Posts Tagged With: supper tonight

a perfect 30th birthday, and a perfect field pea soup

I love a good birthday cake, especially the carrot cake we got from Big City Bread for my 30th birthday party a couple of weeks ago:

thanks to Micah’s mom for the candles and to my friend Alice for the lovely photo!

The folks at Big City were super nice, by the way, and offered to let me sample several tasty cakes before picking one. But when they sliced me off that first little sliver of this cream-cheese-and-carrot decadence, that was all the convincing I needed.

I received some very thoughtful presents, too.

The best gift, of course, was a fantastic gathering of friends and family at our house for my birthday party, complete with food and booze and some cheesy 80s music to commemorate the decade of my birth.

From my sweet, sweet husband: a clean house, two four-packs of my very favorite fancy beers (Wild Heaven Invocation and Ode to Mercy), lots of yummy birthday pizza from Transmetropolitan (including the best combo ever, bacon + artichoke hearts), and a classy date at Five and Ten the night after my birthday.

Money from the folks (always appreciated), a lovely bottle of Malbec from Dave and Kim, hand-drawn pictures and a birthday card from my niece Lilly, and a gift certificate to Avid Bookshop (yay!) from her uncle Jason.

From Eric and Jinny, a bottle of chamomile grappa (perfect for sipping after a swanky date-night dinner), and from my good friend Amy, a very pretty tea set with a mint-green teapot, two mugs, and packages of green tea and cookies.

Scratch-off lottery tickets (not winners–oh well!) and cute sticky notes from some school pals, plus a pretty handmade necklace from my fourth grade Froggy Friend!

I’ve got a pretty dang sweet crew of friends and family, if I do say so myself! What a perfect birthday.

So imagine my surprise when I returned to school the following Monday to find one more present waiting for me on my desk, a pink gift bag from my friend Leigh, with a note that read: “I’ve picked some field peas from my garden (purple-hull/crowder). If anyone knows what to do with these, it’s you! :)”

My birthday had already been wonderful, which made these pretty peas the proverbial icing on the cake:

I don’t mean to brag, y’all, but I think this is one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken, ever

I spent last Saturday morning sipping coffee, baking muffins, and shelling those pretty little peas:

they’re lovely without their shells, too

Then it was time to come up with a recipe. I winged it, as usual, having never made soup with fresh field peas before, and let me tell you guys–the results were nothing short of spectacular.

not the prettiest photo I’ve ever posted, but I think you still might be able to tell that this soup was
packed with veggies, full of flavor, and perfect with a hunk of toasted homemade sourdough

What’s in it:

  • 1/2 cup diced bacon
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced (about 1 cup)
  • 6-8 big cabbage leaves, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1 cup freshly shelled field peas
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon paprika (smoked, if you have it)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 3-4 cups stock or broth (I used pork)
  • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • 4 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the bacon in a big saucepan over medium heat and cook until it starts to crisp and the fat has rendered out.
  • Add the garlic, onion, and carrots, and saute for about 5 minutes or until they start to get tender.
  • Stir in the cabbage, field peas, marjoram, paprika, and lemon zest. Mix until everything’s coated with the bacon fat and seasonings. (At this point, things are going to smell really, really good.)
  • Pour in the stock or broth, add the vinegar and bay leaves, and bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to low.
  • Simmer for 20-30 minutes or until until the peas are cooked through and the veggies are falling-apart tender.

This hearty soup makes a meal for 2 or 3 with sourdough toast, buttermilk biscuits, or hunks of warm homemade cornbread.

Make the portions a little smaller and you’ll have the perfect starter for a Southern-style feast of summer veggies and crispy fried chicken.

And when you slurp up your first spoonful of this savory soup, you’ll swear it must be your birthday (even if it’s not).

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Categories: recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

forgetfulness, plus a perfect parsley pistachio pesto

We needed fresh parsley the other day.

I knew we needed it, because it’s not something we usually keep around.

We needed fresh parsley–I knew we did, was absolutely sure we did–so I picked some up at the store…

…only to return home and discover that we already had a slightly wilted and forgotten bunch of fresh parsley in the fridge, leftover from another night.

The older bunch of herbs was certainly no longer in its prime, not perky enough to garnish the fancy dinner Micah was making for me, but certainly not yucky enough just yet to toss in the compost pile.

So there I was a few mornings later, brainstorming lunch ideas and faced with not one but two bunches of floppy parsley, not to mention a whole-heck-of-a-big loaf of fresh sourdough.

But what about all that parsley?

A saggy parsley salad with sourdough croutons didn’t strike my fancy. Neither did wilted parsley sandwiches. Even bacon wouldn’t save those.

Then, my brainstorm struck a little lightning.

Pesto lightning.

It seemed like a good idea. After all, pesto is what you make when you’re overrun with fresh basil. Why not make it with parsley instead?

Of course, I didn’t have pine nuts, either. I could have subbed walnuts or pecans, both pine-nut-alternatives that I’ve seen in pesto recipes before.

But then I peeked in the pantry and spied the pistachios.

