After a recent tour of the North End and an oversized swag bag filled with copious and generous amounts of olive oil and tomato sauce that the folks at Bertolli shared with me, I decided I had to put some of these ingredients to work.
In celebration of my mom's 29th birthday (I know, she's so young) we had a make-your-own-pizza-on-the-grill-because-it's-too-hot-to-turn-on-the-oven luncheon. Each of us topped one or two tortillas with whatever fixings we desired: onions, peppers, mushrooms, fennel, fresh basil, roasted garlic, tomato sauce, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and cheese. We also had a zucchini and hummus appetizer. (Yes, I store my homemade hummus in old Teddie peanut butter jars with the labels ripped off.) Put tortilla pizzas on the grill for 2 minutes until the edges brown up and you've got a thin crust pizza.
Grilled tortilla pizzas have officially made it into the rotation. As if adding pizza to the rotation was even a question.
On a subsequent night, I made this mushroom pasta dish with some other Bertolli goodies. Once you can move past the fact that it is not especially visually appealing (ahem, cat food, ahem), it was absolutely delicious. I started out with this recipe for marsala sauce as a guide, but substituted a white cooking wine instead of marsala and used vegetable stock instead of beef stock. I also went overboard with the mushrooms and added closer to a pound than 1/2 pound when preparing the sauce. Regardless, I am not a sauce-making kind of gal, so this was a feat of great feats for me. I served it over slightly sauteed zucchini and onions and fresh mushroom pasta from DePasquale's. Buon appetito!
I thought I'd also share some fun summer photos that I've been loving lately.
Growing up, Saturday mornings were McDonald's Egg McMuffin days. My father would drive to McDonald's and buy a baker's dozen or so of these breakfast sandwiches for us to feast on. Gone are the days when I willingly go through the double arches drive-thru to purchase these sandwiches, but this memory inspired these breakfast sandwich sliders.
Egg McMuffin Sliders
Whole Wheat Walnut Potato Rolls (or a similar, small roll)
1 fried egg
1 small slice of Cabot Pepper Jack cheese
Toast roll and cheese together until cheese melts. Place egg in between two slices of the roll and serve warm.
This summer has been one for food and farm tours.
It was time to add the Wachusett Brewing Company Brewing Tour to that list. The brewery is in our backyard (well, maybe not exactly... about a 5 minute drive) and it's been on my list of things to do for a while.
The tour guide explained the history of the brewery, the technical aspects of brewing on a large scale, and where Wachusett Beer is currently being distributed to. At the end of the tour, you belly up to the bar and get two samples of any of the beers that Wachusett is currently making.
I tried the Ryde and a "Black & Blue" (half Black Shack Porter, half Blueberry). My vote was for the Black & Blue. I'm not a fan of the Blueberry on its own, but with the porter, it was a winner.
We also found out (thank you, @wachusettbrew Twitter!) that Wachusett is rolling out a new beer next month.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to join some lovely local gals and tour the North End of Boston and all it has to offer, courtesy of Bertolli.
And what's the best way to inaugurate a trip to the North End Boston other than a cappuccino and a fat cannoli?
After learning about the history of Bertolli, we headed to an authentic Salumeria Italiana. Here, we learned how to taste olive oils. Curated by Chef Raymond Gillespie we sampled a variety of cheeses including one infused with black truffles (moliterno al tartufo) and a creamy blue cheese with a subtle sweet flavor (carozzi capriziola).
Then we headed to dessert #2: the gelateria.
Gelato is different from ice cream in that it is 1) made with milk instead of cream 2) no air gets incorporated into it, and 3) it gets served at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream; its texture is dense and very creamy. Since I can never decide on just one flavor (story of my life) I asked for a dish with half and half: panna cotta and giandula torino, a chocolate hazelnut vanilla. This combination was very rich, sweet and overwhelmingly delicious. The grapefruit and watermelon gelato flavors also received rave reviews from the other bloggers.
After this indulgent dessert, we headed down the street to DePasquale's Homemade Pasta Shoppe. The North End is a tiny neighborhood, probably five square blocks or so, so there wasn't much "walking off" those desserts. The pasta shoppe was also small, about fifty square feet or so. We all crowded into the small shoppe while the owner explained the business. There is one Italian woman (pictured here) who comes in every day and makes the fresh pasta. She not only makes it to sell retail at the shoppe, but she makes all of the fresh pasta for all of the Italian restaurants in the North End. Needless to say, she was busy. DePasquale's offers over 50 varieties of pasta: gnocchi, linguine, fettucine, tagliatelle, papardelle, manicotti and ravioli. I took back two flavors to try: mushroom ravioli and red pepper linguine.
