School Supplies & 10 Minute Pasta

9 Aug

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I went to Target yesterday. Oh, let me preface that and say: school starts next week and I went to Target yesterday. It. Was. Nuts. At one point Rob looked like he was about to straight-arm a 7-year old just to get to the crayons. I stood at a safe distance while he ventured in and out of the school supply section with Bear Grylls-like prowess, emerging triumphantly with the 64-pack of colors with the sharpener in the back. Rob was unscathed, but as we walked away with the echoes of children crying, yelling, running, my eyes widened with what awaits me in the coming week.

It’s funny; the teacher supply section is not at all near the kids supply section. It is quiet in the teacher section and the glossy books happily stand, emitting joy and hope of future learning. Among one of them, standing out like a beacon of necessity, was Color Me Calm 100 Coloring Templates for Meditation and Relaxation. An adult, Zen coloring book which intends to “help bring you to a relaxed emotional state as a way to self-soothe.” Not so much a teacher resource, but definitely a teacher necessity.

People, do not pass “go,” do not pick up $200, summer is over and all signs point directly to Back To School.

Which, of course, makes me reminisce on the summer. It was a fun, busy, and traveling break, visiting my sister in New Orleans, my friends in SoCal, and hitting every state in New England. Rob and I went to a couple weddings, camped in Maine (praying the lightning storm wouldn’t kill us in the tent – well, I prayed, Rob thought it was cool), backpacked and camped in New Hampshire (cooked a quinoa and cod salad on a rock in the middle of the forest), made it to the top of Mt. Washington, and discovered the wonderfully quaint (and delicious) town of Stowe, Vermont. We spent time with both of our families, relaxing in Connecticut, wine tasting and dining on the North Fork, and currently we are finishing this shooting match back in Jacksonville by lying on the couch as much as possible before time runs out.

While we were very blessed to have such an eventful summer, we are also aware that the whirlwind days of school and deployments are right around the corner.

When Rob deployments coincide with the start of the school year, I kind of fall into a cooking rut. It’s just me (and Sig) in the house; so cooking a full-fledged meal, with leftovers, seems a bit superfluous. My nights can consist of popcorn, wasabi peas, peanuts, and if it was a bad day at work, frozen black truffle cheese pizza. If I’m at all feeling the effect of those really trying days, I’ll even resort to my famous microwaved nachos (organic blue corn chips and shredded jack/cheddar cheese nuked for 30 seconds, then topped with too many drips of Tapatio). But being determined to make this new school year a healthier start, I did a solo-dinner test run.

With Jacksonville’s heat historically lasting well into October, a culinary silver lining is that farm-fresh tomatoes are ripe, fruity, brightly acidic, and will be perfect for a good while now. Another thing about the heat is that spending anytime outside is next to dreadful, and sitting inside gaining cooking inspiration from my many cookbooks is ideal. So after reading Tina Nordstrom’s Scandinavian Cooking recipe for Gnudi with Sage-Roasted Tomatoes and Caramelized Butter, I was inspired.

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When inspiration strikes, I act quickly. My waiting-too-late-to-figure-out-dinner-when-Rob-is-on-a-night-flight hunger made me made me act even more quickly. Thus born was the 5-ingredient, 10-Minute Pasta dinner suitable for a solo meal, elegant enough for quick company, yet comforting and fresh enough to leave anyone feeling last-bite-satisfied.

Ms. Nordsrom has a thing for browned (caramelized) butter, and I don’t blame her. The stuff is awesome. Fabulous, even. And frankly, I don’t use it enough. So here’s my interpretation:

While waiting for 3 tbsp of unsalted butter to heat, melt, and brown in a large pan over med-high heat (browned = the kitchen starts to smell like popcorn and the happy, sputtering butter sound immediately ceases), slice a good pint of farm-fresh grape tomatoes in half. Tossing them into the pan with the butter, the acid from the tomatoes immediately starts to release and emulsify with the fat, creating a silky and fragrant sauce. Seasoning with s&p is key here. I also added about ¼ tsp red pepper flakes, because I’m spicy like that, but it’s not necessary to the dish. Add whole wheat spaghetti (not my favorite, but works oh-so-well here with its nuttiness becoming a star flavor) into a separate pot of salted boiling water. Once cooked through, add the pasta to the tomatoes, and thoroughly toss over low heat. If needed to thin the mixture, add ¼ c of the starchy pasta cooking water to the pan. Adding ¼ c freshly, and very roughly chopped Italian parsley, as well as 3 tbsp of toasted pine nuts into the pan finishes the dish.

This meal was so perfect – super easy, unbelievably tasty with brown butter/pine nut/ wheat pasta nuttiness and tomato-tanginess leaving a lasting buttery taste, cut only by the fresh grassiness of parsley.   I don’t make pasta meals all that often, but this one will absolutely be a back to school staple.

On a side note, that Zen adult coloring book, it is so much fun. Of course I bought it! A supposed calming resource in the teacher’s resource section provided right before school starts? Completely worth the try. Then again, so is the pasta. Back to school or not, this is an end-of-summer recipe homerun for just one, two, or a few to devour!

