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Winter Brunch Menu

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Last summer I posted quite a bit about my experiment with the Whole30, a nutritional plan that is similar to Paleo: you’re supposed to eat mostly meat, vegetables, and healthy fats, along with some small servings of fruit. The idea is to drastically reduce your intake of sugar, only consuming sugar in its natural form (fruit). I got really enthusiastic about

eating the veggies

and

flank steak suppers

and

chicken with coconut curry

and I could go on… and maybe I will: since resolving to go back to a more Paleo-centered lifestyle a few weeks ago, I’ve dabbled more in tasty ways to make green beans and brussels sprouts, and I’ve fine-tuned my go-to-guac recipe. The results were pretty lip-smacking, so stay tuned for another Eating the Veggies post.

I did, vow, however, that when I entertain, I am allowing myself to create all the sugar and carb-laden concoctions I want. Aside from the joy of eating that stuff, it’s so much fun to cook! So here’s a winter brunch menu that I’ve put together for a few dear colleagues tomorrow on our day off:

  1. Baked Eggs with Tomatoes, Mozzarella & Oregano, from School Night
  2. Baked Parmesan Hash Browns
  3. Roasted Pear and Chocolate Chunk Scones
  4. Winter Fruit Salad with Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing

Pantry Items Needed
(In order of each recipe)

  • Olive oil
  • 28 oz crushed or diced tomatoes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • All-purpose flour
  • Granulated sugar
  • Baking powder
  • Unsalted butter
  • Baking spray
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Honey
  • Parchment paper

Grocery List
(In order of grocery store layout)

  • Yellow onion
  • Garlic
  • A bundle of scallions
  • Fresh oregano (or another fresh herb of your choice)
  • 3 firm pears
  • Bag of clementines
  • 4 Honeycrisp apples
  • 4 kiwis
  • 4 bananas
  • 3 large lemons
  • Pomegranate
  • Heavy cream
  • 1/4 lb fresh mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup grated Parm
  • A dozen eggs
  • Frozen hash brown potatoes — Simply Potato recommended
  • Chocolate chips
  • Poppy seeds

Mix the Roasted Pear and Chocolate Chunk Scones and the lemon poppy seed dressing a day head.

I make smaller scones using this pan from King Arthur Flour. I find that this pan results in really fresh, moist tasting scones.

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Instructions, Scones

  • Generously spray your scone pan with baking spray. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Cut 6 T. of unsalted butter into small pieces and place in the freezer. Place 1/4 cup heavy cream in the refrigerator. Bring eggs to room temperature.
  • Peal and core pears. If you’re making smaller scones, like me, dice them instead of cutting them into chunks.
  •  Roast the pears for 20 minutes, until they are dry and slightly browned.
  • Slide the roasted pears onto a plate and place in the refrigerator to cool down to lukewarm. Turn the oven off.
  • In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whisk 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt together.
  • Add the cooled pear, diced butter, heavy cream and 1 egg to the dry ingredients. Mix on low speed until the dough comes together.
  • Add 1/4 cup chocolate chips and mix for a few more seconds.
  • Press the dough into the well-buttered pan.
  • In a small bowl, whisk one egg with 1 teaspoon water and a pinch of salt. Brush the tops of the scones with the eggwash. Then sprinkle them with 1 1/2 Tablespoons sugar.
  • Tightly cover the pan with foil and place in the freezer.

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Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing

  • Measure 3 T. fresh lemon juice and 3 T. granulated sugar into a bowl. Whisk together until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Slowly pour in 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, and 3 T. honey until everything is blended thoroughly.
  • Mix in 2 teaspoons poppy seeds. 
  • Transfer to this convenient salad dressing bottle and put it in the fridge.

Morning of…

  1. Bake the scones straight out of the freezer for 30 minutes at 375 degrees F. This is the time for large scones; I would check at the 15 minute mark to see if the smaller scones need less time to bake.
  2. While the scones are baking, prep the Baked Parmesan Hash Browns
  3. While the hash browns are baking, prep the baked eggs
  4. While the baked eggs are baking, prep the fruit salad

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Instructions, Hash Browns

  • Spray a muffin tin with baking spray.
  • Squeeze the frozen hash browns with paper towels to make sure they’ll get super crispy.
  • In a large bowl, mix the bag of dried hash browns, 4-5 sliced green onions, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and 2 T. olive oil.
  • Spoon the mixture into the muffin cups and bake 45-60 minutes at 400 degrees F. until crispy.

