Posted by: Rachel | June 8, 2019

tastes like summer!

If you’ve been following this blog for a while now, or if you know me (or both) you know I like easy, unfussy cooking – and sometimes the kind that requires no actual cooking at all. Especially in Texas in the summer, which usually lasts from May until October.

It isn’t that I’m lazy, exactly (well, maybe that’s part of it); I just can’t bear to turn on the oven or stove if I don’t have to. It is just too darn *hot*.

So, for me, June (and much of the rest of the hot season) is time for pesto.

Now I am assuming that you have a food processor, blender, or some other easy way of chopping herbs and vegetables. I know my grandmother didn’t, yet she managed a chopped chicken liver that was heavenly, but that’s another story for another day. In any event, I have my mother’s old (very old) food processor. The motor part must weigh a good 10 pounds, but it works like a champ. I don’t use it often, but for pesto I will happily haul it out and dust it off.

My garden has had a rough start. Too much rain, hail this week, a crazy year so currently my arugula looks like this:

baby arugula

That’s why I hit my grocery salad bar and bought maybe 4 or 5 good handfuls that look like this:

salad bar arugula

Isn’t it pretty? I also invested in a bunch each of fresh basil and mint. Oh, and a few cloves of roasted garlic, also from the salad bar. I like it much better than raw fresh garlic for this purpose. It is more mellow, almost sweet, and soft so it melds nicely. Mmmmm…

The only tricky thing about making pesto in a food processor (other than washing the blades when you’re done – do be careful!) is not over-processing it. After all, we’re not talking paste-o here! So, pulse the greens, add the garlic and nuts, pulse again, add the cheese; you can make it as smooth or rough as you like. I like some texture, so I start like this:

And finish like this:

finished pesto

Don’t get mad, but I can’t really give specific amounts of anything in this “recipe”. I never make it exactly the same twice. I can only give you rough ideas on percentages here – do as you like!

Salad Bar Pesto

5 good handfuls of arugula
1 tbsp (or more) of olive oil
5 or 6 branches each of fresh basil and mint, leaves only
5 or 6 cloves of roasted garlic (or maybe 2 cloves fresh)
1/2 to 3/4 cup walnut pieces
about 1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano or pecorino romano

Note, there is no salt as I find the cheese makes it salty enough for me.

Rough chop the arugula with the olive oil. Add the herbs and pulse again. Add the garlic and nuts, pulse. Add a bit more olive oil if it seems too stiff. Add the cheese and pulse once more. Store covered in the fridge, obviously. This is dandy on pasta, but its also fine with cooked shrimp, chicken, or just on crackers. Yup, tastes like summer to me! Stay cool and bon appetit!

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Posted by: Rachel | May 16, 2019

drink your greens (2019 edition)

Depending on your geographic location, you may need to wait until next spring to try this. If that’s the case, I’m sorry. I just got too caught up in trying to reclaim my yard to stop and post this before today.

Let me preface the recipe with this. I am not asparagus’s biggest fan. It can be bitter, stringy, tough, or several other kinds of unpleasant. Still, this year my grocery had the pencil-thin kind and the price was so good they were practically throwing it at us. How could I resist?

I came up with this because I wanted a quick, easy, tasty, cold soup to enjoy after all that yard work. It came out fine. I’ve offered it to several friends and the consensus is that this is a keeper. Very seasonal, like all things asparagus, but a keeper none the less.

It was enjoyed so quickly that I don’t have pictures of the finished soup to share. You’ll have to trust me that it is a very pretty shade of green.

almost ready…

Quick Cold Asparagus Soup

olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 pound (or more) mushrooms
2 pounds skinny asparagus
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
juice of one lemon

Clean and chop the asparagus in roughly 1-inch pieces, and set aside.

In the bottom of a 2-quart or larger soup pot, saute the onions in a bit of olive oil until translucent. Do not brown. Add a bit mot oil, heat and add the mushrooms. Stir and cook until soft, just a few minutes. Add the asparagus and stir to combine.

