Posted by: Rachel | August 30, 2014

end of days pasta salad

In some (lucky you) parts of the world summer is drawing to a close. Here in central Texas we have at least another month, I’m pretty sure, of over-hot days and nights. Part of the reason I’ve been such a slacker blog-wise (is that a word?) is that I’ve simply not been inspired to cook!

This recipe, though, is worth boiling water for. It makes a good sized batch, is versatile, carries beautifully to pot-lucks and block parties, (or just out to a deck or screened-in porch) and I don’t get tired of eating leftovers (when there are any).

Oh, and if you’ll be traveling by air, put a serving in a heavy zip-bag and add a plastic fork. It makes a great in-air meal – you’ll be the envy of everyone else in steerage!

Easy, yummy, why haven’t I shared this with you before? My bad, and apologies – blame the heat! (grin) In any event the other thing I love about this is that you can adapt it as you like. You could add bean sprouts, chopped cucumbers, maybe chopped sweet peppers to add color… let me know what you decide! I think it is fine as it stands.

You could certainly do a GF (gluten-free) version with rice noodles, I use the spirals that have colors (tomato, beet and spinach, or so they say), but any pasta that the sauce can stick to will do!

Without further ado:

Sara’s Slightly-Thai Sesame Noodles

finished pasta salad

Mmmm… dig in!

1 lb noodles (spirals work well)

1 bag/box frozen peas

“Dressing”:
in a small bowl, mix together the following:

1/4 cup sesame oil
1/4 cup peanut oil (or vegetable oil but recommend peanut oil)
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 T lemon juice
1/2 tsp ginger
2 chopped scallions
2 cloves garlic, chopped very fine
3/4 cup chunky (or smooth) peanut butter, more to taste

Put the frozen peas in a large colander in your sink (do not cook or thaw). Cook the pasta, drain over the peas, move peas, pasta, and any other vegetables if desired to a large bowl, toss together with dressing above. Mix well to coat.

Serve hot, cold or room temperature.
***

I have heard that this keeps well. It doesn’t last long enough around here for me to know for sure! Mmmm… enjoy and stay cool!

Posted by: Rachel | August 4, 2014

bowled over

Yes, I’ve missed you too! Actually I hope you remember me – it has been a while (cough cough).

What can I say? It is summer and I’ve been both busier than usual and phenomenally lazy. So…

But, here’s what I just need to share. While I know that many of you don’t live anywhere near here, you might come visit one day; put this place on your list!

I had dinner a few days ago at The Hightower. It is a fairly new restaurant just a few blocks east of I35 on 7th. (Yes, I know, you don’t live here; bear with me, OK?)

I almost didn’t go. See, they hosted (thank you, thank you!!) an AFBA happy hour and when I read their menu, well, I just wasn’t quite sure.

I mean, if you know me at all you know I take eating seriously but I don’t take food too seriously. There are too many folks out there making precious stuff just for the sake of what I call “the emperor’s new food”; I think it is just plain foolish. Why bother?

Usually when I read a menu I can taste the dish. This is not bragging, it is just a result of lots of cooking, reading cook books, and, well, um, eating. Their menu got me curious and concerned at the same time.

I’m so glad my curiosity won out. Wow. And Mmmmm!!

Rather than what I was afraid might be yet another precious, trendy, offbeat for the sake only of offbeatness (is that a word?) fly-by-night jive dive, the Hightower is having fun with food. I approve whole heartedly!

The chef told me that they “like to burn stuff alot”. I’m not sure just what the “burnt avocado” adds the their (wowza) roasted pork jowl, or why they decided to add “scallion ash” to their (oh my!) ceviche, but both things sure were good (mmmmm).

I even liked their presentation. Everything (at least everything we had) comes in bowls. You too can play with your food – much of it comes “layered” and requires “mixing” at the table. “Bowled over” – get it? OK, I’ll stop.

I’m going back (and soon!) for the lamb.

If you live here, go there. If you don’t, put it on your “in case I get to Austin sometime” list. Give me a call when you get here and I’ll go with you!

