16 December 2012

Hot and Sour Rhubarb and Crispy Pork with Noodles

Photo on far left by Abbey Lewis

From Farm to Table (butcher’s table) 
to Table (my dining room table)
to My Mouth.

A few weeks ago, I bought a pig from Slagel Family Farms.  Not to love and cuddle, as one does, but to eat. (I still might cuddle with it, though.)

With the purchase came an invitation to view the butchering (not to be confused by its slaughtering, which is different).  Rob Levitt at The Butcher and the Larder provided this educational and enjoyable experience for us, and I highly recommend it to those who deem this sort of activity educational and enjoyable. Um, yes.  I would like to watch you cut apart this beautiful creature that died for my family.  Yes, I would like to be educated about its piggy meaty parts while I drink beer with my friends who also like piggy meaty parts.

So there’s my pig.  Well, there’s my half-pig.  And ok, only half of that half-pig is mine, since I split it with a pig-loving friend. Isn’t he handsome? Who, Rob? Well yes, but, the pig, isn’t he handsome? (Yes, he is a he; I asked. Rob obliged and dug around until he found out for me. Rob is the best.)

As the butcher deftly yet gently broke down our hog, wasting nothing except for some inedible glands, he taught us many things.  He taught us that if you’re doing it right, a saw is needed only for the bones, and everything else can be done with a $27 knife, as long it is very, very, very sharp.  He taught us that hogs are broken down differently in different countries. He showed us parts we hadn’t heard of before and suggested different ways to prepare certain cuts.  He taught us that your energy shouldn’t be spent sawing with the knife, but rather pulling the meat so tautly that the knife takes hardly any effort to separate the muscles from themselves. Easier said than done, and he sure made it look easy.

Lifting the skirt steak out of the hog.  What!? Pigs have a skirt steak? Who knew?
P.S. Although Nate looks grossed out, he's really, really not. I promise. 

I was amazed at how non-gruesome the evening was. Rob worked on a wooden butcher’s block, which looked so clean by the end of the night that I would have considered eating a cupcake off of it, had there been cupcakes. The butcher wore a white apron, and though he wiped his hands on it constantly, it was still remarkably white by the end of the night. The meat seemed smooth and dry, in contrast to the slimy pork I often bring home from the grocery store. Another difference? The smell. This pig actually smelled good - pleasant and sweet.  Nothing like the stench of some of those supermarket pigs. Stinky Pork, you and me are over. I have a new addiction.

That night at home, I dumped forty pounds of wrapped pork on my dining room table and stared at it for about an hour. Finally I calmed down (but only a little bit) and went to bed, visions of ham hocks still dancing through my head.  What would I make? Which cut would I cook first? Should I eat it all by myself, or share it? Should I cook it or just eat it raw?

Fast forward to a few days later, when during his Rhubarb episode, Jamie Oliver told me exactly what I would be doing with at least two pounds of my precious pork.  DID YOU KNOW THAT JAMIE OLIVER HAS A RHUBARB EPISODE? And that during that episode, he also prepares pork belly? Well, I didn't, and at that particular moment, suddenly nothing else in the world mattered. Not my unfinished lesson plans, not my children, not even my half-half-pig from Slagel Farms that I watched transformed into delicious piggy meaty parts. The only thing in this world that mattered was what Jamie Oliver was going to do to that rhubarb and pork belly right then and there. 

First, he made a marinade of rhubarb, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, red chiles, and honey.
(“I have sequestered frozen rhubarb,” I thought to myself. )

Then, he braised pork belly in that marinade.
(“I HAVE PORK BELLY!!!!!!!” I squealed to myself. )

Then, he crisped up the fork-tender belly in a frying pan, added noodles, the braising sauce, and fresh garnishes. He ate it. He filmed that. I watched it. I made it.  Then I ate it.

And I will make it again. And again.  Although I was looking forward to discovering new ways to prepare my Slagel Farms pork belly, I'm not sure I will ever need a different pork belly recipe again. It's  that good. The rhubarb gives it tangy smack, the chiles add perfect heat, and greens add fresh crunch.  But the pork is the star.  I'm hooked, Slagel Farms!

Hot and Sour Rhubarb and Crispy Pork with Noodles
~ from Jamie Oliver


• 1kg pork belly, the best quality you can afford, boned, rind removed, cut into 3–4cm cubes 
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 
• groundnut or vegetable oil 
• 375g medium egg noodles (or ramen, or chow mein noodles)
• 4 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced 
• 1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced 
• 2 punnets of interesting cresses (such as coriander, shiso or basil cress) 
• a bunch of fresh coriander 
• 2 limes 

for the marinade 
• 400g rhubarb 
• 4 tablespoons runny honey 
• 4 tablespoons soy sauce 
• 4 garlic cloves, peeled 
• 2 fresh red chillies, halved and deseeded 
• 1 heaped teaspoon five-spice 
• a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped 

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the pork pieces in a roasting tray and put to one side. Chuck all the marinade ingredients in a food processor and pulse until you have a smooth paste, then pour all this over the pork, adding a large wineglass of water. Mix it all up, then tightly cover the tray with tinfoil and place in the preheated oven for about an hour and 30 minutes, or until the meat is tender, but not colored.

