There is something that stirs in me as soon as I get off of a plane. It is a relief.
Weeks pass and the weight of everyday life builds up - the deadlines, cleaning, relationships, creative pressure, social planning and what not. I mull around in my own angst, which makes the world seem small. I lay awake at night worried that I am fresh out of ideas for the book - what vegetable have I not exhausted in my recipe writing yet? I needed this trip to get out of my own head. I needed to leave and to be reminded that this world is actually huge, that there is SO much out there, so many stories and things to try. I sat on the lightrail of Seattle en route to our hotel, just staring at all the people waiting to go somewhere and I wondered what they were worried about. We're all going to be alright... is it weird that I wanted to yell that out the window? For them and for me. Despite the amount of cheese and sugar I consumed in the past four days, my mind feels healthier.
I was thrilled to finally meet some friends I had, so far, only admired from my corner of the internet. We've exchanged emails and blog comments, but I got the chance to look at them in the face. It's strange how you feel like you know someone from behind a web address or twitter avatar, isn't it? Truth is, if they do it well and honestly, you pretty much do. Genuine people are easy to spot and a pleasure to know.
We spent our days with eating, walking, drinking coffee, and seeing friends on repeat. I just wanted to pop in here with a few words and a couple photos (Hugh didn't take many, he was busy eating), and assure you that after weeks of being burnt out of cooking in general, I feel more excited about being back in the kitchen. I'll bring you food next week, but 'til then, I think you should start planning a trip. Somewhere.
Ahhh, it feels kind of nice to write a recipe without instructions. This is just to get you thinking beyond the usual, or maybe this is your usual with a few little additions. There is always a reason for a cheese plate, and I think one with a little extra thought goes a long way. We're going camping by the beach this weekend with family, and that's as good a place as any for a cheese plate, if you ask me.
I've catered a handful of dinner parties, and the selections below are some choices I've come to find popular by extremely close survey. We each have our favorites, and you should by all means include yours, but this combination is what makes sense to me for the end of summer. I like to keep the cheeses on the lighter side for warm weather, saving the cheddars, bries and bleus for the cooler months, this being an exception.
PARMIGIANO REGGIANO // RAW COW'S MILK
chisle off a few pieces, drizzle raw honey
CHEVRE // SOFT GOAT'S MILK CHEESE
rolled in finely chopped lemon thyme, chives, pinch of rosemary and ground pepper
MANCHEGO // AGED SHEEP'S MILK
with a bit of apricot jam
BABY MOZZARELLA // FRESH COW'S MILK
with slow roasted yellow tomatoes, basil and balsamic reduction
Here is a recipe for Heidi's tomatoes, mine were so juicy, I used half the oil suggested.
To make your own balsamic reduction, just simmer balsamic vinegar until it reduces to 1/3 of its original volume. Remember it will thicken even more as it cools. I suggest transferring it to some sort of glass vessel before it cools, as it is quite sticky.
Fresh Grapes or Figs
Let the cheese sit out a bit, don't serve it straight from the fridge.
And drink wine with it, because life's short and cheese and wine make all sorts of sense.
(update for those asking) Cheese forks are from Napa Style.
I have three more months until my final manuscript is due for the cookbook, and to be honest with you, I've been a bit paralyzed in creativity. I know that process ebbs and flows, but when it comes to having a due date, I need a bit less ebb-ing and more flowing these days. I've kept a pretty good pace so far, a few bad calls (did you know that roasted pluots are, without question, too tart to eat? who knew?!), but I'm really happy with what we have so far. Now, about that last 30% of the content...
The thought of this combination had me quite excited yesterday, a little something different to throw on on your pizza. I would have hoarded this recipe for the book, but I have something similar in there already, so I can share the tastiness now as opposed to over a year from now ;)
I'm fairly new to using za'atar, and have come to love its unique acidity from the sumac, the ever familiar dried thyme and a bit of nutty crunch from the sesame seeds. You can buy it at spice shops, online, middle eastern grocery stores or Sarah at My New Roots has a recipe to make your own. It's great on top of hummus, used in a marinade, on grilled vegetables, etc.