Check out their menu and see what you think (and let us know, ok?). Someone (and I think I know who – cough cough) is having way too much fun in that kitchen. I sure had fun eating everything they offered me! Mmmmmmmm…. and thanks again!

Posted by: Rachel | June 22, 2014

back to basics

Even though this blog isn’t actually about soup I do love it (soup, that is, although I am trying to get back in love with the blog as well). And now that we are having summer here in central Texas I am especially in love with the idea of cold soup. Mmmm…

I got this recipe from Koocook. It is sort of a tzatziki-ish (-esque?) soup with just a hint of guacamole. Trust me, it is wonderful.

I will tell you, though, that translating this recipe gave me pause. See, I read enough French to figure it out, but I got to thinking about how easily various online translators and translator apps can lead us astray.

If you know me, then this line of thought (I am loathe to call it “reasoning”) will make sense. If you don’t, I should warn you that I am often up my stream of consciousness without a paddle. Enough said?

In any event, the original Koocook recipe says in part “Emietter la feta du bout des doigts et répartir dans les bols.” Google Translate turned this into “Crumble the feta fingertips and spread in bowls.” There should have been a “with” but I guess it got lost in translation… not fingertips of cheese (whatever that might be) but crumble the cheese gently (ie: with you fingertips). So…

I think (therefore I eat) that the point of all this is a caveat (which Google Translate translated as “caveat” until I told it that the “start” language was Latin – good heavens and thanks a bunch!). While the Internet has turned into a giant recipe playground, there can be a few nid-de-poule (hen’s nests, aka pot holes) out there.

This time, though I will rework the translation for you and tell you that this is a quick, easy, good and good for you, lovely summer soup. Mmmmmm…. trust me! (grin)

Crème de concombre à la feta

cup of finished soup

c’est pas mal

Saison: Printemps

Catégorie: Légumes

Difficulté: Facile

Budget: Economique 


Ingrédients pour 4 personnes
4 concombres
1 avocat

le jus de 1 citron vert

sel et poivre

150 g. de feta

4 feuilles de cerfeuil

1 c.c de paprika

Eplucher les concombres et les couper en grosses rondelles. Les verser dans la casserole, recouvrir d’eau à moitié et mettre sur le feu. Porter à ébullition, couvrir et laisser cuire 15 minutes. Egoutter le concombre et laisser refroidir.


Eplucher l’avocat, ôter le noyau et découper la chair en cubes.

Verser le concombre refroidi et les cubes d’avocat dans le bol de votre mixeur. Ajouter le jus de citron vert et mixer le tout. Saler et poivrer selon les goûts. Mettre au frigo 1 heure.


Au moment de servir, verser la crème de concombre dans les bols. Emietter la feta du bout des doigts et répartir dans les bols. Couper finement le cerfeuil. Saupoudrer d’un peu de paprika et de cerfeuil coupé.


Servir avec du pain.

or, as we say around here:

Cream of Cucumber with Feta

cup of finished soup

mmmmmm!

Season: Spring (and Summer!)
Category: Vegetables (well, Soup I think)
Difficulty: Easy (agreed)
Budget: Economic 


Ingredients to serve 4 to 6:
4 cucumbers (ideally English/seedless)
1 avocado

juice of one lime (or lemon if you prefer)
salt and pepper
5-6 oz of feta
4 chervil leaves (I used Italian parsley)
1 tablespoon of paprika (I left this out)

Peel cucumbers and cut into thick slices. Put in a saucepan, cover halfway with water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Drain and cool cucumber.

Halve the avocado, remove the pit, and cut the flesh into cubes.

Pour the chilled cucumber and avocado cubes in the bowl of a food processor or blender or into a deep bowl if you are using a stick blender. Add the lime juice and pureé. Add salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate 1 hour or up to overnight.

When ready to serve, pour the soup in bowls. Crumble the feta gently and sprinkle on top. Chop the chervil (parsley). Sprinkle the soup with a little paprika and chopped chervil (parsley).

Serve with bread.

(Mmmmmm!)

Funny how both versions look the same… Hmmm.

Until the next… bon appetit!

Posted by: Rachel | April 7, 2014

so, what have *you* been up to?

Yikes – where did the past month (month!!) go?

