Archives for Recipes

Twice baked colcannon potatoes with sauteed spinach and garlic

A few weeks ago many of us were tilting back the Guinness and feasting on brisket and cabbage during St. Patrick’s Day, but Chef John over at foodwishes.com was cooking up his own favorite recipe. I had never seen colcannon prepared before, but I enjoyed this recipe video he posted back then in March, and you might want to check it out too. If you aren’t familiar with colcannon, it’s simply mashed potatoes combined with a combination of green stuff which may include cabbage, kale, onions, and/or leeks. Chef John finishes it with with a big dollop of butter and a sprinkling of green onions, kinda making it mashed potato’s cool Irish brother.

Fast forward to this week, and I’ve been making a lot of spinach and garlic. I enjoy cooking it in big batches and taking my time so it’s not a rushed thing. There’s a nice zen calm as I go through the steps – washing and chopping the leaves, using my mandolin to thinly slice the garlic, the low sizzle of the slow saute, then watching the gentle way spinach wilts down into almost nothing.

By making a big batch I can freeze half of the spinach and garlic, then find inspiration to use up the rest in lots of different ways. It goes so well in just about everything, but I love it as a simple side dish next to some roasted chicken. Throwing a handful into an omelet with some roasted red peppers can make morning breakfast a lot more colorful. It plays well as the finishing ingredient in soups, or it can give grilled chicken sausage a savory boost piled up as a topping.

These twice baked colcannon potatoes are really just a good, simple way to use up all that tasty sauteed spinach and garlic, but after you bite into one of these beauties you may think mashed potato’s cool Irish brother should hang around more often.

Basic Spinach & Garlic

  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 medium sweet onion, finely minced
  • 3 large bunches fresh spinach, stems & leaves chopped into 3/4 inch pieces

Using a mandolin or v-slicer, thinly slice the garlic directly into a cold non-stick pan. Add 2 teaspoons of oil and a pinch of kosher salt, then adjust the heat to medium high. When the garlic sizzles, bring the heat down to low. The sizzling should be very soft, like a little whisper you have to strain to hear. Cook this for 3 minutes. Stir in the minced onion, along with another 2 teaspoons of oil and another pinch of salt. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. You’re looking for translucent and soft enough that you could easily use flat wooden spoon to smash it. Remove from heat and reserve.

To a large wide pot over medium high heat add the spinach with another tablespoon of oil and a heavy pinch of salt. Cook for 8 minutes, stirring constantly (I like to use silicone coated tongs for this). The spinach will wilt and squeezes out liquid. Add the garlic and onions, then continue cooking another 3 minutes, or until the spinach stems are soft. Remove from heat then cool well before refrigerating or freezing.

Twice Baked Colcannon Potatoes

  • 1 large russet potato, well scrubbed
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • seasoned salt
  • 3/4 cup prepared spinach and garlic
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 1/4 cup cheese (you could use swiss, cheddar, or whatever you like, but I used pepper jack)
  • 1 Tbs sour cream
  • 1 green onion, chopped fine

Place a small tray in the center of your bottom oven rack, then preheat to 400 degrees. Poke the potato 12 times with the tines of a fork, then rub the skin with the olive oil sprinkle with seasoned salt. Place it directly on your oven rack, above the small tray to catch any drips. Bake for one hour, or until a knife easily pierces the center. Cool for about ten minutes, or until you can handle the potato easily.

Cut the potato lengthwise, and scoop the insides into a large bowl. Add the butter with the spinach and garlic mixture, then mash well with a fork. Scoop this back into the potato skins, then sprinkle on another dash of seasoned salt. Return the potatoes to the small tray used earlier. Bake again at 400 degrees for about 10-20 minutes, or until heated through.

Add the cheese in an even layer, then broil until golden and bubbling, about two minutes.

Top with the sour cream and green onions.

Healthy weeknight mashed cauliflower and easy roasted chicken

In my opinion, mashed potatoes go best with a fat celebratory birthday steak or a tall pile of Thanksgiving turkey, but they aren’t everyday food. A few years ago my eating habits were a bit different, and I wouldn’t have thought twice about plowing through a mountain of buttery spuds on a Wednesday night. Instead, I now try to keep it light on the weekdays. I would rather stick to healthier everyday meals, then save the richer stuff for the weekend. I like that keeping it simple also generally means easier to prepare, leaving more time to eat and clean up.

So instead of mashed potatoes I make mashed cauliflower. It’s a simple recipe with easy prep, and the results go so well with an equally uncomplicated roasted chicken. On this occasion, I added some leftover roasted almond crumbs to give it a nice nutty texture.

  • 1 large head of cauliflower
  • 1 Tbs canola oil
  • 1/2 sweet onion (minced)
  • 1/4 cup half and half
  • 1/4 cup milk (1% fat content or higher)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • (optional) pinch fresh grated nutmeg
  • (optional) 1 Tbs butter

(To make the almond crumbs, simply throw a few handfuls of almonds on a baking pan and roast at 350 degrees. Stir them after 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 275 and continue roasting for another 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the almonds sit in the oven another 15 minutes. Take them out, let them fully cool, then either chop them in a food processor, or throw them in a plastic bag and crush with a meat mallet. Add a pinch of some large-flake kosher salt.)

Halve the cauliflower, then cut each of these pieces into quarters. Angle your knife at 45 degrees and cut out the tough stem. Pull apart each of the quarters into several 1 inch pieces.

Heat the canola oil in a large wide pot over medium heat until it shimmers, then add the onion and saute until it becomes translucent, or about 3 minutes.

Add the cauliflower, half and half, milk, salt, pepper, and garlic powder, then bring to a boil over medium high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for about twelve minutes (stirring once), or until a fork easily mashes the cauliflower.

Remove from heat and tilt the pot at an angle. Fully submerge a stick blender into the deepest part of the cauliflower and liquids, then puree the contents. Stir in the optional nutmeg and butter, then sprinkle on the almond crumbs just before serving.

