Tag Archives: rosemary

The 100th Day of School, Writers Block, and Cardamom

4 Feb

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This past Wednesday was the 100th day of school.  My students were so anxiously awaiting the day to do everything around the number 100.  Counting forwards, backwards, by 2s, 5s, and 10s to 100, making posters of 100 things, writing 100 words, hopping for 100 seconds, and making 100-Fruit Loop necklaces were all in the mix.  In one project, a student said that if he had $100, he would buy a bologna sandwich.  Then, he also said if ate 100 marshmallows, he would vom (what our class calls vomit – It sounds nicer).  A lot of kids wrote stories about being 100 years old, sitting in a chair and knitting, while one girl said she would be in the circus.  I’ve got some pretty cool kids.

But it made me realize that these 5-year olds have the almost effortless ability and sparked motivation to think of something super cool, and immediately express it with ease, fluidity, and creativity.  How fun it must be to have the mind of a kid!  Seriously!  Remember the times when you would come up with crazy fun ideas and write stories and draw pictures and put stickers all over everything?  One girl told me through infectious giggles that she put 100 stickers on her dog’s head cone.  So much fun!

Alas, those days have gone for ye ol’ adults.  And it must be showing because when I asked my students if I looked 100 years old, they said no – more like 72.  YIKES.

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Many things have happened over the last month, much of which involved traveling and having so much fun with our family.  Yet, as I always find it hard to write when I’m on the road, returning home conversely held an anvil of writers block over my head.  Have I been cooking?  Absolutely!  Made a vegan version of grits with red-eye gravy, no less!  Have I been writing?  Sure!  There are bits and starts and notes of soon-to-be blogs all over my notepad and computer.  Have I actually completed anything?  Nope!  Just like the laundry piling up in the closet, intention is there, but execution is not.

So rather than try to come up with some fun, witty, or the occasional deeply sentimental blog post, I’ll take a lesson from those who are always taking lessons from me.  Here’s the last month, through the eyes of a 5-year old:

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Rob and I were on TV!  We made it onto the Today Show for all of 2 seconds!  It was super dark, a sign was covering Rob’s face, and you had to pause, rewind, slow-motion play, and repeat, in order to see us, but we are TV stars now!

We had LOTS of great food – my Aunt and Uncle’s football Sunday food followed by filet of beef with horseradish, potatoes, and creamed spinach hit the spot on a rainy Sunday night in Long Island.  In Connecticut, Rob’s mom made our favorites including the Chicken Francese that I will never be able to perfectly recreate.  While in NYC, we ate at a small, almost hidden gem of a steakhouse called Quality Meats.  We ordered soybeans.

Rob tried beef cheek (liked it!), shrimp (liked it!), and octopus (not so much).

I learned how to knit!  According to my students, this makes me an “old lady.”

Due to the first of these many winter storms, our flights were cancelled out of the northeast, leaving us driving all the way down the I-95 corridor to get home in time for work.

I slept through Delaware.  The state also cost us $8 in tolls.  I didn’t think that was fair.

Finally, the wonderful, yet unusual cold Jacksonville weather has inspired us with cozy, warm meals like Cardamom and Citrus Roasted Chicken.

Really, anything with cardamom is going to be amazing – it is a spice often used in Scandinavian and Middle Eastern countries.  It is the warmth in Pulla (Finnish Cardamom Bread, or as my Great Grandmother called it, “Biscuit”), and the spice that sits on the back of your throat in Chai Tea.  While it tends to fall into the cold-weather-sugary-sweet-treats spice category (think nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves), I actually prefer using it in savory ways.

When cooked with protein, cardamom adds a grassiness and earthiness to the meat that pairs organically.  With the brightness of citrus and hearty herbs, a dish is complete.  Thus was born my Cardamom and Citrus Roasted Chicken.  I actually purchased an already cut-up 8-piece chicken, as it was surprisingly cheaper than the whole Roaster.  But if you can’t find the cut up whole chicken, a whole Roaster will work just as well – just stuff the cavity with the leftover citrus and rosemary.  This recipe is also very versatile if you only like white meat (buy the breasts bone in and skins attached), or dark meat (thighs would be divine).

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Using my trusty cast iron skillet, I organized my bird like a jigsaw puzzle, drizzled over the juice of 2 tangerines, 1 lemon, and 1 lime and added the citrus shells to the dish (we are at the height of citrus here in Florida – it’s awesome).  While cooking, even more flavorful juice seeps out of the citrus, naturally basting the bird.  With a liberal sprinkling of s&p, about 1 tsp dusting of ground cardamom, and 3 large rosemary sprigs tucked in open crevices, the bird was ready for its final touch: butter.  With only 3 tbsp of butter dabbed on the bird, it browns just enough, and the fat from the butter emulsifies in the cast iron with the citrus and chicken juices, creating a fabulous, no fuss gravy for the roasted chicken.  After 45 minutes in a 400 degree oven, let rest, then serve with Steamed Parmesan Broccoli, and a buttery chardonnay, and enjoy.