Well, (if you know me then you know this is true) mid-March into May (or whenever it gets too hot) I just let indoor things slide. I’ve been busy, though, *really* busy (really!)!

Yard “work” – I cleaned out my wash tub ponds, replanted and restocked them.

Squirrel on rock in washtub pond

Ahhhhh, fresh water! Finally!!

I went on another wonderful Slow Food Austin farm tour, this time at Munkebo Farm. I had a wonderful time, and what a fine bunch of folks!

large stately bull

Moooooo…

Greeted some returning “old” friends.

male blackchin hummingbird at feeder

Mmmm, juicy!

Had fun at the flower show at Zilker Festival again, and oh were we lucky with the weather this year! A perfect weekend!

small "nosegay" of herbs in a small green glass bottle

Mmmmm! Fresh!

Been amused by spring’s “springiness”:

peacock strutting with full fan tail

I feel pretty, oh so pretty…

And generally been mucking about outdoors as much as possible! Clean up, new plantings (another crepe myrtle, a Mexican buckeye, another big Texas sage etc etc – photos next time, OK?) I’m very happy to report that I didn’t loose as much of my citrus as I thought I had, and all of my figs seem to have come through fine.

Whew… Pretty exhausting overall.

my outdoor cats, resting together

just a quick catnap, ok?

Once in a while I cooked, but that’s another story (grin). Oh and I’m taking a writing class, and doing my best to find time to spend with friends as well. And I’ve missed all of you!

So, that’s what I’ve been up to. What have you been doing? Hope your season, whatever it may be where you are, is going well for you! I’ll try (try, but not promise) to stay in touch better, but I’m betting you understand, right? Until next time…

Posted by: Rachel | March 9, 2014

parsley, sage, cilantro, and thyme…

Every year around this time I promise myself that I will be reasonable, that I will show restraint, that I won’t over-buy on new herbs for my garden. And every year I get seduced by those 4-inch pots of scented yumminess, and fail totally. This year, though, it isn’t my fault – honest!

My friend is clearing out her herb bed to make room for “real food”. She offered me pretty much my pick of her crop (thank you again!!), and how could I say no? I guess, and if you know me at all you already know this, I couldn’t!

We dug ‘em up, set them gently in (recycled, of course) pots to protect the root balls, and I hauled them down to my part of town. That’s how my car came to smell like salsa – that cilantro is potent stuff! I think (assuming it takes kindly to being transplanted) that I will use what I can then let it go to seed. Mmmm…

herbs in the back of my car

parsley, sage, la la la…

The parsley is the curly leaf kind. Very pretty, very healthy, and while not as tasty as the Italian sort, it’ll do fine. The sage should be happy, and I hope the lemon thyme will be as well.

The only one that is new to my garden is the cutting or leaf celery. Oh does it smell wonderful! It looks very healthy, so I’m hoping it will be happy here. I’ve never grown it, only read about it, but I am envisioning soups, adding it to sautéed onions as a base in lots of dishes, or maybe just to munch on! Mmmm…

We had rain (RAIN!!!) yesterday almost all day here, good Irish-style gently drizzly rain. The ground is soft today and I’m in a planting mood, so I’m off to find spots in my beds for these babies. Yes, I said yes before I figured out where I’d put them all… I’m bad that way but I’m sure it will work out fine. I’ll keep you posted on their progress over the summer!

If it is spring where you are, what are your garden plans? If not, how is your garden? Still covered with snow? Enjoy whatever the season and, as always, bon appetit! Mmmm…

Posted by: Rachel | January 26, 2014

the cauliflower variation

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know I am mad about chestnuts. And, you know I keep bags of them on hand year ’round because I love them so.

Since we have actually been having winter this winter, I’ve been digging into my reserves and finding new and different (at least for me) ways to incorporate them into my “winter” diet. Here’s one for you.

These past few weeks my local grocery has practically been throwing cauliflower at us. They are huge, snowy white, and cheap! So… since I can’t pass up such a good deal I got to thinking.

I’m sure this is not original. Nothing really is – there are only eight notes in music and everything else is a variation, right? But I haven’t seen this precise combination before and I think you might enjoy it too.