Pick the pieces of sauce out of the pan and put to one side. The sauce left in the pan will be deliciously tasty and pretty much perfect. However, if you feel it needs to be thickened slightly, simmer on a gentle heat for a bit until reduced to the consistency of ketchup. Season nicely to taste, add a little extra soy sauce if need be, then remove from the heat and put to one side.

Put a pan of salted water on to boil. Get yourself a large pan or wok on the heat and pour in a good drizzle of groundnut or vegetable oil. Add your pieces of pork to the wok and fry for a few minutes until crisp and golden. (You might need to do this in two batches.) At the same time, drop your noodles into the boiling water and cook for a few minutes, then drain most of the water away. Divide the noodles into four warmed bowls immediately, while they’re still moist.

To finish, spoon over a good amount of rhubarb sauce. Divide your crispy pork top, and add a good sprinkling of spring onions, chilli, cresses and coriander. Serve with half a lime each – perfect.

More photos of the evening at The Butcher & Larder

 My friend's kid was totally into it. 
Halfway through, he wiggled over to me and asked if he would be able to eat some of this pig at my house, and when I said yes, he smiled and triumphantly informed his mother that he would be doing so. 

Mine. All mine.

 Scraps for sausage.

Wrapping it up. 
Q&A session with the butcher.

Thanks Rob! It was a wonderful evening.  And the meat is even better. 

07 August 2012

The Return of the Inconsolable Brussels Sprout!

Remember this guy? The last time I saw him was five years ago when he quietly slipped off my windowsill and disappeared from my life.  ‘Twas tragic, but no more than the time I cheerfully chopped up his friends from the farmers market and braised them into a creamy, velvety, delicious mess.  I totally get why he was mad.  But jumping out of a third-story window? Seriously, dude, you didn’t have to be so melodramatic.

Thoughts of the self-pitying sprout had crossed my mind during the past six years, but I truly never thought I would ever again cast my eyes upon his sorrowful face. One evening, however, he came hopping up the back stairs, a transformed sprout. All smiles and hugs, seemingly eager to rekindle our friendship.

I offered to take him out for a beer so we could catch up. Apparently his first few years were a blur. Lots of drinking, lots of partying, anything to escape the memory of my face and my pointy knife.  Eventually, he came to terms with his place in the food chain.  Poor little sprout.  To realize that those who detest you are actually your allies, as those who love you are only planning to chew you up and use your life force to propel their own.

Well, it turns out the smiles and hugs were just a show. After a few hours at the bar, he was a blubbering mess. Completely out of control!

He ended up calling me some nasty names, stomping off on his shiny little feet and going home with some lady that I occasionally see around the Goose Island Brewpub.

I heard nothing from him until a few weeks later when his all-too-recognizable shrieks suddenly pierced the tranquility of my afternoon. What now!? I looked up from my book and uttered a shriek of my own (albeit a few octaves lower than his) when I saw this:

Aaaaaaaaah! Well, my daughter does love her brussels sprouts.
I rescued the trembling sprout from my daughter’s clenched hands and hurried him out of the room. Unfortunately, in my shock, I had forgotten about the kale and brussels sprouts salad that was unapologetically displayed on the kitchen counter. I tried to cover  the sprout’s eyes, but it was too late.  At the sight of his shredded kin, his teeny weeny shrieks turned into teeny weeny sobs, and he practically lost his trimmings all over himself.

Oh, the saddest sprout!  His misery was palpable. I could almost taste him it.

I left the room to attend to my daughter’s distress (hell hath no fury like a four-year-old denied her brussels sprouts), but when I came back, the little guy was nowhere to be found.
I checked the cutting board.
I checked the garbage disposal.
I even checked the vinegar jars (brussels sprout pickles, anyone?).
He was nowhere.

Then, a little giggle.
A few more.
I ran to the source of the titters, and was overjoyed to find that sad sprout had indeed accepted his fate, joining his kind in a delicious kale and brussels sprouts salad.

I served the salad to guests that evening, secretly smiling to my little buddy as people ate the salad and raved about it.
The End.