Add the stock just to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until everything is very soft, maybe 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat, and puree until smooth either with a stick blender or (very carefully!!) in a blender or food processor. Add the lemon juice and stir to combine.

Chill and enjoy!
***

This is fine hot, but i think it is even better cold the next day. It is refreshing, and good for you; a fine reward for a lawn well mowed or a pile of weeds pulled roots and all. Enjoy!

Posted by: Rachel | March 8, 2019

international women’s day

Today is International Women’s Day and this morning I got to thinking about dishes that are named for women. Often they were named by men to honor or recall or fete women, actual or fictional, but that doesn’t bother me.

I learned a thing or two in going down the Google rabbit hole chasing dishes to share with you. Here are just a few, in no particular order. Each dish name is a link to a recipe or more (possibly true, often unverified) information.

Pizza Margherita
Crepes Suzette
Pavlova
Sally Lunn
Anadama bread
Lady Baltimore Cake
Desdemona Cakes
Lorna Doone cookies
Peach (Peche) Melba
Marie biscuits
Chicken/Seafood/Mushroom Tetrazzini
Victoria Sponge Cake
And, of course,

Proust’s Madeleines

3 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon orange flower water (optional)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons soft (but not melted) butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
confectioner’s sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°

Butter 20 (or 24, depending on the size) madeleine tins.

Combine the eggs and sugar and beat until pale in color. Sift in the flour and fold in gently.Divide the batter among the molds, filling them 3/4 full.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the madeleines have risen and are barely browned.
Turn out onto rack and allow to cool. Dust lightly with confectioner’s sugar just before serving.
***
Are you thirsty by now? How about one of these?

Shirley Temple
Bloody (or Virgin) Mary
Mary Pickford
Rose Kennedy
Margarita
Ginger Rogers

Had enough? I know this is only the tip of the iceberg, so be sure to let me know what I’ve missed or forgotten, OK? And, let us celebrate all year ’round!

Posted by: Rachel | March 5, 2019

once a yankee…

Winter had been odder than usual this year. Temperatures have jumped up or down 30 degrees or more in a 24-hour period, it had been wetter than “usual” (I’m not sure what “usual” is anymore…) and we’ve had day after day of cloudy grumpy-making weather.

Still, I guess I don’t mind too much. It has given me a chance to make some of my favorite “winter” foods – things I don’t often make here in too hot to turn the oven on central Texas.

One of these dishes, a dessert really, is what we call Indian Pudding. I have a feeling that these days we should change the name to something more politically correct, like Cornmeal Pudding, but how dull does that sound? Indian Pudding, made with what I’m told the early white invaders in the northeast called “Indian meal” (cornmeal) has, for me, a romantic je ne sais quoi, not unlike Prousts’s madelines. So there you have it. PI or not, the name stays.

I’ve tried various recipes for Indian Pudding and never been totally satisfied until about 10 years ago. I was spending time in Maine with friends. They took me to a restaurant in a nearby town. Can I remember the name of the restaurant or even the town? Nope… There I had my Indian Pudding or dreams, and I wheedled the recipe. here it is, verbatim:

Indian (or call it what you will) Pudding
3 cups milk
2/3 cup molasses
2/3 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeng
1/4 cup butter
1 cup milk

Heat oven to 300 degrees. Grease 2 qt. casserole dish.

Heat 3 cups milk and molasses in saucepan. In separate bowl mix cornmeal, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Gradually stir into the hot milk. Add butter.

it isn’t chocolate milk

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, about 10 min. until thickened. Pour into casserole. Pour 1 cup milk over pudding; do not stir.

smells divine!

Bake 3 hrs. Let sit to set before serving. If desired, serve with cream, ice cream, or whipped cream.
***
That’s it. Simple, filling, not too sweet, keeps fine in the fridge, reheats well, and in my world, it makes an excellent breakfast!

