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Archive for the ‘Quick Ideas’ Category

Among summer’s incredible bounty are fresh-shelled peas of all varieties: from fava beans to English peas to whiteacres and more.  Last week at the Morningside Farmer’s Market I picked up a couple of pints of pink-eyes, knowing they’d been shelled a few hours before and I’d be cooking them a few hours later.

Raw pink-eyed peas

There are many wonderful things that you can do with fresh peas.  I highly recommend this black-eyed pea, corn, and tomato salad from Virginia Willis’ Bon Appetit, Y’all.  After seeing her make this last summer (and tasting it!) at a market demo, we enjoyed this salad at home several more times last year.  I certainly don’t intend to let this summer slip by without making sure it’s as good as I remember.

Cooked pink-eyed peas and grits

But my favorite thing, and the easiest, to do with fresh summer peas is just to boil them up and serve them in their own broth, perhaps over rice or grits.  Here I served them over stone-ground grits cooked with fresh cream and parmesan.  A friend said she topped the same thing with crumbled up local bacon, and I just bet that it was out of control.

Simple Fresh-Shelled Peas

Fresh-shelled peas – pink-eyes, whiteacres, field peas, and on and on
Enough liquid to cover (you could use just water, or use vegetable or chicken broth or bouillon)
1 white onion, cut into eighths, length-wise
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: Ham hock

A note on seasoning: My mom and grandmother would never have cooked peas without a ham hock in the broth to flavor them.  Salty, fatty, savory, and smoky, pork is used to flavor much Southern cooking – here’s a new book with recipes and history that calls pork “the King of the Southern table.”  (If anyone feels like buying me a present, feel free to make it this book!) However, as a vegetarian for many years, I adapted this dish to my needs.  I found that a few cubes of veggie bouillon, the cut up onion, salt, and maybe some additional olive oil or butter for fat content mimicked very well the taste I remembered from childhood.  If you do use bouillon, broth, or ham hock, you will need far less salt in the cooking liquid than if using just water, so do adjust accordingly.

To cook: Place peas in a pot with onion and enough liquid to cover.  Boil for 20-30 minutes, or until tender but still firm and not mushy.  As the peas cook, you will notice a gray foam forming on the surface of the water – simply skim this off with a shallow spoon and discard.  Taste before serving for salt and pepper.  As mentioned, these are wonderful just in their own juices, perhaps with a piece of cornbread to soak up the liquid, or on top of white rice or creamy stone-ground grits.  Serve and enjoy!

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Tallahassee, Florida is home to the Florida State Seminoles, state government, and my family.  It’s located in what we call the “panhandle” of our Sunshine State.  As you know, the Panhandle borders the Gulf of Mexico, a body of water that has recently met its match thanks to the unbelievable Deep Water Horizon oil spill.

I’m bitter – can you tell?  These are the beaches that I grew up on. I spent family vacations, spring breaks, and days in college when we just wanted to relax instead of going to class.  I caught my first “real fish” on this shoreline (a 10 pound black drum that was almost as tall as me!), jumped waves with my grandmother, and caught crabs in order to orchestrate “crab races” (it really didn’t take much to entertain me as a child!).

Over the last few weeks, I’ve experienced predictable emotions in response to disaster in the Gulf: anger and sadness.  But I’ve also experienced, unpredictably, joy.  Unable to to see into the future, Mike and I planned a trip with Boulder friends (who happen to be originally from Louisiana) to head to the beach in the Gulf.  And so, while I am angered and saddened by the oil disaster, I am grateful that in light of all of this, we were able to hop on a plane and beat the oil to our destination.  We made it.  I savored the trip as much as possible, realizing that this would be (short of a miracle) the last chance we would have to visit “my ocean” in the way that I remembered it.

And so, we chartered a boat for a little deep sea fishing and caught, cooked, and ate some snapper

We went to the local seafood market, Goatfeathers, for some grouper, shrimp, and tuna

Goatfeathers

Robert preparing the grouper for the grill

Grouper with blackening spices

Grouper on the grill

Bay shrimp (grey) and Gulf shrimp (pink - saltier, and sweeter)

My cousin Katie's, famous shrimp!