Wait, what’s that I said? Something about guests raving about kale and brussels sprouts? And did I mention that they were RAW?  Raw brussels sprouts? Shut up.  It’s true. This salad is a completely unexpected and magical experience. The garlicky, mustardy dressing melts into the kale and tenderizes the leaves with its acidity. The almonds add a toasty crunch, and the salty pecorino fuels one's addiction to the salad. I can't decide if the dried cherries (an adaption from a different kale salad) add bursts of sweet tartness or tart sweetness, but whatever they do, I am completely enamored with this dish. I just want to  roll around in it and eat it and eat it and eat it eat it and eat it and eat it eat it and eat it eat itand eat it eat it and eat it eat it.

Kale & Brussels Sprouts Salad
~ adapted from Bon Appetit, November 2011

Note: To save time, I sometimes skip the step of toasting the almonds (the olive oil goes straight into the dressing instead of the skillet). But the toasted almonds sure are nice. Maybe I shouldn't have said anything about skipping that step.
Another note: The salad can be dressed ahead of time. The dressing actually marinates the kale leaves, making the salad better the second day. 
OK, one more note: Once, I added a touch of honey and red wine vinegar. It was delicious. 

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 small garlic clove, finely grated
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt plus more for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large bunches of Tuscan kale (about 1 1/2 pounds total), center stem discarded, leaves thinly sliced
12 ounces brussels sprouts, trimmed, finely grated or shredded with a knife
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/3 cup almonds with skins, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup cherries or cranberries (this is my addition; I like it)
1 cup finely grated Pecorino (I also use Parmesan)

Combine lemon juice, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper in a small bowl. Stir to blend; set aside to let flavors meld. 
Cut the center stem out of the kale leaves and discard. Thinly slice them. (A food processor makes quick work of this. I highly recommend using one.).
Trim brussels sprouts and thinly shred them with a knife or a food processor.
Mix sliced kale and shredded brussels sprouts in a large bowl.
Measure 1/2 cup oil into a cup. Spoon 1 tablespoon oil from cup into a small skillet; heat oil over medium-high heat. Add almonds to skillet and stir frequently until golden brown in spots, about 2 minutes. Transfer nuts to a paper towel–lined plate. Sprinkle almonds lightly with salt.
Slowly whisk remaining olive oil in cup into lemon-juice mixture. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.
Add dressing and cheese to kale mixture; toss to coat. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Garnish with almonds.

01 August 2012

Rhubarb Beer Jam

A Haiku About Beer in the Morning:

a lovely home brew
wait - it’s only six a.m.
cook it into jam and eat it for breakfast

Wait, what? That is not a haiku. 
Do you care? I don’t. What I do care about is the massive amount of rhubarb in my freezer, the extremely diminished space in my freezer for non-rhubarb items, and this gleaming growler of wheat beer that my buddy Dan brewed, and the fact that it is only six o'clock in the morning.
A refreshing home brew.  In a metal measuring cup.
Some of that brew will go straight into my mouth via a beer glass. And I will enjoy it immensely. But I will probably need to wait until at least noon. But I don’t want to. But I should. And I will. Because if I don’t, that would be weird. So instead, the tasty beverage will be combined with a few pounds of my sequestered rhubarb and simmered down into rhubarb beer jam, which no one thinks is weird…

Rhubarb beer jam was the first recipe that captured my attention in Paul Virant’s new book ‘The Preservation Kitchen.’

This book!  
Of all the specifically organized clusters of molecules that take up space in this universe, I believe this book might be one of the most beautiful. There is a slight chance that I slept with my arms wrapped around it on the first night I brought it home. Or maybe it was a bundle of rhubarb I was cuddling with…I can’t remember. My husband was definitely spooning the growler. Anyway, this book is gorgeous.  I can’t stop licking it looking at it.  

hello, canning book
i would like to lick you, k?
be cool, botulism.
Aw dang! When am I going to be smart enough to write a proper haiku? Well, lucky for you (but mostly lucky for me), I promise to spend less time honing my haiku-writing skills, and more time making tasty jams.
beautiful rhubarb, love of my life
This jam does not disappoint. On the first taste, the fruit announces itself in a burst of flavor.  But wait - push it to the sides of your mouth a bit, and you’ll quickly notice the yeasty tang of the wheat beer. There you go. Beer in the morning.
This is not just jam for the morningtime, however!  It will boost fancy cocktails, glaze your meats, and shine on a cheese plate.
Rhubarb Beer Jam (lower right), shining on a cheese plate.
Says Michelin-star chef Paul Virant: “This jam takes advantage of the two things that the Midwest has in abundance: beer and rhubarb. Pair a locally made wheat beer with rhubarb, which grows like a weed in some parts, and we have one heck of a regional jam.”
Well, Chef Virant, you will be pleased to know that I kicked that Midwestern party-in-my-mouth up a notch. I stirred some rhubarb beer jam into some stone-ground mustard and slathered it on a Paulina Meat's veal brat that was boiled in a local Chicago ale.  Then I fed it to that husband, who was also locally made here in the Midwest. I did not write a haiku about the experience, however, because that would have significantly diminished the Midwestern authenticity of that whoopensocker of a meal.

