” She writes,

“There are adults of middle age in whom the sudden acrid smells of cafeteria food (scorched macaroni-and-cheese casserole, canned spaghetti with tomato sauce, grease-encrusted french fries, ‘beef doves,’ ‘shepherd’s pie,’ ‘Texas hash,’ et al) galvanize taste buds dormant since eighth grade, with a hungry violence rarely experienced since eighth grade: but it is better not to be one of these.”

Well, ahem, I personally can speak to a fondness for grease encrusted French fries (I wish I could call it nostalgia; my enjoyment probably has more to do with the grease than nostalgic memories of my childhood) but that said, this idea of food nostalgia is  interesting… 

Screen Shot 2013-06-18 at 12.46.52 PMIt makes you wonder: if our childhood taste buds can be galvanized as quickly as our amygdala goes into fight-or-flight, does anyone ever grow up? It’s like the saying, “I learned everything I need to know in kindergarten.” True — but what happens when we smell French fries? Suddenly we’re four-year-olds.

Our nostalgia for certain childhood foods hits at the core of human nature. Notwithstanding our biological predisposition toward carbohydrate-rich foods, what about comfort food has us so tightly wrapped around its silver spoon? Like little else, comfort food knows that we never shed our five-year-old selves: innocent, occasionally bratty, and placated by French fries. And it lives to mock us!

Screen Shot 2013-06-18 at 1.01.27 PMFor this reason, I am always inspired by healthier versions of classic, calorie-rich comfort food. I love making old-fashioned  “mac-and-cheese casseroles,” but a quicker, healthier alternative are what chefs call “midnight pastas.” They are improvised using basic pantry ingredients and impart a relaxing, after-your-guests-are-gone vibe.

Here is one of my own, improvised “midnight pastas,” except that I usually make it at 6:00 p.m., and then pat myself on the back for fulfilling the day’s cooking quota, for a crowd of two 🙂

Noodles

The pasta is whatever you choose, or have on hand, cooked according to package directions. I personally think longer noodles are fun, such as linguini, angel hair, or spaghetti. I would cook about 1/2 pound of pasta so you have plenty of sauce to go around. Reserve a cup of the pasta water in case you want to dilute the sauce.

Sauce

This is a hybrid of Barefoot Contessa’s Linguini with Shrimp Scampi (sans the shrimp) and Cristina Ferrare’s Angel Hair with Olive Oil and Lemon from the cookbook, Big Bowl of Love.

Ingredients

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Kosher salt freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
1/2 lemon, zest grated
Freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon)
1/8 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1/4 lemon, thinly sliced in half-rounds
Freshly grated parmesan cheese
Chopped fresh parsley leaves
Chopped fresh mint leaves
Toasted walnuts, pine nuts, or almonds

  • Optional: add sundried tomatoes, frozen peas, corn
  • Substitute chives, scallions, or basil for mint, or use a different combination of herbs
  • Substitute asiago cheese for Parmesan

Melt three tablespoons of butter and 2 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium low heat. Add garlic and sauté for one minute only. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Remove from the heat and add lemon zest, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and slices of lemon. Grate as much parmesan cheese as desired over the sauce and stir.

Add cooked pasta to the sauce and mix gently with tongs. Add more cheese and/or dilute with reserved pasta water as needed. Garnish with herbs and toasted nuts.

[Photos: “Cafeteria ‘A,’ 1947,” Duke Yearlook’s photostream and “Homemade Pasta,” marksweb’s photostream]

 

Let It Melt Away

Screen Shot 2013-04-23 at 2.10.10 PMIt’s almost automatic for me, tuning into NPR on my commute home. I’m a bit of a news junkie, and my job(s) involve a lot of driving. Unexpected tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombing can shake you out of the comfortable ritual of news consumption. This event was unexpected, incoherent, if nothing else, an impetus to pay closer attention to each other and the many forces at work in every individual. My heart goes out to the victims, the spectators, and even the perpetrators who are suffering right now. I’m sure that the healing process will require many small, tedious steps, putting one foot in front of the other. This recipe is one small token of solidarity.

Lemon Meltaways

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen Key Lime Meltaways

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
Grated zest of 4 tiny or 2 large lemons
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (aka 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt

Measure Your Ingredients

  1. Measure butter and 1/3 cup sugar and put in bowl of electric mixer.
  2. Measure out lemon juice/zest and vanilla and set aside. In a medium bowl, measure and whisk together flour, cornstarch, and salt.

