Thursday, October 22, 2015

Not pumpkin spice...but yes to cider + tequila - custom cocktail series

I don't get the obsession with pumpkin spice. It's gotten completely out of control. 

That being said, I adore fall, apple everything, and yes, pumpkin. 

Oh, and I like tequila. If you do, too, mix this up and toast this fab season. 

3 oz reposado tequila
4 oz apple cider
Juice of one lime
3/4 oz agave nectar
Pinch of ground cinnamon

Mix all ingredients in a shaker over ice, shake well, and pour into a martini glass. 

The magic of cherry and mezcal - custom cocktail series

I love interesting, not too sweet cocktails. I especially love the ones made with mezcal. There is something magical about the smoky spirit this time of year. 

Cherry juice provides an interesting counterpoint, balancing the bite of the mezcal without over-sweetening. 

This is one for the bucket list...and don't forget the salted rim. 

3 oz mezcal
2 oz tart cherry juice (I found this at target, Cherribundi brand)
1 oz Grand Marnier
Juice of one lemon
1/4 oz agave nectar
Freshly ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a shaker over ice. Shake very well and pour into a salt-rimmed glass. 

Bonus points if you use citrus salt. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Fermented Apple-Cranberry Butter

Like anyone, there are things I am passionate about, and things I could care less about.  There are things I enjoy doing, and things I dread.  Independent of all that, there are some things that are just hard-wired into me, and I am simply compelled to do them.
One of these hard-wired attributes that I'm known for all around town is my unwillingness to throw anything usable out.  I learned this from my dad.
Dad has always been a Renaissance man.  If it's broken, he can fix it.  If he needs it, he can design and build it.  If it needs used up, he has ideas.  If it's a problem, he can solve it.  If it needs support he can reinforce it.  If you need convinced, he can persuade you.  If you need help, he's the first to put out his hand to pull you up.  He's a hard worker who knows how to relax, too, and he taught this to my sisters and me over the years by example.
Never ones to shirk from an adventure, he and Mom decided to buy a farm last year.  Now, some might find this odd, as Dad has been somewhat retired for many years now, but to those of us that know and love them both, this was zero surprise.  They bought this farm so that their grandkids would have a place to run free and wild to

explore, and where family and friends could gather often to recharge.  One thing they didn't count on was all of the food growing wild up there.  Every time we find something new, I am *compelled* to preserve it.  Our latest food adventure on the farm has been picking apples.  My sister identified the varietal as Pippins, once grown by Thomas Jefferson.  I identified them as an awesome target for making new fermented things...because *obviously* we couldn't just leave them there.  Instead, we picked gallons (and gallons) of apples and then started figuring out what to do with them.  I happened to have some tasty fermented cranberries hanging around from last winter, so I combined a few recipes and came up with the one below.
Note:  you could make this without the cranberries, and potentially, with fresh cranberries if you stew them with the apples.  I haven't tried that, but I would imagine it would work.  If you want to make the cranberries, go read how, courtesy of Christopher and Kirsten Shockey, here.

6 lbs apples, quartered and cored (unpeeled)
2 T. cinnamon
1 c. water
2 c. fermented cranberries, drained
3/4 c. brown sugar (unless your  apples are super sweet - Pippins are not)
3-4 T. honey (again, unless your apples are super sweet)
good pinch of kosher salt
1 T. culture starter dissolved in 1/4 c. water

Combine the apples, cinnamon, and water in a crockpot.  Cover and cook on high for 12 hours.  Provided the apples are nice and soft at the end of this 12 hours, drain, being sure to reserve *all* the cooking liquid.  Return the apples to the crockpot, along with the cranberries, and puree with an immersion blender.  Add back the cooking liquid a little at a time until you reach a consistency you're happy with.  Taste.  If you need the sugar and/or honey, add them now. Add the salt and stir very well.  Taste again.  Adjust as is necessary with sugar and/or honey until you like the result.  This can be really variable depending upon what kind of apples you use.
Keep the crockpot on high and re-cover.  Cook for 2 hours or so until you are pleased with the viscosity of the butter.

Cool for about an hour.  Meanwhile, dissolve the culture starter in water and set aside.  When the butter is about room temperature, stir in the starter and spoon into jars.  Loosely cap with lids and set on the counter for 3 days.  Along the way, taste.  When you are happy with the developed flavor, put the jars in the refrigerator to stop the ferment.

This makes about 2 1/2 quarts.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Kimchi Coconut Soup

I really love fermented things, and I ferment my own, often.  As such, I'm always looking for new ways to eat my delicious food in jars.  I also hate to throw anything out, so I'm always thinking about ways to use lots and lots of tasty veg in one dish.  I love Asian-inspired food, so I came up with this.


