This isn’t a real post. And I don’t know when I’ll be able to get a second post going. I know it’s been years since my last post. Life sort of got in the way. There was the year where I didn’t have my own kitchen, then we bought a house and spent several months updating and making it our own. Then we had a baby. He’s super cute. You get the point. Busy people, etc.
So this isn’t a real blog post, it’s just my dinner last night and when I finished making it I thought, “damn that looks too pretty not to take a picture of it and if I’m going to take a picture of it maybe I should write about it.” It’s just a quick at-home version of Chiptole’s burrito bowls. The best part, for me, of this dinner was that we grew the bell pepper, jalapenos and tomatoes in our garden. For the first time in years of gardening all of our plants are producing like crazy. It’s definitely making up for the years we spent at the community garden, filling a water barrel with a hose hooked up to a fire hydrant down the block and never getting any good tomatoes because squirrels, mice and humans would steal them.
Anyway, honestly I don’t know if I’ve actually written this post already. I might have but I don’t have time to go back and check and hey, even if I did, it was years ago. You could probably use a refresher on burrito bowls, right? They’re really complicated. At the very least, here are some pictures of my dinner. PS I hope you like cell phone pictures!
1 cup long grain brown rice
two chicken breasts – already cooked is best
two fresh jalapeños
1 red bell pepper
Boil your rice and once it’s mostly cooked add some chopped onion. I find this gives some good flavor while easing the bite of the onion. While the rice is boiling, get your meat ready. I used leftover chicken breast from a previous dinner. Just gently shred it, toss it into a microwavable dish with a cover, add two fresh jalapeños, thinly sliced, some chili powder a little salt pepper and garlic and enough water so the chicken is covered about halfway. Microwave for six minutes stiring once halfway through. Make sure you take the seeds out of the jalapeños or you’ll probably burn your mouth off.
Chop the pepper and slice it the cherry tomatoes in half. That’s it for cooking, once the rice and chicken are done just build your bowl. A layer of rice, a layer of chicken, top with some cheese sprinkle on your red bell pepper and your tomatoes, and finally top with a little scoop of Greek yogurt. Done.
I have to be honest. I don’t create many fusion dishes. I’m not sure I have the expertise of any one genre so firmly under my control that I feel able to mash two of them up together. Before this recipe, I’d never tried it at all. That I can remember. And no, using spaghetti noodles in ramen instead of Udon noodles doesn’t count.
This was very much an attempt to use up fresh produce without it going bad and without getting bored of the same flavor combinations. While I could possibly eat nothing but tomatoes and basil all summer long, I fear that Señor may crave more diversity than that. Actually, I could probably convince him to eat just tomatoes and basil for a week or two. But still. That’s not very well-balanced now is it?
We both love Mexican food, thus our taco bar wedding reception. That taco bar was delicious and friends have told me they’re still dreaming about the amazing food. For real, she just said it this weekend. I wouldn’t lie about something so serious. And in all honesty, we are STILL eating through the leftovers. We had a small guest list and we had 20 percent of our responded guests not show. So we had a ton of leftovers. We’re almost done with them but the overwhelming amount of taco meat, tortilla shells and refried beans in our freezer definitely affected our desire to make tacos.
This recipe was my best attempt at bringing delicious Mexican food back into our lives without it looking or tasting anything like the beef, chicken, beans and rice in our freezer. It totally worked. In the heat of summer, I used canned beans instead of boiling my own. I didn’t have to plan this recipe in advance, I just dumped everything together and off we went. The corn had been roasted on the grill a few days earlier and was caramelized and smoky. The cilantro and basil were both about to turn. And thankfully, tomatoes are a staple of both cuisines. Which is maybe why I love them both so much? Or maybe that’s unrelated and it’s just that they’re awesome. That’s probably more likely.
In this dish, roasted grape tomatoes make most of the ‘sauce’ that covers the noodles, beans, corn and herbs. In the effort of full disclosure, this was delicious as a hot main dish and the a cold lunch the next day. This is also a super easy recipe to feed a bunch of dietary restrictions. Gluten free? Swap out the whole wheat noodles for brown rice noodles. Vegan or lactose intolerant? Skip the cheese topping. Delicious and versatile. I love that.
