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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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Ten Apples Up On Top

25 Sep

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While the weather is just starting to cool down out here on the Florida/Georgia border (meaning, it’s 85 degrees with a breeze and a drizzle), it is strangely starting to feel like autumn. Every once in a while the trees rustle, and the abundance of overzealous salespeople pushing the newest crop of Halloween and Thanksgiving goods is enough to make one forget that is it is, still, technically September.

However, I must admit, I’m one of those people. Our house already has decorative pumpkins perched on the dining room table, cinnamon-scented candles burning with delight, and a giant trifle dish full of apples on the counter. My autumn inspiration started when Rob and I took a trip to Asheville, North Carolina. It’s a small town in the mountains, with farm stands, roads that wind up pine-lined cliffs, and a fabulous food-filled downtown. Really, we ate our way through the city, and still barely made a dent. One thing we did learn when our mouths weren’t stuffed with trout, or barely, or tomato bisque (but they were maybe half-full with wine from tasting at the St. Paul’s winery – we are civilized after all), was that Asheville is the 7th largest producer of apples in our nation.

What a way to welcome fall – go to a place that is inundated with the first, and one of the most prominent, symbols of the season!

Of course, I shopped. We got apples, we ate apples, I got an apple yard flag, we tasted and bought apple cider; we were, for lack of a better word, tourists.

So back to reality (aka: Kindergarten), we are starting to learn about apples this week. The kids are so excited. Apples! Is there anything more delightful? Christmas? Nah. Valentines Day? Hardly. And don’t even get me started on birthdays. The day that we “experiment” and taste and graph different colored apples is more exciting than Ronald McDonald himself delivering free chicken nuggets. When we read Dr. Seuss’ Ten Apples Up on Top, they are simply engrossed – open mouths, wide-eyed, engrossed. To Kindergarteners, apples are the crème de la crème of the new season.

To be honest, they are to me as well. All over the internet apples are springing up with cider recipes, butter recipes, pies, cakes, and roasted with pork tenderloin. So I decided to add one of my own with a simple, fresh, early autumn salad featuring, you guessed it – celery. WHAT? Ok, ok, apples are in there too, but in a different way: as the dressing.

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Similar to the cauliflower dressing I made a while ago, using a fruit or a veg to amp of the faux-creaminess of a dressing is a super simple, and none-the-wiser, trick. In this case, I used a Jonathan apple (I left the skin on because I like the little specks of red throughout the dressing), cored it, and whirred it in a blender with ¼ c apple cider vinegar, 2 heaping tsp honey, juice of ½ a lemon, 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, and s&p. The outcome: a non-cream, creamy dressing sweet and tangy and perfect for your favorite fall foods. Here, I was a bit mundane, trying to jazz up the humble (yet deliciousCelery, Bacon, Cheddar, and Parsley Salad (use those ingredients, add as much or as little as you want).  But this dressing would be good over chicken, pork, even as a nice addition to cranberry and walnut-laced coleslaw. Really, the possibilities are endless.

Just like my students’ excitement.

Please try the dressing and let me know how you used it! Can’t wait to hear!

Enjoy!

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I’m So Fancy

3 Sep

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“I’m So Fancy,” by Iggy Azalea has been stuck in my head for months now. It’s catchy, Jimmy Fallon did an excellent lip-sync of it, but it’s mostly lodged in my brain because I have taken to singing it to every possible circumstance. Almost anything can be used in place of the highly syllabized word “fan-cy,” and I’ve been inserting many, many I’m-so-isms to the tune of that song.

Take the summer wreath I made: I’m so craf-ty.

Being caught busting a grove: I’m so danc-ing.

Dozing off on the couch: I’m so sleep-y.

Making a veg ragu that tastes like Bolognese: I’m so sneak-y.

Making Watermelon Chipotle Soup: I’m so veg-an.

Ok, so I’m not vegan, but I did make an excellent vegan soup. It’s funny (and as you will soon see in the up-and-coming “What I’m Reading” section of the blog), that I happen to read, cook, and use many vegan recipes and ideas. While I am not an avid vegan, I do believe in healthy principals encompassing a diet chocked full of fruit, veg, a bit of grain, and nuts.

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So as a quick and easy weekend lunch, I whipped up a cold soup, perfected with late-summer flavors. Even my meat-and-potatoes husband loved this soup. In a blender, I added ½ of a skinned, small seedless watermelon, cubed, 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, ¼ c toasted almonds, 1 small handful of basil leaves, ½ c water, and a pinch of s&p. Whir and blend until all is combined, and, well, soup-like. Pour into bowls and top with some more basil and roasted pepita (pumpkin) seeds. Voila: Watermelon Chipotle Soup, veganized!

There’s really nothing fancy here. But it’s totally cool to sing how fancy you are serving this summertime soup while entertaining. It’s as simple as that. I’m so fan-cy!

Enjoy!

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