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Instructions, Baked Eggs
(Serves Four)

  • Chop 1/2 the onion and mince 2 cloves of garlic. Open your can(s) of tomatoes.
  • Bring 8 eggs and 1/4 cup heavy cream out to room temperature.
  • Chop the mozzarella into 1/2-inch pieces.
  • Roughly chop the fresh oregano into 1/4 cup.
  • Set a saucepan over medium-high heat and add 2 T. olive oil. Let the olive oil warm up.
  • Add 1/2 small yellow onion and sauté until translucent. This may take about 5 minutes.
  • Add 2 cloves minced garlic and sauté until soft, about 2 minutes.
  • Stir in 28 oz diced or crushed tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil.
  • Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, and simmer about 15 minutes until the  mixture is thickened.
  • Season to taste and set aside to cool.
  • Place four large ramekins (the cookbook specifies 4 1/2 inch ramekins) on a baking sheet.
  • Spoon 5 T. of the tomato sauce and 1 T. of heavy cream into each ramekin. Top with the mozzarella and the oregano, dividing them evenly.
  • Once the hash browns are done cooking, break two eggs into each ramekin and season with salt and pepper.
  • Bake about 15 minutes in a 350 degree F oven — you want the egg whites to be opaque and the yokes set, but still runny in the middle. The eggs will keep cooking a little after you take them out of the oven.
  • Let cool slightly.

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Instructions, Fruit Salad

  • Peel and segment 8 clementines
  • Chop 4 apples
  • Peel and dice 4 kiwis
  • Peel and dice 4 bananas
  • Cut pomegranate arils out of large pomegranate
  • Combine in a large bowl and top with dressing

Enjoy! Here’s to brunching on your day off.

 

 

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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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.

A Lazy Blogger’s Shoulda Woulda Coulda

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 3.38.45 PMFellow cooking/reading enthusiasts, what cookie recipes are you eager to try this holiday season? One of my favorite things to do periodically on this little young thang blog is to share a list of recipes (other people’s, oh yeah) that I am eager to make. Especially when I’m too lazy/busy to actually make them — like here, here, and er, here. Who do I think I am to you, Oprah? Do you really care about my “favorite things”? But I can’t help myself. I love lists. With every bullet point, a possibility on the horizon. I may be sitting here cranking out an article about meat wrapped in lettuce — yeah, that just happened — but making a list of FUTURE projects has the effect of giving the mouse a cookie. You know, it’s a carrot, a motivator, helping me play hardball with this business of putting words to paper in an efficient manner.

My other ulterior motive is to get some inspiration from you, fellow bloggers, and your smorgasbord of baking successes. I’ll have some time next week to get my hands dirty, and I’m feeling the urge to shake things up, having been lately more immersed in the world of food blogging. Will you give me a cookie? Many thanks 🙂 In the meantime, here is a short list of my own suggestions:

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 2.09.15 PMBalsamic vinegar fudge cookies from the award-winning blog, Baking Bites are humble drop cookie, nothing decorative going on. But the intensity of fudgy chocolate and cherries enhanced by balsamic vinegar sounds superb to me, giving these cookies special occasion status in my book. I came across them while writing an article on How to Use Balsamic in Baking.

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 2.22.59 PMJoy Wilson’s Red Velvet Black and White Cookies are a cute and whimsical nod to the holidays, I think, an understated standout among the sprinkles, crushed peppermint, and over-the-top deliciousness… She decorates hers in black tie, taking a cue from the classic New York black and white cookie.

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 2.58.24 PMAs long as we’re baking in an imaginary world, these pistachio French macaroons are on my shortlist. Pistachios + egg whites + bright green food coloring, whipped and piped into something sugary, chewy, bite-sized and oh so precious. If that description is over the top, then so be it. Long live the French and their delicate macaroons. Or perhaps you’d like some with your Earl Gray.

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 3.05.50 PMA twist on the classic lemon bar — I love it! Here I go, ripping off (I’ll call it promoting) the Smitten Kitchen site with Deb Perelman’s recipe for pink lemonade bars. Raspberries, citrus, powdered sugar — let’s call it a Christmas cookie.

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Another nostalgic choice — if I were an Italian grandma — seven-layer cookies. The layering, the colors, the marzipan, these look as festive as Deb Perelman’s recipe looks delicioso.

Links to Recipes

Balsamic Vinegar Fudge Cookies
Red Velvet Black and White Cookies
Pistachio Macaroons
Pink Lemonade Bars
Seven-Layer Cookies

[Photos: “Footprint in Flour,” recoverling’s photostream, “Saucepan Fudge Drop Cookies,” Food Librarian’s photostream, “Red Velvet Cookies,” Herr Hans Gruber’s photostream, “pistachio_macaroons,” Greencolander’s photostream, Deb Perelman’s http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2012/08/pink-lemonade-bars/, per photo guidelines]

The Magic of Eggs and the Seduction of Cheese

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 12.58.56 PMThe title of this post is not mine, cheese-lover and egghead though I may be (actually, I’m a far cry from an egghead, just looking for an easy pun there). No, this enthusiastic quip hails from Judith Jones, food editor extraordinaire, titling a chapter in her book,The Pleasures of Cooking for One. As mentioned here, her recipes and general philosophy toward cooking with equal parts gusto and frugality also provide an excellent blueprint for couples, or two-party households. To kick off the last week before Christmas, I thought I’d take a cue from Judith and contribute my own take on the holly jolly with two everyday recipes that accomplish something special via a little grated Parmesan and beaten egg whites. As much as I love colored lights, bearded gnomes, and piles of pure driven snow, I believe that the magic of the holidays is inextricably linked with — what else? — “the magic of eggs and the seduction of cheese.”