At this point we had really worked up an appetite (ha), so we walked a half block to Lucca on Hanover Street. Bertolli had arranged a special dinner featuring some of Lucca's best dishes including a side by side tasting of two entree dishes. Whoever decided on offering tastes of two signature dishes and not making us decide is a genius. Every restaurant should offer something like this called the Indecisive Person Special.
What's Italian food without an antipasto to start?
Followed by the side by side entree pairing. Tagliatelle with thick chunks of Maine lobster on the left, onion and goat cheese raviolis with tomato and basil on the right.
Since I had not a smidge of room left for dessert, I opted for a taste of blueberry grappa.
My dining cohort ordered the limoncello while dessert samplers of almond basil cake, chocolate cake and panna cotta made the rounds at the table.
Thanks Bertolli for this amazing tour of Boston's North End and the authentic Italian flavors it holds!
Disclaimer: I was not paid to promote Bertolli.
This past week, I've been taking care of a neighbor's garden while he's on vacation. His garden contains some of the most beautiful raspberry bushes filled with clusters of plump, ripe organic raspberries, both red and black. I much prefer black raspberries to blackberries, and even red raspberries, for that matter; the seeds are smaller but they have the same rich, juicy flavor.
Last night I brought two empty bowls and proceeded to pick about five pounds of berries. I tangled myself up in the brambly, thorny berry bushes, but the reward was certainly worth it.
Tim arrived shortly after to find me hiding in one of the rows, tossing one berry in the bowl and two in my mouth. We headed home munching on the berries and commenting on how different and ridiculously sweeter and superior these berries were to any supermarket imposter.
Hopefully my neighbor goes on vacation again very soon.
So with all these berries in the refrigerator, a fruit and yogurt parfait sounded like just the right kind of breakfast for a quiet Saturday morning. And with this peanutty granola, the fruit and yogurt parfait was certainly the right choice.
Basic Peanut Butter Granola
(adapted from Eat Live Run's Elvis Granola)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup crunchy peanut butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
4 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup almonds, roughly chopped
6 dried apricots, roughly chopped
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Combine oil, syrup and peanut butter in a small saucepan and simmer until combined, stirring frequently. Combine salt, cinnamon, oats, almonds and apricots and mix. Pour hot mixture over dried oat mixture and combine until all dried ingredients are coated well. Spread granola onto a large cookie sheet and bake for 40-45 minutes, turning granola with a spatula halfway through.
Question of the Day: Have you ever eaten black raspberries before? Besides in black raspberry ice cream?
There are some nights I just don't want to turn the oven on. Sometimes I end up dining solo. And still other nights, a bowl of cereal is as gourmet as I get. Sure, home-cooked chicken and biscuits and bison chili make it into the lineup now and again, but there are just times when a tasting plate is the right answer.
Lazy. Dining solo. But not pathetic enough (yet) to eat cereal. Tonight was one of those nights. And whatever you do, be sure to call it a tasting plate. After all, it sounds so fancy and elegant, especially when you're currently in a ripped gray t-shirt circa 1998 and you could really use some elegance at this moment in time.
Please don't call the fashion police on me. I swear I can clean up when prodded. Like last weekend at Marconi Beach for date night. Well, at least I tried.
So back to dinner. Blankly staring in to the cabinet, plucking olives out of a jar and attempting to cobble together some semblance of dinner that might not be a complete embarrassment if Publishers' Clearing House suddenly descended on my home to let me know I've won millions of dollars (or the folks at What Not to Wear, for that matter), I decided on homemade hummus. To be completely
hummus honest, I like hummus but I don't love hummus. I'm not a big dipper or spreader, so hummus never had a great deal of appeal.
But tonight, hummus sounded good because I had these homemade wheat thins hanging around that needed a savory spread.
And I didn't even need to turn on the stove. Score.
I had all the best intentions of sharing a stellar recipe, but unfortunately it went something like this:
- 1, no 2 cans of chick peas... or do you call them garbanzo beans?
- 2 Tbsp tahini or something close to that... where the heck is my Tablespoon?
- Juice of one lemon. No lemons in fridge. Must use glugs of concentrate. Not as tasty, but gets the job done.
- 1/4 tsp minced garlic
- Some amount of bean liquid from the can. Enough so that it doesn't clog up the blender.