Pistachios are pretty much my favorite member of the nut family, and not just because they’re green (my favorite color). A perfectly roasted pistachio is crunchy, salty, and just a little bit creamy from all those good-for-you vegetable fats that live in nuts and avocados.

Thus, with the help of my handy dandy food processor, the perfect parsley pistachio pesto was created.

green + good for you!

This stuff was great on bacon tomato sandwiches, and it’s most likely on deck to dress some gnocchi later this week.

What’s in it:

  • 2 tightly packed cups chopped fresh parsley (about 1-1/2 bunches, wilted is okay :))
  • 1/2 cup roasted, salted pistachios
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
  • 1/2 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

Step by step:

  • Put the parsley, pistachios, garlic, and cheese in the bowl of your food processor and whir everything around a few times until it starts to come together and look more, well, pesto-y.
  • Add the vinegar, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Pulse the food processor a few more times until your pesto is the consistency you like. If you prefer your pesto smoother than my chunky stuff, just drizzle in a little more olive oil and mix a bit longer.

This recipe makes about 1 packed cup of pesto, which will now keep for a week or two in the refrigerator. Spread it on a sandwich, use it for pasta sauce, or just sneak spoonfuls of it straight from the jar like I’ve been doing all week.

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supper tonight – 6.25.12 and 6.28.12 – pork (belly) ‘n’ beans – a guest post from Micah – plus 3-ingredient microwave chocolate cakes!

I was much too busy with Red Clay to help Micah cook dinner Monday night, so he whipped up an amazing (and very fancy) meal for us all on his own. I snapped some photos and told him his delicious supper would go up on the blog if he would write up a post about it. So he did, and here it is!

*   *   *   *   *

Hi. I’m Tanya’s main squeeze Micah and her very first official guest blogger.

I’m also the resident cook/curer of all things carnivorous in our household and a dabbler in what Tanya has coined “boozy infusions.” These are simply booze that has been infused with something (preferably non-toxic) that you think it should taste more like. But I’ll go into further detail about those adventures in a future guest post.

The reason I’m writing is to tell you about this here dinner:

beauty and substance – a perfect combination

I’ve recently begun to discover my roots. In other words, I’ve become enamored with Southern cooking.

I’ve long had a taste for the tasty. But whenever I’d think about the great food cultures of the world, I’d think about French, Italian, authentic Mexican, Japanese, etc. Never did Southern cross my mind. Only recently have I discovered what has been right in front of my face (and in my mouth) my whole life.

This has a lot to do with the rise of our local celebrity chef, Hugh Acheson. I know Tanya has mentioned him before. He’s the man who has put Athens, Georgia on the culinary map. His specialty is Southern cuisine with a modern twist.

After we visited his restaurants and read his cookbook, A New Turn in the South, a lightbulb went off in my head. The South does have one of the finest food cultures in the world. In bridging the traditional cuisines of three continents (North America, Africa, and Europe), we Southerners have created something greater than the sum of its parts.

Sure, it’s been hijacked and bastardized by the Paula Deens of the world, but trailblazers like Hugh are taking it back. This makes for an exciting time to be a foodie in the South, and it has made me want to incorporate a little Southern charm into almost everything I cook.

Including the meal I’m telling you about here, which fancifies butter beans and quick pickles with a little bit of pork belly. Voila!

Wait, that’s French. Let’s try again.

Here it is, y’all: my Pork (Belly) ‘n’ Beans.

First, there are two things you’ll want to make ahead: pork belly confit (I followed these directions from Belly Love) and pickled beets (made following thismodernwife’s recipe). These’ll keep in the fridge for a while, so make them when you have time and keep ‘em around for this meal.

(As you can probably tell from the preceding recipes, and Tanya can confirm, I prefer to read things with lots of pictures.)

Ingredients:

  • For the butter bean puree (you’ll have extra left over):
    • 2 cups dried butter beans or baby limas
    • 6 cups stock or broth
    • 1 medium onion, chopped
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 3/4 cup heavy cream
    • 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
    • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
    • salt and pepper to taste
  • Everything else:
    • two 2- to 3-ounce pieces of pork belly confit
    • 2-4 tablespoons pickled beets, sliced into thin strips
    • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped

What to do:

  • Put beans, stock, onion, and garlic into a pressure cooker, slow cooker, or big pot. Cook until tender (about 30 minutes in a pressure cooker or several hours on the stove/in a slow cooker).
  • Puree with a stick blender or in batches in the regular blender until smooth.
  • Add cream, lemon juice, and paprika, plus salt and pepper to taste.
  • Strain with cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer. (Bonus: The solids that are leftover make good bean dip.)
  • Add the liquid back into a saucepan and cook on medium low heat to reduce it until it’s good and thick.
  • The last step is to crisp up the pork belly. Add the pieces to a skillet over medium heat and cook each side until brown.
  • To serve, ladle about ½ cup of butter bean puree onto each plate, add the pork belly, top with slivers of pickled beets, and garnish with parsley.
  • Eat up!

*   *   *   *   *

Tanya here again. I just want to reiterate how good this was! Micah and I usually work together in the kitchen, but this recipe was entirely his creation and entirely, mouthwateringly, perfectly delicious.