Rhubarb-Beer Jam
~ from The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant and Kate Leahy
Makes 7 half-pints.
3 pounds rhubarb, diced (about 9 cups)
3 cups wheat beer
1 ½ cups sugar
zest and juice of one lemon

1. In a wide, heavy-bottomed pot set over medium-high heat, combine all the ingredients and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate overnight or up to 5 days.
2. Strain the mixture through a sieve and into a wide, heavy-bottomed pot (save the rhubarb for later). Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid reaches 215°, about 12 minutes. Return the rhubarb to the pot and simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until the jam lightly coats the back of a spoon and its temperature has returned to 215°, 10 to 15 minutes.
3. In a large pot of simmering water, sterilize seven ½-pint jars. Once the jam is finished, use tongs to remove the jars from the pot and set upside down on a kitchen towel to drain. Turn off the heat and soak the lids and bands in the hot water. Turn the jars upright and pour the jam through a funnel to fill each jar with jam up to ½ inch from the rim. Wipe the rims clean with a kitchen towel and seal with the lids. Screw on the bands until snug.
4. Place a canning rack into the pot of hot water and return to a boil. Use tongs to lower the jam-filled jars into the pot, making sure there is enough water to cover the jars by 1 inch. Boil the jars for 10 minutes and turn off the heat. Leave the jars in the hot water for 5 minutes, then use tongs to remove them. Cool completely before storing in a cool, dark, dry place.

13 June 2012

Transports of Delight: Spicy Pickled Carrots

Once upon a time, I needed a replacement for the word ‘elation.’ Instead of using my brain, or my husband, I used the thesaurus, and one of the listed  synonyms was ‘transports of delight.’
Transports of delight?
Has anyone heard of this before? I think it’s dumb. Also, I love it.

Lots of things give me the transports of delight. Like peppermint patties and pulled pork sandwiches, and when toddlers have dirty faces and then they cry and then their tears dry but leave those two clean streaks on both sides of their faces. I love that. And cake, too. Cake never fails to give me transports of delight. Except for red velvet cake, which gives me transports of stupid, and that gives me transports of sad, because plenty of people like red velvet cake, and that makes me think that there is something wrong with me, which gives me transports of worry.
Enough of this depressing talk. Let’s get back to what transports me to delight: these spicy pickled carrots. 

What? I’m posting about pickles? If you know me, you know that I hate pickles.  You know that if pickle juice runs into my hamburger bun, I screech. Loudly. Whoever burgers with me knows that he/she must be extremely vigilant so that he/she can pick the pickle right off my plate before the server sets it down and the picklejuicepuddle runs into my fries and I am transported to agony.

Please tolerate my abhorrence of pickles; in my defense, I do try them on a semi-annual basis to see if my taste buds have evolved.  They haven’t, sadly.
But even my stubborn palette could not prevent me from making these carrots when I saw the recipe in Liana Krissoff’s Canning for a New Generation. I knew this recipe would be different from traditional pickles. For one, the recipe calls for cider vinegar, which has a flavor with more depth than that of white vinegar.  Secondly, the mixture of pickling spices is very different from that of traditional pickles.  Thirdly, they’re carrots! Not pickles! I figured it was worth a try. If they were gross, I could always give them to someone I didn’t like. Heh heh.

But I wasn’t wrong. They weren’t gross. Thank goodness I made two pounds of them so I can get my transports of delight on whenever I please.  Oh my oh my oh my oh my.  So flavorful!  So vinegary! So spicy! And they keep getting spicier and spicier and spicier as the brine absorbs more heat from the chiles.

You really should try these.  I processed mine with a water bath canner, but don’t have transports of disappointment if you don’t own canning equipment!  Just store them in the fridge, where the vinegar will keep them tasty for at least a month.

As if these carrots weren’t delicious enough just eaten straight from the jar, they are even better when enjoyed alongside a grilled cheese sandwich.  Krissoff includes a recipe for a grilled fontina sandwich on sourdough. I followed her advice, and the pairing was divine. The creaminess of the hot cheese perfectly balanced the acidity of the carrots and made my mouth dance crazier than Robyn in a faux-fur half-shirt and leggings.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand. Even when your spicy pickled carrots are all gone, the joy they will bring you is not.  Do NOT dump the pickling brine down the drain!!! You can use it to add a tart, spicy note to vinaigrettes for salads and cole slaws.  You could add it to marinades. As for me, I am quite happy sneaking tiny, delicious, heartburn-inducing sips straight from the jar.