Enjoy!

Now THIS is a Pie

9 Jul

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It could be a club, or organization, of sorts. The I-hate-it-when-I-make-HUGE-mistakes-at-something-I’m-good-at club. Can anyone else join? Or at least stick their head in to see what all the fuss is about?

With humbled conviction, I can say there are four things in life that I’m really good at: cooking, teaching, writing, and yoga. I guess we could bump it up to five things if eating is an area in which to excel. Or maybe even six if driving too fast is considered, but for arguments sake, let’s keep it at four. So when I completely, utterly, remarkably destroyed a pie on the 4th of July, I went down the list of excuses.

“I’m not a baker.”
“This was just plain silly to try.”
“It probably wasn’t going to be good anyway.”

North Florida backwoods fireworks boomed with each doleful attempt at an excuse. Then, right as Rob came over to give me a supportive hug, inevitable frustration took over.

“What the hell! What the hell was I thinking?!” I hissed at him (because he was near).

Rob’s arms quickly – and understandably – released as mine over-exaggeratedly flew around, and my mom graciously admitted that she wasn’t that hungry anyway, and my dad echoed the sentiment. Our progressive summer holiday dinner, where our house was the dessert stop, literally stopped.

Sigh.

This has happened before. Where I mess something up in the kitchen, and have to swallow verbal shrapnel for fear others in the vicinity will call the nutty-farm to pick me up over a failed pork roast. Or from-scratch citrus butter. Or seared scallops. Or fig pizza. But the best thing about these mess ups, is that I get to try again having always learned something.

That did sound a little afterschool special-ish; however, it’s true. With the scallops, for instance, don’t put a hard-plastic handled pan on a grill. It may just break completely off sending scallops flying all over the porch (sorry, Mom). And with the citrus butter, adding too much citrus breaks the clotted cream. Add a bit of salt and sugar instead. With the figs, well, just don’t add them to a pizza, and never ever yell into the oven at a pork roast because it won’t cook fast enough. Lesson learned: the pork will ignore you, and you’ll look like a raging moron.

Well, this latest mistake was a dessert mistake. I’m not particularly a sweet-toothed person, most of which I attribute to the fact that my mom couldn’t let go of the chimichangas while pregnant with me. Though in the summertime, I love, love, love Smores. So what better perfect summertime pie than a Smores Pie?

I planned the layers of the pie perfectly: graham cracker crust, then milk chocolate custard (in true Smores Hershey style), melted marshmallow, and then a meringue topping torched to resemble the most perfect, campfire-toasted mallow. Here was the problem: the custard needed to be baked at a certain temperature (preferably in a water bath), and the meringue needed to be baked at a different certain temperature to ensure the egg whites get fully cooked, yet still set to a fluffy, airy, topping. Here’s what went wrong: I double baked the custard in order to cook the meringue, which completely separated both the melted marshmallow and the custard, resulting in a soupy, gloppy, broken, slimy, inedible mess. Really. Not edible. Not exaggerating.

After the flailing arms breakdown, the 4th of July came and went, and the 5th of July was upon us with friends coming for dinner and to watch the Women’s World Cup Championship. So rather than wallow in kitchen disaster pity (like I am honestly still doing with the pork roast – seriously folks, it hasn’t been attempted since), I decided to try the pie again.

The deep breaths in the kitchen were audible. I reviewed: graham crust? Fine. Custard? Creamy and light. Melted mallows? Genius. Problem: Bleeping meringue. Solution: make a thick whipped topping instead. To get the toasted campfire flavor, cook the graham crust just a bit longer locking in some carbon flavor. Result? Pie perfection.

Our guests loved the pie, Rob loved the pie, I loved the pie – it was smores-y, creamy, dreamy, and everything summertime sweets should taste like. But, mostly I loved it because I had tried again and succeeded after an epic, epic fail.

Lesson learned: try again. It should be a kitchen motto, really. Even with food that turns out fantastic. Try again. It will be great again, or maybe even better! So with that, I’m sending summertime love and a sweet, sweet, do-over Smores Pie!

Enjoy!

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Smores Pie

  • 6 full Hersheys milk chocolate bars, chopped
  • ½ bag large marshmallows
  • 2 full sleeves honey graham crackers
  • 6 tbsp + 2 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 egg yolks
  • ½ tsp good quality sea salt (such as Maldon)
  • ¼ tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 c + ½ c heavy whipping cream, divided
  • 1 tbsp confectioners sugar
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract, divided

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Using a food processor, crush up the graham crackers with 6 tbsp of butter, and ¼ tsp of Kosher salt. When finely ground, pour the grahams into a pie dish, reserving ¼ c of the grahams for topping at the end. Using hands or the bottom of a measuring cup, firmly press the grahams evenly across the pie pan, and up the sides. Bake for 7-10 minutes.

