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Serious as Pie

11 Sep

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So there really is something magical about the South.  The culture, the music, of course the food, but also the people here can leave a lasting impression on a gal from the west.  Take, for example, the accent – it’s fantastically infectious.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself rolling words like “mama” and “y’all” off my tongue like they were vernacular I grew up hearing, let alone saying.  It gives me a feeling of fitting in and being one with the locals.  Silly, I know.  I’m not usually one to conform.  But have you ever had a conversation with a lovely Southerner?  If so, you know what I mean. 

However, there is one thing that I am missing in my budding southern lingo, and that is the cheeky, snazzy, completely amazing phrases that are used down here to describe anything from ripe fruit to an extraordinarily humid day.  For example, I would say:

“O.M.G. It’s. So. SO. Hot.”  With a big, yucky sigh. 

But a local’s tone would ring more like, “It’s hotter than a billy goat’s butt in a pepper patch,” with a sweet-as-Tupelo-honey smile.  

Now really, which one more effectively, and creatively, gets the point across? 

The problem is, I’m not originally from ‘round here, and my natural inclination to witty –isms are left to the likings of literature, art, and (my favorite) food descriptions.  So rather than wallow in the tall grasses of being an outsider, I figured if I can’t beat ‘em, I’ll join ‘em.

So I’ve been making up my own. 

Walking across the black, cast-iron asphalt that is called the Target parking lot, I found myself mumbling, “It’s hotter than Crisco in a frying pan.”  To get my students’ attention, I’ve been telling them things are as “Serious as pie.”  My favorite was when I told a co-worker that I would “chase a hog through a turd field” for a piece of chocolate.  Hmm.  All my made-up –isms naturally run to food. 

Kind of like me.

Part of what spurred on this wave of concocting cheeky phrases to replace mundane meaning has been the unbearable heat we’ve had.  I guess to many native northern Floridians, the 102-degree heat index – WITH humidity – is what they call, “normal.” I see nothing normal about it, and both Rob and I have suffered bouts of heat stroke until we realized that any sort of electrolyte drink was a new best friend.  On the plus side, we’ve also taken to paddleboarding like crazy, hanging out in the water with sand sharks, pods of dolphins, sting rays, and alligators.  Yes, we are in Gator country, folks. 

So, while the heat continues, and my tan gets better, my new creative crush for finding witty -isms has only grown.  As has my cooking repertoire. 

Years ago, when I was a pretty strict vegetarian, I learned how to cook using local and seasonal ingredients, matching my taste buds to that of the day’s farmers market.  Opposed to some classical points of view, my foundation in cooking was not based on veal stock and beef rafts, but on figuring out ways to bring out the genuine, complimentary flavors of foods without the natural flavor imparted by fat.  Jump forward a few years, more cooking techniques, a great Thanksgiving turkey, bacon broiling at my mom’s house, yada yada yada, and now I’m cooking a very flexitarian diet, full of grains, greens, with all the foundational vegetarian cooking I love, as well as using simple animal proteins.  And bacon.  Yes, bacon.  Mmm, bacon. 

Tonight’s dinner took the hog for the most flavorful bacon accompaniment.  Was bacon the main ingredient?  Hardly.  Did it overwhelm?  Not in the least.  Did it add a smoky goodness to my Harvest Summer Stuffed Tomatoes?  Absolutely. 

The weather has just started to cool down, enough that, when combined with the continual rise and fall of the start-to-football-season-on-the-tv hum in the background, it has hinted to fall at times.  So this dinner was perfect for our kind-of-cool Monday Night Football casual evening.  The applewood-smoked bacon added just enough fat, smokiness, and salt that rounded the veg-stuffed tomatoes so well, it would be a shooting match with a BLT.  As a two-pot meal consisting of a huge vegetable serving, and healthy grains, these stuffed tomatoes are sure to delight even the meatiest of meat-eaters.  I mean, the meal was slap my ass and call me Sally – good. 

(Ok, I may have stolen that last little –ism, but it totally applies). 

So make these as soon as you read this.  They are easy and so good.  Do it before the fresh, summer veg runs out.  Your health buds and taste buds will thank you.  Really.  I’m being as serious as pie. 