- Some more tahini for good measure. Who doesn't love an expensive sesame seed paste?
- A few generous shakes of paprika and salt.
- Blend until blender begins to smell like smoke. Stop. Taste. Adjust for right flavor. Add 2 Tbsp sundried tomatoes at the last minute because you can't help yourself. Blend right before blender ignites. Unplug blender and hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
This is certainly Recipes Gone Bad, but is supposed to be an example of mixing, tasting, adjusting, finding the right balance. I consider this a loose definition of cooking. And a horrible example of a recipe for you to actually use. And an even better reason to invest in a new blender.
Scoop a dollop of the hummus concoction onto an appetizer plate next to some olives, slices of CSA cucumbers, and a few of these absolutely delicious homemade wheat thins. We have a slight obsession with wheat thins in this house and each week I find myself spending a small fortune on these delightfully snack-y crackers. This person has a particular affinity for consuming entire boxes in record amounts of time. So to save some hard-earned dough, I got all creative and made some myself.
The crackers lent the perfect amount of sweetness to the already crunchy, savory, and salty plate. And while the elements go so well together, the tasting plate is meant to be enjoyed by yourself.
So go ahead, get in to your rattiest t-shirt from middle school, slice up a cucumber, make your best attempt at some hummus, snack on some olives and if you're really nice, I'll share some wheat thins with you. Only if I can pry them out of the hands of this one.
Question of the Day: How DO you spell the word that means chickpea puree? Hummus? Hummous? Hommus? Or some other combination of o's and u's?
This question has continued to allude me for years. I should know the answer, but for the longest time I kept forgetting to look it up on Wikipedia and never see it in my regular grocery market, so I remained naive to it until this week. I just assumed it was some combination of cumin, turmeric, coriander, and other spices I throw together when I make Orangette's channa masala or lentils. In fact, I wasn't far off. Garam masala is a spice mixture and contains a combination of pepper, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, cumin, malabar leaves and star anise, or some combination of these.
When traveling in Colorado last week, I found this quaint spice shop that sold hundreds of delicious and unique spices. One was the infamous (in my mind, at least) garam masala. So I bought a tiny packet, fettered it away in my checked baggage and finally decided to test it out this week.
Meat has become a more regular character featured in my diet lately, so I hunkered down and created an oldie but goodie vegan dish featuring two of my favorite ingredients: chick peas and coconut milk.
This dish isn't quite channa masala. I used the coconut milk as the liquid instead of classic tomatoes. It was a delicious substitution but probably disqualifies it from any authentic channa masala contest. Not that I know of any such contest. But if you ever do hear of one, I'd be happy to act as an official taste tester. And maybe this dish does have an authentic name in Indian cuisine, I just don't know it. I'm sure this isn't the first time these ingredients have been combined.
Fumbling through the fridge to see what else could be added to this chick pea stir fry, a bag of Stillman's Farm CSA shell peas pleaded to be used up. As each pod cracked open and peas both large and small, perfectly round and strangely oval popped out, I realized shelling a half pound of peas was a new experience for me. Each pod held a slightly different surprise. I found quite a few threesomes, foursomes, and fivesomes, but no two peas in a pod. The process was ... surprising. Soothing and therapeutic, even. Kind of fun!
Half of a pound of pea pods later...
And I had 2/3 cup of beautiful, green, fresh, local peas.
Channa Masala... Hold the Tomatoes
1 Tbsp garam masala
1 Tbsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 15-oz can garbanzo beans/chick peas
1 medium zucchini, diced
2/3 cup fresh peas
1 cup light coconut milk
1/4 cup raisins, plumped in hot water (optional)
Jasmine brown rice (I used TJ's brand)
In a dry saute pan, add garam masala, turmeric, cumin and paprika and toast on medium until fragrant. Add oil and mix the spices together. When oil has warmed, add garbanzo beans, zucchini, peas and coconut milk. Simmer until coconut liquid has steamed off and zucchini are soft, about 10 minutes. Mash some of the garbanzo beans. Add raisins for a bit of sweetness. Serve over 2/3 cup brown rice.
This dish has no heat whatsoever and the subtle flavors of cumin, coriander, and the sweetness that the peas and raisins lend are perfect. Variations of this dish include substituting canned tomatoes for coconut milk, adding chopped cilantro, or serving with naan instead of rice. All good choices.
If you're new to Indian spices and Indian cuisine in general, I suggest starting with a dish like this. The flavors are mild and are certainly worth a try. And if you're wondering, it's vegan!
