Tag Archives: brown butter

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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Lazy Susan

31 Mar

For those of you who know my mom, you know that she is not the least bit lazy.  Actually, I might go as far to say that she feels slightly insulted that she must share the name with the turning platter or spice cabinet.  Not exactly knowing the origin of how the common kitchen apparatus came to be, I almost want to deem it a new non-lethargic name: Non-Lazy Susan.  After all, that turny thing really does a lot of work when you think about it.  Why the rambling about a kitchen item?  I’ll explain.

Last week was my spring break.  No, I don’t have any crazy Mexican Riviera stories to share, nor did I wake up sunburnt in especially uncomfortable places.  But Rob and I do have some pretty amazing stories, and recipes, to share from last week’s Orange County adventures.

It all started with a lovely trip to the mall (one of many trips to the mall) where we learned that one of California’s most known names in the culinary world of Italian, California, and specifically Wine Country cuisine would be visiting for a book signing.  It was a small event, and Rob and I were lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time to RSVP. So Thursday night, Rob, my mom, and I sipped a bright up-and-coming red wine blend (Bridesmaid), and ate a lovely pasta salad appetizer and waited among other food and wine enthusiasts to meet Chef Michael Chiarello.

Needless to say, his stories about food and cooking inspiration, and the trials, tribulations, and joys of wedding celebrations were heartfelt and genuine and probably made everyone want to go home and whip up a remarkable dish to share.  I, too, was getting motivated and started thinking about what I could create with the bounty of spring veg popping up these days.  But it wasn’t until I publicly implied that my mother lazy in the middle of his presentation that made me want to go home and crawl under a rock.

While showing and explaining some of his retail products, mid-sentence Chef Chiarello paused for a moment and started asking for a “Susan.”  Thinking he was being funny and looking for someone to use in his story, I turn and point to my mom with a small “she’s right there!” outburst.

“A Lazy Susan?” Chef asked, turning in the direction of my pointing finger, aimed at my mom who had just happened to be sitting down near the side of the room.  An audible gasp and even more audible giggle engulfed the room as my face turned to a deep shade of strawberry – seriously, visions of a “Violet” casting for the next Willy Wonka remake ran through my head.  Quickly I tried to diffuse the situation.

“No!  No!!  That’s not – oh crap,” which, of course, evoked more unwanted crowd reaction.  My mom was smirking and shaking her head.  Rob had an I-want-to-laugh-at-you-but-know-that-will-most-likely-get-me-in-trouble-face.

“Is that Susan?” Chef asked.  “Well, she doesn’t look lazy,” he continued, “but she is sitting down.”  More less-tense crowd laughter ensued, leading to an expertly diffused situation on his part.  And as he continued with his initial thought of explaining the usefulness of the turning platter, I turned to go give my mother a hug and apologize.  She was smiling, which made me thankful to see that the experience had been a funny one, and a completely memorable faux pas (but just to be sure, when we got our cookbooks signed, I did introduce my mom as Non-Lazy Susan).

While that little moment was, well, memorable to say the least, the rest of the night and the rest of our vacation was wonderful.  We spent some amazing time with my mom, I got to go to Heather’s baby shower, and we shared some amazing meals.

I have commented enough that the fish from the Oregon Coast is outstanding – and it is – but, there are some down south that Oregon just can’t beat.  Case in point: Ahi Tuna.  It’s a more warm-water fish (tropical and subtropical), one that could not survive the cold, often arctic streams of water we have up here.  So, as best to do on vacations, we indulged: Brown Butter Seared Ahi Steaks with Strawberry and Arugula Salad.  Yum.  It was a very “California” dish as strawberry season recently started and a few miles from my parent’s house is one of the best organic strawberry farms in the area.  To this day, I’ve never found a strawberry to beat theirs (and I eat a LOT of strawberries during the months of March through June.  I’m surprised I don’t turn into a strawberry.  Oh goodness… channeling Willy Wonka again).

We also visited the UCI Farmer’s Market, brining home beautiful veg and sausages, which ended up in a Wild Mushroom and Thyme Frittata, and an oh-so-comforting meal starring my mom’s Sweet and Sour Cabbage that is just to die for.

Traveling home late Sunday night, I knew going back to work was only a few hours away, and our blissfulness of vacation was waning.  But, with our food and our experiences, we have the memories to keep and stories to share.  If you are in a location to get local sushi grade Ahi, please try out this recipe before strawberry season ends – the combination of the creamy rare fish with the tangy sweet strawberries and peppery greens may even make you feel indulged and relaxed by a mini vacation (just don’t go accidentally call your mother Lazy!).

Brown Butter Ahi Steaks with Strawberry and Arugula Salad (serves 4)

  • 2 lbs. sushi grade Ahi Tuna steaks
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 4 c baby arugula leaves
  • 1 pint strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/8 c white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 c good extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 tbsp roughly chopped basil
  • parmesan regiano for shaving on top of dish
  • s&p

For the salad, mix the arugula, basil, and strawberries in a large bowl.  To make the dressing, mix the vinegar and lemon juice in a bowl, and add a bit of s&p.  Whisk in the extra virgin olive oil until emulsified (you will toss the salad with the dressing right before serving; the dressing should just be a touch of tang to the salad, not overly dressed at all).  Taste for seasoning.

To prep the Ahi, pat the steaks dry with a paper towel, and season with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and a very generous bit of pepper.  Preheat a heavy bottomed pan to be smokin’ hot.  Melt the butter in the pan until brown bits start to form.  Then using tongs, add the Ahi to the pan and sear each side, about 2-3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the steak (the inside should stay very rare).

Serve the steak with a handful topping of the salad, and shave a few shreds of parmesan regiano on top.  Maybe drizzle a bit of fruity finishing oil on top, if you have it.

This pairs beautifully with a light California Pinot or Sauvignon Blanc.  Enjoy!!

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!

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