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Harvest Summer Stuffed Tomatoes
(serves 4)

  • 4 beefsteak tomatoes, tops cut off, and insides (ribs and pulp) removed (a serrated knife works best for this)
  • 1 ear corn (grilled preferably, but fine raw also)
  • 1 medium sized zucchini, diced
  • ½ small red onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 strips of bacon, sliced into lardon (1/2-inch width) pieces
  • 2 tbsp good quality mayo
  • ¼ tsp dried oregano
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 package frozen brown rice medley, or any sort of barley/rice grain mixture (found nowadays in most grocery stores)
  • 3 big sprigs of fresh dill, leaves finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • s&p

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a large sauté pan, cook the bacon.  When almost fully browned, add the onion and zucchini.  Let the veg soften, stirring occasionally, then add the corn, oregano, and red pepper flakes.  After the corn has warmed through, transfer mixture to a mixing bowl, and add the mayo.  Taste for seasoning (maybe pepper is needed, but the bacon and mayo are fairly salty). 

Put the tomatoes into a baking dish (I used a round cake plate), and spoon the bacon and veg mixture generously into the tomatoes.  Bake in the oven until the tomatoes just start to loose their sturdy, about 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, heat/cook the rice mixture.  When done, add the dill, apple cider vinegar, and s&p. 

When the tomatoes are done, spoon a bit of the rice onto a plate, and nestle the tomato on top.  Pour a yummy, light, Tuesday-night wine, and serve warm (but also great as a cold salad the next day). 

Enjoy! 

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A Pantry Dinner

5 May


Despite the many eye rolls from a number of the men I know (including my husband), I was one of the thousands of fans who woke up in the wee hours of the West Coast morning to watch Prince William wed Kate Middleton.  While the workday last Friday was filled with much caffeine and stifled yawns, I wouldn’t have changed a thing about spending my sleeping hours awake and wide-eyed.

As I’ve mentioned before, this Royal Wedding holds a place in my heart, not because I have any ties to royalty, or because I am one of the millions of screaming 20-something women grabbing their hearts and wishing it was them becoming a princess.  It’s because at point I truly thought I was going to marry Prince William (there is an interesting story behind that thought).

At 5:00 in the morning, right before the much anticipated Royal kiss, I made and ate my Royal Rosemary and Maple Bacon Buttie, and marveled at how such a good thing just happened in the world.  With so much bad news these days, it was a breath of fresh air to simply watch traditional British Royalty in action, combined with genuine, true love.

Little did anyone know, but only a few days later another day would go down in history for the U.S. as a long awaited great accomplishment – the death of Osama Bin Laden.  Rob and I were finishing up his grilled Ribeye with Herb Butter birthday dinner when we heard the news Sunday night.  Glued to the TV, our dirty dishes went un-clean as we watched our President officially deliver the news that would change history books forever.  While our world is still nowhere near safe, at least one bad guy is burning in you-know-where. 

On the brink of all the world’s recent good news, another great merriment came when we officially celebrated Rob’s 27th birthday on Monday.  We had his favorites: pigs in a blanket, Kelly’s guacamole with chips, pistachios, and Argyle Brut.  Low key, flirty, and fun, we had a great time together with our low budget appetizers and fancy Brut.  By 6:00pm, we were cuddled up on the couch, already in our pjs, with a Waterford crystal champagne flute in one hand, and a pig in a blanket in the other; I’m sure we were quite the sight to see. 

After a crazy start to the week, and as Tuesday rolled around, the hype of the Royal Wedding still hanging in the air, and Bin Laden’s death story continuing to evolve, we realized that a check back to reality was in order.  Our little house needed a cleaning, bills needed to be paid, and laundry desperately needed washing.  As much as I wanted to continue living in the fantasy land of weddings and birthdays, I knew the house couldn’t go unclean forever. 

So Tuesday night, Rob and I partnered up and divided tasks, and we cleaned house.  At one point while cleaning hair out of a drain, I found myself wondering about the new Duchess Catherine – despite royalty, she is still a wife.  Officer’s wife at that.  Do she and William make house?  Does she cook dinner for, or with, her man? 

Well, just the thought of dinner reminded me that while Catherine probably has people who can fancy up a dinner for her if she or William don’t feel like cooking, I, in my commoner ways, do not.  On top of which, with not much in the fridge to work with, I had to become creative.  After cleaning a toilet (that a boy also uses), it’s hard to be creative.

To the pantry: rice and beans.  While slightly boring, they are still healthy.  There’s salsa.  Mexican?  No, Cinco de Mayo is coming up.  Thai curry sauce.  Not enough veg in the fridge for a full curry.  Fashion up a secret sauce?  YES. 

