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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!

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When it Rains…

13 Jan

Growing up, my family moved around a lot.  We primarily stuck around the central and southwest regions of the U.S., and while I wasn’t totally thrilled each time another move came around, I look back now and am thankful for all those new places to live.  I had to learn how to make friends, and got to experience a lot of regional culture.

But one thing I never really experienced is hard-core RAIN.  Cold, wet, dropping out of the sky – rain.  When we lived in Houston, the occasional thunderstorm would drench us and intensify the already palpable humidity, but would be over within the half hour.  Colorado’s climate would change every 5-minutes, and, in the what seemed to be miraculous moments it rained in Arizona, we would dance around like fools in the muddy puddles.  There were even times in California (usually when it was one of those 80 degree days in December) when I would pray for rain, or some sort of “seasonal” weather.  Well, I guess the old adage is true – be careful what you wish for!

There is no other word to describe today’s rain, but unbelievable.  The sky, which has been dark for days, finally opened up and unleashed a fury of water.  At one point it looked like a waterfall from the sky.  Even the kids, and the native Oregonians at our school who have been around wet weather since birth, stopped their teaching and learning to just look out the window, or open the door, and just stare.  I closed my eyes for a moment and could hear giant slaps of water – like some gold miner in the sky was tossing buckets of leftover river water over his shoulder.  Opening my eyes, I followed the sound to what looked exactly like what I had imagined.  There were random isolated patches of slightly violent thrown water from the sky, which would have left anyone completely drenched were they to find themselves under that unfortunate pocket of clouds.  Again, unbelievable.

And maybe it was the weather, but strange things kept happening all day: Every single one of my fourth graders missed the exact same problem in the exact same way showing the exact same incorrect problem solving.  One of my Kindergartners flat out forgot how to hold a pencil, when, just moments earlier she clearly and correctly wrote her name on her paper.  She got the most blank look on her face when I asked her to pick up her pencil to write the number “15” (this was probably the strangest and most frustrating teaching experience I’ve ever had).  On top of that, the second graders were unusually quiet in the cafeteria at lunchtime (sounds silly, but this was probably the most strange thing of all!).

So, chalking up the day’s weirdness to the unreal weather, I left work today remembering the yummy, comforting sweet treat I had waiting for me at home: Brown Butter Bran Muffins.  Can a bran muffin be comforting?  Yes.  Can it even be yummy?  Absolutely!  And I’ve found a way to keep it so light and sweet it will convert even the strongest bran hater.

I use greek yogurt as my fat base, substituting the enormous amounts of both butter and eggs usually found in decent bran muffins.  Mixed with honey, only a bit of browned butter (caramelized butter goes a long way in the flavor department, and the little specks look great in the batter), and dark brown sugar, these muffins offer great sweet depth of flavor, without the guilty unhealthy feeling (or the dense food-baby we are all familiar with after indulging).

I enjoyed my muffins, feeling warmed against the cold, wet rain, and let go of the question-mark-over-the-head day.  Tomorrow will be different, I expect, but even if it’s crazy raining again, I’ll have a yummy, healthy bran-filled breakfast treat to look forward to.

Brown Butter Bran Muffins (makes 12 muffins)

  • 1/2 c all purpose flour, plus more for dusting muffin tin
  • 1/2 c whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 c oat bran
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 + 1/8 c dark brown sugar
  • 8 oz. greek yogurt (I use the honey flavor)
  • 2 tbsp good honey
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, plus more for greasing muffin tin
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare a greased and lightly floured muffin tin.

In a small fry pan, melt the butter until the milk solids start to brown.  When it starts to smell like roasting nuts, turn off the heat and let cool.

Whisk the dry ingredients together, minus the sugar.  In a stand mixer (or using a hand mixer) mix the sugar and yogurt.  When incorporated, add the cooled butter, honey and vanilla extract.  Mix until just combined.

In thirds, add the dry ingredients to the wet, mixing until incorporated each time (and then, if no one is looking, lick the paddle – it’s divine in its raw form!).

Using an ice cream scoop, equally scoop the batter into the muffin tin and bake until a toothpick inserted into the muffins comes out clean, about 15 minutes.

These muffins are great served warm with jams, chutneys, and my favorite: almond butter.

Enjoy!

Turkey Day Trials – Day 1

16 Nov

Thanksgiving is the mecca of food holidays.  It screams cocktails, food comas, and leftover turkey and cranberry sandwiches.  Being that this is my first Thanksgiving cooking the meal (as opposed to my mom cooking), and it is only 9 days away, I need to get started.