Spicy Carrot Pickles
~Recipe from Canning for a New Generation, by Liana Krissoff

2 lbs. carrots, trimmed and scrubbed

5 1/2 cups cider vinegar (5% acidity)
1 tablespoon pure kosher salt
3 tablespoons sugar
3 cinnamon sticks
3 bay leaves
8 dried hot chiles, stemmed
4 cloves garlic, peeled
4 sprigs thyme
1 to 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 small white onion, thinly sliced lengthwise

Peel the carrots, if desired, and cut larger carrots into sticks no more than 1/2 inch thick.  Cut into 4-inch lengths to fit upright in pint jars. Set aside in a bowl of ice water.

Prepare for water bath canning: Wash the jars and keep them hot in the canning pot, and put the flat lids in a heatproof bowl.
In a wide, 6- to 8-quart preserving pan, combine the vinegar, 1 cup water, the salt, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes. Add the carrots and cook until just crisp-tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

Ladle boiling water from the canning pot into the bowl with the lids. Using a jar lifter, remove the hot jars from the canning pot, carefully pouring the water from each one back into the pot, and place them upright on a folded towel. Drain the water off the jar lids. 

Working quickly, divide the chiles, garlic, thyme, red pepper flakes, and peppercorns among the jars.  Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the hot carrots to the jars (do not pack them too tightly) and fill in empty spaces loosely with slivers of onion.  Ladle the hot pickling liquid into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace at the top. Use a chopstick to remove air bubbles around the inside of each jar. Use a damp paper towel to wipe the rims of the jars, then put a flat lid and ring on each jar, adjusting the ring so it’s just finger-tight.  Return the jars to the water in the canning pot, making sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 inch.  Bring to a boil, and boil for 15 minutes to process. Remove the jars to a a folded towel and do not disturb for 12 hours.  After 1 hour, check that the lids have sealed by pressing down on the center of each; if it can be pushed down, it hasn’t sealed, and the jar should be refrigerated immediately.  Label the sealed jars and store.

Pickling spices: hot chiles, garlic, thyme, red pepper flakes, peppercorns.

19 May 2012

The Best Idea I’ve Ever Had. Get Ready to Be Grateful.

When your jar of salsa is running low, instead of shoving it in the back fridge until it becomes unpalatable, or worse, cramming a chip into the jar and getting your hand stuck and then spending the rest of your life with your hand all up in a salsa jar, just don’t do that.
Obviously, a common alternative is to pour the remaining salsa into a bowl.  A fine idea.  But there is always still some left in the jar, and I shudder to think of how much salsa has been wasted over the course of my salsa-consuming-adult-life.  At least three cups, to be sure. Tragedy.

The solution? Make a Mexican vinaigrette out of the remaining salsa by adding lime juice, shallot, salt, and olive oil to the jar and shaking it.  These quick additions change the salsa’s consistency into something appropriate for dressing greens, while the time-consuming labor required to attain certain Mexican flavors (toasting, soaking, puréeing and straining chiles + roasting tomatoes + mincing garlic), has already been done for you.

Yum yum yum and duh duh duh.  While I am mourning years of wasted salsa and could-have-been-vinaigrettes, I am ecstatic that I have discovered the technique at a relatively young age, so that I have plenty of years left to enjoy delicious Mexican salads.  I’ve served this salad as a refreshing accompaniment to heavier Mexican fare, but it tastes fantastic on its own or even with non-Mexican courses.  Last month I ate it with a curry chicken salad and there were absolutely no conflicts of interest in my mouth.

Warning: This technique might not be successful with every salsa. I imagine it might work better with the thinner, chile-based salsas than those that are chunkier and tomato-based.  I recommend the complex and slightly sweet guajillo salsa by Frontera , which is the only brand of store-bought salsa that crosses our threshold these days.

I suppose I should probably be taste-testing vinaigrettes made with different types of salsa before I go about posting this new-fangled discovery on the internet. But I am too satisfied with this particular concoction to try anything else for now. Please don’t be upset at me. Instead, channel your anger into gratitude at learning this life-changing technique.  And then, channel that angry gratitude into action: at lunch or dinner today, pilfer your fridge, find that mostly-empty jar of salsa, whatever brand it happens to be, make a vinaigrette out of it, and report back to me how it worked.

Salad, pre- and post-dressing.

Mexican Vinaigrette and Salad
~ a Fancy Toast original recipe

2 teaspoons shallots or white onion, minced
2 teaspoons lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
pinches of salt and pepper
1/3 cup salsa from the bottom of the jar (I recommend the guajillo style by Frontera)
Note: The first photo of the post has a second jar in it besides the salsa jar.  It is a jar of juice leftover from some spicy pickled carrots.  I didn't include it in the recipe because I don't often have that lying around, and the vinaigrette is just great without it. Just in case you were wondering....)

1 head crisp lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces (Boston Bibb is nice)
1 orange or grapefruit, peeled and segmented
2 beets, roasted and sliced
2 green onions, chopped
2 radishes, sliced thinly
1/2 cup queso (Mexican crumbling cheese)
small handful cilantro, chopped
Note: These are just suggestions for salad components.  Almost anything will taste delicious!