Occasionally, when our class is sharing our “New News” in the morning, I like to share what I made for dinner the night before.  I shared this one, and generally got responses with lots of Ooooos and Yuuummms.   Except for one, who incredulously asked, “But where’s the pasketi?”  Through the eyes of a child, a key component of my dish was clearly missing.  But, also gave great inspiration for the next night’s dinner!

Enjoy!

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Turkey Day Trials 2013, Part 2

23 Nov

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Years ago, my mom had an especially funny Kindergarten class.  There was this one boy in particular who looked like he was 5 going on 55, and had the imaginary years of personality to match.  It was at this Thanksgiving time when I was home from college and would volunteer in her classroom, thus starting my love for teaching and education.  I remember sitting in one of the teeny, tiny chairs watching my mom line up her kids to go home for the day.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” as she started to speak, all those little eyeballs grew big and round and stared at her as if she was made of gold and about to pass out candy and puppies, “tomorrow is a special day.  Please turn to the person behind you and say, ‘Tomorrow is the Feast!’”

I watched as 17 little kids whipped their bodies around, almost smacking the next person in line with swinging backpack momentum.  “Tomorrow is the FEAST!”

They were so excited!  So excited in fact, that if everyone turned to the person behind him or her, they were talking to the back of a head, and they didn’t even notice!  The best part being our little boy, happy and jumpy as ever, being last in line, and turning to tell the air behind him that tomorrow is the feast.  He couldn’t have been happier to tell nobody!

I laughed out loud that day, and we still laugh about it every Thanksgiving.

Yesterday was the Kindergarten Thanksgiving Feast at my school.  It is a huge event, and something our school has been doing for years.  While quite a production, it provides food for all of the kids, and their families, in our 5 Kindergarten classes.  While already being stressed about fitting in everything I need to do before the Thanksgiving break, I also offered to roast a turkey.  Sigh!  So rather than freak out (which, Rob will tell you, I kind of did anyway), I decided to chalk it up to Turkey Day Trials.

Usually, for my Turkey Day Trials, I make a roasted turkey breast, mostly to test any glaze, rub, or compound butter I would like to try that year.  Anyone remember the infamous microwave turkey breast of last year?  Anywho, coming home after working all day and getting this turkey in the oven was honestly, something that I needed to not stress about.  I had floors to clean, no time to baste.  I needed laundry done, no time to brine.  This needed to be a no-mess, no-fuss, no-nonsense bird.

So that’s exactly what happened.  No funny mishaps here.  No microwave, no trips to the emergency room.  I stuffed a Meyer lemon in the cavity with rosemary and citrus mint.  I sprinkled the juice from another Meyer lemon on the outside, and roasted the lemon quarters in the pan.  I rubbed the bird with a stick of softened butter, gave it a very healthy dose of s&p, a small shower of ground cardamom, poured some water in the pan, spanked its hiney, and away it went.  Starting the oven at 425, I immediately turned it down to 350.  To remove the basting issue, the bird was covered for the first hour with foil.  After an hour, I removed the foil, turned up the oven again to 425 for about 15 minutes, and then lowered it to 325 for the last hour and a half of cooking.  Wham bam, thank you ma’am, at 155 degrees in the thigh, the bird was out of the oven, covered again with foil, and rested for a whole HOUR (this is because I honestly forgot about it.  My dad had just picked up my mom from the airport, and by this time we were all eating one of our favorite dinners– butternut squash risotto with seared scallops and sage brown butter – all of our chit-chatting left the bird resting comfortably, and forgotten about).

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When I finally cut into the bird and prepared it in small bites for small people, it was simply the best turkey I’ve ever made.  It was completely juicy all the way through, with brown skin and a lovely herby, lemony flavor.  We all tasted a bit and Thanksgiving came roaring through the door.

While cleaning up, I asked Rob why he thought this turkey ended up better than the rest.

“Because you didn’t think about it.”  Mr. Pilot Hands might be on to something.

My mom came to Kindergarten with me yesterday to help with the feast.  While I lined up the kids in our room, ready to go fill our bellies and give thanks, with all the parents watching I said,

“Ladies and Gentlemen, turn to the person behind you and say, ‘Today is The Feast!’”

The same excited, kiddo reaction ensued, and my mom just happened to be last in line.  With a huge smile and an audible giggle, she turned to nobody behind her, and excitedly said, “Today is The Feast!”

Enjoy!

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Turkey Day Trials 2013

16 Nov

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We’re starting again!  The best time of the year – Thanksgiving!  Such a wonderful holiday filled with the smells of warming cinnamon spices, the joyous laughter of friends and family, and The Dog Show.  Really, it’s such a great day.  And like always, I’m trying to prepare early.

Rob came home yesterday from his deployment (yay!), so he’ll be around for the Thankful festivities, and all the Turkey Day Trials that will ensue over the next 2 weeks.  What a great husband – one of the first things he asked me after getting off the plane (literally, we are standing at baggage claim) was, “How are the Turkey Day Trials coming?”  I think he enjoys this just as much as I do.