I've been eating this a lot (A LOT) lately.  With my son now in real school (aka Kindergarten) and both kids in sports activities, my crazy life has one speed:  hair-on-fire fast.  This soup is about as simple as it gets and it's *fast*.  Win-win.


2-4 c. sliced veg (shiitake, red peppers, pak choy, kale, etc)
1/2 c. kimchi*
1 can lite coconut milk
1/2 can water
salt to taste
1 lime, juiced


Slice all the veg and add it straight to a deep saute pan.  Add the kimchi.  Add the coconut milk, water, and salt (if desired).

Cover, cook on medium-high for about 5 minutes.  Then remove the lid, and cook an additional 10 minutes.

Remove from heat, add the lime.  Adjust seasoning if necessary.


*note:  I ferment my own kimchi (between the hours of midnight and 6a, to be sure), but any delicious kimchi you favor will work great in this recipe.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

This is why I cook, aka Ramp and Preserved Meyer Lemon Pesto

As previously discussed, we love pesto in this house.   My kids, do, I do, my extended family and friends do...and with good reason.  Pesto can be made with a myriad of ingredients (e.g. NOT JUST BASIL AND PINE NUTS) and it's good on almost everything.  This version came together out of my love of ramps and preserved citrus.  I had both on hand and wanted to do something fresh and approachable, yet bold and delicious.  Using ramps and preserved citrus eliminates the need for garlic or additional salt, so this comes together in about 5 minutes.

BONUS:  when you make pesto with greens instead of basil, it doesn't tend to turn all nasty and brown.

Ramp and Preserved Meyer Lemon Pesto

1 bunch of ramps, washed and trimmed, stems and roots sliced, leaves cut into ribbons
1 c. walnuts, toasted
3/4 (or 3 segments) of a preserved Meyer lemon (regular preserved lemons would work too)
1 c. salty, hard cheese, grated (I used ricotta salata that I cured, but Parmesan would also be delicious)
1/2 - 3/4 c. good olive oil

I like to make pesto in my food processor, but I suppose you could use whatever you like to use for such things.  Start the blade on the processor, and drop the stems and roots of the ramps through the chute.  Then add the walnuts, letting it run for a minute or so.  Add the preserved lemon and cheese, and then run until everything is really well minced and combined.  Scrape down the bowl and restart the blade.  Pour the oil through the chute until you get the consistency you desire.

Now, spread this on everything, storing any (temporary) leftovers in a jar in the refrigerator.  The pesto should keep about a week, but it never lasts that long in my house.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Kids Who Love Pesto - Making Pizza at Home

My kids love (and I mean LOVE) pesto.  They love it freshly made, they love it jarred in the winter.  They love it made traditionally with pine nuts and basil, and they love it made with arugula and walnuts.  Really, if it's got pesto on it, they're in.

When they were smaller, I often would serve them pesto pasta for dinner, topped with mozzarella.  Lately, while they still love that, they craze pesto pizza, or as my 4.5 year old son calls it, "That delicious green sauce pesto pizza."  What can I say, he likes to be exact, just like his mama.

There are many reasons to make pizza at home, but being able to feed a kid's craving is certainly one of them.  The bonus comes in letting the kids construct their own pie, which both empowers them to play an active role in what they eat AND encourages them to stretch their palates and try interesting-looking things.

We do, occasionally, go out for pizza, and my kids always ask for the pesto pizza.  Due to this, the staff at their favorite spot have always remembered us, dubbing my kids "the kids who love pesto."  Apparently, this is a bit of an anomaly.  While we do love "our spot", all of us prefer the DIY version. .

This is how we do it.

Make the pizza dough.  I use Jamie Oliver's pizza dough recipe as a starting point, but I've modified it to my preferences and general pantry staples over the years.

10 oz very warm (not scalding) water.  Aim for 120 degrees, but I never actually measure the temperature.  It should feel hot but very tolerable to hold your hand under.

2 1/2 tsp. dry, active yeast

1 T. turbinado, or raw sugar

1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

2 T. good olive oil

3 1/2 c. white or blended bread flour (don't use all wheat, unless you really want a denser, drier dough)

Mix everything except the flour in a large bowl.  Let sit about 10 minutes until the yeast is foamy.  Stir in half of the flour, mixing with a fork.  Flour your hands.  Now, mix in half of the remaining flour with the fork, switching to your hands when the dough gets tough to work with the fork.  Add remaining flour a tablespoon at a time until the dough ceases to be sticky.  Remove the dough from the bowl and knead on a lightly floured surface until the dough is smooth (maybe two minutes worth).  Place dough in a clean, oiled bowl and turn to coat.  Seal the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to rise 30-60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees with a pizza stone inside.  You can do this without a stone, but the crust won't be as crisp.  While the oven heats, roll out the dough in desired portions.  I like to use a pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal.  Pierce the dough all over with a fork everywhere but the crust.  Once the oven is done preheating, add the sauce and toppings and slide into the oven  Cook until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is golden.  This takes around 7 minutes in my oven.