Add first four ingredients of vinaigrette into the jar of salsa. Shake vigorously until ingredients emulsify.
Assemble salad and pour vinaigrette over. Toss and serve!

07 May 2012

A Food Processor, a Moral Conundrum, and a Delicious Poor Man’s Pesto.

I need your advice. Please contemplate this scenario, and then get back to me.

Good Friend decides to move to Italy.
Good Friend gives away almost all of her earthly possessions to avoid hefty shipping costs, leaving you with her mint-condition Cuisinart food processor.
You give your old, crappy Hamilton Beach food processor to a friend.
That friend moves to California, taking Crappy Food Processor with her.
You fall madly and deeply in love with your new, Not-crappy Food Processor.  ‘Tis a bittersweet love, however, as your heart aches for your dear ex-pat friend each time you tenderly press the pulse button.
Several years later, Good Friend moves back from Italy, which she has deemed crappy.
Crappy, crap, crappy. Instead of those razor-edged blades puréeing your tomatoes, they purée your happiness. The elation brought on by your Good Friend’s return is destroyed by the all-consuming guilt you feel for still owning a kickass food processor while your friend has zero food processors.

What is the right thing to do?  Give her back her food processor? Perhaps, but then I would resent her for the rest of my life. Fly back to California to re-claim Crappy Food Processor? Dumb. Keep Not-crappy Food Processor, but feel guilty every time I use it? Silly. Buy Good Friend a crappy replacement? Mean.

After spending hours and hours mulling over this dilemma, I came to the conclusion that  the only reasonable solution was to break my beloved machine. Then neither of us would have it, and all would be right with the world. My plan was to keep cramming it with food until it jammed up, and then I could say, “Oh sorry, Good Friend,  by the way, your food processor broke, now we both have to buy a new one.” And it would suck, but at least it would be fair.

Full to the limit!

So I made a super duper triple batch of Poor Man’s Pesto. I filled my baby up all the way to the top, sniffling as I stuffed in handful after handful of pesto ingredients.  I stifled full-blown sobs as the olive oil glugged in.  I pressed the switch, whispering sorrowful adieus to my cherished appliance.   At first, the blades caught and stuck, and I thought my plan was successful. But after a few gentle coaxes from the pulse button, the blades whirred to life, the spinach was sucked into the flurry, and pesto!, the pesto was finished.

The good news:I have 4 or 5 cups of delicious pesto that did not cost a fortune to make.
The bad news: I still have a working, not-crappy food processor, and my friend still has zero food processors.
But more good news: it turns out that I don’t care about the moral solution to this problem. I have decided to keep the food processor. I cannot be parted with my love.
And...more bad news: it turns out I am a Crappy Friend.
But wait! More good news: To appease my guilt at being a Crappy Friend who owns a Not-crappy Food Processor, I have decided to make anyone anything with pesto in it anytime they want. Like this pizza, with  pesto, mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, and garlic sausage. It is not crappy.

Put it in my mouth!

Poor Man’s Pesto
Replacing some of the basil with spinach, and some of the pine nuts with pecans, brings down the price of this pesto.  Added bonus:  you don’t have to wait for basil season.
Also, the pecans give the pesto a slighty nuttier taste, which is unexpected, yet pleasing.
Feel free to vary the proportions according to your taste or what you have available in your kitchen.

Makes about 4 cups of pesto.

3/4 cup toasted pecans
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
3 large handfuls of spinach leaves
1 large handful of basil leaves
6 large cloves of garlic (or more!)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Whir ingredients together in your food processor. Hopefully your food processor is not crappy and does not break.
(Note: I actually did this in a few batches because I made an even larger batch and could not physically fit everything into the processor, even if I was trying to break it.)

Eat some right away, and then portion the rest out into various sizes for freezing.  I like to do a few 1-cup sizes for pasta salads, and a few 1/4 cup sizes for sandwiches, pizzas, soup garnishes, and whatever else comes up.

31 March 2012

Three-Cheese Quiche with Mushrooms and Caramelized Onions

Don’t act so grateful the next time a friend makes a quiche for you. The gesture may appear equal parts sincere and sophisticated, but between you and me, you should know that all your host is doing is cleaning out her fridge.

Confused? Here are some clues that will alert you to the fact that your friend is using you to keep house:

1. A "three-cheese" quiche. A dead give-away that there wasn’t enough of a certain cheese to grate into the quiche, and your friend had to make do with whatever old handfuls of cheese she could find in the back of her cheese drawer.

2. Caramelized onions. So what if they make everything taste better. Onions are cheap, always around, and your friend had probably made a huge batch of caramelized onions last week and just realized that now she needs the container in which they are currently residing, so into the quiche they go.