If it is still cold where you are, give it a try and let us know what you think! Mmmmmm…

Posted by: Rachel | February 11, 2019

things I wish I didn’t know…

Nothing dire, its just that I recently discovered ready-to-use pizza dough at a local nearby grocery. Oh dear.

Honestly, it is just too easy to make 3 days of lunches or dinners in practically no time using this stuff! I have been playing with toppings and today’s was (she said humbly) awfully good.

My yard is full of fennel. I grew it for the black swallowtail caterpillars, but there’s plenty for them so we share. I never dig the bulbs, and the stalks grow to 6 ft or better. They’re segmented sort of like bamboo, with lacy fronds that sprout at the junctures. I clipped a bit to add to my pizza.

fennel fronds

lacy, licoricy delishisness

Now I like a thin crust pizza. Nothing against a breadier crust, it is just my preference. So, rather than the 12-inch circle recommended on the bag, I roll and push it into a rectangle and fill one of my larger baking sheets. Then I play.

This time I chopped the fennel, then added roasted chicken, truffle zest, and 5 (yes, 5) kinds of cheese.

unbaked pizza

just a few minutes from lunch…

15 minutes later my kitchen smelled wonderful and lunch was on.

sliced pizza

heaven in a slice

Honestly, its almost too simple.

Next time maybe I’ll go more of a pissaladiere direction with anchovies, caramelized onions, and olives. Or maybe I’ll use some arugula and spinach and halved cherry tomatoes and go vegetarian for a day, or…

So many options. It’s probably a good thing that the grocery that carries the dough isn’t too close to my house. I pass it a couple of times a month in my usual to-ing and fro-ing and that’s enough.

What do you like on your pizza? Enjoy anticipating spring… and bon appetit!

Posted by: Rachel | December 25, 2018

chestnuts and mushrooms and chevre, oh my!

I got this recipe a few days ago in an email newsletter. Allow me to back up…

A few months ago, one of the free ebook emails I get daily had a link to something called My Grape Year. The price was right (free that day, after all) and it sounded like fun so I downloaded it. I so enjoyed Laura Bradbury’s writing that I ended up buying the other books in her “Grape” memoir series. Then, in true fan fashion I signed up for her newsletter. That’s how I got this recipe.

I want to share it here just as she sent it out, then tell you what I changed the first time I made it and what I will change next time (and there *will* be a next time – it was good!). Here’s Laura Bradbury‘s recipe word for word:

*********
Savory Tarte of Chestnuts, Goat Cheese, and Mushrooms
To begin, you’ll need a batch of Marie’s French pastry. If you follow the directions below, divide the pastry ball in half and freeze the half you don’t use.
Marie’s French Pastry
Ingredients

2 cups (250 grams) flour
1 cup (125 grams) salted or half-salted butter 1/2 small glass (about 1/3 cup) water
Pinch of salt
Method
Brace yourselves. This is tough.
1. Measure ingredients and add in no particular order into a food processor with an “S” blade, a stand mixer, or a humble bowl.
2. Press the “mix” option button or squish with your hands until ingredients have formed a ball-like object that has detached from the sides of mixer or bowl—about a minute or two.
3. Remove pastry (voilà, you have just made pastry!) ball from food processor, wrap in
cellophane, flatten a bit into a disk, and put in fridge for at least an hour before using.
4. 1 pastry ball is the perfect amount for a 6–8 person quiche or tart. You may have a bit left over (minitarts!). Lasts 3–4 days in the fridge and freezes wonderfully, so you can always have some pastry on hand.
To make the tarte
Ingredients