We like lots of different toppings, but I highly recommend trying pesto, mushrooms, mozzarella, feta, and giardiniera (for the adults, at least).  That's what I used in the picture above.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Bruleed Grapefruit Martinis

As fruit goes, winter = citrus.  I particularly love grapefruit, and I've always got a bunch lying around.  Lately, I've been mixing grapefruit, in its many derivations, into cocktails.  After a bit of taste testing all around, this was the winner.  It's sweet enough, but not cloying.  It's killer smooth (which could get you in trouble...) It's totally worth trying.  Bonus:  you get to play with fire.

1/2 a ruby red grapefruit, cut on the bias
2 T. brown sugar
4 oz good, completely neutral American vodka
1/2 oz Grand Marnier

This is the fun part.  Sprinkle the brown sugar liberally all over the grapefruit, patting it in to adhere.  Using a kitchen-grade blow torch, brulee (which is French for burn - but don't really try to burn it to a crisp) the sugar until it caramelizes and starts to get gooey black spots.  Set it aside to cool a minute, and then squeeze the sugar and all into a cocktail shaker.  Add vodka and Grand Marnier, then some ice.  Shake very well.  Strain and serve.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Healthy Ranch Dip

I decided that I wanted to make my kids baked chicken fingers with ranch dip.  Not the greasy, cholesterol-heavy version you find in a restaurant (as my son says, "Mommy!  We do NOT like Old MacDonald's."  I'll let you determine what he actually means...)  Anyway, we don't drive through, not ever.  My kids don't crave that kind of food, and I don't want them too.  That doesn't mean baked chicken fingers with ranch dip aren't delicious when done right.

Given that I am not a fan of mayo, and given that I have boxes and boxes of silken tofu in my pantry, I thought I would see if I could create a healthy alternative to the traditional ranch dip.  It came out great.

1 box silken tofu
3 T. buttermilk
juice of 1 large lemon
2 tsp. fermented garlic paste (or 1-2 garlic cloved, mashed)
2 tsp. dried parsley
2 tsp. dried chives
1 1/2 tsp. dried onion
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Blend together however you wish and refrigerate to let the flavors meld.  I used an immersion blender in a blender cup.

NOTE:  I did not set out to make this vegan, obviously, given the use of buttermilk.  I'm sure it would be just as tasty veganized.

ANOTHER NOTE:  I used dried herbs in this version due to the astronomical cost and middling quality of herbs in the dead of winter.  I'll try this again in the summer when I can pick the herbs fresh from the garden.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Celery Soup with Cornbread Croutons

I love soup.  I especially love soup when the windchill hits -20F and below...I also love celery, the much maligned veg that it is.  Add that together with my somewhat insane commitment to trying to use up all of the food in my house before it spoils (therefore making the most of my Costco membership, potager, etc.) and creating as little waste as we can, and this soup came out.  It tastes exactly like celery, so of course, I love it.

For the record, my list of #useitallup for this recipe was celery, buttermilk, and cornbread.

1 large bunch of celery, cleaned of dirt and any soft spots, chopped into 1/2" pieces
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp fermented garlic paste (or 1 tsp minced garlic)
1/2 tsp celery seed
kosher salt
freshly cracked black pepper
2-3 T. olive oil
1 c. buttermilk, well shaken
3 T. heavy cream

Combine celery through olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat, adjusting salt and pepper to taste.  Saute over medium heat until the veg starts to brown just a bit.

Stir in 3 c. water and continue cooking over medium heat for about 8 minutes.

Remove from heat and puree.  (I used an immersion blender, but you can also use any blender you wish.)

Return to the pan (if necessary), and stir in buttermilk.  Bring soup up to temperature, and puree again if you aren't satisfied with the consistency.

Remove from heat again and stir in cream.  Top with croutons.

Cornbread Croutons

Start with a really tasty cornbread recipe.  I like no-sugar-added cornbread, but you can use whatever you like.  Cut 12 1" cubes out of the cornbread and allow to dry on the counter if the cornbread is fresh.  The goal here is to have stale cornbread cubes.  You can also dry them out in a low oven, around 300F for a few minutes if you wish.

Melt 2 T. butter in a saute pan and then add the cornbread cubes.  Toss and turn, so that all sides are coated in butter.

Saute until golden brown, flip over, and repeat.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Italian Beef (and nachos)

Why should you make Italian Beef at home?  Well, because it's delicious, of course, but also because #ItalianBeefNachos and #ItalianBeefGrilledCheese.  My kids and I are hooked.