8 oz whole wheat spaghetti noodles
20-30 grape tomatoes
2 cobs roasted corn (approximately 1 cup of kernels)
1 can black beans
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Dash of salt, black pepper, cayenne
1/2 cup shredded cheese
Heat oven or toaster oven to 400 degrees. Be sure to let the noodles drain for a few minutes before tossing them with the dish to keep excess water from creating a soupy dish.
Prepare the noodles according to package directions.
While the water is heating, place the tomatoes in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place in the oven or toaster oven for roasting. I prefer the toaster oven because the tomatoes sit closer to the heating element and finish roasting much faster. The tomatoes are ready when the skins are shriveling and there is some liquid on the foil.
Using a sharp knife, cut the kernels off the cobs of corn.
Drain the beans and rinse well. Let drain for five minutes to remove any excess liquids.
Place six ounces of water in a glass measuring cup. Add the chili powder, garlic, cumin, salt, pepper and cayenne. Stir and microwave the mixture for 45 seconds.
Add the olive oil to a large skillet. Heat on medium. Add the water and spice mixture. Toss the black beans and corn in the skillet until the spices are fragrant. Add the noodles and roasted tomatoes to the skillet and gently toss to incorporate. Adjust spices as necessary.
Tear whole cilantro and basil leaves off a clean bunch of each herb. When the pasta is just about ready to serve, remove from heat and toss a handful of both cilantro and basil with the dish.
Serve immediately; garnish with fresh cilantro, basil and shredded cheese.
There are about a thousand and one things to love about the farmer’s market. One of the things that I love is when you buy a bunch of herbs for one dollar . . . and you go home with a bunch that fills an entire shelf in your refrigerator. On Tuesday I bought fresh basil and heirloom cherry tomatoes. I contemplated making a pasta dish or a casserole or even a salad but I think I knew when I bought them that they were destined to become a pizza.
There are a lot of really good pizza places around us, that probably happens in most metropolitan areas, yes? You know those really good pizzas that are full of ingredients you’d never think of? I love those. We had our rehearsal dinner at one of my favorite pizza spots, and with good reason. In past weeks I’ve enjoyed a pizza topped with sausage, pepperoni, bacon, pineapple and banana peppers; a pizza topped with garlic mashed potatoes, bacon, broccoli, cheese and green onions; a pizza I like to think I invented and is the best thing ever – chicken, pineapple, goat cheese and red onions; and a pizza topped with barbecue chicken, mushrooms, banana peppers and onions. There were others in there too, but those were my favorites.
I rarely feel the need to recreate what my favorite places can make for me. And to be completely honest, I never order a pizza at a restaurant that I could easily make at home. I want unique, amazing toppings. I want complex flavor layers and ingredients I’d rather not mess with at home (read: pineapple, mashed potatoes) and I almost never want to order the traditional American pizza of red sauce and salted meat. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat it. But we’ve probably all eaten our fair share of the plain, boring pizzas and could do with some new flavors. **This does not mean that when confronted with a traditional NY pie I will try to fancy it up. No, I will take that giant, flat piece of pepperoni pizza, fold it in half and shove it into my face. Some things are sacred.
When I thought about turning my basil and heirloom tomatoes into a pizza I was quite nearly giddy just at the thought. I settled on a slight twist to the classic Margherita. First because I had all the ingredients on hand. Second because I never order Margherita pizzas. I can crush tomatoes and rip up basil on my own time, thank you very much. The goat cheese. Oh the goat cheese. The goat cheese is there because goat cheese makes everything better. Everything. I tossed on some onions as well because caramelized onions are like vegetable candy.
This was a pretty damn delicious pie. The honey wheat crust was crisp but chewy. The heirlooms roasted and when lightly crushed, gave the pizza a sweet, flavorful sauce. The goat cheese made everything perfect, as it does. The basil under the cheese gave tons of flavor while the basil on top of the cheese got crispy and reminded me of bacon. I’m not sure why, but it was good so I suggest you try it. This recipe made two pizzas, one 10 inches and the other 12 inches with crust that were ‘original’ thickness. It would easily make three thin crust pizzas as well or two 12-inch pizza of medium thickness.