Tuna

Prepared tuna platter with wasabi paste - compliments of Mike

And we made sure to spend plenty of time in the ocean and on the beach…

My two loves - Mike and ocean

Santa Rosa Beach - 10 miles from Destin, FL

 

Cousin Katie’s Delicious Peel n’ Eat Gulf Shrimp Recipe

Serves 2

1/4 cup of Old Bay seasoning (classic – loose powder, not in the bag)
1/4 cup of caraway seeds
1 lb of shrimp (shell and tail on, preferably fresh, if not fresh then at least thawed)
Large pot of water (filled with 1 or 1.5 gallons of water)
Seasoned salt (we like this one called Aunt Cora’s but I think that’s only available regionally)
1/4 cup of white vinegar

Fill the pot with the water, vinegar (vinegar helps make shrimp easy to peel), seeds, salt, and Old Bay.  Bring to a rolling boil and add shrimp.  Continue cooking until the water just comes to a boil again (sometimes even before.) It’s very important not to overcook the shrimp or they will be rubbery.  Once cooked, remove the pot from the heat and strain the shrimp.  Your strainer will collect seeds and spices.  I serve the shrimp hot or ice cold in a bowl with their seeds and remaining spices.  I also dust the shrimp with fresh Old Bay – or even sprinkle it on a plate to dip the shrimp in as I peel them.

Mike and I read about using the famous (or infamous) Sriracha Sauce (with the green lid and rooster on it) to mix with a little mayo.  It didn’t sound appealing to me at first but I tried it and it makes for a great tangy yet spicy dipping sauce for the shrimp.

Optional Sriracha Sauce Recipe

Sriracha Sauce
1/8 cup of mayonnaise
However much Sriracha you can handle

Mix together to your taste and voila!

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My little garden is really starting to produce: my first cherry tomatoes have ripened, the first large green tomatoes are ready to ripen, we’ve enjoyed many wonderful leaf lettuce salads, and now the cucumbers are going crazy.

Mimi and Granddaddy always had a big garden when I was growing up.  In the summertime, they grew sweet and hot peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, onions, potatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, zucchini, scallions, and green beans, at a minimum.   I remember helping them sometimes, mostly with the harvesting: crouching along the rows of green beans, making sure to get all the little pods.  Or helping Granddaddy in the winter, washing his harvests of collard, mustard, and turnips greens in successive water baths in big white buckets in the carport (don’t you know, there were no “garages” back then – just carports!).   Somehow, though, I escaped most of the labor involved in their garden and simply got to enjoy the fruits: those greens, cleaned, cooked, and doused with Granddaddy’s home-grown and -made pepper vinegar; soft, cooked green beans with onions and ham hocks in the summer and crisp canned green bean salad with tangy dressing and sharp onions in the winter; steaming hot cornbread sticks – like the ones Rachael made here – slathered in Mimi’s home-made and -grown pepper jelly; Mimi’s ratatouille, surely inspired by Julia Child’s introduction of French cooking to America’s home cooks, composed of stewed eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes.

More than anything, though, summer at Mimi and Granddaddy’s house meant dinners full of crisp, beautiful, home-grown cucumbers – very often, cucumbers simply peeled, sliced, and bathed in white vinegar, topped with ice cubes and chilled in the refrigerator.  Crunchy, light, tangy, and cool, biting into these helped combat the sweltering blanket of heat that covers North Florida in the summertime.

Iced cucumber salad

My one cucumber plant is producing about one or two cucumbers a day right now – that’s upwards of a dozen a week, and I don’t pick them until they’re pretty big (the ones pictured above are actually from the farmer’s market, before mine were ready to harvest – much smaller than what I’ve been picking at home).  We have a lot of cucumbers to eat!  Mimi canned many of hers, of course, making a couple of kinds of cucumber pickles, in addition to her green tomato pickles, canned green beans, jellies, relishes, and frozen home-grown fruits and veggies.  But I wondered what other fresh preparations of cucumbers she made, so I turned to the pile of hand-written recipe cards I brought home after her funeral last Christmas.  Of course, Mimi didn’t disappoint.

“Buttermilk Salad” was the answer I came away with.  I don’t remember ever eating this growing up, but that could be because I turned my nose up at it.  I thought I hated buttermilk, one of those decisions you make as a child and don’t question until you’re old enough to have forgotten why you thought you hated that thing in the first place.  I don’t think I could drink a tall glass of buttermilk with dinner, like my mom is apt to do, but sliced fresh cucumbers drenched in the creamy, tangy stuff?  I’m there.

Mimi’s Sliced Cucumber Salad with Vinegar

Cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
White Vinegar, enough to cover sliced cukes
Sliced sweet white onion (preferably Vidalia)
Salt & pepper
Ice cubes

Peel and slice as many cucumbers as you’d like and place in a bowl.  Add sliced white onion, season with salt and pepper to taste, and mix.  Cover with white vinegar – if you want the salad to be a little milder and less vinegary, replace some portion of the vinegar with water.  Top with ice cubes and place in refrigerator to chill before eating.  This is best made an hour or less before you plan to eat, so that the cucumbers are at their freshest.

Mimi’s Buttermilk Salad
Serves 6

3 medium cucumbers
1 small clove garlic
1/2 tsp. thyme (I used fresh lemon thyme)
Salt
1 quart buttermilk
Optional: thin slices of sweet white onion

Peel and slice cucumbers as finely as possible.  Put the garlic through press and add with thyme to the cucumber.  Add onion if you’re going to use it – only use a small amount and slice very thinly.  Mix thoroughly with the cold, fresh buttermilk and season to taste with salt.  Serve immediately or chill for an hour and serve.

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So – it’s official as of May 7th, 2010 I have an MBA!  We celebrated the occasion by having “the dads” – mine and Mike’s – visit for the festivities and a little spring golfing.  We had graduation dinner at a delicious restaurant called John’s.

I first ate at John’s last year when I volunteered for the Boulder Chef’s Up Front Committee.  We were down to the wire and needed one more chef to commit to our lineup.  Our Chair was swamped and so I volunteered to go in and spend money I didn’t have on a meal I didn’t need in order to try to get the chef to participate.  He agreed.  Score for him (my money and now loyalty) and score for me (success).  I digress.

At any rate, we ate at John’s on Friday and then headed to Denver on Saturday night for a lovely steak dinner with my Denver friends and family.  After sending my dad off on Sunday, I spent most of Mother’s Day pampering Mom with a pedicure and lunch.

Since I was in Denver, I took the opportunity to go to one of my two favorite Denver shops, Marczyk’s.  For the record, The Truffle is the other of my two favorites.  It’s such a bummer that I have to strategically plan my visits to Denver in order to frequent these shops.  I love Whole Foods as much as the next person, but I do wish Boulder had more specialty stores like this.  That’s why, in my dreams, I will one day open a specialty food store – similar to Dean and Deluca – in Boulder.  Oh, to dream…wouldn’t that  be paradise?

Marczyk's

Pressing the rewind button – Dad and I tooled around Boulder earlier that weekend and stopped at my favorite kitchen store, The Peppercorn.  I purchased two-much needed escargot dishes.

Fast forward to Sunday- what’s a girl to do with escargot dishes if she doesn’t have snails?  And what better place to go for snails than to Marczyk’s?

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I remember a question that a classmate/friend of mine asked me during the fall semester.  She said, “What’s your goal with the blog?” Of course my next question was, “What do you mean?”  As we got further into the discussion, I realized that she was asking about whether or not I was pursuing a revenue model and if so, what it might look like.  Obviously, what other question would a fellow MBA student in my High-Tech Marketing class ask?  And while it was completely appropriate  – even expected, it shocked me that people might assume that I had a motive behind this blog other than the one I had in mind – which was to connect with my sister over food, from a distance, and in a new way.  In my head, the blog was the next best thing to cooking in person with my sister.  Somewhere along this last year it has become even more – it has become a creative outlet for me to share with friends and family about something I enjoy – food.  And when Mike gave me this amazing camera, it fueled my excitement for taking simple, beautiful photos of food and telling people about it.

Here’s the fun and unexpected surprise….

While business school didn’t exactly pave the clearest career path, it did inadvertently encourage me to re-connect with my love of food.  Following a professor’s recommendation, I volunteered last year on this fundraising committee to get involved in the Boulder food world. Here’s my plug for this event that has become so near and dear to me.  The event is called Boulder Chef’s Up Front, which is a program run by a larger nationally based organization called Share Our StrengthBoulder Chef’s Up Front is a culinary event aimed at raising money to support healthy child nutrition in Boulder County.  I felt like I scored by joining this committee for so many reasons: I was able to “give back”, the people are great, the cause is near and dear to  my heart, and the event itself is an evening fueled with flavors and talent from some of the best chefs in Boulder.

And so, without hesitation, I am volunteering again this year. Much to my surprise, the Chair of our planning committee has asked yours truly to be the photographer for the event! So while I had no personal goals for this blog other than the ones I have already acknowledged, it turns out that it has led me to this exciting opportunity.  Who knows what other things will come.

So here’s my plug: please come!  And if you can’t, please enjoy the photos on my blog afterward!  This year’s event will boast the head chefs from A Spice of LifeBoulder ChophouseCentro Latin KitchenColterraL’Atellier/RadexQ’s at the BoulderadoRadda/MateoSALT – the bistroTerroir and The Kitchen Café.

Shifting gears, of course, I can’t leave you without some eye candy although I have no recipes for you today.  Below are some photos that I took of various cooking and food shopping on my recent trip to Toronto to visit Mike’s family.  His sister Eva took me to this fantastic market called the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto.

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I’ve been on a diet.

I hate diets and I kind of really hate talking about them because I don’t like body-snarking, even when I do it to myself – and especially in front of others.  I never want my words about myself to inadvertently hurt someone else.


Like many people, I have complicated relationship to my own body and I’m always trying to be more at peace with it.  Happy, healthy, not hung-up.  I’ve always loved food, loved to cook and eat and try new things, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that food was not just nourishment or fun but, well, it’s my thing.  Some of my friends are beautiful knitters, others are photographers, marathon runners, amateur musicians, or weekend motorcyclists.  One of my cousins is sky-diver with his own plane!  As I’ve settled into my adult self, I’ve realized I’m not the adventurous wanderer I once thought I would be – I’m a nester.  I like to take care of my home and I love to spend time in my home cooking, eating, and sharing delicious homemade food with friends and loved ones.

Of course somewhere in there, I went from a person who bought heavy cream a couple of times a year to someone who has a carton of heavy cream in her fridge at all times – and I’m not a coffee drinker!  Learning more about food brought all kinds of complicated thoughts and ideas about what was “good” food.  Like many people, I have struggled to re-define my relationship to food – rather than low-fat being good for me, I now want to eat cleaner, more natural and unprocessed whole foods.  Beyond pursuing the most exotic imported foreign goods I can find, I am interested in mining the depths of local food items.  But somewhere in there things got complex and heavy.  And my pants got tighter and tighter.  Finally, I decided to bite the bullet and not just sort of generally think about “eating healthier” – but to commit to the dreaded thing, a diet.

In the end of course I chose one that worked for me.  It’s based on simple whole foods and emphasizes eating “super-foods” like nuts and olive oil at every meal.  The program starts with a “jump-start” where you eat whole vegetables and fruits and lean proteins with no salt – this is the most gimmicky part of the whole thing.  Going salt-free and keeping foods very simple and clean is meant to reduce bloating and boost your confidence by immediately helping reduce your waistline.  It worked!  However, it was very boring.

What was fascinating was that as I began to eat normally after those days of no salt and very simple, clean (dull) food, I starting tasting things anew.  I needed less salt to really taste what I was eating.  I could enjoy the richness of a small amount of chocolate without having to have the whole piece of cake.  I remembered the difference between feeling “full” and “ridiculously overstuffed” (and didn’t feel cheated).  This was a revelation!