I’ve been making this dish without the cauliflower for use as a pasta sauce since I got back from that Italy trip last November. It is a very rough take off on a dinner I enjoyed (enormously!) at the Patria Palace Hotel after slogging around on an immensely rainy day in Lecce.

They made it with chestnuts, mushrooms, and shrimp as a pasta sauce. It was just what I needed. Mmmmmmmmmm!!

You may remember that during the trip I discovered burrata, what I call the “ship in a bottle” cheese. I will never understand how they get that cream in the center, but oh my, does it add to a sauce!

I can only give you rough amounts, as this is one of those “slightly different each time” recipes. I add pancetta if I have it and if I am not feeding vegetarians. I add onions if I’m in the mood. I went with the cauliflower variation only because, as I said above, I couldn’t resist it!

Here’s how I did the cauliflower variation.

Cauliflower Bake

ready to pop into the oven

almost ready

1 medium onion, chopped
olive oil
1 5-ounce bag prepared chestnuts (about 1 C)
oyster mushrooms, rough chopped
1/2 head cauliflower cut into small florets
pancetta (optional)
burrata
salt and pepper as desired

Butter an oven-proof baking dish.
Preheat the oven to 325F

(If you are using pancetta, chop it and cook it over medium heat in a large pan until slightly browned.)

Add olive oil to the pan and sauté the onions gently until tender but do not brown. Add the mushrooms and chestnuts. Cook down until the mushrooms are soft and the chestnuts can be mashed with a fork. Mash the chestnuts slightly but leave some nice chunks.

Add the cauliflower and toss or stir to incorporate. Cut the burrata into bits over the pan so the cream runs in, and stir to incorporate.

finished "casserole"

baked and beautiful

Scrape the contents of the pan into the baking dish, cover tightly with foil and bake for 1/2 hour.
***
You can skip the baking step if you like, by covering the pan and letting the cauliflower cook down, but I think baking it melds the flavors and melts the cheese better.

If you can’t find oyster mushrooms, any variety will do but I love the woodsy, meaty flavor of the oyster mushrooms.

You could also use those silly colored cauliflower varieties (yellow, green, purple…) that are showing up these days. Who knows? Maybe that’s a way to get more veggies into kids… and it certainly would be festive!

This is one of those “enjoy with green salad, crusty bread, and red wine” recipes I so love. If you are gluten-intolerant, skip the bread (obviously) but the sentiment remains. Enjoy this during cold or wet weather and buon appetito!

Posted by: Rachel | January 15, 2014

let me be the last…

By now I trust everyone else that you know has wished you a Happy New Year. So, let me be the last. Happy New Year! Yup, I finally got around to it, sorry it took so long!

I really don’t quite know how it got to be mid-January already! I mean, I’ve been busy, sure, and lazy when I wasn’t busy, but really!

In any case, here’s a little something I just discovered on someone else’s blog. Do I remember whose blog it was? Nope. Bad blogger, bad, bad blogger. I’ll try to do better next time. What I did manage to remember was that they (good blogger) credited Bon Appetit, and yup, if you take a peek it looks a lot like what I made!

finished salad and pomegranite

Mmmmmm!

This has got to be about the quickest and yummiest bean salad I’ve ever had. And, since pomegranates are in season, go for it! The ones from my tree are long gone, but my local grocery is almost throwing them at us. Mmmmmm!

I told my sister about this and she said she makes basically the same thing with the addition of feta and mint. That sounds fab too – mmmmm!!

I like this, though, since (as you know) I’m lazy. The canned beans are fine as long as you rinse them well, or, if you are more evolved than I am and a better planner you can certainly make your own from dry or even grow them.