The best part? We had enough of all the fixins that, after having this meal Monday night with a tomato cucumber salad, there was still plenty for us to enjoy it again yesterday, this time with the last of my peach tomato gazpacho.

Oh, and for dessert? We made some fantastic 3-ingredient microwave chocolate cakes, thanks to Stephanie at a {modern} christian woman.

topped at the last minute with the remnants of a pint of
cherry vanilla Häagen-Dazs that we found hiding in the freezer

Gluten-free friends, these are made from egg, powdered sugar, and unsweetened cocoa, so you can enjoy them, too! 🙂

Categories: people, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

supper tonight – 6.7.12 – frito pies

Yes, you read that right.

Yes, we bought a bag of (corporate, processed, full-of-preservatives-and-crap) Fritos.

We could’ve (and probably should’ve) walked down to Daily Groceries or driven over to Earth Fare for some organic, all-natural Frito-type corn chips with five or fewer easily pronounceable ingredients. It’s always my preference to buy a healthier, more sustainable option.

But when you’re really hungry after a long day at school or work, and the chili’s completely ready in the pot, and then Micah says, “We need chips! How about Fritos? I’ll go get some.”–well, it’s kinda hard to stick to your principles.

And since we do stick to our principles most of the time….well, I wasn’t going to argue.

Plus, I’ll admit: I like Fritos. Always have. And I love, love, love Frito pies.

You might’ve had Frito pies before, but if you haven’t, let me tell you a little bit about them.

The Frito pies of my childhood were comprised of three vital components:

  • Canned chili. Dave and I were the working-class kids of teenage parents, so brand-name chili like Bush’s or Hormel happened sometimes, but other times, the cans looked a little more like this:

from the creative folks at Max Pictures’ Blather, where they actually printed
Dharma Initiative PDF labels for chili and Spam, affixed the labels to the cans,
and then snapped some photos

  • Fritos:

from Frito-Lay’s official website

  • And shredded cheese:

from Joe Hribar’s blog, which includes a whole section about food packaging

We ate a lot of Frito pies growing up, so you would think they were commonplace enough for me not to get that excited about them (or maybe even enough for me to get tired of them).

Not so.

For whatever reason, Frito pies always sparked high spirits. If one of us asked what was for dinner and Mom or Dad responded, “Frito pies!”–they always said it with that exclamation point at the end, always enthusiastic, always eager–then Dave and I always felt the excitement, too. (I’m speaking for him here, of course, but I’m pretty sure I’m hitting the mark.)

Maybe Frito pies were exciting because we had some choices–how many chips, how much cheese, what the final crunch-to-chili ratio would be.

Maybe Frito pies were exciting because they were kind of real food, but still kind of junk food, too, and maybe when the chili ran out, we’d still get to snack on the leftover Fritos afterwards.

Or maybe Frito pies were exciting just because they tasted really damn good.

Whatever the reason–the autonomy, the forbidden-fruit-thrill, or the hearty-spicy-crunchy-melty deliciousness–Frito pies are one of my very favorite childhood memories.

They’re a tradition that carried over to my teen years, too, when we would go camping with my Dad and someone might stew a big dutch oven of homemade chili over the campfire (or just plunk an opened can of chili beans right down on the grates of the grill), and our chili and chips and cheese sometimes got fancified with a sprinkling of black olives or a spoonful of salsa or a dollop of sour cream.

My mom still makes Frito pies sometimes–the kind everyone’s pinning on Pinterest where you put out lots of little single-serve bags of Fritos next to a big pot of chili and and an assortment of fixins so your party guests can build their own Frito pies without dirtying any dishes because the chip baggie doubles as a sort of bowl.

Well, as of last Thursday, I still make Frito pies, too:

the layers, from bottom to top: a generous fistful (or two) of Fritos, a heaping
ladle of chili, a sprinkling of shredded cheddar, and a scattering of fresh cilantro
(Micah also added a dollop of Greek yogurt–subbed for sour cream)

When you eat a Frito pie, you should top it with whatever chili you like best, whether it’s a can of No Beans Hormel or a pot of vegan chili with sweet corn and chunks of carrot or some very traditional chili that’s just chile con carne, stewed to sublime, spicy perfection.

Our chili wasn’t the best we’ve ever made, definitely wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty dang good, so I’ll share how we made it here.

What’s in it:

  • 2/3 cup dry black beans (or you could use a can of already cooked)
  • 1 cup dry pinto beans (or use 1-2 cans)
  • 1 pound bulk pork sausage (ours was medium-heat breakfast sausage from Moonshine, but once we seasoned it, it didn’t taste like brunch anymore)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 medium bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 pound fresh tomatoes, diced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper (or sub cayenne)
  • 1 can Pabst Blue Ribbon (or beer of your choice)
  • juice of 1/2 a lime
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step-by-step:

  • If your beans are dry, soak ’em and cook ’em. We used our pressure cooker to get them done in about 45 minutes, but you can simmer them all day on the stove or in a slow cooker–or just used canned beans because they’re easier. 🙂
  • In a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat, brown the ground sausage.
  • When the sausage is cooked through (or close to it), add the garlic, onion, and peppers, and saute until they’re translucent and tender.
  • Mix in the tomatoes, tomato paste, cumin, and ground chipotle.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients, including the beans. (You can add the liquid from the beans or not, depending on how thick and chunky you like your chili and how long you want it to take to reduce.)
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for at least 30-40 minutes, but as long as a few hours to let the flavors really play together nicely.