Mix It Up

  1. Cream butter and 1/3 cup sugar in bowl of electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add lemon juice, zest, and vanilla; beat until fluffy.
  2. Add flour/cornstarch/salt mixture to butter mixture and beat on low speed until combined.
  3. Shape dough into two, 1 1/4 inch diameter logs and chill for at least 1 hour.

Melt It Away

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place remaining 2/3 cups sugar in a resealable plastic bag. Slice logs into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Place on baking sheets, about 1 inch apart.
  2. Bake cookies until barely golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool slightly, just three or four minutes. While still warm, place cookies in the sugar-filled bag; toss to coat. Bake or freeze remaining dough. Store baked cookies in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
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[Photos: “Key Lime Meltaways,” Rennings flickr photostream]

Best of Citrus Part 1

Screen Shot 2013-02-05 at 4.00.21 PMRemember the scene from Little Women when Amy nabs a large orange on Christmas morning? She clutches it possessively until her more noble minded sisters set out to distribute Christmas breakfast to the poor. I can still hear Kirsten Dunst reciting Amy’s line in a greedy little whisper, “Butter! Oh, isn’t butter divinity? Oh god thank you for this breakfast.”

There is something about citrus — we’re talking oranges, lemon, lime, grapefruit, tangerine, clementine, mandarin, kumquat — that inspires thanksgiving and connotes prosperity. Citrus is certainly glamorous – colorful, aromatic… Ah, let me count the ways I love thee…

As the worn-out saying goes, money doesn’t grow on trees — but citrus does 🙂 Add to its abundance the fact of its impeccable timing of being in season during the winter (in the United States, at least). So, to brighten up your gray skies or give a little pep to your sluggish internal clock, or, if you’re already feeling sunny like Florida, in the simple spirit of thanksgiving, allow me to share my zest for citrus with a few good recipes worth trying:

1. Citrus salad with feta and mint

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This is a sleek and simple salad to throw together for a dinner party (speaking of sleek, avocado would be a tasty addition…)

If you’re hosting brunch and want to emphasize breakfast flavors 1) forgo the feta 2) dress your mixed citrus with some granulated sugar, snipped mint, and lime zest, adapted from “lime-mint sugar” from Williams-Sonoma’s Essentials of Breakfast & Brunch. Here is the original, summer fruit salad recipe:
2. Lime-mint sugar

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  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint*
  • 2 teaspoons grated lime zest**
  • 2 each nectarines and peaches, halved, pitted, and cut into slices 1/2 inch thick
  • 1/2 cantaloupe or other melon, seeded, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 cup seedless grapes
  • Juice of 1 lime

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, minced mint, and lime zest. Set aside. In a bowl, combine the nectarines, peaches, and melon. Cut the grapes in half, and add to the bowl. Drizzle the fruit with the lime juice and stir gently to coat. Sprinkle with the sugar mixture and turn the fruit once or twice to coat evenly.

*To prevent the mint leaves from discoloring when cut, strip them with scissors rather than mince them with a knife.

**Make the lime-mint sugar no more than an hour before serving the salad, as the aromatic oil in the zest quickly loses its potency.

3. Lemon sugar snaps

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I don’t have a problem with adding table salt to my food, but I have a habit of peppering almost any baked good with extra citrus zest or juice. (Tip: orange zest/juice is the KEY to unbelievable pie filling! Use the suggested lemon zest/juice and add some orange! You won’t believe it!) There has to be some method to my madness, because evidently, Martha Stewart agrees. This recipe for “lemon sugar snaps” from The Martha Stewart Baking Handbook is a lip smacking endorsement for lemon infused baked goods:

MAKES ABOUT 4 DOZEN These cookies have a delicate texture and light, fresh taste.

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar, plus more for coating
  • 1 large egg
  • Freshly grated zest of 3 lemons
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and lemon zest and juice; beat until combined. Add the flour mixture; beat until just combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Transfer dough to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Screen Shot 2013-02-05 at 4.16.51 PMPreheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Place sugar in a shallow bowl. Shape leveled tablespoons of dough into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in sugar to coat completely, and place about 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until the edges just begin to turn golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

I’m bursting with enthusiasm. (Did you just laugh?) For more where this came from, visit Best of Citrus Part 2.
[Photos: “Citrus,” blackeiffel’s photostream, Smitten Kitchen image according to photo guidelines, Uwe Hermann’s photostream, Florian Maul’s photostream, & pinprick’s photostream, “Lemon,” Chugy’s photostream]

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