3. Sautéed mushrooms with sherry wine. Your friend drank the real wine before you arrived, so sherry wine from the pantry is all she had to liven up the mushrooms.

4. A homemade crust. Please. Your friend was obviously too busy cleaning out her fridge to go the store and buy a crust, so she just had to make one from ingredients at hand.

Three-Cheese Quiche with Mushrooms and Caramelized Onions

(made from ingredients on their way to the garbage pail)

(a very inexact recipe with which you should feel free to substitute and experiment. You could even use fresh ingredients and it might taste better - but it might not.)


One batch of your favorite pie dough recipe (I used one from AllRecipes.com, and it was great, whatever, it’s a pie crust, they’re all tasty)

2 tablespoons butter

½ pound (ish) of mushrooms, sliced

2 tablespoons sherry wine (or whatever wine you have)

½ cup caramelized onions (made from 2 large onions)

1.5 cups of whatever cheese you can scrape together, grated into a big pile. (I think I used mozzarella, robusto, and cheddar, but they weren’t labeled in their little baggies so I couldn’t really tell you. You can’t go wrong, as long as you don’t use American Cheese or cream cheese.)

1.5 cups of dairy (this could be any combination of milk, half & half, cream, etc.,)

3 eggs (2 would be fine, too, if that’s what you have)

½ teaspoon dried thyme

salt & pepper


1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Roll out the pie crust to fit your pie dish. Do that squishee thing with the crust that looks cool if you get it right and looks like crap if you don’t (my squishee attempts fall into the crap category).

3. Melt butter in a pan over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms. Sautée until they’ve released their liquid and the liquid has evaporated. Add sherry wine and cook until mushrooms have soaked up the alcohol. Salt to taste.

4. In a large bowl, mix together the dairy, eggs, cheese, and thyme. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

5. Spread the mushrooms and caramelized onions evenly across the bottom of the pie dish. Pour the egg mixture over the onions and mushrooms.

6. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the crust is golden-brown and the filling is puffy. If you have time, allow the quiche cool a bit before slicing and serving.

See? I told you my squishee pie crust skills were horrible.

Fortunately, crappy pie crust fluting tastes the same as pretty pie crust fluting. NOT to say that crappy pie crust fluting is better than pretty pie crust fluting, because that's not true. Pretty pie crust fluting is definitely better than crappy pie crust fluting. In fact, I would love it if someone would direct me towards an online pie crust fluting tutorial. My life would be so much better if my pie crusts were prettier.

And yes, ALL of this is the caption to the above photograph, which is basically the same photograph as the first photograph, just cropped and flipped, but I'm hoping you won't notice. Hey, at least I didn't add googly eyes.

19 March 2012

An Epicurean Opportunity Presented by a Giggling Box of Offspring

Why is this box wiggling?

Because my offspring are in it.

So what would YOU do if 100% of your children were happily contained in a cardboard box, and you suddenly had an undetermined length of time during which you could do WHATEVER YOU WANTED?

Granted, your options are limited when you don’t know if your freedom is going to last 30 seconds or two hours. I imagine that the most popular decision among parents in this same exact situation would be to tear maniacally into the kitchen to see what they could consume without the children seeing. A scoop of Rocky Road. The last slice of a child’s birthday cake. A shot of tequila. A head of cauliflower.

Right, because cauliflower is so delicious.

Really? No. You know how cauliflower is just fine, and will never be any thing more than just fine?

Listen close, and I’ll tell you a secret I learned from a friend. If you put your children in a box - no wait, that’s not a secret - that’s a crib. Here’s the real secret: if you slow-roast cauliflower for a long time at a low temperature, it becomes so much better than just fine, and even better than sooooooooooo yummmmmmmmmmy, and almost as good as the best vegetable you’ve ever eaten, whatever that is. The little pieces of cauliflower become crispy and caramelized, while the bigger morsels melt into sweet, velvety chunks. It is a magical transformation…one that has enabled my four year-old daughter to raze half of a head of cauliflower in one sitting. You’d think that would make me happy, right? Offspring eating vegetables? Yes! No! Because when she is finished with the batch, there is not enough left for me. And that's a problem.

Slow-Roasted Cauliflower with Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins


Two heads of caulifower (This seems like a lot, but the florets REALLY shrink when they’re roasted. And you WILL want to pig out on this. And you WILL want leftovers.)

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Handful of pine nuts, toasted

Golden Raisins


Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cut up a head of cauliflower into bite-sized chunks. I like a variety of sizes, so that some pieces get crispy and some get soft. Sprinkle the cauliflower florets with plenty of olive oil and kosher salt. Roast on a baking sheet for about an hour, stirring two or three times. There should be plenty of caramelized dark spots. Those are the yummiest ones!
When they're done, dump the florets in a bowl with a handful of toasted pine nuts and golden raisins.