Now that you have that big, spicy, hearty pot of chili, go ahead and make yourself a Frito pie. A basic three-ingredient stove-top pie, a rustic campfire pie, a cute little Pinterest pie….or make up your own. Use Fritos, or splurge on the organic all-natural five-ingredient corn chips. It’s really up to you.

And in the end, that’s probably the best thing about a Frito pie. 🙂

Categories: musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

supper tonight – 6.5.12 – leek & mushroom pizza

Vision:

Musing, wishing, dreaming…

     …conception, imagination, anticipation…

…an overall idea of how you hope something will turn out.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a prophecy.

Some written recipes include an indication of their creator’s vision. Maybe a grab-you-by-the-tastebuds blurb at the top of the page, a charming anecdote that invites and entices you, a photo that captures one stylized representation of what your mouthwatering result should look like.

But mostly, the recipe is a plan–a straightforward description of ingredients and materials, steps and procedures.

A recipe is the map that helps you navigate to your cabin in the woods, not the relaxing thrill of the forested hike you look forward to taking when you get there, not the buzzing and chirping and humming of nature all around you, not the sweet warmth of the hot cocoa you’ll sip on the porch when the evening chill sets in.

The recipe is not what makes your mouth water, not what you’ll look forward to.

The recipe is concrete, explicating (hopefully in careful detail) the very real process of creating your vision or someone else’s. But it is abstract, too, because you as you’re reading, you don’t yet smell it, taste it, experience it in any tangible way. It is only a string of words and numbers, measurements and imperative sentences, that can lead you through–and to–that sensory experience.

The vision blurs these lines, too. It is abstract because it does not exist yet–it is only your dream of what will be (or what could or should be), not what actually is. But it is concrete, too, because the vision is what you can smell and taste, see steaming, hear sizzling–even if only in your mind.

When I cook, I might follow a recipe. But I’m more likely to adapt a recipe, ignore a recipe, forget a recipe, create a recipe as I go along.

Recipe or not, I almost always have a vision. I know what I want my food to look like on the plate, to taste like when it touches my tongue, to feel like as I chew.

I know how I want to feel when I eat it.

But when you’re cooking with someone else, someone you love, and you have a vision but no recipe, how do you communicate that vision to the person cooking with you?

*      *      *      *      *

Tuesday night, Micah and I cataloged the contents of our refrigerator, brainstorming pizza topping combinations. Some items–the squash and peppers, the ham and brie–were off-limits, already earmarked for other purposes. What was left?

For several minutes, we stood, stared, chatted, considered.

I saw the creamy-white button mushrooms, round and plump, still dotted with specks of dark soil. I saw the young, slender leeks, their stalks delicately stretching from small ivory bulbs to sleek green leaves. I saw a deli tub of fresh mozzarella, moist and elastic, floating in cloudy, salty brine, ready and waiting and eager to melt.

And then, I had a vision.

Brown and beige and shades of green. Warm, mellow, earthy flavors. Nothing bright and flashy, nothing showy, no punch-in-the-mouth heat or tang or bite.

I didn’t have a map, but I knew where this pizza was going and what it would do when it arrived. I pulled the mushrooms, leeks, and mozzarella out of the refrigerator, plucked garlic powder and thyme from the spice rack, gathered flour and salt and yeast for the crust.

Micah greased a pizza pan with olive oil while I mixed the dough. Then I pressed the dough into the pan, thinner and thinner, spreading it to the very edges.

As the crust prebaked on its own, unadorned, for maximum crispiness, Micah melted butter in a skillet. I cut up the mushrooms and leeks, which Micah sauteed while I sliced the cheese. The recipe was created as we worked, every ingredient and action working together towards the vision I had in mind.

When our crispy crust came out of the oven and off of the pan, I spread the softened, buttery vegetables over it.

Micah looked again into the fridge. “How about some of these?” he asked, picking up a tub of mixed green, kalamata, and oil-cured black olives.

I love olives. We both do. But I thought about my vision and decided: not on this pizza.

“No,” I said as I worked, eyeing my distribution of leeks and mushrooms, looking for spots that still needed to be filled in. “I don’t really want olives.”

“But what if I do? Could we put olives on half?”

“Olives don’t go on this pizza,” I said. “I’ve got a vision.”

“I think they’d go just fine.”

“But I don’t want olives.”

“I do,” Micah said, clearly exasperated.

With good reason.

I was being stubborn. Of course I knew that. Even then, I realized I wasn’t communicating my vision very well, wasn’t justifying my choices, definitely wasn’t convincing Micah that olives were a topping for another pizza, another time.

“No olives,” I said. I carefully placed the wobbly ovals of sliced mozzarella, spacing them evenly, tweaking the design as I went along.

Micah, sweet and patient as he is, compromised. And by compromised, I mean that he let me have my way.