Perfect Roasted Chicken

From Ruhlman’s Twenty by Michael Ruhlman

  • One 3 to 4 pound chicken
  • 1 lemon and/or 1 medium onion, quartered
  • Kosher salt

About 1 hour before cooking the chicken, remove it from the refrigerator, and rinse it. Stuff the bird with the lemon or onion, or both. Salt it and set it on a plate lined with paper towels/absorbent paper.

Preheat the oven to 425°F or 450°F if your oven is clean and won’t smoke from the high temperature. Set the oven on convection if that’s an option. Put the chicken in an oven-proof frying pan and slide it into the oven.

After 45 minutes, check the color of the juices. If they run red, return the chicken to the oven and check it again in 5 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes before carving and serving.

Serve as an uncomplicated dinner for two to three people with the mashed cauliflower.

Quick and easy cream biscuits are the definition of simplicity

I spotted these biscuits on the kitchen a little while ago and promptly saved the recipe based on this photo. Don’t those look delicious… all tall and cloudy? Previously, I had only used butter as the fat in biscuits, so I was curious to see how replacing it with cream would change the texture. I’m always hungry for excuses to try recipes like this, so I grabbed fresh organic cream the next time I went to the store and got to work.

A very short list of ingredients make this recipe super simple to put together:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (divided)

Set up a layer of parchment paper across the bottom and up 2 sides of an 8″x8″ pan. Preheat oven to 425°F degrees. (the recipe called for a metal 8″x8″ pan, but I only had pyrex and it worked fine.)

Grab a big mixing bowl and measure out all your dry ingredients into it. Measure out the cream into a separate cup. Use a whisk to stir and incorporate the dry ingredients. Grab a spoon and stir the dry ingredients while pouring in the cream. Stop pouring when there’s still roughly a 1/4 cup of cream left, but keep stirring to combine the ingredients.

Stir until the ingredients hold together as a shaggy dough. It should not be wet. If it is, add more flour until the mixture pulls away from the mixing bowl.

Dump the dough on to a well floured surface. Pour the rest of the cream into the bowl and use it to gather up any loose flour and dough, then pour this into the rest of the pile.

Gently knead the dough, bringing together frayed edges while folding the mass in thirds. Form the dough into a rough square.

Using a sharp knife, cut the dough square into thirds, then into ninths.

Arrange the nine pieces in your parchment-lined baking vessel. I decided to brush the tops with additional cream because I thought the protein in it would help create browning. Adding another pinch of good kosher salt was my addition as well.

Bake for 13-18 minutes, or just keep checking for a perfectly browned top every four minutes after the first fifteen like I do. I can’t help it.

Voila! The finished product was crumbly and fluffy in the center, with a crispy browned top which added some nice texture.

I enjoyed these biscuits with a nice cup of tea, which makes for an exceptional start to a Sunday morning. Hopefully you enjoy them as much as I did.

Elastic breakfast quesadillas

Do you remember the first cooking show you ever watched on TV? I’ve got a hazy memory as a young boy first watching The Frugal Gourmet with my dad. I tracked cartoons like a heat-seeking missile back then so I barely paid attention to the show, but my dad eagerly watched as Jeff Smith used fun ways to cook with eggs in his studio kitchen. The Food Network didn’t exist back then, so PBS was the source for a nation of foodies in the ’80s. They had (and still have) plenty of shows with a diverse collection of cuisines and hosts. Back then you could watch Martin Yan demonstrating expert level cleaver skills on Yan Can Cook at four-thirty, then see Julia Child cook whole chickens using a French method at five.

Now we’ve got a whole cable network dedicated to food with bona-fide celebrity hosts, as well as a rapidly growing list of youtube shows with hosts who run the gamut from hilarious and amateur to serious and professional. They keep popping up to entertain, teach, and inspire. There are even cookware manufacturers who team up with cooking celebrities to produce little recipe clips that make use of their products. To be honest, these type of channels barely show up as a blip on my radar considering the sheer volume of neat cooking things I eagerly consume on the internet.

Yet, the inspiration for my crispy egg-filled quesadillas you see above came to me after watching this Youtube video where George Duran cooks up a cool version of huevos rancheros using a non-stick pan by Umusa. Thanks George! I copy parts of his method in my elastic recipe so the eggs cook through in the same way. The additional convection heat from using a lid is the key. This recipe should produce a crisp tortilla surrounding two eggs, gooey melted cheese and a mix of your favorite chosen ingredients. It’s delicious, easy to make, costs as little or as much as you want, and requires only a small degree of technique before you get to eat quesadillas for breakfast.

If he were still around I think Jeff Smith of The Frugal Gourmet would dig it.

(note: Try to use tortillas that are roughly the same size as the pan you’ll be using. The recipe should work fine as long as there is less than an inch or two difference between tortilla size and pan size. My 11″ pan worked perfectly with some standard 9″ whole wheat tortillas.)

Elastic Breakfast Quesadillas

  • 1/2 Tbs salted butter
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 tortilla (flour, corn, or whole wheat)
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheese (monterey jack, cheddar, swiss, parmesan)
  • optional: 1-2 Tbs cooked breakfast meats (bacon, sausage crumbles, ham)
  • optional: 1-2 Tbs sauteed or fresh vegetables (onion, bell peppers, tomatoes, green onions, mushrooms)
  • optional: 1 tsp fresh or dried herbs (dill, basil, oregano, parsley, chives)
  • salt and pepper to taste


In this version I decided to include some leftover poached salmon, Monterey jack cheese, dried dill, and Old Bay for seasoning. Use whatever you’ve got on hand. It’s a great way to use up leftovers.


Add the herbs and seasonings to your eggs then beat to combine.