To make the chocolate custard, pour the chocolate into the top of a double boiler (or use a glass dish over a pot of boiling water. NOTE: do not let the water touch the bowl, or it will burn and separate the chocolate). Heat up the ½ c of heavy cream for 30 seconds in a microwave, or over the stove. Pour the heavy cream over the chocolate and stir.

While the chocolate is starting to warm, using a hand mixer, beat 3 egg yolks with 1 tbsp of sugar and 1 tsp of vanilla extract. Vigorously beat the egg yolks until they are fluffy, pale yellow, and form a smooth falling ribbon when falling off the beaters.

Once the chocolate has started to melt, mix it together quickly until smooth. Remove the top bowl from the heat, and place on the counter.

At this point, the eggs need to be tempered (if you immediately add room temperature eggs to the hot melted chocolate, you will curdle the eggs – yuck). While vigorously whisking the eggs with one hand, use the other hand to slowly ladle a stream of the melted chocolate into the eggs. Do this with 2-3 spoonfuls, or until the bowl with eggs feels warm (and may steam). Then, while continuing to whisk the chocolate, pour the egg mixture back into the bowl of melted chocolate, and completely combine. At this point, add the sea salt and the cayenne pepper to the chocolate, and mix thoroughly (it may sound strange, but the salt and hot pepper add a dimension to milk chocolate that is lacking on its own – it makes the flavor more rounded, while keeping the integrity of the milk chocolate smores taste). Pour the custard into the pie pan and place the pie pan on a sheet tray. Place the tray in the oven, and carefully pour the hot water left over from the double-boiler, onto the sheet tray making sure no water gets into the pie (this is called a bain marie and the hot water steams to help cook the custard evenly). Bake the custard for 35-40 minutes, until firm, yet still a little jiggly in the middle.

After the custard has baked, remove it from the bain marie and let it cool to room temperature.

Once cooled, start to make the gooey marshmallow layer by putting the marshmallows in a microwaveable bowl with the 2 remaining tbsp of butter. Heat the marshmallows in the microwave for about 20 seconds, or until the marshmallows just start to expand. Quickly remove the bowl from the microwave and stir the mixture until the butter and melted marshmallows combine to make one mixture. While still warm and pourable, evenly pour the marshmallows over the custard.

Put in the fridge to set for anywhere from 1 hour to overnight.

Just before serving, whip the 2 c of heavy whipping cream using a hand, or stand mixer. When just starting to get bubbly, add the vanilla extract and the confectioners sugar. Whip the cream until stiff peaks form.

Dollop the whipped cream on top of the pie, making a fluffy design, and sprinkle the remaining graham cracker crumbs on top.

Enjoy!

The Next Food Network Star

1 Jul

 

There is was. The “submit” button. I sat on the edge of the bed staring at it as it stared at me with a daring glow, turning the lovely evening ambiance into that bright, sickish, blue-ish hue only computers emit. My eyeballs read those letters – s-u-b-m-i-t – for a long time. My computer mouse tempted to hover over it every time a rush of bravery came over me.

“Are you going to do it, babe?” Rob asked.

“I’m not sure,” the apprehension in my voice was thick.

“Why not? You’d be great. You should totally do it!” my ever-supportive husband was doing his best to be, well, supportive.

“No,” the words of finality echoed the closing slap of the laptop lid. “No, I’m not. Maybe next year though.”

That was four years ago. I had filled out the application for The Next Food Network Star and then totally and completely chickened out. When the next year rolled around, and the year after that, Rob reminded me of my secret wish to apply.  It really was a bit of a secret – I hadn’t really told many people. Maybe for fear that telling would take away my freedom to chicken out, or maybe for the insecurity of knowing others may think I couldn’t do it (although everyone I know is fabulous and wonderful and would, of course, never say that to my face!).

So last fall, when I received a casting call email stating The Next Food Network Star was currently taking applications, I faced my fear – my fear of applying (yeah, I know it’s pathetic), and finally did push that submit button.

First off, Steve Williams is a genius. Rob just happens to know a guy through the Coast Guard community, who just happens to be an excellent videographer, and who just happens to have done a television show application video in the past. He was kind, professional, and directed me on exactly what to do, as I clearly had no idea having never been in front of a camera before. The video turned out great.

But for anyone currently watching the Food Network, I obviously was not selected to be on the show. The funny (and also, again, slightly pathetic) thing is, even as time came and went without the ring of the phone, I still wanted to wait to blog about the video until after the show was already airing on television. Like I was waiting to really see that I hadn’t made it. Ha!

So now every week I watch The Next Food Network Star, cheering on those fellow foodies, and wonder if I actually could have done it. Being a home cook I knew that my chances weren’t super great, but I’m also so happy to see that there is a fellow food blogger currently competing. You go girl!

On a side note, school is out (insert real big PHEW here), and summertime has been ever relaxing. Having already traveled a bit and recorded lots of food on Instagram, I’m also working on many delicious recipes for more blogs to come. So please stay tuned!

In the meantime, enjoy the video, and many thanks to Steve!

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