ROASTED EGGPLANT + ZA'ATAR PIZZA // Serves 2-4
I give cheese measurements, but you can use your discretion depending on how you like your pizza, and how many vegetables you throw on there. The melty cheese is necessary in combination with the feta. The feta provides saltiness and flavor, but the mozzarella makes it a pizza.
I've given directions for baking, but you could just as easily do this on the grill if you don't want to turn on the oven. You can alternatively saute the eggplants, instead of roasting.
3 Tbsp. Tahini
1 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
1 Clove Garlic, minced
Pinch of Salt + Pepper
2 tsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Generous Pinch of Dried Oregano
1 Small Yellow Onion, halved and sliced
Whole Grain Pizza Crust (This recipe gives you two crusts. You can also buy a fresh dough ball from your local pizza place for convenience)
3/4 Cup Shredded Mozzarella
1 Tbsp. Za'atar
1/3 Cup Crumbled Feta
Fresh Thyme Leaves
Salt + Pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 500'. Mix all of the tahini spread ingredients together in a bowl, set aside.
2. Peel the eggplant (doesn't have to be perfect) and cut it in to small pieces. Drizzle it with the olive oil, generous pinch of salt and dried oregano. Toss to coat. Spread it on a baking sheet and roast it for 15-20 minutes. Note, you could also throw the onions on there to streamline the recipes, but I like to do it in a cast iron to really char those babies.
3. To char the onions, heat a pan over medium high heat with a dash of oil (I like to use cast iron here), add the onions and char them for about 10-15 minutes, tossing them around occasionally . The point is to cook them on high heat, without a lot of moisture, to char the sides, as opposed to caramelizing them.
4. Roll out your crust and put it on a floured/cornmeal sprinkled baking sheet. Spread the tahini spread across the surface, sprinkle the mozzarella, the eggplant chunks and charred onions, the za'atar, and the crumbled feta. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on top, and baking the pizza for 12-15 minutes until the edges crisp up. Garnish the top with a generous sprinkle of the fresh thyme leaves.
I find it funny that when you fall in love with someone, and even more so when you marry/live with them, you kind of morph into an unintentional, uni-person at times. The things you eat blend, the lingo or nicknames you have for things become everyday vernacular, you want what they want (for their sake), and circumstances that make them sad, cut you straight to the bone.
I'm the morning person who now consistently finds herself staying up late, and I swear to you we show up places in coordinating outfits that we don't notice until someone teases us. I sound like I've lost all sense of myself, but for serious, I really think it's crazy how much you're influenced when you don't even know it.
I've tried to make a point this year of spending time with people that are positive and encouraging to be around and trying to be the kind of person that someone wouldn't mind being influenced by. That's harder than you'd think, would you believe my language has gotten worse despite said intentions?
I started thinking about this, because both Hugh and I don't care for raw tomatoes. We both love salsa, marinara and roasted tomato soup, but please don't put tomatoes in my salad. But it wasn't always this way, I grew up on raw tomatoes, lots of them, the first half of my life, a 'salad' was routinely tomatoes and cucumbers with Hidden Valley Ranch dressing (Mom! I'm so grateful and I love you). We grow up and somehow the way we think or what we eat and the company we keep changes, and I find it pretty phenomenal that we refine ourselves little by little, most of the time without even realizing it. It happens right under our noses. So here I am, some version of myself but mostly a composition of people who have loved and influenced me in one way or another.
So this soup, while easy in preparation and simple in ingredients, is only as good as the tomatoes you use (pay attention, did you catch the life metaphor there?). If you have a local farmer's market, roadside farm stand or grow your own, this is the time to use them. Regardless of them being roasted, the integrity of the tomato stands out. I thought it would be good with some homemade pesto croutons, or some smoked paprika if you want a bit of heat, but it's just as comforting with a slice of crusty bread.
ROASTED TOMATO SOUP // Serve 2 as an entree, 4 as a side
Because it's summer and I prefer things lighter, I honestly did not add any cream. This is your choice. It will take an edge off of the acidity, but I thought a little cheese crostini balanced it out just fine.