On medium heat, swirl the butter around your pan as it melts to completely cover the surface. Add the tortilla to the pan, then swirl it around so the underside evenly coats with the melted butter. Cook for one minute. Pour the egg mixture over the tortilla while shaking the pan so it evenly distributes to all the edges.


Cover and cook for another minute, then add your fillings in an even layer. Cover again, and cook until the eggs have visibly firmed up and the cheese has melted (two to three minutes).


Turn off the heat and use a spatula to fold the quesadilla in half, pressing down to flatten. Some of the cheese may squeeze out. Some of it may hit the pan, sizzle, then crisp up into golden edges of joy. You will thank me for those edges. Let this finish cooking for another two minutes.

Slice into wedges or just wrap the whole thing in a paper towel and you’ve got a delicious mobile breakfast.

Here are some more excellent filling combinations you might want to try:

  • sauteed onions, bacon, green onions and Monterey jack
  • diced ham and green peppers with American cheese
  • mushrooms sauteed in butter and a splash of brandy with Swiss cheese

Post-Christmas sale items that can be helpful for future gift giving

I enjoy giving two types of gifts and often I can find at least some of the items necessary to give these types of gifts on discount during post-Christmas sales. The first is the personal gift, which is often representational of the shared history between the recipient and myself. These are the gifts I’ll eventually give to my closest friends and relatives, so I hunt for these items all year long, irrespective of the sale season.

The second type of gift, which I give far more often, are homemade food goodies. These treats are individually wrapped up in bags or boxes then decorated with little touches of festive color to create visual interest. Over the years I’ve made cookies, fudge, chocolate covered pretzels, peppermint bark, and spiced nuts in both salty and sweet varieties. Some of these are shipped to family members in other states, which is why most of my creations are slow-to-perish.

Sending these types of gifts is also cost effective and versatile. I primarily buy my containers cheaply after Christmas and in large quantities — I’ll browse places like The Container Store for any specialty jars I might need in the coming year. Finding recipients for these gifts never seems to be a problem for me. Who would turn down tasty treats in pretty wrapping? This makes them incredibly handy for spreading extra cheer when I unexpectedly want to give a gift.

When the times comes to use the jars or bags or whatever supplies I found on discount after Christmas, I’ll use them throughout they year on one of these treats:

  • I’m a fan of the highly addictive Spiced Nuts. Recipes like these are great for adaptation as well, so feel free to make your own substitutions. (And, obviously, don’t give them to anyone who is allergic to nuts.)
  • You can also use Martha Stewart’s Spiced Nuts recipe as a base for other flavors. You can mix up the spices to suit your taste, producing nearly infinite variations. You could also grab the biggest mixing bowl you own and whip up a double batch of just the nuts, salt, sugar, and egg whites to create a base-mixture for further seasoning after individually dividing it into additional bowls. This year I have been using almonds with smoked paprika, cumin, and allspice.
  • Gingerbread Cookies, Brigadeiros, Golden Rugalach — I like to keep my cookies as small as possible since larger cookies are harder to package. Bigger cookies also break easier than small ones when shipped.
  • Vanilla Sugar — This sugar recipe is so simple you’ll wonder why you haven’t made it yet. In my opinion vanilla sugar is best used as a wonderfully easy way to add sweetness and depth to a morning cup of black tea.
  • Holiday Pretzel Treats — For the younger gift recipients, these little pretzel treats get devoured thanks to lots of gorgeous color from the M&M candy centers.

I prefer to keep everything handmade when it comes to my non-edible gifts as well. This great list from getrichslowly.org is bursting with inspirational gift ideas to help come up with the perfect personalized present. The craft section on marthastewart.com has a wealth of great ideas too.

What kind of gift giver are you? Is your kitchen a bustling factory of edible treats? I’d love to hear what gift package experiences you’ve had and where you find deals to stock up on gift-giving supplies.

Pre-Thanksgiving link round up

We’re a little overwhelmed by all the Thanksgiving cooking talk. Instead of rehashing our version of how to create the Thanksgiving meal, we’ve decided to share with you some of our favorite links for the big day — and a number of non-Thanksgiving links, to help you keep your sanity. Happy turkey day!

  • Cook’s Illustrated has put together a Survival Guide to get you through making a gigantic Thanksgiving meal.
  • This Sweet Potato and Marshmallow Biscuit recipe from Smitten Kitchen made our mouth water just looking at the images.
  • Using a slow cooker for some of your side dishes can be a great and simple way to save time (and energy) in the kitchen. Check out The New York Times’ guide to “Which sides can be adapted for a slow cooker.” This is nice even for non-Thanksgiving meals.
  • I haven’t tried it, but Michael Ruhlman’s Roasted Braised Turkey recipe looks amazing.
  • Now on with some non-Thanksgiving links: The internet sure knows how to eat! Some tasty recipes end up as trendy sensations when they gain popularity through word of mouth (and stomach). Saveur magazine takes a look at eight great recipes that rocked the internet, including the swoon-worthy butter and onion tomato sauce.
  • As the weather cools down my taste buds remember crisp Octoberfest evenings where I’ve happily munched fatty bratwursts and drippy saurkraut, then washed it all down with some delicious Spaten beer. Why not relive Octoberfest 2011 with this simply wonderful mustard-glazed red cabbage with apple from Serious Eats?
  • Does your kitchen have a corner cabinet that never seems to work well for storage? Why not try this useful organizing idea for your pots and pans to transform that poorly used space into something wonderful?

Oven roasted green beans with dark sesame oil

Green beans. You can steam them, boil them, saute them, but these cooking methods score 3 out of 10 on the flavor scale if you ask me.

You have to oven roast them if you really want to see all of the green beans disappear off a plate.

This ultra simple recipe is deceptively flavorful. Yes, there are only a few ingredients, but the high oven temperature works perfectly to blister and wrinkle the oil coated beans to a deliciously nutty brown. The dark sesame oil has such an intense flavor, which always reminds me of the hot and sour soup I ate so many times at our local Chinese restaurant growing up. If you have a similar connection to a flavor memory, this snack will bring you right back to that happy place.