One of our favorite sauces has to be Eugene’s Café Yum sauce.  It’s unique and creamy and tangy.  They do sell bottles of the sauce now, thus giving away its recipe.  Café Yum is such a, well, yummy place to eat with really easy and satisfying food, and they put their sauce on almost everything.  But due to lack of time, energy, and resources (and the fact that Eugene is two hours away), I decided to create my own. 

With the scent of Pine Sol still in the air, I whipped up our own little “Yum Bowl” inspired by Café Yum.  It was delicious!  Maybe even better than the actual Café Yum!  And healthy!  And so easy to make (I keep pantry staples, like salsa, beans, and microwave rice, around for times like these).  So easy in fact, maybe I’ll contact the Duchess of Cambridge just to give her a good, quick, easy, pantry home recipe.  It could be a wedding present!  Or, maybe not.  🙂   

 Rob and Jill’s Yum Bowl (makes 2 bowls)

  • 1can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 package frozen, microwavable brown rice (or make your own, about 2 cooked cups)
  • 1 small head broccoli, cut up into florets
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 2 c baby arugula
  • 1 scallion, white and light green parts thinly chopped
  • ¼ c your favorite jarred authentic salsa, preferably not chunky.
  • 2 tbsp good mayo
  • ¼ tsp cumin
  • s&p
  • a wedge of lime, for serving

 Boil a small pot of water; salt when boiling.  Toss in the broccoli florets, and blanch for about 1 minute.  Remove from water, and put into a salted ice bath to stop the cooking. 

To make the secret sauce, mix the salsa, mayo, and cumin together in a bowl.  Taste for seasoning (may need pepper, but probably not any salt because the salt content of many jarred salsa can be pretty high).

Cook the rice per microwave instructions, and split into two bowls, positioning in one-third of the bowl.  Add the beans to the middle of the bowl, and then add the arugula to the third side of the bowl.  Top with broccoli, red peppers, and sprinkle with a bit of s&p.  Top with desired amount of secret sauce and the scallions. 

Serve with a squirt and a wedge of lime.

 Enjoy!

I Do…

12 Sep

So in the “About” section of the blog, I mentioned my fiance.  Well, I am happy and proud to announce that he is no longer my fiance, but my husband.  Last weekend, on September 5th, Rob and I got married in Mystic, CT (yes, right down the street from where Mystic Pizza was filmed).  It was beautiful!  We almost had an unexpected guest, Earl.  Big, wet, and steamy, Earl almost crashed our wedding with its torrential rains and strong winds.  But, to our pleasure, Earl did not stay long, did not hinder many traveling plans, and left the day for our wedding beautiful and early fall-like.

I must say that this wedding never would have happened if it weren’t for my parents and their attention to detail, magnificent planning, and of course, their love.  My Mom and Dad planned our day to a T – a million times better than anything I could have envisioned – and it was hands down the most fun, beautiful wedding I have ever attended (knowing of course, I am biased, it still was completely amazing).  We danced all night to great music, and everyone was so happy and enjoyed themselves immensely.  Thank you so much, Mom and Dad, for creating a day for Rob and I to remember and cherish forever.  You rock!

What also rocked, was the food.  OMG YUM.  Back during the planning, oh, maybe 8 or 9 months ago, Rob and I created the menu (well, I created it, and Rob said, “That sounds good!”).  Knowing our families, we did not stick with the traditional chicken, meat, or fish options, but created 4 courses, flowing together perfectly with taste, presentation, and season.  Here’s where I need to give HUGE props to the Marriott – they cooked the envisioned meal, and did it so well.  Anyone can say I would love to eat [insert great food item here], and have [said] great food item served to them by someone that doesn’t know how to cook.  Bummer.  But the Marriott staff can cook.  And present.

The Menu: Butternut squash soup with pistachios and melted gorgonzola on a lavash cracker.  Then a fresh spinach salad with raspberries, blue cheese, currants, and pecans.  The entree: An oh-so-perfectly cooked filet mignon on top of a merlot reduction sauce, served with a creamy layered potato gratin, and roasted harvest summer veg.  The cake: Chocolate raspberry, with the Marriott’s added touch of a chocolate covered strawberry.  The wines were house reds and whites, where the grapes are gathered from various Napa and Sonoma wineries, creating an easy to drink wine that didn’t overpower the palette.  I’ll say it again: OMG YUM.

Well, Rob and I, of course had a fantastic time, made a point to enjoy the food (I was NOT going to be the bride who didn’t get to eat!), but then it was back to work for the both of us.  No honeymoon yet, but Bora Bora is calling our name next summer (and yes, we had this idea before the Bachelorette splattered the vacation destination all over her heart wrenching, tear stained, rose-giving finale).