Micah isn’t what you’d call whipped, isn’t a doormat, doesn’t just give in to my whims any time. But he does pick his battles, and he knew this one wasn’t worth fighting.

I, on the other hand, am hard-headed enough that I would’ve argued about it, not for the sake of fighting, not even because it was that important to me, but just because I wanted to be right (and, of course, I felt sure I was).

The pizza, now dressed, went into the oven. Without olives.

Soon, scents of crisping crust and bubbling cheese, garlic, herbs, sweet leeks and warm mushrooms diffused through the kitchen.

A few minutes later, the pizza was done.

a vision, realized

We sliced. We tasted. The crust crunched between our teeth. The mushrooms and leeks were buttery, delicate, and tender. Each bite was warm and mellow, brown and green, earthy and rustic and exactly what I had envisioned.

“Do you still think it needs olives?” I asked Micah.

“No,” he said. “It’s good.”

“Like I said, I had a vision.”

What’s in it:

  • For the crust:
    • 1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast
    • 1/2 cup warm water (about 100-110°F)
    • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
    • 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
    • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • For the toppings:
    • 1  tablespoon butter
    • 8 ounces mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
    • 4 leeks, washed and sliced, white and light green parts only
    • 6-8 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
    • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
    • salt and pepper

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 450°F.
  • Put the yeast in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Dissolve the sugar into the water, then pour over the yeast. Let stand for about 5 minutes.
  • Add both flours, salt, garlic powder, and 1 teaspoon dried thyme. Mix until the dough comes together into a ball, then knead on a lightly floured surface for about 5 minutes (or use the dough hook on your stand mixer). Flatten the dough into a disc.
  • Brush 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil on a large pizza pan.
  • Put the disc of dough in the center of your pan. Press it with your fingers to spread it all the way to the edges of the pan. (It will be very thin! If you accidentally tear the dough like I did several times, just do your best to smoosh it back together. :))
  • Brush the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil over the top of the dough.
  • Bake the crust for 7-8 minutes.
  • While the crust is baking, heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the mushrooms, leeks, and dried thyme. Saute for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables are softened and the leeks are slightly translucent. Season with salt and pepper to your liking.
  • Once the crust has baked for 7-8 minutes, remove it from the oven and slide it off the pizza pan and onto a large cutting board (or your kitchen counter, if it’s clean enough–mine never is!).
  • Top the pizza with the vegetables, then the mozzarella.
  • Return the pizza to the oven and bake it directly on the rack for another 8-10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and starting to bubble a little bit.
  • While the pizza cools for a few minutes, sprinkle it with just a tad more salt and pepper. Then slice and enjoy.

the vision, close-up

If When your dinner turns out amazing (it will), please don’t gloat and say “I told you so.”

Unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to be sharing this pizza with someone who understands your vision, or (more importantly) someone who understands your stubborn need to be right all the time–and loves you anyway.

Categories: musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

supper tonight – 5.29.12 – beet & carrot salad, couscous with lentils (plus a quick lunch with the leftovers)

Root vegetables.

They’re kind of amazing, if you think about it.

All you see above ground are stems and greens. Sometimes tasty, sometimes bitter. Sometimes edible, sometimes poisonous.

Who in our hunter-gatherer ancestry first mined the hidden gems that flourish underground? Who was first curious enough to discover that some plants have wiry tendrils for roots, while others stand on concealed, crisp, bulging nuggets of stored nourishment? Who was first brave or hungry or reckless or stupid enough to unearth and eat one of these mysterious fruits from the earth, willing to risk sickness or death for the sake of a strange thing that might–or might not–be food?

It’s easy to scout your garden for the perkiest basil leaves, the fluffiest fennel fronds, the plumpest strawberries, the tenderest figs.

But until you part the earth to release its buried root treasures, you won’t know whether your carrots are pretty and slender like a maiden’s fingers or knobby and hooked like a witch’s claws. You won’t know what shape your potatoes or yams have taken until they’re out of the soil and in your palm.

(You can estimate size, of course–pretty accurately, even–based on when you planted those veggies and what above-ground signals they’ve transmitted. But really, you will never know for sure until you hold those secrets in your hand.)

Here’s the other thing about root vegetables: you’ve got to work for them.

Fresh herbs? Snip a few sprigs as you need them. Fruit and berries? Pluck ’em from the bush and enjoy. Quick, easy.

But with roots, the magic happens under the soil, and you can’t see it or hold it or taste it until you dig it up, unearth it, get a little grit and grime under your fingernails. Brave the worms and grubs and bugs, brave the mess, brave the unknown.

Carrots and beets? Prepare to get dirty. Prepare to scrub. Prepare for food that doesn’t really look like food at first, not until you’ve shined it up and shown the beauty underneath.

And once you’ve unearthed these treasures, please, do let them shine.

the (mostly) unadorned beauty of roots

Our salad, enjoyed warm, was simple: roasted beets and carrots tossed with crumbled feta and fresh parsley, drizzled with a cumin vinaigrette. The recipe comes from our favorite cookbook, Hugh Acheson’s A New Turn in the South, which I know I’ve written about plenty already. But it’s our favorite, so it’s hard not to cook from it as often as we do. 🙂

What’s in it (the cumin vinaigrette):

  • 1 teaspoon grainy mustard
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar (another wine vinegar would probably work well)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin (Hugh toasts and grinds whole seeds, which we didn’t have–I’m sure this would add even more flavor)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step-by-step:

  • Whisk together the mustard, lemon juice, vinegar, and cumin.
  • Gradually whisk in the olive oil, then the mint.
  • Season with salt and pepper to your liking.