DIY Foraging for Edibles
In other news, I've become very excited to start foraging this summer for berries. I'm still hesitant to forage for mushrooms and other foods that have the potential of killing me, but berries are a fairly safe bet. Last August, I ran by a secret spot that has bushes of wild blueberries and I can't wait to return. And just yesterday I jogged by wild raspberry bushes growing along the road. And on my way up my driveway today from a run, I found some black raspberries growing in my yard! This was the only one ripe enough to eat, but it was mighty tasty!
Question of the Day: Do you like Indian cuisine? Are you a forager? Did I just eat something poisonous?!
Spending the Fourth of July by the sea is usually my idea of a good time. But with a recent trip to Colorado and the commencement of my new position with Share Our Strength's Cooking Matters last week, we decided that a staycation was better than fighting the crowds in Maine or on the Cape.
While catching up on household chores, finishing up painting and redecorating projects inspired by Young House Love and #winning at Scrabble may not exactly be your idea of a relaxing long weekend, it's my idea of a good one.
A quick trip to the farmers' market was the first order of business as the weekend commenced on Friday afternoon. I emptied my wallet and filled my bag with a bunch of mint, a whole frozen chicken, sugar snap peas for snacking, and a bouquet of freshly-picked flowers.
As I mowed through those sugar snap peas, I pondered what to make with the mint. Pesto? No. Whole grain salad with mint? No. Mint lemonade? Yes. Beer may be the holiday beverage of choice, but I was in the mood for some cooling, refreshing ade.
I stuck the cleaned bunch of mint in a pitcher, poured boiling water over it, juiced four lemons and added sugar. When cooled, I added ice cubes.
Fresh mint infused lemonade tastes a bit like toothpaste if you don't add enough sugar. I personally liked the minty, lemony flavor but can appreciate that it's not for everyone.
And if you still can't get the desired sweet effect without emptying your cupboards of the sweet stuff, go spicy. Pickled jalapeno slices go surprisingly well with the sweet mint and lemon flavors, but it takes a certain type of lady (the hotter the better!) to want to chase a swig of mint lemonade with a slice of jalapeno.
This recipe/concoction may toe the line regarding recipes or concoctions that please the palate, so if you're not a jalapeno-eating kind of gal, I'll try to gain back your patronage with some patriotic chili.
The origins of this chili started when we visited Alta Vista Bison Farm in Rutland, MA. I had won a gift certificate for this farm a while back, and it had sat unused long enough. The old country roads of Central Massachusetts in the summertime are breathtaking, even if we had to rely on old-fashioned maps because the GPS couldn't get us there; its modern attitude refuses to navigate dirt roads.
We arrived at the farm and were greeted by rolling hillside and grazing bison.
Some of which had gone to bison heaven. (And we'd be eating shortly.)
We purchased some ground bison meat, steaks, and burgers. As we cashed out, the woman running the store told us that the farm would be closing mid-month because she and her husband were retiring. Alas, our discovery of the farm was serendipitous yet disappointing; this would be our first and last encounter with local bison from Alta Vista Farm.
We brought it home, sauteed it with some onions and transformed this low-fat beef alternative into a patriotic, somewhat-local chili. If you can ignore the fact that there are two pickled jalapeno slices atop a bed of cheese, I swear the chili underneath is worth continuing to read about...
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb ground bison meat
1 cup diced red peppers (frozen, left over in the freezer from last year's CSA surplus)
1 16-0z can red kidney beans, rinsed
1 16-oz can black beans, rinsed
48-oz canned tomatoes, diced, no salt added
1 4-oz can diced green chiles
1-2 chipotles in adobo (I used four and the spice factor almost blew the roof off the house)
1-2 Tbsp chile powder
1 Tbsp paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
Shredded reduced-fat cheddar (optional)
Pickled jalapeno slices (optional)
Saute onions and garlic in oil on medium until translucent. Add bison meat and saute on medium low until cooked through, stirring constantly. Add peppers, beans, tomatoes, green chiles, chipotles, and spices and stir well. Cover and simmer on low for 20 minutes. Serve out and top bowls with an ounce of sprinkled cheese and sliced jalapenos.
If you're like most of the population and prefer to preserve your taste buds as opposed to burning them up with spicy food, you could omit the chipotles in adobo and jalapenos all together.
But I'm not like most of the population.
Question(s) of the Day: What did you do on Independence Day? Do you love pickled jalapenos as much as I do? Do you despise spicy food?