So, what are you waiting for? Tomatoes and basil are in season. Now is the time. Ready, go.
Goat Cheese Margherita Pizza
for the crust
2 1/4 teaspoons dry active yeast
1 cup warm water
2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey
Dissolve the yeast in a small bowl with the warm water. Stir with a wooden spoon (not metal) and let sit for 10 minutes until the mixture is creamy.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt and honey. Pour in the yeast mixture. Mix with a wooden spoon by hand until the mixture comes together into a ball. Place on a floured surface and knead, adding more flour if the mixture is too sticky. Knead until the dough is relatively smooth, about two minutes. Place the dough back in the bowl and cover lightly with a towel. Let rise for 10-15 minutes.
for the toppings
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large bunch fresh basil
1/2 white onion, chopped
3 cups cherry tomatoes
1 cup goat cheese
3 cups shredded mozzarella
coarse ground black pepper
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Slice the dough in half and roll out the first pizza to your desired thickness. This dough gets poofy so if you want it really thin, roll it out very, very thinly.
Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over the crust. Sprinkle the crust with garlic powder and some chopped basil. Use just enough so that the crust is lightly covered in basil.
Top with one cup of shredded mozzarella, followed by the chopped onions. Add the tomatoes, whole, spacing them as evenly as you can. Then add large pieces of torn basil. Use as much as you’d like, the more the better. I try to make sure there’s enough basil for some in each bite.
Add half of the goat cheese and another half cup of shredded mozzarella. Drizzle the top with another tablespoon of olive oil.
Finally, season lightly with sea salt and pepper.
Place in the oven on a medium rack. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the crust is golden and the cheese in the middle has melted. If desired, place the entire pizza under the broiler for 90 seconds. This will crisp the crust edges, melt the cheese completely and roast the vegetables to perfection.
Let stand for five minutes before serving. Using a fork or mashed potato masher, smoosh the tomatoes that haven’t burst open.
Serve with crushed red pepper and fresh basil.
Seemingly ‘fancy’ dinners do not have to take a long time to make. Sometimes they do, if you’re roasting whole birds or smoking a brisket or something of that nature. But truly, they don’t all have to take hours and hours.
The more recipes I create the more and more I recognize how the best recipes are seasonal and use produce that’s in abundance at that time. Food tastes better when it’s in season. This is easy enough to understand. But it goes further. It goes on to meals, side dishes, and whole recipe schemes. They are all better when you base them off food that is ripe for the picking. Although it’s always sad to say goodbye to delicious berries, peaches and plums, those fruits are officially over for the year. I tried both strawberries and nectarines last week. It was a wasted effort. Food that tasted amazing a few months ago is now mediocre at best.
Figs are one of those fruits that only last for so long. Just like berries and other tender-bodied fruits, they are easily bruised and much too easily turn to mush when their season is over. I keep seeing pictures of turkeys roasted and presented with figs. That’s great for magazines since they are doing the cooking and photographing for their Thanksgiving issues in August when figs are in season. Less helpful for the rest of us. The magazine I’m working on now won’t come out until December. The writers are working on stories for January. A Thanksgiving issue would come out in October to give plenty of face time. The holiday cookie guides are already out. It’s difficult to find seasonal ingredients for Christmas cookies when you’re putting the guide together in the summer. Unless of course, you do everything a year in advance.
Anyway! Figs. Use them now while you still can and don’t cling to the hope that they’ll still be around in a month. They won’t be. I’m sad just thinking about it.
2 boneless chicken breasts
6 ripe black figs
2 ounces cream cheese, cold
2 slices bacon
Slice the figs into quarters and set aside. Measure out the cream cheese and shape each ounce into a flattened bar shape. You may pop them in the freezer so they harden. This helps keep the cheese from oozing too much.
Place one chicken breast on a plastic cutting board. Cover lightly with a paper towel. You may use boneless skinless breasts, or breasts that have been cut off the bone.