  • 1 lb fresh green beans (not frozen), stem end trimmed off
  • 1 Tbs dark sesame oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Preheat your oven to 450ºF while you trim off the stem ends of the green beans. Wash and thoroughly dry the beans.

Spread the beans on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet, then toss with the oil, salt, and pepper. Arrange the beans to fit on the baking sheet in a single layer. Cook for 10 minutes, then stir the beans and cook for another 5 to 10 more minutes, or until the skin is wrinkled and beginning to brown in places.

Let cool for a minute, add a dash more dark sesame oil, then commence super-sonic snacking.

Link roundup for October 11, 2011


red heaven

Fresh pasta walkthrough

If you’re anything like me, your youth involved eating pasta that started its life packaged in a box, living on a grocery store shelf until it was purchased by your family. My mom created wonderful things out of that dry pasta, like her Tuna Frittata or famous spaghetti and meat balls. I get a warm cozy feeling when imagining a pantry lined with boxes and boxes of pasta-based meal potential.

You are also like me if you tried fresh pasta for the first time in your twenties. My post-college years became a time for food exploration when I lived in Chicago. I gladly handed over roughly half my monthly earnings to the many restaurants that city has to offer. Chicago is a young foodie’s dream come true with all the diversity of flavors represented in such a tiny place. It would have been a crime to live there and not explore. Seems like it was only a matter of time before my wandering pallet experienced a bowl of freshly made pasta.

I recall eating it for the first time and thinking the texture was a lot like German spaetzle, yet it was much thinner and had a subtly different mouth feel thanks to the tomato sauce. It was delicate and chewy at the same time. It was different, and I was in love.

Despite this intense attraction, until recently fresh pasta has been something which only shows up in my home via the chilled plastic packages sold in grocery stores. The texture of that stuff is different than the fresh pasta from a restaurant. Less chewy. Yet making it from scratch seemed like a process which took too long. Was my desire for that unique texture enough reason to pass up the convenience of opening a box and having a meal in ten minutes?

Yes and no. Making fresh pasta takes time, but if you can find some joy in each step of the process it seems less like work and more like a project. Projects that end with a bowl of deliciousness are what I call fun.

I do not own a pasta rolling machine, so the steps listed below use only the bare essentials of what you need.

Step 1

Begin by scrubbing down your counter top until it’s nice and clean. Dry thoroughly.

Using your hands, create a mound using two cups of unbleached all-purpose flour. Poke down the center to form a well for the eggs. Add a half teaspoon of salt.

Step 2

Crack three eggs into the center of the well.

Step 3

Using a fork, gently scramble the eggs. Begin incorporating flour from the sides of the well, making sure not to allow the eggs to escape through any cracks in the wall.

Step 4

Continue moving the eggs around with the fork and incorporating flour until it starts looking dry. Scoop more flour into the eggs with your fingers. You should be able to start moving the dough around with your hands.

It should look something like this.

Step 5

Form into a ball and scrape down the counter to get rid of excess flour and dough crumbs. Knead the dough for about five minutes, adding flour as needed to keep it from sticking.

I like to put all the scrapings into a colander which I can shake over the dough to add flour.

Step 6

Wrap the ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for thirty minutes.

Step 7

Remove the dough from the fridge and let rest for ten minutes.

Step 8

Flour your counter top and begin rolling out the dough. It helps to start from the center and roll towards the edges. Be generous with the flour as you go to prevent the dough from sticking. Aim to roll out the dough to a sixteenth of an inch in thickness.

It should probably be even bigger than my example, since my batch ended up a bit thick.

Step 9

Visually divide your dough in half, then roll up each side of the dough towards the center line.

It should look something like this.

Step 10

Cut the dough using a long sharp chef’s knife, applying just enough pressure to go through without scratching your counter top. Make your cuts as wide as you like. I aimed for the width of pappardelle noodles.

Step 11

Insert your knife under the cut pasta and lift up…

VOILA! The pasta un-rolls itself.

Step 12

Dust with additional flour to prevent sticking. You can use the pasta right away, cooking it in plenty of salted boiling water for five minutes, or it can be frozen for up to three months. The noodles are best used immediately, but can be stored in your fridge for a few days before the texture starts to degrade.

Fresh pasta works best with sauces of light to medium body, so I thought to pair it with some of the simply magical butter and onion pasta sauce I’ve cooked in the past. The rich chewy egg based pasta combined with the buttery tomato sauce creates something truly wonderful.

When did you first try fresh pasta? Do you have fresh pasta making success stories? I’d love to hear some.

Fancy up a frozen pizza

If you aren’t familiar with her show, Sandra Lee hosts Semi-Homemade on the Food Network, which is where she creatively combines pre-packaged foods with other ingredients to create unique and time-saving meals. She’s received criticism for lacking real cooking skills, but in my mind her ideas are no less inventive than using exclusively fresh ingredients. For example, she loves using store bought rotisserie chicken as a base for pot pie. This kind of shortcut-minded thinking has a place in any kitchen, regardless of the ingredients you use.

The way I shop now has almost entirely scrapped any of the pre-packaged stuff I used to consume in college. I primarily purchase from a farmers market, then supplement my pantry with whole ingredients from the grocery store. I consider it a smart lifestyle choice to cook and eat this way because knowing exactly what I’m putting into my body is healthier than blindly diving into a plate full of chemicals, preservatives, and colorings. Additionally, it’s super convenient to cook large meals, which I split up and freeze for easy reheating. The last TV dinner I ate was locally made and was purchased at a farmers market.