1 1/4 lb. Ripe Tomatoes (about 4 Large Tomatoes)
1/2 Medium Yellow Onion
3 Garlic Cloves
1 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tsp. Sea Salt
Fresh Ground Pepper
1 Tbsp. Chopped Parsley
1 1/2 Cups Low Sodium Vegetable or Chicken Broth
1 Tbsp. Organic Tomato Paste
1/4 Cup Heavy Cream or Half and Half, optional
Fresh Oregano + Basil for garnish
Fresh Grainy Bread
1. Preheat the oven to 350'. Cut the tomatoes and the half of an onion into wedges. Use your finger to push out some of the seedy parts of the tomatoes, but this is not a huge deal, just get out the big seedy parts, a bit intact is fine. Spread them on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle the salt, a generous amount of pepper, the chopped parsley and gently toss it with your hands. Tuck the garlic cloves somewhere in a tomato, so they don't burn. Roast on the middle rack for 30-40 minutes until the tomatoes have broken down and reduced to about half their size. Remove and cool slightly.
2. Warm the broth and stir in the tomato paste to dissolve. Add the all of the ingredients from the roasting pan into the broth and let it gently simmer for 5-10 minutes. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the bowl, or with a food processor or blender. The soup should be smooth, with some texture. If you don't like any texture at all, you could run it through a fine mesh sieve. Return it back to the pot, and add the cream to taste, if using. Taste for salt and pepper.
3. Serve with some toasted bread, or broil a few slices with a piece of mozzarella on top. Garnish with fresh chopped basil and oregano.
I made a post out of what I had on hand! Congratulations, self! I have wandered from my grocery budget lately. I can pinch pennies on most things, but get me to a market and I feel like I am spending monopoly money. The same girl who holds on to gift cards that have under a fifty cent value... yeah. Lately, I've been coming home with pretty bottles of red wine from Trader Joes and the things is, I prefer white wines, I don't even like red wine! They're inexpensive bottles, but that's beside the point. So, of course I cried out of guilt, punished myself by drinking the red wine I don't even like (this is a confusing punishment, I'm aware), and am pretty sure I snapped out of the grocery addiction.
I tend to become a bit unmotivated when the weather warms up, and I'm certainly not turning on our ancient oven which heats up the entire upstairs. I have loads of green beans from my CSA basket, and admit they're not really a vegetable I would purchase otherwise. The green bean isn't known for being the most versatile ingredient - sort of akwardly lanky and reminiscent of your grandma's, creamy holiday casserole. But as a hater of waste and in my renewed frugalness, I dressed them up enough to be a dish I would bring to a backyard dinner party, or something I would take a bite of while passing the fridge for a snack.
The green beans stay crisp from a quick blanch, and the quinoa adds a bit of protein to fill you up. If you like your salads to be a little easier to eat, simply chop up those lanky beans to bite size pieces. Ignore the oven, have a tasty salad and it's the weekend again, party people.
GREEN BEAN + BLACK QUINOA SALAD // Serves 4-6
I made my dressing with a lemon infused olive oil because I had some and I am obsessed with it, but it is not necessary. Use that if you have it, and if you'd like a bit of citrus, add a bit of fresh lemon zest when tossing everything together.
// Dressing //
1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Tbsp. White Balsamic
2 tsp. Agave Nectar / Honey
1 Clove Garlic
Handful of Basil Leaves
Pinch of Salt + Pepper
1/2 Cup Quinoa (black or red is pretty, but any color works)
1 lb. Green Beans, ends trimmed
2 Scallions/Green Onions
1/2 Cup Hazelnuts, toasted and skins removed, roughly chopped
1. In a blender or food processor, whirl all of the dressing ingredients together. Taste for salt and pepper and set aside in the fridge.
2. Bring 1 Cup water to a boil and add the quinoa, turn the heat down to a simmer, cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed. Transfer to a large mixing bowl to cool.
3. Blanch or steam the green beans until just barely softened. Drain well. Add the drained green beans to the cooled quinoa. Thinly slice the scallions and add them, and half of the chopped hazelnuts to the bowl and toss with desired amount of the dressing. Finish the salad with a few grinds of fresh black pepper and the rest of the hazelnuts. Serve at room temperature or chill in the fridge. The leftovers hold up great.