Half ball of Marie’s French pastry
3 to 4 cups (500 grams) button mushrooms—you can freestyle the mushroom variety
1/2 log plain goat cheese (I usually add more because I love goat cheese)
1/2 cup (10 cl) heavy cream or crème fraiche
1 egg
1 tbsp (15 grams) butter
3/4 cup (50 grams) prepared chestnuts, quartered
salt and pepper to taste
Method
1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
2. On a floured surface, roll out the pastry, and lay in quiche dish.
3. Cut off the mushroom feet, and slice the caps.
4. Melt butter in a large pan, and add mushrooms. Stir until all the moisture from the
mushrooms is absorbed and they are nicely browned.
5. Add pinch of salt and pepper.
6. In a bowl, stir the egg and cream until mixed.
7. Place the mushrooms and chestnuts evenly on the pastry in your quiche dish.
8. Slice goat cheese into rounds, and arrange them evenly on top of the mushrooms and chestnuts.
9. Pour the egg and cream mixture over top. 10. Bake for 25 minutes.
Wonderful served with a lovely green salad—baby arugula with freshly grated parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and generous pepper. Bon appétit!
********
Nothing too complicated here. In fact the most difficult part might be finding chestnuts other than in the winter. I have a few jars in my pantry, so that wasn’t an issue. A bit vague on the size and kind of pan as well, but if you’ve been reading my blog for a while you know that I can be, um, a tad loose on details myself, so that served me right.

I’ve been cooking for myself long enough that I think I can usually “taste” a recipe just from reading it and this sounded really good, so I gave it a shot. I warned my good friends that I was bringing an untried dish and, because they are good friends, no one groaned. Happily it turned out fine.

Now, oddly I couldn’t find a log of goat cheese here in central Texas right before Christmas. I was told “there seems to be a problem with the goats”. I have no idea what that means but I found goat cheese “crumbles” and they worked fine. Next time, though, I’ll hope to find a log as described above as the crumbles did tend to fall off when I sliced the tarte.

chestnuts and goat cheese and ‘shrooms, oh my!

Next time I plan to add another 1/2 cup of cream and one more egg to make it a bit more quiche-y. I think that will hold the ‘shrooms together a bit better for serving. And, as I said, she doesn’t mention what sort or size of quiche/tarte pan she uses. Mine is ceramic so I kept the oven temperature the same but added about 15 minutes to the cooking time. Perfect.

I made a half recipe of pastry, easy enough. Figure I’ll make more fresh next time. So it was 1 cup of flour, 1 stick of salted butter, a pinch of salt, a couple of dashes of cold water… but you could buy a pre-made crust (shhhhh) or even a GF one… as suits you. Oh, and I docked the dough, of course… but you know to do that, right?

Anything I’m forgetting to mention? Just all the best for a happy healthy New Year and, as always, bon appétit!!

Posted by: Rachel | October 24, 2018

water water everywhere…

Mind you, we need the rain. But I’m not sure we need a whole year’s worth in the space of a few weeks. That’s Texas, though… seems like just yesterday I was worrying about the drought and wondering if we’d continue to have water every time we turned the tap on.

Now we’re drowning.

OK, maybe not literally, but near enough. The ground is completely saturated, lakes and rivers are overfull, and still it rains. And, odd as it may seem (and it certainly seems odd to me even though I understand it) we have more severe water restrictions in place now than we did during the drought! The city purification system just simply can’t handle how filthy (silt, sediment, and debris) the water is that’s tumbling downstream to here from the lakes. The system is choking.

We’ve been told by the city of Austin that until further notice we’re to boil all tap water for drinking or otherwise ingesting for at least 3 minutes, then cool. Also any water used for washing dishes. They do tell us it is still safe to shower, just don’t brush your teeth or really open your mouth at all while you’re in there!

I’m fine with boiling the drinking water, but managing dishwashing is a bit tricky. I do have a dishwasher but they say that’s not hot enough to kill any potential critters in the water. And, if you know me you know that paper plates and plasticware isn’t my cuppa…

That’s why I’m trying to come up with things that don’t require lots of fixing. Bananas are good. No washing required, just peel and eat. Other fruits can use more utensils or handwashing (oranges and melons come to mind) or at least require washing (grapes).