Anywho, back to work. Boohoo.  Reality.  So last night – TGIF – we decided to make our own little celebration of marriage with a romantic dinner for two, perfectly accompanied by our gorgeous crystal wine flutes and reception centerpiece place mats.  Sole Meuniere.  Classic French technique and tastes at it’s finest.  Listen hard – you might be able to hear the popping of the brown butter and smell the tart lemon.  I won’t lie, I was a tad nervous.  As many cooks, I am a bit Type A (surprised?), and a perfectionist to boot (shocked?), and I wanted the dish to be magnificent.

This wasn’t a last minute idea – I had done my research.  Weeks ago, I went to the small fish shops in the area, trying to find the best place to buy Dover Sole, only to find that as it was not a local fish, it’s totally based on when shops get shipments.

“Ok, well, when do you get your shipments?”

“I dunno, lady.  The next time the boat comes in.”

Hmm.  Alright then.  So I’m driving around southern coastal Oregon looking for this delicate fish, finding nothing, and realizing I’m going to have to drive 2 hours to the nearest Trader Joes to get their frozen pre-packaged kind.  SIDE NOTE: I’m not complaining here… I love love love Trader Joes and their frozen pre-packaged Dover Sole is great, especially for 1) the price, and 2) the availability.  END SIDE NOTE.  Then, a day before we leave for the wedding, I go to Chucks Seafood.  Chucks is fantastic and smells of salty cucumbers and the ocean, and the people working there wear waders.  About to purchase my usual freshly caught Chinook salmon, I look over and see a heaping pile of long thin filets of Dover Sole.  $4.99 a pound.  Freaking jackpot baby!

Fast forward to last night: I take the windy, sans cell phone service road to Chucks after work, pick up 5 filets, and plan the night.  The table was set, the side dish was done, and having already sipped a bit of champagne, double checked one of many French cookbooks to have the technique down pat, I got started.  You must respect the Dover Sole – it is so delicate, yet surprisingly resilient to the dredging.  A bit of s&p in my flour, I had my assembly line all set up, 3 tablespoons of butter starting to melt in the hot pan, and my lemons standing by.

Gently lying the fish into the pan and hearing the butter sizzle was so satisfying, and then the flip, and then the squeeze of lemon – standing back of course – watching the brown bits forming and the chemical reaction to the lemon and butter creating a delicate foam was the clue to give the fish a few pan bastings, onto the plate and drizzled with the pan sauce in two quick movements, the meal was completed as quickly as it started.  

We “yummed” and “oohed” and drank the champagne, and ate the side dish (wild rice with pistachios and scallions), and had a fabulous night.  As a newly married couple.  Yay!

NOTE: check out the Recipes page to see what I did with the left over wild rice – super     yummy!

Sole Meuniere (serves 2)

  • 4-5 Dover Sole Filets (or you can use whole filets with the skin, but must debone after cooking)
  • juice of 1 whole lemon, plus slices for serving
  • 4-5 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp all purpose flour
  • s&p to taste
  • thyme leaves to garnish

Clean and pat dry the Sole filets.  Heat pan with butter on medium heat.  Add s&p to the dredging flour, and cover the filets with flour, shaking off the excess.  When the butter is just melted, add the filets to the pan, gently laying them away from you (to not get burned by any splattering butter!).  Cook – do not touch – filets for about 2 minutes, and using a fork, flip the fish.  Squeeze in the lemon juice (stand back!), and watch as the butter begins to brown. Here, you can pan baste; quickly spooning the pan sauce over the top of the fish (again, not moving the fish). Cook for another 2-3 minutes.  Using a fish spatula, transfer to a plate and cover with the sauce.  Serve immediately with lemon slices and garnish of fresh thyme leaves.

Wild Rice with Pistachios and Scallions (serves 4)

  • 1 c wild rice, rinsed and drained.
  • 3 c water
  • 1 c dry white wine
  • 1/2 c chopped pistachios
  • 4 scallions, chopped (discard the dark green parts)
  • s&p

Heat the liquid in a large pot, and when boiling, add some salt, and the wild rice.  Cover, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer.  Let sit simmering for about 45 minutes, or until desired tenderness.  Drain, and transfer to a bowl.  Add the pistachios, scallions, and s&p to taste.  Serve warm, room temperature, or cold!

Enjoy!

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