Not too long ago, I was still doing the majority of my shopping in the center aisles at my local mega mart, and every visit included a trip through the frozen foods section to hunt for pizza sales. This was also right around the time I first caught Sandra Lee working her magic on Semi-Homemade. It was under these circumstances that I created my version of gussied up frozen pizza. While I’ve prepared it many times since then (especially as a quick party appetizer), I hadn’t thought to make this garlicy treat for a while since banishing convenience foods from my home. On a whim, I found the wheels of my shopping cart turning down the chilly frozen foods aisle, stirring up memories and a hunger for my yummy pizza concoction.

While this method would work perfectly well on some freshly homemade pizza, I have a spot in my heart for that crispy fresh-from-the-freezer crust, as well as the ridiculously convenient preparation.

Begin with any frozen pizza. I like to use one with minimal toppings so my additions properly shine through. Margherita pizzas are my favorite. On this occasion I grabbed one from Newman’s Own.

Begin by preheating your oven to the temperature listed on the box, then thinly slice up some peeled garlic. I go for about four nice big cloves. The thickness of the slices will determine the garlicy bite intensity, which is why I try to get them as thin as possible using a slicer with a nice sharp ceramic blade. In a small bowl, mix the sliced garlic with about a half teaspoon of olive oil and a big pinch of kosher salt.

The salt helps flavor the garlic, and the oil will help it cook, taking off the raw edges and producing a bit of sweetness. Spread this evenly on top of the pizza, then drizzle just a little more olive oil over the whole thing.

Add any additional herbs and spices per your preference. I like a few dashes of dried oregano, some dried thyme, and a few grinds of black pepper. Toss it in the oven and cook per the directions on the box.

When it comes out, the surface should have some nice browned spots thanks to the extra olive oil, and the garlic will have cooked ever so slightly in the heat of the oven.

Finally, drizzle on some red wine vinegar to cut through the richness of the cheese and give the whole thing a nice tart bite. Slice up your pizza and serve with some of the classiest two-dollar wine you can find. Enjoy!

Crispy, spicy chickpeas

I really like peanuts, but since my son is allergic, I haven’t eaten them in years. I like the crunch, the smoothness, the salty finish. They’re also incredible when they’re coated with a hot spice mixture that makes you want to grab an ice cold beer.

I’ve been looking for a replacement, and have turned to dried wasabi peas on occasion, but haven’t found a perfect alternative until just recently (although, dried wasabi peas are yummy). My friend Don turned me on to crispy, spicy chickpeas, and I think this will be my substitution. Best of all, it’s a really nutritious snack.

Making them is simple and allows for a lot of wiggle room, which is great when looking for a simple, healthful snack.

Crispy, spicy roasted chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

  • 1 can (or more or less) chickpeas (your can may say garbanzo beans on it)
  • 1 tsp (or more or less) olive oil or canola oil
  • Optional spices: salt, pepper, chili powder, and/or cayenne pepper.

Heat your oven to 350ºF.

Drain the water off the chickpeas. In a bowl, mix the chickpeas, oil, and spices. Use as little or as much of the spices as you prefer. If you go too light, you can always add more later. Stir until the chickpeas are well coated with oil and spices.

On a cookie sheet, spread out the chickpeas in a single layer. Put the cookie sheet of chickpeas in the oven and bake the chickpeas until they are dried and look like walnuts (about 45 minutes).

Wait for the chickpeas to cool (it won’t take long), put them in a bowl, and serve with your favorite beverage. If you made the chickpeas as spicy as I like them, you’ll really want that drink.

Unfortunately, these do not store well. If there are leftovers, you’ll want to crisp them up in the oven for 10 minutes before serving them. They tend to get soggy in storage.

How-to brown butter and a recipe for crispy sage brown butter cream sauce

While on a trip to New York City a couple years ago, I ended up taking refuge in a lovely Italian restaurant during an unexpected downpour. Once I realized the rain was going to be more than a few minutes long, I asked for a table and was delighted by my chance meeting with the restaurant.

My meal included a pasta dish that was topped with a crispy sage and brown butter cream sauce. At the time, I thought the “brown butter” aspect of the sauce was some kind of special butter, because the taste was magical. It wasn’t until I got home and did a Google search for “brown butter” that I learned it wasn’t a special kind of butter at all. It was simply butter that had been browned.

I was intrigued.

Browning butter gives it a nutty flavor, it erases the tang some butters have, and makes it delicious. All you need to do is melt butter in a skillet over medium heat and wait for it to turn a light brown. That’s it. Nothing else. You have successfully browned butter.

If you want to crisp up some fresh sage in the brown butter, remove the butter from the burner when it is brown and throw in some sage. The sage will fry in the butter and turn crispy. Again, that is all you have to do. It is really, really, really simple.

To make it into a cream sauce, whisk in some cream. If you want to get fancy, you can add a splash of lemon juice or dry white wine, but it’s not necessary. The sauce isn’t healthful, but it is really yummy and won’t give you a heart attack if you have it a few times a year.

Homemade salted and herb butters

Now that you’ve learned how to make homemade Fancy Butter, you may want to make it even more fancy. Super-fancy butter making isn’t difficult, and it tastes so amazing you’ll be impressed you created it. The first time I made the Herb Butter (the second recipe below) my husband stood in the kitchen searching for foods he could slather it on. You will, too.

Salted Butter

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (I prefer the homemade Fancy Butter)
  • 3/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • An 8-oz. Ball jar

Set out the unsalted butter on your counter and allow it to come to room temperature.

In a glass bowl, mix thoroughly the salt and the butter. I like to put some butter into a large serving spoon and mash the salt into the butter with the back of a fork.

Use immediately or store in an 8-oz. Ball jar. Using the back of a spoon, firmly pack the butter into the jar, careful to smoosh out all air pockets. Then, put a little water on top of the butter before screwing on the jar lid. This water will help the butter to keep from absorbing smells and help to preserve the butter. Just pour it off before you use the butter, and add a little to the top each time you put the butter back into the refrigerator for storage.