This makes about 3/4 cup of dressing, so you will have extra leftover after you make the salad. You won’t mind, though, because it makes a great dressing for other salads or a crisp cabbage slaw (which I’ll tell you more about in another post).

What’s in it (the salad):

  • 1/2 pound carrots, left whole or halved if they’re very small, or cut up if they’re larger
  • 1/2 pound beets, halved or quartered if they’re very small, or cut up if they’re larger
  • a little olive oil, salt, and pepper
  • 2-3 ounces crumbled feta
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons cumin vinaigrette

Step-by-step:

  • Get a pot of salted water boiling on the stove.
  • Add the carrots, boil for 1 minute, then remove to a bowl to cool.
  • Add the beets and boil until they’re just tender, about 20-25 minutes. Drain the beets and allow them to cool for a few minutes.
  • Preheat your oven to 450°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Toss the carrots in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, then spread them out on one side of the baking sheet.
  • Do the same to the beets, then spread them out on the other side of the baking sheet.
  • Roast for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and slightly browned.
  • Let the vegetables cool for a few minutes.
  • In one bowl, toss the carrots with the feta, half of the parsley, and about a tablespoon of the vinaigrette.
  • In another bowl, toss the beets with the rest of the parsley and another tablespoon of the vinaigrette.
  • Add carrots to your plates first, then top with the beets and a little more of the vinaigrette.

We followed these instructions exactly, but if you don’t mind your beets bleeding a little on the rest of your salad, you could certainly mix them with the carrots on the roasting pan or when you toss the veggies with the vinaigrette at the end. This is probably what we’ll do next time.

The amount of salad this made could easily have been a light lunch for two or sides/starters for four. We were pretty hungry, so we added lentils and couscous to the meal to make it a little heartier, plus a bottle of white wine, because…well, why not?

the whole meal, with Micah waiting patiently in the background

The flavors in our mugs of lentils and couscous paired perfectly with the salad, so I’ll share how I made them, too.

What’s in it:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dry lentils
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon dehydrated minced onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup dry couscous
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  • Add the lentils and stir around for a few minutes to coat them with the oil.
  • Add the tomato paste, diced tomato, orange zest, minced onion, and spices. Stir to incorporate.
  • Add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer.
  • Cook for about 15-20 minutes or until the lentils are just tender.
  • Add the couscous. Bring to a boil again, then reduce the heat to very low and cover the pot. Let stand for about 15 minutes.
  • Uncover the pot, stir in the vinegar and white wine, then season with salt and pepper to taste. If you have more liquid then you’d like, you can simmer and reduce for a few minutes.

The orange zest, balsamic vinegar, and white wine brightened up the smoky, earthy flavors of the lentils and paprika, and the Mediterranean-inspired seasonings meshed beautifully with that colorful beet and carrot salad.

Really, the only problem with our lentil and couscous dish was that we made too much. If we’d eaten no salads, or much smaller salads, we would have had plenty of beans and starch for a main course–about 3-1/2 cups. But with our substantial vegetable dish, this was just too much to finish in one meal, so about a third of it went into the refrigerator as leftovers.

I love eating leftovers just as they are, especially if they were good the first time around (as this definitely was). But I also love experimenting with ways to transform old leftovers into something new and different, so of course that’s what I decided to do on Sunday for lunch. 🙂

similar flavors, completely different texture and form

What’s in it:

  • about 1-1/2 cups leftover couscous and lentils
  • 1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs (I used panko because that’s what I had in the pantry)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup mixed Greek olives, finely chopped (or you could try subbing capers or a ready-made tapenade)

Step-by-step:

  • Use your hands to smoosh together the leftover couscous-lentil mixture, breadcrumbs, and egg (kind of like making a burger).
  • Divide the mixture into fourths and form into patties.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the patties to your pan and cook for about 4 minutes per side or until they’re nicely browned and firm.
  • Top with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of olives.

Wow. These came out better than I could’ve hoped or expected.

Of course I knew they ought to taste pretty good since we had enjoyed the original dish so much, but I worried about the texture. Needlessly, because the outsides of these couscous lentil cakes were nice and crisp, while the insides were moist and flavorful. Combined with the creamy, tangy yogurt and the salty, briny olives, this lunch was even better than the leftovers that inspired it.

So good, in fact, that I know we’ll have to cook up these little cakes again the next time we make a batch of that splendid root vegetable salad.

Categories: musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

supper tonight – 5.28.12 – grilled goodies with my dad

One of my fondest childhood memories?

Grilling out with my dad.

When my brother Dave and I were little, we’d play on the swingset or scamper through the sprinkler or clumsily fling frisbees under our backyard pine trees while Dad worked magic on the grill. A meaty, smoky haze surrounded him as he cooked. Beef patties, flawlessly formed in my dad’s hands earlier in the day, would sear on the grill’s metal grates to charcoal-fired perfection. Bite after juicy bite, those burgers brought joy to our taste buds, our bellies, our hearts.