Use the flat side of a meat tenderizer to flatten the chicken. You want to a large, thin breast. This will give you more area to stuff and will let you roll the figs and cream cheese more easily.
Place the cream cheese and figs in the center of the breast. Lay the cream cheese width-wise across the breast. Line the figs up two by two. Season with salt, pepper and garlic.
Starting with the narrow tip of the breast, (bottom) roll the breast tightly towards the rounded top, keeping the figs and cream cheese tucked in tightly. You are rolling the breast up from bottom to top, not from side to side.
Once rolled, keep the chicken in place with one hand. With the other, grab a piece of bacon. Start the bacon on the top of the breast and wind it around at least twice. As you wrap the bacon around spread it out so it covers more of the breast. This will help keep everything in place.
Secure the bacon and close the chicken breast with a toothpick. If your breast is not cooperating, use three toothpicks to truss the meat closed on the underside. Simply remove these after cooking.
Heat oil or butter in a skillet. Place the chicken in the pan and cover. Turn the chicken a quarter turn every five minutes. Use a thermometer to check the chicken. The filling and chicken at the thickest point should reach 180º. Be sure to rotate the bird evenly so the bacon becomes crispy all around.
Once the chicken is done, remove from the pan and cover with foil for 10 minutes.
For a second side dish, toss one cup of cooked chickpeas with two chopped tomatoes into the pan that you used to cook the chicken. Heat over medium, seasoning with salt, pepper, garlic and smoked paprika. Add sour cream, cream cheese or milk to the mixture to give it a slightly creamy sauce. Just a few tablespoons will do. Toss together until the entire mixture is coated in sauce and the tomatoes are soft.
I guess it’s officially fall when I have a fridge full of veggies and instead of chopping them into a salad, I’m pulling out my stock pot. I love soup, so I guess I have to embrace the seasonal change for what it is. A chance to make a lot of different soups and put some twists into old favorites.
Strictly speaking, Ratatouille is not a soup per se. It’s generally sauteed vegetables covered in a tomato sauce. It’s cooked slowly and the sauce is not canned tomato sauce, but the sauce from roasted or sauteed tomatoes. The dish is often baked after the veggies are sauteed and it’s sometimes a filling or topping on rice, pasta or bread. Delicious, absolutely. But I was looking for something that stood on its own, perhaps with a hearty broth. To be completely honest, I had been itching to get my stock pot out and this was the perfect opportunity.
Ratatouille is a peasant dish that food snobs often argue about. What’s the right way to serve it, make it, eat it. What are the ingredients and how must you prepare it? Everyone from Julia Child to Wikipedia has an opinion on Ratatouille. The beauty of a peasant dish is that, in all likelihood, there is no wrong way to make it. Undoubtedly this dish evolved with the realization that summer and fall harvest veggies could be cooked together to make a very hearty meal for very little money. It was true in the 18th century and it’s still true today. I doubt very much that any two Ratatouille dishes are the same. I would guess though, that they’re all really yummy.
Ratatouille generally consists of tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, onion, bell peppers, carrots, garlic and herbs. I had the tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, onion and garlic, but no zucchini. I had stuffed it earlier in the week and hadn’t replaced it yet. I did have potatoes though, so I swapped those two items. Although zucchini would have been delicious too, the pot was so full of delicious food it didn’t really matter.
I decided before I started cooking that what I really wanted was a roasted veggie soup. Too often vegetable soups are just plain broth with lots of veggies cooked in boiling broth. This can be delicious but it can also get old. Vegetables take on a completely different and delicious flavor when they’re roasted. The skins get crisp and a little charred. The insides are sweet and there’s a smoky flavor that you can’t get without high temperatures. And potatoes are always best when they have a bit of brown on them. So instead of just dumping everything into broth, I started by roasting bell peppers and onions. I cooked the potatoes in butter and olive oil over medium-high heat right in the stock pot. I roasted the tomatoes. I cooked the potatoes and eggplant in chicken broth and eventually added in the roasted vegetables. I added a healthy dose of garlic and a few shakes of smoked paprika and let it all boil into a warm, savory soup.