Herb Butter

Based on Ina Garten’s Herb Butter recipe

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (I prefer the homemade Fancy Butter)
  • 1/4 tsp minced garlic (one medium clove should do it)
  • 1 Tbl finely chopped scallions (both white and green parts)
  • 1 Tbl finely chopped fresh dill
  • 1 Tbl finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley (dried can work in a pinch)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice (fresh or bottled, whatever you have on hand)
  • 3/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Set out the unsalted butter on your counter and allow it to come to room temperature.

Mince and chop all of the herbs and put all ingredients except the butter in a glass bowl. Stir these ingredients together well.

Add the butter to the bowl and mix thoroughly. I like to put some butter into a large serving spoon and mash herbs into the butter with the back of a fork.

Use immediately or store in an airtight container. The Herb Butter should keep for about a week. I like to put a dollop of the Herb Butter on a freshly grilled salmon fillet, melted over roasted asparagus, or as a dip for crispy bread sticks.

Fancy butter

I love butter. I don’t eat it as often as I once did, but when I do eat butter, I want the experience to be glorious. I want it to make my taste buds sing. I want to be able to brag about it to my friends (although I wouldn’t, because that would be a little weird).

Buying butter from your local market is simple. And, since simple is a big theme on this blog, I’d be negligent if I didn’t acknowledge how easy it is to just buy butter.

However, making butter at home takes mere minutes and tastes incredibly better than the mass produced stuff. If you have 10 minutes and some heavy cream on hand, I strongly recommend whipping it up yourself. You’ll also get some amazing buttermilk out of the process, so it’s like you’re getting two great things for the price of one.

Fancy Butter, Basic Recipe

  • 1 pint organic heavy cream (the best you can buy, cream as the only ingredient, and NOT ultra-pasteurized)
  • Plastic wrap
  • An 8-oz. Ball jar and lid
  • Cheesecloth (natural, ultra fine)

Pour the cream into the bowl of your stand mixer and attach the whisk arm. Cover the bowl (as best you can) with plastic wrap or a lid specifically made for your mixer to keep the buttermilk from splashing out of the bowl. (If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can also use a food processor with a chopping blade. You can also close it up in a 16 oz. jar and shake it for a long time, and it will do the same thing, but with a lot more effort on your part.)

On medium-high speed, mix the cream until it separates into curd and buttermilk. You’ll know this has happened because you’ll hear the buttermilk sloshing around in the bowl and splashing up on the plastic wrap. You’ll also notice the curd will have a yellow hue to it.

Not done:

Done:

Drape a square of natural, ultra fine cheesecloth over a large glass bowl and then pour the buttermilk and butter into the bowl.

Wrap up the butter in the cheese cloth, and gently squeeze out the buttermilk liquid with your clean hands. At this point, if you’re keeping the buttermilk, pour it into a separate container (preferably glass) and then give the bowl a quick rinse. After rinsing the bowl, rinse the butter in the cheesecloth under the water, too. Over the bowl, squeeze out the excess water again. Be careful not to squeeze so hard that the butter squeezes through the cheesecloth. Repeat this butter rinsing and gentle squeezing process until the water is almost clear squeezing out of the butter (usually three or four times).

Pour all the remaining liquid out of the bowl, unwrap the butter from the cheesecloth, and let the butter rest in the bowl. Using the back of a spoon, firmly pack the butter into the 8-oz. Ball jar, careful to smoosh out all air pockets. Then, put a little water on top of the butter before screwing on the jar lid. This water will help the butter to keep from absorbing smells and help to preserve the butter. Just pour it off before you use the butter, and add a little to the top each time you put the butter back into the refrigerator for storage. My grandmother used to do this with margarine, and it works wonders with butter, too.

Your homemade butter should keep for up to two weeks, but I sincerely doubt you can go that long without eating all of it. It’s incredibly yummy.

Over the remainder of this week, I’ll show you how to make herb butters, clarified butter, brown butter, and throw in some recipes for how to use these amazing fats. Today’s recipe is just the beginning.

French press iced tea

I moved! While the RVing adventure has been a blast, I felt it was time to settle down into a home sans-wheels and enjoy living on a foundation again. I’m loving the additional counter top space and full sized oven. Hooray!

Hauling boxes for a move during an Arizona summer sure isn’t something I plan on doing again any time soon. The sweat was flowing like buckets, but I had plenty of water to avoid overheating. Here’s another great way to stay cool this summer.

Clean out any coffee grounds from your French press and fill with assorted teabags/loose tea leaves. For my example, I’m using two bags of Red Berry Zinger by Celestial Seasonings to establish a fresh fruity base, accompanied by a bag of green tea and a chamomile blend for background. I’ve also added several lemon peels and sugar to taste (roughly 1/4 cup).

Using all those tea bags will produce concentrated flavors that mellow and balance when the ice melts.

Fill your French press to the top with boiling water and steep for four or five minutes. Be sure to take a blurry photo of your progress.

Shoot more goofy photos while it steeps. You get bonus points for using a reflection to point at the awesome skylight in the kitchen of your new apartment.

Pour tea into a two quart pitcher full of ice, then serve in a nicely chilled mug full of ice. Cup your hands around that sucker while drinking for a delicious icy rush of heat relief. More bonus points for rimming the mug with turbinado sugar.

Simply magical butter and onion pasta sauce

A cool breeze on a hot summer afternoon. A friendly kitty head-butt when after a lousy day at work. The smell of freshly washed sheets as you climb into bed. What do these things all have in common? They’re unexpected pleasures that can magically improve your mood in simple ways.

My mind never before put “simple” and “home made pasta sauce” together, but that was before I tried this unexpectedly wonderful version I found over at Smitten Kitchen. It sat as a bookmark in my browser, blinking like a red dot on my radar for about a year before I got around to trying it. I used to think every homemade pasta sauce took hours to put together, but that has all changed now.