Last night I started prepping myself – I watched my DVR’d Food Network Thanksgiving shows, I started to plan out a menu, and I started making the checklist (not a checklist, but the checklist) of things to do before the upcoming event.  As mentioned in my last post about our shopping trip to Trader Joes, I’ve already got the cranberry sauce (yes, my family loves the canned, jellied stuff), olives both green and black, and mandarin oranges.  Last weekend I also picked up bone-in turkey breast (both sides) to practice my flavors.  So tonight is Trial #1 – turkey breast with a risotto dressing.

But before I start cooking, I must celebrate and lament upon the new international news of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s engagement.  Celebrate, sure.  But lament?  There’s a story to explain.

From the time I can remember, my mom told me I was going to marry Prince William.  He and I are the same age, and every time I would see his picture on some magazine cover, or cutely posing with his mother, images of tiaras, royal robes, and other young, naive princess fantasies would float through my head.  I truly believed that I was supposed to – and would – many Prince William.

It wasn’t until I had my first real crush that it donned on me.  My mom and I were standing at the checkout in the grocery store looking at yet another debonaire picture of the royal family when, I realized (out loud) that I will never many Prince William.  My mom looked up from getting her wallet out of her purse and agreed with me in a way and tone that was also asking if I had just come round-trip from the funny farm.

Laughing a little at how stupid I must have sounded, I said, “But you always said I was going to marry him!”

“Oh,” she said with a wave of her hand, “I just wanted to wear a hat at your wedding.”

My mom didn’t get to wear a hat to my wedding – it would have looked ridiculous with her fabulous sparkly silver and black dress.  And the only Prince that crossed my mind that day was the Irish one waiting for me at the altar.  But today’s worldwide engagement news made me reminisce on my mom’s cuteness and my silly fantasies, and also made me realize some similarities.  Prince William: tall, handsome, and slightly balding.  Rob: also tall, handsome, and slightly balding.  Prince William: loves to sail.  Rob: loves to sail.  Prince William: a Lieutenant and search and rescue helicopter pilot for his country.  Rob: a Lieutenant and search and rescue helicopter pilot for his country.  Hmm.  Maybe my fantasies came true after all.

(But now I feel like I need to buy my mom a hat…)

Simple Roasted Turkey Breast

  • 1 3-4 lb bone-in turkey breast (both sides)
  • 1/2 lemon, sliced in 1/2
  • 1 head garlic, sliced in half
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 whole sprig sage
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp cracked pepper
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 white wine
  • 1/2 c chicken or turkey stock

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Have an oven roaster ready with rack in place.  Pour the wine and the broth in the bottom of the roaster.  Pat dry the turkey breast.  Turn it over onto the skin side, and lay the garlic, 1/2 of the lemon, and the herbs on the breastbone, holding the ingredients in place when you turn over the meat onto a roasting rack.  Take the other 1/2 of the lemon and shove it under the fatty side end of the breast bone, using the extra fat/skin to cover the lemon.  Drizzle meat with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the densest part of the breast reads 165 degrees.  Let rest for at least 15 minutes, carve and serve!

Enjoy!

Cranberry, Leek and Apple Risotto with Sage and Brown Butter (serves 4)

  • 1 c Aborrio rice
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 4 c chicken stock
  • 1/4 c dry white wine
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 large leek, thoroughly rinsed and sliced into rounds
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, diced
  • 1/3 c dried cranberries
  • 1 large whole sprig sage, leaves only, finely chopped
  • s&p
  • Optional: 1/2 tsp grated parmesan regiano cheese

With a pan on med-high heat, melt 1 tbsp of butter and saute leeks (with a pinch of salt) until just starting to soften.  Add the rice, and let toast, stirring often (you will be able to smell the starch once the rice starts toasting).  Add white wine to deglaze pan, and reduce until pan is dry.  Add lemon juice to deglaze pan again (the wine and the lemon juice will add a foundational tartness and tang that balances well with the creaminess of the risotto, and the sweetness of the leeks, and cranberries).  Then add 2-3 ladles-full of chicken stock.  Stir the leeks and rice consistently (and Chef Andrew Sutton taught me to only stir in one direction) until liquid is almost gone.  Continue this process until the chicken stock is used, and the rice has become creamy, but still has a toothsome bite (you will be able to tell if you are stirring enough because the liquid, when being absorbed, will also start to turn a bit cloudy due to the starches in the rice).  Note: if you overcook risotto, it will turn gummy and not very pleasant to eat.  Add the apples and cranberries, stir and turn heat to low.

Meanwhile, in a separate sauce pan, heat the remaining 2 tbsp of butter, with the sage, melting and browning – you want to get the butter to the stage where there you can see brown bits gathering, and it smells like sage popcorn.  Pour the brown butter over the risotto, stir, immediately.  Top with parm. reg. cheese, if using.

Enjoy!

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