During our teen years, we spent many summer weekends with Dad, tromping through forested mountain trails at campsites in the wilds of North Carolina or Tennessee.

These camp-ins were big events for Volkswagen enthusiasts, who would pilot their Beetles and Buses up the winding mountain roads to compare pop-up campers, show off restored Karmann Ghias, troubleshoot engine problems….and (mostly) sit around campfires roasting marshmallows, drinking beer (or sometimes moonshine), strumming guitars, and beating bongos. My dad doesn’t really go to these events anymore, but now he’s made a career out of working on his favorite cars, so I think it’s worked out okay for him. 🙂

These summer weekends always included a feast of grilled foods: burgers and hot dogs, chicken and steaks, summer squash and corn on the cob. Even breakfast, because there were always cast-iron skillets around, just right for crisping up bacon or scrambling eggs over a fire.

When we weren’t camping with the VW hippies, we soaked up sunshine on the red-clay shores of Lake Hartwell, where the scents of sweat and sunscreen mingled with the delicious, smoky smell of whatever Dad had decided to grill that day.

Now that Dave and I are grown and Dad lives alone, he doesn’t fire up the charcoal as often as he used to.

But, just like riding a bicycle, grilling sticks with you.

On Memorial Day, Micah and I wrapped up a lovely long weekend with friends in Asheville by stopping at Dad’s for dinner.

And what a dinner it was.

Kebabs of shrimp, barbecue-marinated steak, and fresh mushrooms were cooked to moist, tender perfection on Dad’s new grill, while the skewered bell peppers retained just a bit of juicy crunch. A package of sweet Hawaiian rolls warmed nicely on the top grill rack, and our meal was rounded out by a rainbow of cool, crisp fresh veggies with dip.

pretty AND delicious!

Another childhood favorite–Drumstick sundae cones–made for a fittingly nostalgic dessert.

Not all dads cook, but I sure am glad mine does.

Of course, as much as we enjoyed the food Monday night, the company was infinitely better. 🙂

Categories: people | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

supper tonight – 5.24.12 – stewed andouille

When we got the andouille links out of the freezer a few days ago to thaw, we thought we might grill them last night with…well, something. We didn’t really have a plan (when do we ever?), but we were sure we could come up with some wonderful meal using those smoky, savory Cajun sausages.

We considered defrosting a pound of shrimp to make a jambalaya, but Micah didn’t really feel like beheading and shelling and deveining a bunch of shellfish last night.

We always get our shrimp with the heads on them so we can freeze the shells and noggins for stock. When we’re really lucky (as we were a couple of weeks ago), we’re able to get fresh Georgia shrimp from Athens Locally Grown or Fook’s Foods for just $5-6 a pound. It’s pretty amazing stuff!

What we ended up making was still pretty similar to traditional jambalaya in the veggies and seasonings–just a little different in the technique, since we winged it instead of following a nice, straightforward recipe like the one I linked above. 🙂

In any case, the resulting dinner was rich, spicy, and full of flavor, with the added bonus of leftovers for lunch today!

not only did the fresh veggies make this taste extra good, but the
green and yellow peppers looked lovely with those bright red tomatoes!

What’s in it:

  • olive oil for the pan
  • 3/4 pound andouille sausage links (or another smoky, spicy sausage of your choice)
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 medium bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 large tomato, diced (or you could used canned)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cup chicken broth or stock
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste

Step-by-step:

  • Heat a little bit of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the sausage links and cook for about 6-8 minutes per side, turning frequently to keep them from burning.
  • Remove the cooked links to a cutting board to rest.
  • Pour a tad more oil into your skillet if you need to. Add the garlic, onion, and peppers, and saute for about 5-6 minutes or until they’re starting to soften and brown.
  • Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and stir until incorporated.
  • Pour in the white wine, scraping with your spoon or spatula to get all the stuck bits from the bottom of the pan.
  • Add the chicken stock and smoked paprika.
  • While the contents of your skillet heat back up, cut your sausage links lengthwise and then slice into half-moons. Or, you can slice the whole link thinly on the bias. Add the cut-up sausage to your skillet.
  • Let this simmer on the stove for a while. (I had a meeting last night and was gone for almost two hours, so we just let ours cook on the absolute lowest heat we could while I was gone!)
  • When your vegetables are super tender and the liquid has thickened into a rich sauce, it’s ready to eat. Season with salt and pepper to your liking, and feel free to sprinkle in some cayenne for an extra kick.

We spooned this over bowls of steamed white rice (long-grain basmati, specifically, because that’s what we had in the pantry), but Micah suggested it would be fantastic over grits or polenta, and I’d also bet it would be tasty with mashed potatoes or pasta. So, in the spirit of winging it (like we always seem to), serve this with your carb of choice.

And don’t forget to finish the rest of that bottle of white wine while you’re at it.

And enjoy!