I burned my tongue tasting it. I added some aged cheddar, thinly sliced to the top. I buttered some bread. I burned my tongue again. Senor grew impatient waiting for it to cool and had to add an ice cube. I added an ice cube too. It was too good to wait. No one complained of being cold even though it was only 50 degrees outside.
1 large eggplant, cubed
2-3 pounds small potatoes, quartered
4 tomatoes, cut into pieces
1-2 onions, sliced
2 red bell peppers, sliced
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
Garlic, sea salt, crushed red pepper, smoked paprika
Chop peppers and onions into small slices. Place on a foil-lined tray and roast at 450º for 15-20 minutes.
While the peppers and onions are roasting, add one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil to a stock pot and heat over medium-high heat. Chop the potatoes into quarters and dump into the pot as you go. Use small potatoes or, if you only have large ones, chop them into pieces small enough for a spoon. Stir the potatoes every few minutes to prevent burning. Partially cover the pot with the lid to help the potatoes soften. Be careful not to drip any steam condensation into the pot or you will get splattered with hot oil.
Chop the eggplant into large cubes. Toss with sea salt and let stand in a strainer. Toss occasionally. Before adding to the pot, rinse well with cold water.
When the potatoes are well-browned, add the eggplant and chicken stock. Turn the heat medium and cover. Stir occasionally.
When the peppers and onions are slightly roasted with black char marks and slightly wrinkled skin, remove and set aside. Add four chopped tomatoes to the oven/toaster oven and continue roasting.
Once the eggplant has softened and the broth starts to thicken, add the peppers and onions. Add the tomatoes once they are roasted. They don’t have to be completely done, a slight roast throughout will do.
Stir the entire pot and add generous portion of garlic, either fresh or powdered to the pot. Add sea salt slowly. Be sure to let it dissolve and give the broth a taste to see whether more is needed. Add about a teaspoon of smoked paprika and a small pinch of crushed red pepper. Let the entire pot simmer for ten minutes.
Taste the broth one more time and adjust seasoning as needed. Spoon up each bowlful and let sit at least ten minutes before eating. Top with cheese and serve with bread if desired.
I hate the end of summer. Hate, hate, hate. I was deliriously happy to discover that we hit a 5-day 80-degree or higher heat wave post labor-day. I swam in my sisters pool. I wore flip flops and short sleeves after dark. I relished the lingering warmth. It’s all about to leave forever (until next June) and I am clinging to every moment of sunshine and warmth that I can. Next June I will marry Senor and that is SO exciting. Still, I’d rather not rush into fall and winter. Fall is okay. Winter is wretched.
Despite my loathing of cooler weather there are a few pluses that I’m trying to focus on. One is that cooler evenings are better for sleeping. Another is the bountiful harvest that fall brings. The market this weekend was overrun with bushels of tomatoes, peppers and beans. Boxes full of giant zucchini for $1 were stacked under tables. Potatoes, cabbages, summer squash, eggplant, onions, greens and even a few fall squash lined tables. The ears of sweet corn are everywhere and every single table was overflowing with produce. I wanted to buy some of everything just because it’s there and it’s locally grown and so, so soon, it’ll all be gone.
This time of year does get me excited for canning. Salsa is on the list again this year and even though it’s a lot of work, it’s also a lot of fun and so damn delicious. I would like to make pickles (hint, hint Mom!) and maybe do freezer green beans? It may end up just being salsa and that’s okay. We’re eating our last jar of last year’s batch this week so the time has definitely come.
I thought I would ease myself into the swing of salsa-making by whipping up a fresh batch with the bountiful harvest I had at my disposal. Our cherry tomato tree went crazy and we had dozens of tomatoes that were about to be too ripe. We also had three leftover ears of oven-roasted corn in the fridge. Seemed like a no-brainer right? I also had dried chipotles on hand, so chipotle salsa it became. I just bought a giant bag of fresh jalapenos and fully plan to make another fresh salsa with those. Yum!