Not burnt. Caramelized!


07 March 2012

Homemade Marshmallows, Peanut Butter Filled and Chocolate Dipped SHUT UP

No matter how badly you might want one of these marshmallows, you could never, ever, possibly, in your life, want one as badly as this small person:

"Do you see my tears, Mommy? Just look at how big they are.

They are as big as my love for you if you just

please give me one more marshmallow."

You might be thinking about what a heartless person I must be to deny my sad child just one more marshmallow. But don’t feel bad for him. Feel bad for me. Because I’m crying like that right now, too. For my marshmallows are gone. Devoured. Engulfed . It doesn’t matter who ate them, let’s just say they are gone forever.

You also might be thinking that instead of you feeling bad for me, I should be feeling bad for you, since you didn't get any marshmallows and I did. But in this case, it is better not to have loved at all than it is to have loved and lost, for my entire family loved and then lost and now we are miserable and our life just sucks without our chocolate covered marshmallows.

I can’t even look at this picture without enormous tears of anguish welling in my eyes. No, not the picture above, the picture below:

And look at these. They’re stuffed with peanut butter. I hope you are crying now, too.

Let me tell you about this marshmallow experience. It was a gooey mess. Goopy, goopy globs stuck to my knife and cutting board and fingers and elbows and hair and iphone and every other single surface in the entire universe. Well, at least one person enjoyed working with the batter:

I almost trashed the batch! The first few marshmallows I cut were globby, pathetic mounds that did not merit consumption by even the most wretched and miserable creatures on our planet. But I was in it too far to quit. I allowed the massive patty of uncut marshmallows to dry out a for 6 more hours until they were hard enough to maintain the approximate shape of a cube. Then I dipped them in chocolate and even salvaged the globby-glob ones by stuffing them with peanut butter and then dipping those in chocolate, too. I am happy to say that the hard work was worth it!

These are special. Sweet, soft, melty in your mouthy, everything you could want a marshmallow to be. They are a pain in the ass to make, though, so only attempt them if you are patient person whom stuff doesn't tend to stick to, and even then, only if you know will be able to graciously tolerate their absence once your supply is depleted.

Couldn't resist.

Homemade Marshmallows, Peanut Butter Filled and Chocolate Dipped

~Basic marshmallow recipe adapted from the Barefoot Contessa. Next time, I’ll be trying Martha Stewart’s recipe, which looks quicker and easier.


  • 3 packages unflavored gelatin
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup*
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract*
  • Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

*Fancy Toast Notes:

  • Do not use dark corn syrup (like I did) or it will take at least 24 hours for the marshmallows to set.
  • Use the best quality vanilla extract you can find, since the vanilla flavor is so prominent in these marshmallows. I’ve been using vanilla bean paste, which is loaded with flecks of vanilla bean.
  • Instead of one tablespoon vanilla extract, I did two teaspoons of vanilla paste and one teaspoon of almond extract. I highly recommend this combination, especially if you’re not planning on adding the peanut butter component.


Basic Marshmallows

Combine the gelatin and 1/2 cup of cold water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and allow to sit while you make the syrup.

Meanwhile, combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to high and cook until the syrup reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat.

(If you don't have a candy thermometer, let the mixture come to a boil and remove from heat after it has boiled for one minute.)

With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the sugar syrup into the dissolved gelatin. Put the mixer on high speed and whip until the mixture is very thick, about 15 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix thoroughly. (Do not mix for too long, or the batter will become too thick and difficult to work with.)

With a sieve, generously dust an 8 by 12-inch nonmetal baking dish with confectioners' sugar. Pour the marshmallow mixture into the pan, smooth the top, and dust with more confectioners' sugar. Allow to stand uncovered overnight until it dries out.

Turn the marshmallows onto a board and cut them into squares. Dust them with more confectioners' sugar.

Makes 20-40 marshmallows, depending on the size.

Chocolate-Dipped Marshmallows

Melt 2 cups of good quality chocolate (I use Ghiradelli 60% cacao) at 30 second intervals, stirring between each one, until chocolate is melted. Using fingers or toothpicks, dip the marshmallows halfway in the chocolate. Allow to cool completely before serving.

Peanut Butter Stuffed AND Chocolate-Dipped

Cut a marshmallow almost in half and spread the inside with creamy peanut butter. Close up the marshmallow and dip the whole thing in the melted chocolate. Repeat with remaining marshmallows.

(I welcome any suggestions for making it easier to work with marshmallow batter. Some people suggest using cooking spray on a piece of plastic wrap, the knife, and your fingers, but I fear that the delicate flavor of the marshmallow would suffer when one's tongue detected traces of cooking spray. Some sites recommend confectioner's sugar sifted over everything, but that wasn't enough for me. Goodness gracious that was sticky stuff.)