Remember those Meyer lemons I got from Girl Gone Grits? I used one for the juice and added the zest and, well, wow! So thanks again for them lemons! Mmmmm…

I doubled the recipe and added more lemon juice than called for because it was Meyer so it wasn’t quite as tart as “regular”. I also added a bit more pomegranate seeds because I love them. There is something about the pop of the seeds with the squish of the beans…

Anyway, here’s all I did:

Cannellini Bean Salad with Pomegranate Seeds

2 15-oz. cans cannellini (white kidney) beans, well rinsed (or 3 cups cooked cooled beans)
3/4 cup pomegranate seeds
3 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
salt and pepper if it suits you

Toss beans, pomegranate seeds, lemon juice, oil, scallions, and chopped parsley together in a medium bowl; season with salt and pepper. Enjoy!
***

I’m looking forward to eating this pretty much all summer. I mean, fast, no-cook, yummy and good for you – wow! And, while you can certainly make this ahead, it tasted pretty good to me as soon as it was “finished”. It should travel to picnics etc just fine, too, as it really doesn’t need to be “right out of the fridge” cold for serving.

My sister and I are musing on freezing pomegranate seeds. Has anyone done it? Do you think it might work?

I recommend eating this now or when ever pomegranates are in season in your part of the world. I also think this would make a great dish to be served on most any Italian holiday… this salad is the colors of the Italian flag, after all.

Let me know what you think about freezing those seeds, OK? And, again, happy new year!

Posted by: Rachel | December 23, 2013

should life hand you lemons…

Yes, certainly lemonade is one option, and limoncello, and lemon curd, or you can juice them, strain the seeds out, then put the juice in ice cube trays until frozen then package in plastic bags for summer uses… add some to almost any chicken dish or to salad dressing or greens, make a pot of avgolemono soup perhaps; so many possibilities! Mmmm…meyer lemon on brandy glass

I got a lovely gift of lemons (and a bunch of other goodies as well) at the AFBA “prop swap” this week. Wowza… I was lucky to pull Kristina’s number out of the “hat”. Ironically she got mine so she ended up with a baggie of cookie cutters and my (ok, not mine exactly…) sugar cookie recipe. Happily, she didn’t seem to mind!

Perhaps I should back up and explain a bit.

Last Wednesday evening was the holiday happy hour for the Austin Food Blogger Alliance. We were tasked with (optional, of course, but what a great idea!) bringing a “prop” that we had used in a blog post. If we chose to participate, we’d pull a number and get some other blogger’s prop… you get the idea, right?

Anyway, she brought lemons from her Meyer lemon tree. This tree is famous in the local food blogger (and food blog reader, I think) community – it had something like 800+ (yes, you are reading the correctly!) lemons this year. Again I say wowza…

I am not sure what I am going to do with the ones she gave me. I’m pretty sure some will end up in a chicken and olive dish, a few may go into a batch of limoncello as well. Perhaps some sort of risotto? Maybe… Mmmm…

OK I’m hungry now! I think I’m going to go stare at those lemons a bit – what a scratch and sniff delight they are! And, even more than all the goodies – I really enjoyed meeting Kristina and having a chance to talk a bit!

I gotta ask: what would you do with a windfall bounty of lemons? All suggestions carefully considered…

Best for the season and particularly (knowing how lazy I am) the New Year! I’ll try to post at least once more before then, but who knows! Be well, stay safe, and enjoy! Mmm…

Posted by: Rachel | December 8, 2013

oh that old chestnut?

In the early 1900s here in North America the chestnut blight pretty well decimated all the chestnut trees.

chestnuts roasting on an open fire

Yes, roasting. On an open fire. Mmm!!

Happily (shhhhh – don’t tell the locavores!) we can get chestnuts from Italy, France, Spain, even (again, shhhh….) China! Mmmmm…

I see fresh chestnuts in the groceries this time of year, but pre-roasted pre-shelled vacuum-packed packages are available pretty much year round.

I will say, though, that I think of chestnuts as cold-weather food. I mean, there’s that whole “roasting on an open fire” thing, right?? And, this winter (or at least at the moment) we are having winter here in central Texas!

So, I made soup.

This has got to be about the easiest soup I’ve come up with so far. It isn’t perhaps, the most beautiful as it is somewhat beige, but it is tasty, filling, hearty, and (I’m pretty sure, anyway) good for you! See, chestnuts are actually pretty good for you, if you believe Wikipedia (and other sources).