We definitely did. 🙂

Categories: recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

supper tonight – 5.10.12 – pizza margherita

a delicious mosaic of red, white, and green

So the story goes, Queen Margherita of Italy was journeying with her husband Umberto around her kingdom’s countryside around 1889 and observed the peasants enjoying tasty flatbreads that they called pizzas. She tried and loved this rustic food (much to the disdain of her peers in the nobility), and she commissioned a pizza chef named Rafaelle Esposito to make the humble delicacy for her. Chef Rafaelle not only made Queen Margherita the pizza she asked for, but he specially created a pie that incorporated the red, white, and green of the Italian flag using tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. Thus, the traditional “pizza margherita” was born.

I first tried pizza margherita on a trip to Sicily my senior year of college. I’d grown up eating the Americanized pies peddled by chains like Pizza Hut, Little Caesars, Papa Johns, and Dominoes, plus the fancy pizza offerings at the college-kid favorite around here, the Georgia-based Mellow Mushroom. But pizza in Italy was different. The crust was warm and doughy, like good bread. The sauce was minimal or nonexistent, and cheese was included, but not a greasy blanket of it. The toppings were simple–no pizzas with names like “super supreme” or “kitchen sink.” And my favorite was the simplest of all, the pizza margherita.

love pizza? you’ll love this!

So Thursday night, when we needed a quick dinner, and we just happened to have fresh tomatoes, some beautiful basil, and a little deli tub of mozzarella floating in salty brine, it was pretty easy to figure out our course of action.

Step-by-step:

  • Make your pizza crust. Micah liked the crust recipe we used last time, but this time he asked if we could make it thinner and crispier. So we did. We only mixed up half as much dough, but we spread the dough extra thin over the same big pizza pan. Then, we pre-baked it for about 8 minutes at 450°F to get it good and crispy before we added the toppings.
  • Once your crust is ready, spread on a very thin layer of pizza or pasta sauce (we just happened to get a jar of Cugino’s Classic Marinara in our wine club bag from Shiraz last week, which was perfect!). Top the sauce with thin slices of mozzarella and fresh tomato.
  • Bake at 450°F directly on the oven rack for about 10 minutes, or until your crust is extra crispy and your cheese is nice and melty.
  • While the pizza bakes, chop some fresh basil. (To make a pretty chiffonade/ribbon cut, take a stack of basil leaves, roll them up like a sleeping bag, and then slice the roll of leaves like a jellyroll. When you let go, you’ll have a big, pretty pile of basil streamers!)
  • Top the finished pizza with the basil, then sprinkle with a little salt and fresh ground black pepper.
  • Slice and enjoy! You’ll probably want to eat the whole thing, and that’s totally okay.

see how thin and crispy that is?

Thanks, Chef Rafaelle, for inventing this pizza! It is truly fit for a queen. Or a couple of hungry peasants like Micah and me. 🙂

Categories: recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

supper tonight – 5.7.12 – pimiento cheese & Smokra burgers with grilled Brussels sprouts

Our local Earth Fare emails us awesome coupons every couple of weeks, often for free stuff that we would buy anyway–organic fresh fruits and veggies, pastured meats, and yummy cheeses. In the last few months, Earth Fare has generously given us free pears, apples, carrots, brie, Irish cheddar, eggs, boneless chicken breasts, and ground beef–and this is just the short list!

One of those free pounds of ground beef turned into four delicious quarter-pound burgers Monday evening. We topped our burgers with pimiento cheese and picked okra (actually Rick’s Picks Smokra from our neighborhood wine/gourmet shop, Shiraz). Fresh onion rolls from Daily Grocery made for excellent buns. And although some of the components of this sandwich bore similarities to Micah’s unfortunate Paula Deen-inspired experiment, I’m happy to report that this batch of burgers was much, much better. 🙂

The easiest way to show you a little bit of everything?
Snapping a photo after I’ve taken a few (delicious) bites!

Since Micah was grilling stuff anyway, and since we had a half-pound of giant late-season Brussels sprouts in the fridge just begging to be eaten, and since Alton Brown just happens to have a recipe perfect for just this occasion, we decided to toss the sprouts on the grill with the burgers.

wow. that’s all I really need to say about these.

Want to replicate the amazingness of this fabulous veggie side dish? Here’s how!

What’s in it:

  • 1/2 pound of fresh Brussels sprouts
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon grainy mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Step-by-step:

  • Wash the Brussels sprouts and put them in a microwave-safe bowl with just a little bit of water. Microwave on high-heat for 3 minutes. (This helps make sure the Brussels sprouts get done on the grill before they get burnt. :))
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, garlic, mustard, smoked paprika, salt, and pepper.
  • Toss the partially-cooked Brussels sprouts in the mustard mixture. If the sprouts are small, thread them onto some skewers. (Ours were gigantic, so we didn’t bother with skewers–we just placed them straight on the grill.)
  • Grill for about 5 minutes on each side.
  • Cut the grilled Brussels sprouts in half and toss back in the bowl of glaze to soak up the rest of those yummy seasonings.
  • Enjoy.

Our burgers Monday night were really good, but this Brussels sprouts side dish stole the show! And the salty, smoky, spicy glaze would be delicious on pretty much anything. Thank you, Alton Brown!

Categories: recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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