For the big day, Rob will be contributing his now-famous-among-my-family mashed potatoes.  No trials there.  It is a dish with which not to be messed.  As with pigs in a blanket, gin and tonics, and football, some Thanksgiving things are just expected, and Rob’s potatoes are one of them.  Although we may have to make sure an extra pair of oven mitts is readily available.  While cooking his welcome home dinner last night, I asked him to try a piece of tortellini, handing it to him with my fingers straight from the spoon out of the boiling pot.

“Put that down!”

“Oh come on!  You don’t have asbestos hands like me?” was thus my attempt at flirting involving boiling hot substances.  Sad, I know.  I put down the little round pasta.

“No,” Rob gently tries to pick up the pasta, drops it, picks it up again, and then blows on it with disproportionate vigor, “I don’t have asbestos hands.  I have soft, delicate Pilot hands.”

I’m so glad he’s home.

But I digress.  Even though the potatoes are perfection already, that doesn’t mean I can’t mess with other things.  Like butternut squash, for example.  Butternut squash is fun, beautiful, funky (as in the cool hipster way, not the smelly way), simple and sweet.  It is a favorite to salads, soups, and starchy roasted vegetable platters come this time of year.  As an appetizer, I always make an Apple Bourbon Butternut Squash soup on the Day de Turkey, but thought I would experiment a bit this year.  So with a big, sharp knife in hand, I dove in.

Whether in soups, salads or just on its own sprinkled with a bit of sea salt and cardamom, my favorite way to prepare butternut squash is to roast it: diced smallish, high heat, olive oil, s&p, and often with an herb or spice.  The caramelization of the squash’s natural sugars brings out a subtle sweetness similar to a rosé wine.  Not at all over-powering, but leaves a touch of I-want-some-more-of-that on your tongue.

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Almost every time I entertain, I have a dip of some sort, really, because people love to dip things.  And in some company, double-dipping is perfectly acceptable.  So my “go-to” is a lemony white bean dip that is much more subtle tasting than hummus, and as smooth as pate.  It is always elegant, easy, and gone by the end of the evening.  So as this Thanksgiving will be filled with wonderful entertaining, I thought of this dish, and the unexpected marrying of it and the butternut squash.  Simply roasted, then puréed with the buttery white (cannellini) beans, with a touch of garlic, spice and rosemary, LOTS of olive oil, and voila: a new Thanksgiving appetizer.  It’s perfectly fine just like this, especially still warm from the roasted squash, but I put some stilettoes on this dip and brought it to the next level.  Spooning a bit of the dip into an ovenproof dish, I sprinkled over the top a bit of red pepper flakes, freshly grated parmesan regiano, and a drizzle of olive oil.  After being under the broiler for about 3-4 minutes, the crusty, bubbly, golden crust is irresistible with some crusty French bread.

I want some right now!  Maybe I’ll slather some dip on a piece of thin, whole-grain toast, and fry and egg on top – the possibilities for this spread are endless!

Turkey Day Trials are off to a good start!  I’ll keep you posted with more to come!  Enjoy the start to the season!

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Roasted Butternut Squash and White Bean Dip
(makes about 20 oz)

  • 1 15 oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • the top half of a small butternut squash (the part without the seeds), peeled, then diced into ½- inch pieces, about 2 c uncooked
  • 1 good-sized clove of garlic
  • 1 small sprig of rosemary
  • about ½ c extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp regular olive oil (for cooking)
  • s&p

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Taking the diced butternut squash, toss with the tbsp of olive oil, the rosemary sprig, and a 3-finger pinch of salt and freshly cracked pepper.  After all the pieces are coated, spread the squash evenly on a baking sheet.  The rosemary will crisp up in the oven, and add a great flavor.  Place in oven for 10-15 minutes, turning the pieces once, until the top and bottom of the squash is a beautiful, dark golden color. 

Then, pour the beans, the garlic clove, and a few tbsp of the extra virgin olive oil into a food processor.  Pour in the squash, including the cooking oil, which has now been flavored by the squash and rosemary.  Take the leaves off the rosemary (they will come off very easily and most likely crumble in your fingers), and add to the food processor.  Add just a pinch of s&p, and pulse to get the mixture started.  Then, while the processor is running, pour in a steady stream of the rest of the extra virgin olive oil.  You’ll see the  spread become creamy and very smooth. 

Taste for seasoning (I always find at the end, after adding all the olive oil, I need to add a bit more s&p).  Enjoy with pita chips, crusty bread, or mixed vegetables. 

**To make the broiled spread: heat your broiler to high, spoon some of the dip into a ovenproof bowl, and sprinkle some red pepper flakes, good parmesan cheese, and olive oil on top.  Broil until bubbly and golden. 

Goes GREAT with an earthy Pinot Noir, or bubbly Brut.  Enjoy! 

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