Chestnuts are relatively low in fat, and are (again, Wikipedia says…) the only nut that contains vitamin C! I hope this is all true because I love them! They are sweet, mild, and make a fine thickener for soups. They add flavor without overpowering and play nicely with others.

I am happy to eat chestnuts pretty much any way they are offered to me. I love the paper bag of fresh-roasted burn your thumbs peeling them, keep your fingers toasty as you walk around Manhattan, winter in New York thing, but honestly I am happy to forgo all that work and use the bagged kind for baking or soup. Does that make me a bad person?

Lazy perhaps, but (I hope) not really bad

Anyway, I made (as I told you before I got off track) soup. And it was good! Here’s all I did:

Chestnut Soup

pot of soup simmering

nearly ready

2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium to large yellow or white onion peeled and rough chopped
2 small (5 or 6 ounce) bags of roasted and peeled chestnuts (about 2 cups)
3-4 large yukon gold or other yellow (not baking) potatoes (about 1.5 lbs)
water
milk (as needed)
salt and pepper

Put the olive oil in a large deep heavy soup pot. Add the chopped onions and sauté until translucent (do not brown). Add the chestnuts and rough chopped potatoes (nope, I didn’t peel them). Add water to just cover, bring to a boil, turn down and simmer until the potatoes are very soft (20-30 minutes should do it).

Purée with a stick blender, add salt and pepper to taste, and add milk if desired to dilute it a bit and make it even creamier. Enjoy!
***

Like most soups this is better the second day, but if you are cold and hungry (or at least hungry) it is fine pretty much immediately (she said modestly). Let us know if you try it, or just let us know how you like your chestnuts, OK? Mmmm… stay warm and safe!

Oh and why “old chestnut”? Here you go: old chestnut

Posted by: Rachel | December 1, 2013

how to learn Italian (part 3)

Well I’ve been home from Puglia for a few weeks now and the trip details are starting to blur a bit, but a few moments (and meals) still stand out.

Cycling along the coast, and I mean right along the coast was delicious. Quiet roads with the sea just a few yards away, fresh fresh air, and the occasional driver seemed far more interested in getting home for lunch than in aggravating or endangering cyclists. Quite a change from my usual experiences with city riding!

Then there was the day we had lunch at Masseria Il Frantoio. We didn’t stay here beyond the meal, but I sure didn’t want to leave!

so pretty (and gooooood!)

so pretty (and gooooood!)

I mean, sometimes the presentation is everything and sometimes the food trumps all, but the lunch we had this day was beautiful and delicious!

This was “Cicorielle selvatiche assise in cesto di pecorino”, which Google translates as “Wild chicory with pecorino cheese sat in the basket”. Trust me, it was wonderful.

See, this Masseria specializes in olives and olive oil, so each savory course had its own olive oil to either dress the offering or use as part of the cooking. So this second course was indeed cooked wild greens “sat in a basket” of pecorino! Mmmmmmm…

Lunch went on and on; happily they gave us a printed menu so I can better recall what all we ate. There was amazing fresh whole wheat pasta with artichokes and herbs, a crazy fish dish with raisins that was out of this world, something they told us was “Pizzelle con sughetto” which was tiny fried bread fritters with a fresh fresh tomato sauce, and for dessert, well…

ricotta flan with strega

bewitching!

A few days before I left on the trip my sister told me that a friend of hers had just introduced her to Strega.

She knows I am partial to mint and fennel, and that I am also partial to “digestifs”. Its true – you may recall that I make my own limoncello? Anyway she told me to keep an eye out in case I should happen across some.

Happily it found me!

As I told her, I’m sure you certainly could drink the stuff, or you could mix it with ricotta and eggs, bake it, then top it with a crunchy almond cookie, and finally serve it with a faint dusting of powdered sugar, a few pomegranate seeds, and a yucca flower… mmmmmmm!! Exquisite!

bowls of different kinds of olives

a baker’s dozen plus!

I’m going to leave you today with this image of a few of the varieties of olives they offer at Masseria Il Frantoio.

Me, I’m off to the liquor store to see about investing in a bottle of Strega! Mmmm… Buon appetito, have a fine week, stay warm if your part of the world is getting ready for winter, and be safe in any event!

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