Black Bean and Corn Chipotle Salsa
30-40 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 standard tomato, chopped into cubes
1 cup cooked and rinsed black beans
3 ears or about 1 cup of corn
2 dried chipotle peppers
1 small lime
1 large bunch cilantro, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Combine the tomatoes, beans, corn and cilantro in a large bowl and mix well.
Sprinkle on the sea salt and toss.
Squeeze the lime over the entire mixture and mix again to incorporate.
Chop the chipotles into extremely fine pieces. Use a hand chopper to get the peppers pulverized to tiny pieces. Add to the salsa and mix extremely well.
Serve immediately. Store any unused salsa in the refrigerator and eat within a few days.
Lately I’ve been re-discovering that some of the best meals are those that are really pretty simple. Also, that eggs make everything better. More on that later. Because of our schedules, there are some nights where I have more time to make dinner, in which case I can stew, braise, roast, whatever I want. On other nights I really have to make things in an hour or less, otherwise we’ll be eating at 10pm. It’s really easy to get stuck in a rut of fast meals which is why I love reading food blogs and getting ideas about new dinners and then tweaking them and making them my own. I’ve made a handful of pasta dishes lately and they’ve all been quick, painless and really delicious. Pasta is quick to make but you can end up being repetitive or dreary with it, so I think it’s important to try and mix things up.
Usually if I have a bag of frozen shrimp, I’ll saute them in a white wine and olive oil mixture with lots of garlic and toss in with pasta and fresh basil. Delicious, yes. But also predictable. Since we’d had that dish not long ago, I went for a variation that would have a completely different taste. Roasted tomatoes tossed with noodles creates a really great pasta base. Honestly, I think you could just add some basil, salt and pepper and you’d be good. I added the sauteed shrimp, plenty of spinach, sauteed mushrooms and a handful of blue cheese crumbles and tossed everything together. The cheese melts and coats the noodles and gives it a unique flavor that mixes nicely with the tomatoes.
Honestly, this dish is divine. I made it the first time with roasted grape tomatoes and Senor asked for it again about four days later. I used regular sized tomatoes this time because they’re Minnesota-greenhouse-grown and while being local, are also a lot cheaper than grape tomatoes are in Minnesota in March. You pick your battles. Another battle I choose to pick is checking on the sustainability and safety of our seafood. The shrimp came from Target and if you check the bags closely enough, you can find US shrimp in the freezer section. Much better than the typical ‘from China’ option. If you’re interested in learning what fish you should avoid and which fish is a safer choice, check out the Seafood Watch website here.
Aside from boiling the noodles, the longest cooking time will be the tomatoes. Seriously, this dinner is ready fast. More the better for eating heaps of it.
Roasted Tomato Pasta with Shrimp
2 Tbl. olive oil
5 medium sized tomatoes, quartered or 2 pints grape tomatoes
6-8 small cloves of garlic, peeled
frozen, uncooked shrimp (I used half a bag, or about 25 medium sized shrimp)
5 white mushrooms, quartered
1 cup fresh spinach
1/4 cup bleu cheese crumbles
5 oz. dry pasta
kosher salt, garlic, black pepper, crushed red pepper to taste
shredded Parmesan to top
Quarter the tomatoes and spread them onto a foil-lined baking tray. Top with peeled garlic cloves. I used our toaster over for this since it’s faster and more energy efficient than using an oven.
Once the tomatoes are roasting, start the water for the pasta. I used a combination of basil linguine and regular spaghetti noodles because the combo is delicious and pretty. Win win.
Boil the pasta like normal until it’s soft; drain and set aside. Add the olive oil to a large skillet and heat on medium-high. Add the shrimp and cook until they are no longer clear but pink. Once pink, add in the quartered mushrooms, sauteing with a bit of garlic powder until the mushrooms and shrimp are both crisp on the edges.
Once the tomatoes are done roasting (the skin should be wrinkled throughout), turn off the heat on your skillet. Add the tomatoes, cooked pasta, blue cheese and spinach to the skillet.
Using tongs or two spoons, toss the ingredients together until incorporated. Let the residual heat soften the spinach and melt the cheese. Once well incorporated, sprinkle lightly with kosher salt, crushed red pepper, and black pepper.
Serve immediately, topping with shredded Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper.