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Shakin’ my fattoush-y

3 Aug

Rambling

Confession: A lot of my cooking is mistake-based. In the case of this food flub, it was because of stale bread. I was trying to make this simple recipe, Meatballs with Cucumber Sauce on Flatbreads, from the August 2012 issue of Better Homes & Gardens. But when it came time to serve, my flatbreads, well, fell flat. Crumbled, more like. I had purchased this lovely looking garlic naan…

…but fear it must have gone stale. Or perhaps I was too impatient in neglecting to warm it. Because when I tried to gently fold it to make a sandwich pocket–gyro-like–for the meatballs and yogurt sauce, it broke apart…

It was pretty futile to think the rest of the recipe could be salvaged, so I forged ahead with the fumble, and made my own version of this dish. It ended up being sort of like panzanella. With a Persian flare. Persian panzanella. Which I guess can also be considered fattoush. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Fattoush…ish.

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Fattoush with Meatballs

Adapted from a recipe published online and in August 2012 Better Homes & Gardens

Break apart two large pieces of garlic naan or similar bread (such as pita), and toast in oven until lightly browned, about 3 minutes on broil…

In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 of a thinly sliced cucumber, 1/2 of a diced and seeded tomato, 12-16 oz. fully cooked meatballs, halved (available in the meat section…I used veal, but in future might make my own ahead of time using ground lamb and Greek seasoning), and 1/2 of a thinly sliced red onion

For cucumber dressing: Coarsely grate the other 1/2 of the cucumber, and combine with 5-6 oz. plain Greek yogurt, snipped fresh mint, and Greek seasoningsea salt, and freshly ground pepper to taste. A pinch of cumin and squeeze or zest of lemon work nicely, too…

Pour yogurt dressing over the other ingredients (including the toasted naan pieces), tossing lightly to coat all evenly…

Garnish with mint. And then be sure to actually eat the mint…This salad is yummy, but pungent onions pack a punch!

Simple Sunday: Avocado-Tomato-Gorgonzola French Bread Pizza

29 Jul

Rambling

It’s Sunday. It’s summer. It’s lazy. No words. No work. Just an easy recipe. For mid-day summer munchies.

Roast

Avocado-Tomato-Gorgonzola French Bread Pizza

The simple ingredients:

  • Mash one ripe avocado with a pinch of sea salt and crushed red pepper flakes.
  • Lightly brush the cut sides of a halved section of baguette with olive oil.
  • Grill or broil for a few minutes until lightly toasted.
  • Spread mashed avocado evenly onto two baguette sections.
  • Top with tomato slices (thinly sliced, and then halved).
  • Sprinkle with Gorgonzola.
  • Broil until cheese is bubbly and begins to brown.
  • Let cool slightly, then enjoy…washed down with a spicy Bloody Mary!

Yummy summer blues: Blueberry-cranberry chutney

27 Jul

A taste of summer: Blueberry-cranberry chutney with Brie on crusty bread
 

Rambling

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” This I croon, along with Lena Horne on the car radio, as I make my way through the winding hills and farm fields of Washington County on this sultry summer Sunday. Where the air is heady with the smell of hay, earth, and cow dung. (Am I the only one who revels in the pungent scent of cow paddy?) En route to My Rural Mecca: Gardenworks at MacClan Farms in Salem, New York. It’s blueberry season, and my mission this day is to pick enough of the superfood berries to last the summer, to avoid the $3.99-per-pint weekly charges at the local grocery by harvesting the fruits of my own labor (well, not really) for half the cost. In the sunshine, in the fertile Black Creek Valley of eastern New York, an hour from home, a hundred years back in time, in a magical corner of the state where cows outnumber people (and milk trucks therefore outnumber cars)…

Gardenworks is more than a farm stand, or nursery, or greenhouse. It is a compound of creativity, and all that is idyllic about an agrarian existence. It is a collection of pristine hundred-year-old barns, in a verdant valley on the border of Vermont, specializing in local produce, meats, books, artwork, jewelry, and (my favorite) cheese. There are wreath-making classes, and cheese talks, and art exhibits, and cooking seminars.

Every season at Gardenworks holds a different wonder: a bounty of berries and plentiful perennials in summer; prolific pumpkins and mums ad finitum in autumn; Christmas trees, wreaths, and handcrafted decorations in winter. For the past few Christmases, I have created gift baskets for friends and family, purely from Gardenworks wares: soups, syrups, dip mixes, cheeses, ornaments, textiles. Most, if not all, created within a 20-mile radius, or right at Gardenworks. 

But today, it’s all about the blues. 

I grab a red pick-your-own pail from the Radio Flyer wagon out front, and nearly skip into the adjacent fields to start my harvest. I pretend that these fields, this land, these beautiful barns, are mine, all mine. 

I am alone, almost. And I am glad for this solitude. Because I suddenly realize that I don’t know what a blueberry bush looks like. I walk among low-growing rows of green shrubs, scanning them for signs of blueberries, and pretend that I know where I am going, and what I am doing (I don’t). I keep walking with false confidence. Just in case someone is watching this pseudo-city slicker/country gal wannabe. I realize that the last time I picked blueberries was with my mom, as a preteen girl in my hometown of Clifton Park, in a farm field that has long since surrendered to subdivision development. A loooong time ago. 

Then finally, there they are. Tall, scraggly bushes, at the far end of the field. Heavy with my blue heaven.

One for the bucket, one for my belly. One for the bucket, two for my belly. That’s pretty much the way it goes for the better part of an hour. Until my red pail is about a third full, and my belly is fuller. 

I head back to the main barn. I pick up a few varieties of locally made cheese, a sweet onion, some smoked sausage for supper. My blueberry haul weighs in at just under two pounds, or about $5. Enough for the next few weeks, or until I get the urge to make my Gardenworks pilgrimage again. With my receipt, the clerk hands me a delightful bouquet, gratis. No doubt culled from the nursery’s winning homegrown selection of zinnias, snapdragons, and dahlias. “(Owners) Meg and Rob (Southerland) thank you for shopping Gardenworks. These were leftover from a party they hosted last night. Enjoy!”

Bonus: With my Gardenworks receipt, I can enjoy 10% off ice cream at Battenkill Valley Creamery, just down the road. Old-school dairy, milk in glass jugs, hand-churned ice cream, farm fresh eggs, cheese curds. How to turn down a dish of my favorite mint chocolate chunk…

…fresh from this cow, right across the road?

But now, for the blueberries. What to create with my blueberries? Sure, there are all sorts of sweet possibilities–buckle, crumble, jelly, scones, muffins–but I seek the savory. How about a blueberry chutney? A tart, chunky relish, slathered on a slice of crusty bread, with a bloomy Brie-like cheese, perhaps?

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Blueberry-Cranberry Chutney

In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups washed, picked-over fresh blueberries

…with (1) chopped sweet onion, a handful of dried cranberries, 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar, pinch sea salt, sprinkle of cinnamon (yes, friend Sarah, that kind you love!), and enough apple cider vinegar to almost cover the saucepan’s contents.

Simmer, covered, over medium-low heat, until it looks really messy like this, about 20 minutes…

Dissolve a tablespoon of cornstarch in some water, and add to the simmering mixture, stirring until slightly thickened…

…then cool and transfer to a comely white bowl like this to serve…

Or store in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a few weeks, but it won’t last that long, because you’ll enjoy it sooner. I highly recommend pairing it with an earthy cheese and crusty bread. While at Gardenworks, I picked up some White Lily, a scrumptious goat cheese produced in neighboring Argyle, NY, at Sweet Spring Farm (also available at our nearby Saratoga Farmers’ Market). Unwrap, let it come to room temperature, until spreadable but still a tad crumbly…

Spread cheese onto crusty artisan bread, top with chutney, and garnish with lemon thyme. Enjoy the bounty of summer blueberries in this delicious, savory, sweet-tart spread!

How should I use the rest of my blueberries? Share your recipe suggestions!

I think I cayenne, I think I cayenne

30 Apr

Cayenne peppers | Photo credit: Princes Milady

Rambling

I spent part of the weekend trying on bathing suits. Clarification: Trying to squeeze into bathing suits. As I quickly round the corner to 40, and fight a nearly inactive lifestyle alongside my comatose metabolism (yeah, that’s the ticket, it’s my metabolism), I acknowledge that, at least for this upcoming swimsuit season, I must wear the more figure-flattering swimdress. Or, as a last resort if I am trying to pull off the “athletic look”, swim shorts with tank top. Ee-gads. How did it come to this?