Cheesy Pasta with Walnut Sauce

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 1.06.14 PMI first discovered this recipe a few years ago in Giada De Laurentiis’s Everyday Pasta, and I hadn’t made it for a while until I gave it a go last night. How does this fit into the “seduction of cheese”? Because cheese allows you to do things like make a dinner out of walnuts. I love walnuts but I suppose you could make it with anything — almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts — it was a bit of a revelation for me in the frugality department because aside from half-and-half, I usually have the ingredients lying around, or some sufficient substitution (milk would do for the half and half and you could swap out whatever dried herbs you have). I also love that it’s a true sauce and not a pesto, and in that sense it’s a new way of thinking about making pasta with nuts — it’s sort of like you’re making a pesto and then adding pasta water and cream to make it a warm sauce. The original recipe calls for rotelli (those short spirals) but I happened to buy some purdy tagliatelle at Trader Joe’s last weekend. (Original recipe also calls for heavy cream and parsley instead of rosemary, if you want to give that combo a try.) I feel like tagliatelle makes things elegant for a cosy Sat night at home with my husband, and I think the “woody” rosemary pairs well with walnuts.

Ingredients

  • 16 oz. bag of egg noodles, such as tagliatelle
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 3/4 c. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup hard, nutty cheese (Parm or Asiago)
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half, warmed
  • Chopped rosemary
  • Reserved pasta water

Prep Pasta and Walnuts

Set pasta water to boil; meanwhile, toast walnuts for 2-3 minutes in a warm, dry skillet over medium-low heat.

Make the Sauce

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine walnuts, butter, salt and pepper until a paste forms. Slowly pour in olive oil as you mix to combine. Pour into a small bowl and stir in the cheese and half-and-half.

Pull it Together

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and reserve the pasta water. Toss the pasta with a drizzle of olive oil and add the sauce, ladling on the pasta water as much as needed to fully coat the noodles and achieve desired thickness. Sprinkle with chopped rosemary or another herb of your choice.

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 1.11.59 PMThe story behind my lemon ricotta pancake experiment — in other words, the magic of egg whites — also involves an at-home date with my “hubby,” if you will. I made these (from Williams & Sonoma’s Essentials of Breakfast and Brunch) for brunch on his birthday and, as a testament to how good and easy these are, these little flapjacks wound up being his birthday cake. Sadly, they far outshined my attempt at a blueberry pie (with my typical humility, let me assure you that pie is usually my thing and I blame it on my husband’s request for something intended to be eaten in July — I probably botched the use of frozen berries, I used a different recipe for crust and I tried to transport it to an Irish pub and then realized it was supposed to cool for several hours first — the thing was a half-baked, dribbly mess. But who cares? My sister-in-law was kind enough to bring cupcakes :)) Back to flapjacks. I think it’s great when ricotta cheese, lemon zest, and whipped egg whites turns something worthy of Denny’s into something worthy of, I dunno, Dennaes. It gives you a little lift, literally and figuratively speaking.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Berries tossed with sugar, for serving

Prep the Batter

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg yolks, sugar, ricotta, and lemon zest. Add the buttermilk mixture to the dry mixture and stir until combined. It can be a little lumpy.

Whip and Fold

Beat egg whites until soft peaks form (easiest, in m opinion, with a standing mixer on medium speed, whisk attachment, but can be done by hand). Carefully fold beaten egg whites into the ricotta mixture.

Fry in a Pan

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles and immediately evaporates. Brush with melted butter. Ladle 1/4 cup batter for each pancake into the pan and reduce heat to medium-low, cooking until small bubbles appear on top, about 4 minutes. Flip and cook until lightly browned on the second side, a few minutes longer.

Serve Hotcakes Hot

If you’re serving a crowd or just feel like being seamless and professional about your homemade pancakes, keep them warm in an oven heated to 250. (Don’t cover or they will get soggy.) Or be like me and microwave them as needed. The recipe makes about 16, 4-inch pancakes.

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 1.19.47 PMIf this wasn’t enough to seduce you, allow me to elaborate my thoughts on all this mildly caloric magic in “What Can I Make With Flour, Eggs, Pasta Sauce & Cheese”? Either way, I wish you a merry week of Christmas preparations or post-Hanukkah chillin.’ I think it would be cosy and merry if we all waited out Advent in a pared down, pile-of-grated-cheese, pillow-of-freshly-beaten egg whites kind of way, and called it Christmas magic.

[Photos: “Eggs,” paul goyette’s photostream, “Tagliatelle!”, Sebastian Mary’s photostream, “Lemon Ricotta Pancakes II,” Patent and the Pantry’s photostream, “Grated Parmesan,” FoodMayhem.com’s photostream]

 

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]
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