And that’s why I find myself eating hard-boiled eggs. Easy to make, no silverware required, and good for you (at least in moderation). Crazy, right? I’m not making them the way I usually do (put them in tapwater, bring to a boil, turn off and let them cool in the water). That system just doesn’t have a long enough boiling period for food safety. So, just in case you find yourself in a situation like this (and I hope you don’t unless you’re traveling somewhere interesting!), here’s my “recipe”:

10-minute Eggs

Put eggs in a pan. Cover by an inch or so with tap water. Bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to a more gentle boil. Boil for 6 minutes. Turn off heat and let eggs rest for another 4 minutes. Remove eggs from still very hot water using a slotted spoon. Let eggs cool a bit before putting them in the fridge. Use the still hot and now “purified” water to rinse any utensils or dishes.


***

So far the city hasn’t given any firm indication of when the water issues will be resolved. Theoretically we are to have a dry sunny beautiful weekend and no rain is forecast until next week sometime. We’ll see. Meantime I have plenty of seemingly safe water in the fridge and I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Until next time, enjoy your ready-to-drink tap water and stay safe!

Posted by: Rachel | October 2, 2018

walk with me (west coast edition 2)

Spent a few days in California with my friends again. Ahhhhhh… being out of the Texas heat was gift enough!

It was a birthday week for one of my friends and we celebrated every day. Lots of amazing food, and lots of fun. And, something completely new to me – we had dinner one night at a place called Hang 10 Boiler.

Now I have another reason to go to Hawaii. If this is really what they eat there, wow! You pick your seafood, determine how many pounds you want, decide which “sauce” (I don’t know quite how else to describe it), vegetables, and they bring big bowls of yummy amazingness to your table.

Its a you-shuck’em sort of deal, we peeled our shrimp and slurped down the largest (and possible tenderest!) mussels I’ve ever seen. It was heavenly.

nom nom!

Please forgive me; by the time I came up for air this is all that was left! And all I can tell you is that it seemed to involve lots (and lots) of butter, garlic, maybe something like curry… wow! Oh, and lots of paper towels, too. Messy good!

All in all, it was a rather sloppy, highly seasoned, delicious meal, made better, of course by the company. Oh my!

Happily, the next day involved a bit of hiking. Its all about balance, right? It was beautiful and the weather was (happily for hikers, sadly for the fire danger) dry and crisp. The path was dusty but fairly easy for the most part with some fantastic views,

and it sure didn’t look like anything around here. Beautiful.

That’s about it for the moment. More travel news soon, but meantime stay well, stay safe, and stay in touch!

Posted by: Rachel | August 28, 2018

harness the sun 2018 edition

Its still hot. Of course, we’re only nearing the end of August… so we can expect at least another month (or two) of heat here in central Texas. We sigh, stay inside, and make the best of it.

The weather and news folks remind us daily not to leave kids, pets, or anything we care about in our cars even for a few minutes. My poor car sits out in an unshaded driveway all day and yes, it gets brutally hot inside. If I don’t leave the windows open, here’s what it looks like:

oven thermometer reading about 160F

too darn hot!

In case you can’t make it out, it reads about 160F. Of course, that’s on the dashboard in the sun, but wowza…

That being said, I got to thinking about what I could “cook” in the car this year. Over the years I’ve dehydrated fruit, mushrooms, made fruit leather, and sun-dried tomatoes. I mean, why waste the heat?

This year I was looking for something different and wondered about sweet potato chips. I love sweet potatoes but its been to hot to enjoy them as I usually do and the sweet potato chips I saw at the store all had oil involved. I wondered if I couldn’t make them at home cheaper, easier, and less caloric.

Yes, yes I did.

All I did was slice them thin, lay them out on cooling racks over a cookie sheet and put them on the dash in full sun. I waited until about 11 AM so the car was nice and toasty, make sure the windows were rolled up tight, and let the sun have its way. Nothing to do but wait.

sweeeet!