I am not going to pretend that I have tried to keep the weight off. I don’t do sweat-inducing exercise regularly, I don’t count calories, I don’t not watch TV while eating. All of the things you are supposed to do to fight middle-age weight gain…I don’t do. Except read a lot about what I am supposed to be doing. One of the things I am supposed to be doing is eating spicy foods. Apparently, anything spicy–especially food kicked up with cayenne pepper–is supposed to heat up your body (literally), increasing your metabolism and thereby helping to burn more calories and “blast fat”. Fantastic!

So, I have started putting cayenne on and in everything I consume. I have been carrying around a mini jar of the powdered red pepper in my purse, and whip it out for added seasoning when dining out or eating/drinking at work. Cayenne has wiggled its way into just about everything I ingest, including tea and coffee. (Seriously. Try it.) Any day now, the fat should just start falling off my hips. If “you are what you eat”, then I will soon be a red-hot, pinky-thin, stringbean-looking gal. Or least be able to lose the swimdress. Sa-weet.

Roast

I don’t (yet) have any recipes specific to including cayenne or other hot peppers, but do plan to incorporate hot pepper varieties in our backyard garden this summer. So I turn to my friends in Bloglandia for ideas. Fellow food fans, can you help a girl out? Please tell me how you use cayenne (or other hot peppers or “fat-blasting” spices) in cooking, or if you have specific pepper-centered recipes!

A tale of two Sarahs, and a savory sage-y mushroom sauce

20 Apr

About two pals named Sarah, and food fun with fungi
 

Rambling

I have two friends named Sarah. One lives here in the Saratoga Springs area, and I have known and worked with her for a few years. One lives in Wisconsin, and I have never actually met her. This is a quick ramble about the Sarahs, followed by the Bon Appétit pasta recipe that links the two.

Saratoga Sarah is a kickass chick. She is the numbers-cruncher/resident “mom”/kid sister/do-anything/takes-no-shit business manager for the best builder in town, and a real estate agent in her spare time. She is quick-witted, sharp-tongued, and wise beyond her years. And she’s a great bowler. She came over for dinner on Wednesday, and enjoyed this new recipe with me. 

Wisconsin Sarah is someone I bumped into in Bloglandia, back in January when I first launched into this thing. I found her on Freshly Pressed, when her recipe for (nay, her beautiful photos of) pistachio sticky buns caught my eye. I clicked, and found Sarah’s Place, and the multi-talented hostess herself, a Midwestern gal from our leading cheese-producing state and the land of Richie Cunningham (i.e., my mecca). She’s an incredible professional photographer, an amazing cook, a self-taught knitter, a fan of Tina Fey, a mother to kids with fur and four feet, a lover of old movies and maps. And she’s the nicest, most supportive person I have never actually met. A few months ago, she randomly awarded subscriptions for Bon Appétit to a few of her web friends. I was a lucky winner. More so for having met Sarah, but the gift subscription was a great bonus.

This week, I tried a recipe from the April Bon AppétitPenne with Pancetta, Sage, and Mushrooms, and it did not disappoint. So, a gift from one beloved Sarah, enjoyed by me with the other. For their friendship, humor, and shared love of food, I thank them both!

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Penne with Pancetta, Sage, and Mushrooms

From a recipe published online and in April 2012 Bon Appétit
 

Bring 1 1/2 cups low-sodium beef broth and 1 cup dry red wine to boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.

Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until reduced to 1 cup. (What’s the trick with this? I had to keep pouring the reduction out of the pan and into my liquid measure, then back again, since I can’t successfully eyeball saucepan contents being reduced.)

Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a large deep skillet/saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 12 oz. assorted fresh mushrooms (such as oyster, crimini, shiitake), cut into large pieces, and season with salt and pepper. Saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to a plate.

Add 8 oz. thinly sliced pancetta (Italian bacon), coarsely chopped, to same saucepan. I am a fan of cooking/prep shortcuts, so just bought two packages of this brand of diced pancetta:

Saute pancetta until it begins to brown, about 10 minutes.

Drain pancetta with slotted spoon and discard drippings. Return to saucepan, and add wine reduction, 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter (cubed), 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage, and 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary.

Simmer until liquid thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir in mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, cook 1 lb. penne rigate (I used whole wheat, which, for reasons unknown, is packaged as 13.25 oz.) in a large pot of boiling salted water, until almost tender but still firm to the bite (isn’t that what al dente means?). Drain pasta, then stir into mushroom mixture with 1 c. finely grated Parmesan. Heat through, coating pasta thoroughly. Serve topped with shredded Parmesan.

Bon appétit!

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