Italian Beef, Crock Pot Style

3 1/2 lb chuck roast
kosher salt
freshly cracked black pepper
1 tsp. granulated garlic
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried parsley
2 tsp. crushed red pepper
2 tsp. fermented garlic paste (or 3-4 cloves, minced)
1/2 c. dry, fruity red wine
1/4 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. Worcestershire sauce

Place the roast at the bottom of the crock pot.  Season with salt and pepper, then the garlic, regano, basil, parsley, and crushed red pepper.  (I just dumped it all on the rbeoast, given that I was making this at 1a.)  Add the fermented garlic paste and top festively with the wine, soy sauce, and Worcestershire.
Cover the crock with the lid.  Turn it on low.  GO TO BED.

8-10 hours later, the meat will fall apart.  I like to remove it from the crock separate out and toss the gristle, etc., and then shred it in the sauce (in the crock).  Leave it on warm if you must, but do watch that it doesn't start to caramelize too much or run dry.

Traditionally, this would go on a soft roll with giardinera and provolone (which is delicious).  Alternatively, shred some into a provolone grilled cheese for the kiddos (mine asked for it specifically three days in a row) or use as nacho toppings along with salsa verde, avocado, cheddar, jalapenos, and sour cream.  YUM.

p.s., yes these nachos are as good as smoked turkey nachos.

Roasted Squash and Swiss Chard Soup: Teaching Kids to Crave Veg, One Bowl at a Time

I cook for my kids all the time.  My son is four, and while he went through a picky phase, he now proclaims me to be "the best cooker" and prefers to eat at home over a least for now.  My daughter is two, and she's my little foodie.   This kid loves everything from hummus to bibimbop to lamb shoulder.  If it looks good, she wants it.

All this being said, I had hesitated to feed them soup for dinner.  There were many reasons for this, not the least of which was the imagined MESS, along with the potential they would balk at "baby food" or otherwise unrecognizable pureed tasty stuff.  That turned me off from pushing soup for a while, but, I do love soup, especially in winter.  So, I decided to remember that I'm grown, I can clean, and I gave it a whirl.  As usual, they surprised me, and I couldn't be more pleased with the results.

It's easy to teach kids to love soup when you pay attention to texture and consistency.  Plus, if you make it thick enough they will only minimally succeed in painting the kitchen.  People are amazed that my kids love squash, chard, mushrooms, and in general, most anything I make tasty for them.  It's all about seasoning and repetition.  Give kids real food that tastes delicious, and they are bound to like it.  They will learn to expect it.

This go round is vegetarian and can easily be made vegan.  Admittedly, my son asked where the bacon was.  What can I say?  I cure and smoke bacon, and he loves it.  Not the worst critique I can imagine.

Roasted Squash and Swiss Chard Soup

1 medium (~ 2.5 lbs) orange winter squash.  I do not know what the name is of the one my daughter picked out at the farmer's market, but it was similar to butternut.  You are looking for about 2 c. of puree after roasting.

kosher salt

olive oil

Heat an oven to 375 degrees.  Meanwhile, but the squash in half and clean out the pulp and seeds.  Sprinkle with salt and brush with oil.  Roast uncovered on a tray until the squash is soft throughout and starts to brown.  Remove and cool.  Scoop out the flesh and set aside.

1 large onion, diced

1 very large bunch of Swiss Chard (I probably had 10 substantial stems with large leaves).  Remove the stems, cut off the bottom bit, and then chop.  Set the leaves aside for later.

4 stalks celery

3 large garlic cloves, minced

olive oil

kosher salt

freshly cracked black pepper

Toss the onion, chard stems, celery, and garlic into a large soup pot heated over medium-high with a good glug of oil, then season with salt and pepper.  Cook partially covered until the veg just starts to caramelize.

1/2  c. dry white wine

6 c. water

1 lemon, zested and juiced

Deglaze the pot with the wine and increase the heat.  When the liquid is essentially gone, stir in the puree and chard leaves.  Cook, stirring, until combined and wilted.  Add the water, stir again, and reduce heat to medium.  Partially cover and let alone for 20-30 minutes.

Remove pot from the heat and puree with whatever tool you prefer.  I used an immersion blender.  Taste the soup, adjusting salt as needed.  Stir in the zest and juice.

Creme Fraiche for serving

Ladle soup into bowls and add a large spoon of creme fraiche.  Tell the kids to swirl it (because it's fun, of course).

Now, eat, enjoy, and repeat.

NOTE:  My kids aren't bothered by the slight bitterness of the chard.  If yours are, substitute baby spinach and add extra celery.