By 4 that afternoon I had lovely crisp crunchy sweet potato chips.

crispy crunchy!

I’m not suggesting that you try this at home – there are too many variables and it isn’t as perfect as oven dehydrating. It worked for me, though, and the car smelled great! Perhaps the folks who make those hanging “air fresheners” could learn a thing or two…

Hopefully in a few months it will be cool enough to get back to cooking/baking inside without cranking down the AC. Meantime, lots of yogurt and fruit (see last month) and crunchy sweet potato chips will get me through I think.

Quick question for you raw food aficionados: if you dry food in a car is it still raw??

Stay cool, be well, and hope for rain!!!

Posted by: Rachel | July 31, 2018

when is a soup not a soup?

If you put it in a bowl and eat it with a spoon, is it soup? Possibly, or, it might be stew, cereal, pudding… what makes soup actually soup?

My dictionary says soup is “a liquid dish, typically made by boiling meat, fish, or vegetables, etc., in stock or water”. This recipe has no meat, no fish, no boiling, and only a splash of water. Hmmm…

I’ve recently started watching Diane Kochilas’ “My Greek Table. She’s delightful and her show makes my mouth water; the food and the locales. This is her recipe, don’t blame me! (grin)

She calls this “soup”, so it must be.

When I first read the recipe I wasn’t sure if it was a starter, dessert, or maybe breakfast. I’ve now enjoyed it as all three and what I can tell you is, soup or not it sure is good!

I made a few changes, of course, but overall I’ve stuck with her original recipe. I thought I had some fig vinegar but I couldn’t put my hands on it so I used lemon balsamic. Also, I added a few mint leaves to the mix. I mean, it’s summer in Texas after all, and what’s more summery than lemon and mint?

Note: The only difficult thing about this is the waiting. Trust me, though, it’s worth it!

In any event, here’s her recipe:

Diane Kochilas’ Chilled Peach Soup with Ginger, Honey & Yogurt
or, what I call
20 Minute 2-day Peachy Yogurt Delight

4 large, ripe peaches, peeled and chopped*
1 small yellow or red bell pepper [seeded], finely diced
3 fresh ripe apricots, seeded and chopped**
1 tablespoon diced fresh ginger*
4 tablespoons Greek honey***
1 tablespoon balsamic or fig vinegar
1 cup Greek yogurt
Salt to taste
Mint leaves for garnish
Greek honey for garnish
Pink peppercorns for garnish****

Not soup yet…

Macerate the peaches, pepper, apricots, ginger, honey, salt, balsamic or fig vinegar, and half the yogurt in a bowl overnight, refrigerated.

Transfer the contents to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth, adding the remaining yogurt and enough water to reach a velvety, silky consistency. Season to taste with salt and additional honey or vinegar. Refrigerate to chill, for about 1 hour.

Pour the soup into shallow bowls and garnish with a drizzling of honey, fresh mint and a pinch of pink peppercorns.

Note: You can also sprinkle a little Greek feta or manouri cheese on top, or serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt.

Good enough to drink!

***
About those asterisks above. *If you can’t get decent fresh peaches, you could use frozen or even (gasp) canned. Ginger, same – if you can’t get fresh you can certainly use powder. **You can definitely make this with dried apricots. I know this is true because my sister did and it was fine. Just chop ’em up. ***I cut the honey to 2 tablespoons and it was still plenty sweet. If you don’t have Greek honey, any good local honey is fine. **** I skipped these entirely and didn’t miss them. Oh, and I left the salt out. Also, I recommend sweet red bell pepper for the color. The final result is so pretty!

Use what you can find – the yogurt doesn’t have to be Greek any more than the honey does. I’m currently keeping a bowl of the macerating “fixings” in the fridge and having “soup” for breakfast until it runs out. Then I’ll start over (and over and over) until the relentless Texas summer breaks. So, when is a soup not a soup? When its a smoothie!

Mmmmmmmm…. Enjoy and stay cool!

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