The very boring part is over and I’m back to thinking about food, cooking with luxurious, fabulous, amazing salt (it’s so important, y’all!), and eating the kinds of foods that satisfy not just my physical needs but my senses as well.  I’m just doing it a little leaner and lighter these days.

Back to cooking means – back to blogging!  A dear couple of friends hosted us for shabbat this week and I brought this to share with our Mediterranean meal.  It’s adapted from the fabulous Deborah Madison, of course.  She calls it yogurt and cucumber salad – to me, it’s just tzaziki.

One tool that I use for this dish is a yogurt strainer.  This is the kind of device I would not have bought for myself – I have cheesecloth and a bowl, and I’d always figured I could strain my own yogurt.  But somehow this little tool makes the whole process a snap (thanks Aunt Julie and Uncle Nick for the awesome Christmas gift!).  It fits nicely in your refrigerator for overnight straining, which produces a gorgeously thick almost cheese-like substance.  For this tzaziki, I strained the yogurt only for a few hours which thickened it up but still left it quite liquid and lovely.  I’ve also eaten yogurt cheese on toast with za’atar and salt or on a biscuit with Mimi’s homemade strawberry preserves.  The tzaziki below is amazing with lamb burgers and pretty fab with felafel, too.

Cucumber and Yogurt Salad
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

2 cups plain whole or low-fat yogurt, strained for several hours or overnight
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 scallions, white and part of green parts chopped
Fresh mint and dill chopped, to taste (about 2 tbsp each)
2-3 tbsp lemon juice or white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Good-quality olive oil

Mix together ingredients.  Taste for salt and pepper and adjust as needed.  Let stand for at least 15 minutes or several hours.  Drizzle with olive oil and serve.  Makes 3 cups.

Tip: To keep your tzaziki creamy and not watery, toss your chopped cucumbers with a little salt and let them sit in a strainer in the sink while you prep the rest of the ingredients.  This draws out some of their water and leaves you with a luxuriously thick dip.

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I had the pleasure of spending my last Spring Break as an MBA student (hip-hip-hooray!) facilitating a merger and acquisition.  What?  How did I accomplish that during Spring Break?  I spent it by merging part of my family with part of Mike’s family and acquiring some food, drink, and fun!

What’s the recipe?  Take 13 people in a mountain house full of taxidermied animal heads, and add the a few random houseguests, beautiful weather, and great food and drink and you’ve got a successful vacation!

Each night had a “theme” that fueled the inspiration for food – from Southern to Eastern European to Italian.  The Italian-themed night was particularly fun.  My brother (born in Florence, where his dad is from) and his new bride made pasta carbonara, while my aunt made delicious eggplant stacks.

Aunt Julie's Eggplant Stacks

Ingredients
Eggplant (try for eggplants that are more uniform in shape as opposed to bulbous because they are easier to stack)
Mozzarella cheese (fresh is best)
Parmesan or Romano cheese
Fresh basil, oregano, thyme, marjoram or sage (obviously you can use dried herbs in a pinch)
Your favorite jarred tomato/marinara sauce
Olive oil

My aunt says that she has made many variations of these to include other vegetables like artichoke bottoms, zucchini, roasted red peppers, portabella mushrooms or fresh tomatoes.  She has also used jarred or homemade pesto sauce in place of the herbs.

Directions
Slice eggplant and lightly coat with olive oil.  Broil, roast or grill eggplant until just tender – in this case we roasted them for a few minutes.  Stack with marinara sauce, herbs, and mozzarella cheese.  Repeat this process twice and then top the stack with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees for a few minutes – just until the cheese melts.  Drizzle with olive before serving.

It wouldn’t be family cooking without a little inspiration from Mimi.  Apparently, my aunt’s inspiration came from a similar recipe that Mimi cooked – only she didn’t actually stack the eggplant.  I thought the stacks made this a perfect party food idea and they also provide a great presentation!

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