As others who have tried this recipe have written, some real magic happens with this sauce. This sentiment is completely understandable given the tiny number of ingredients and incredibly simple preparation instructions. All you need to do is simmer a big can of whole tomatoes with some butter and onion for forty-five minutes, remove the onion at the end, then mash everything into a sauce. The bright fresh flavors will have you thinking this is some David Copperfield-type stuff for sure.

Simply Magical Butter and Onion Pasta Sauce, a la Smitten Kitchen

serves 4

  • 28 ounces whole peeled tomatoes from a can (San Marzanos are preferred)
  • 5 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and halved
  • salt to taste

Empty the tomatoes and their juice into a sauce pot, along with the butter and halved onion, then bring to a simmer. Cover and adjust heat to maintain a steady simmer for 45 minutes, or until fat droplets from the butter freely float to the surface.

Remove the onion and crush the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a spoon or blend using a stick blender.

Adjust seasoning with salt, but most canned tomatoes come pre-salted so you may not need this ingredient.

Do a card trick, saw your assistant in half, then serve the sauce over your favorite pasta.

Grilling basics: Using cedar-planks

Fish is delicate and absorbs flavors easily from a grill. As a result, it tastes best when grilled over hardwood charcoal and infused with additional glazes or spices. Since many glazes make a fish fillet sticky, and therefore very difficult to remove from a grill grate, we recommend using cedar planks under the meat. Not only does the cedar add a wonderful flavor to the meat, but it also keeps the fillet in one piece when it’s ready to eat.

If you’ve never used cedar planks for grilling before, this is the basic information you’ll need:

Start by getting a food-grade quality cedar plank (if you’re making your own, you need to buy untreated cedar). You can find them online, at your butcher counter (ours give them away free if you ask for them), in kitchen supply stores (though, usually more expensive than anywhere else), and even at some hardware and home improvement stores.

The next step is to soak the cedar planks for at least two hours before grilling. This keeps the planks from burning up while you grill with them.

You can see, we soak ours in a shallow cake pan and we weigh them down with a cup of water.

When you’re ready to use them, pull them out of the water and set the fish fillet directly onto the wet board. The fish should be skin-side down on the wood.

Put the planks directly onto your hot grill, and cover with your grill lid while cooking.

When your fish has reached its desired temperature, remove the whole plank-fish unit from the heat and serve. The fish skin will usually stick to the plank, which makes the eating process even easier.

This particular salmon fillet was coated in a honey-bourbon glaze. To recreate it, mix 3 Tbl of honey with 1/2 cup of your favorite bourbon. Using a pastry brush, spread the glaze over the salmon immediately before putting the salmon on the cedar plank. The garnish is a slice of apple also glazed with the honey-bourbon mixture. This preparation is incredibly simple, and very tasty.

Grilling basics: Using a chimney starter and making coffee-crusted flank steak

When we grill during the week, we use a tiny Weber grill (specifically, it’s a Smokey Joe 10020, which we affectionately refer to as just plain Joe). I think I’ve mentioned this before, but we use Joe because he heats up quickly, evenly distributes heat, and doesn’t require a lot of charcoal. Within half an hour of lighting him, we usually have lunch or dinner on the table.

We use a chimney starter and hardwood charcoal when we grill. (We use either the Trader Joe’s or the Whole Food’s charcoal brands). With the chimney starter there is no need for lighter fluid and no need to arrange the coals in a certain pattern. If you’re unfamiliar with the incredibly simple process, you fill the starter with charcoal:

Put a few pieces of newspaper in the bottom of the starter:

Light the paper on fire:

Wait 20 minutes, and then pour the hot coals into your grill very carefully:

This specific grill was heated up to cook coffee marinated and crusted flank steak:

(You’ll have to trust me that the finished product tastes and looks much better than this raw meat. Sadly, I ate the entire meal before I realized I hadn’t taken any photographs of it. Yum.)

We got these cuts of meat already marinated and crusted from our butcher, but it’s easy to do at home. Simply get two individual servings of flank steak and marinate them overnight in the refrigerator in a zip-top bag full of coffee. The coffee should be a roast you enjoy drinking, because you can taste it after you’ve grilled it. Also, the coffee should be room temperature or colder when you put the meat in it. You don’t want the liquid to cook the meat.

Right before you’re ready to put the meat on the grill, strain off the liquid, salt the meat, and dredge it through your favorite coffee grounds. (The whole coffee beans you see in the picture above are just for decoration, only use grounds.) Rub the coffee into the meat a little, similar to how you would a spice rub. Grill the meat to a nice medium-rare, remove from heat, cover with a bowl like a dome, and wait five minutes (letting the meat rest) before serving.

Coffee-crusted flank steak is perfect with fried eggs and hash browns, as a “breakfast for dinner.” The coffee makes the steak sweet, almost as if you had added a lot of sugar to a cup of coffee. It’s really good, though, and gives you a little bit of a caffeine kick. If you don’t want that caffeine rush, use decaf coffee instead.

Meatless Monday: Vegetarian lasagna

Lasagna is a wonderful meal because you get dairy, whole grains, vegetables, and proteins in every bite. It’s also nice because it’s a filling entree and the leftovers are sometimes better than the original meal. It was a staple in our house growing up, and it’s something I like to make when we have dinner guests.

That being said, it takes a bit of time to assemble it all. It’s not difficult to make, but getting it all together can be time consuming. Whenever I tell my mom I’m making lasagna, she always reminds me “don’t begin when you’re tired.” This is sage advice. To keep it from being a huge burden, I like to make two at a time and freeze one for up to a month. (Put the second one in the freezer before the baking stage, then move it to the refrigerator two days before you plan to bake it.) Adding a second one to the mix doesn’t add much to the time line, but something to keep in mind is that it will occupy one of your casserole dishes while it’s hanging out in the freezer.

This specific recipe is also vegetarian. If you want to make it vegan friendly, you will need to substitute soy-based products for all the dairy ingredients throughout the recipe.

Vegetarian Lasanga

  • 1 package dried lasagna noodles (I use a whole wheat lasagna noodle, but semolina ones are good choices, too)
  • 1 Tbl unsalted butter
  • 8 oz baby portabello mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 of a large, sweet onion, diced
  • 24 oz canned tomato sauce (no salt, no spices)
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tsp dried sweet basil
  • 1 tsp ground Mediterranean oregano
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbl dried parsley
  • 1 package (8 oz) cream cheese
  • 1 cup small curd cottage cheese or ricotta cheese (ricotta makes the cheese mixture very thick, so only use with cheese lovers)
  • 1 Tbl raw green pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 1 small yellow squash
  • 3 cups grated mozzarella cheese

Cook lasagna noodles per their directions until just tender. Lay them flat on a piece of wax paper after cooking, not overlapping, to keep them from sticking together.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and onions to the pan and saute until the onions are translucent and tender. Add tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, basil, oregano, garlic powder, and parsley and stir well. Cover and cook on low for 12-15 minutes, stirring periodically to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan.

While the sauce is heating through, mix the cream cheese, cottage cheese (or ricotta), diced raw green pepper, and sour cream until well blended.

Using a sharp knife, cut the ends off the zucchini and squash and cut both in half. Then, lengthwise, slice up the vegetables into 1/8 inch or thinner strips.

Spray the bottom of a 3 quart casserole dish with cooking spray. Cover the bottom of the dish with a little of the sauce, which also helps to keep the bottom layer of noodles from sticking to the pan. Lay one layer of noodles on top of the sauce. Cover the noodles with 1/3 of the cream cheese mixture in a thin layer — drop it by spoonfuls on top of the noodles and then gently spread it with the back of the spoon.

Alternating between pieces of zucchini and squash, place half the vegetables in a layer on top of the cheese layer:

Spread out about 1/3 of the tomato sauce over the zucchini and squash.

Then, place another layer of noodles, cheese mix, zucchini and squash, and sauce.

Next, put on the remaining cheese mix, the 3 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese, and the remaining sauce to finish.

Bake at 350ºF for 25 to 30 minutes. You don’t want the noodles or cheese to burn, so keep a close eye on the lasagna after the 25 minute mark. Let the lasagna set for 10 to 15 minutes before cutting.

Adjust-as-necessary blueberry cream pie

I have a theory that there are two types of people in the world: Cake People and Pie People. I am one of the Pie People.

I’ll eat cake, but when I do my heart almost always wishes I were eating pie instead. I’m certain my preference toward pie has to do with my partiality toward salt over sugar. The salt in pie crust makes the sweetness of the filling more bearable. Whereas when I eat cake, the shot of pure sweetness makes my teeth hurt. It’s not just me, as an informal polling of friends at a recent party revealed that those of us who crave salt heavily skew toward being Pie People.

One of the problems with being a Pie Person is that pies usually take more time to prepare than cakes. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a lot of time to devote to pie making. I know how to make an amazing pie crust, but I rarely have the time to do it. And, my neighborhood is sadly void of decent pie-making bakeries.

So, when I was developing this recipe, I kept my fellow time-crunched Pie People in mind. The recipe adjusts based on the amount of time you have to devote to making the pie. This one is perfect for Independence Day celebrations where setting down a bright blue pie is commonplace:

Adjust-as-Necessary Blueberry Cream Pie

Time-saving options are in parenthesis

  • A 9″ deep dish pie crust (or a 9″ deep dish Keebler graham cracker Ready Crust)
  • 1 pint of blueberries, washed and the bad ones picked out (or one 21 oz. can of blueberry pie filling)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup of sugar, based on your tartness flavor preference (or delete this ingredient if using blueberry pie filling)
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream (or 2 cups real whipped cream from a spray can — do NOT use Cool Whip)
  • 1/2 cup sugar (or delete this ingredient if using whipped cream from a spray can)

Per the pie crust’s instructions, bake and set aside to cool. If using a frozen pie crust, I prefer to use the Marie Callendar brand, which is flaky and only takes 12 minutes to bake. (Alternative: If not using a traditional pie crust, simply unwrap the Keebler graham cracker Ready Crust.)

While the pie crust is baking, clean a pint of blueberries. Be sure to pick out the stems and bad berries as you’re transferring the clean berries to a bowl. With a fork, stab some of the blueberries, smoosh a few up against the side of the bowl, and leave a few whole. Pour up to 1/2 a cup of sugar over the berries, mix well, and set aside. (Alternative: If not using fresh berries, open a can of blueberry pie filling and pour it into a bowl. Set aside.)

In a mixing bowl, combine 8 oz cream cheese and 1 cup powdered sugar until the consistency of butter. Transfer the cream cheese mixture to a separate bowl and clean out your mixing bowl if you only have one mixing bowl for your stand mixer. (Sorry, but there isn’t a short cut for this step.)

Pour 1 cup of heavy whipping cream into a mixing bowl and turn to a medium speed. Slowly add 1/2 cup of sugar to the liquid and whip until you have whipped cream — be careful not to over whip. (Alternative: Measure two cups of whipped cream out of a spray can.)

Gently — oh, so very gently — fold and stir the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture until blended. Then, pour the cream mixture into the cooled pie crust.

Using a strainer, drain off some of the syrup from the blueberries before adding the berries to the top of the pie. You won’t want to strain off all the syrup, but you’ll need to take off some so you don’t make a mess of things. (Alternative: If using blueberry pie filling, you may also need to strain off some of the syrup from the berries. You probably won’t need the whole can of pie filling to cover the top of the pie.)

Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. Also, refrigerate any leftovers if there happen to be any.

Now it’s time to confess — are you one of the Cake People, or are you one of the Pie People, too?