I love feeding people. I enjoy the whole process of collecting ingredients, the creativity in combining flavors, the science of how heat changes foods texture, watching the expressions of people you love have their hunger satisfied, and then sitting there with bellies full and talking about life. Every part of it is so gratifying in its own way. A majority of you are food people (I'd go as far to say, all of you are food people), so this sentiment is likely one we have in common. People are happy when they eat good food, and I like to make people happy. I hope you get time this weekend to make something, and eat with people. We have a few picnics planned to do that very thing.
I think this recipe could change the mind of a cooked-carrot-hater. I can't stand over-cooked vegetables. The minimal liquid and high heat, sort of blisters the outsides to create a tender yet resistant texture. The ingredients are simple, and if you can make it to a farmers market, spring onions are in abundance. Fresh carrots should be very firm- if they have any bend to them, steer clear.
FARMHOUSE CARROTS // Serves 4
2 Bunches Carrots (about 15ish carrots)
1 Cup Thinly Sliced Spring Onion
1/4 Cup Roughly Chopped Savory*
2 Tbsp. Honey
1 1/2 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
2 Tbsp. Apple Cider Vinegar
Fresh chives for garnish
* If you cannot find fresh savory, I would use three parts fresh thyme to one part rosemary as an alternative.
Oven to 400'
1. In a small bowl, warm the butter, honey and cider vinegar together. Break apart the rings of the spring onion. Add the slices and the chopped savory into the honey mixture and let it all marinate. Set aside.
2. Cut off the green leafy parts and clean the carrots with a scrub brush. Leave them on a dish towel to dry completely.
3. Line a baking try with foil or parchment paper (I didn't do this, and I wish I did, much easier to clean). Spread out the carrots in a single layer. Drizzle the honey mixture over and gently toss to coat. Generously sprinkle coarse salt and pepper.
4. Roast on the upper rack for 20 minutes. Carrots should be tender but still have a good bit of resistance too them. Only babies like moosh carrots. Garnish with fresh chives.
This was my first experience with a pestle and mortar. I envisioned it so earthy and rustic. I wanted to appreciate the fruit of my labor, more so than I would with an electric machine. I borrowed one from a dear friend, to see if this age old tool could stand up to it's reputation. However, the sight of me using all my arm strength to try and break through the fibrous basil leaves was maybe more rustic than I was capable. I felt so pretty, there in the kitchen with Hugh, while chards of garlic were spitting back at me and getting lodged in my curly hair. Super cute. I have read the praises of how much better pesto/pistou turns out with the smashing of the ingredients against the marble. I may loose culinary credibility, but I thought it was a mess and couldn't taste the difference. Go ahead, throw stones. Maybe if I were mega buff, coordinated and more patient, it would have been all it cracked up to be.
The means of how I got to this warm plate of crunchy green asparagus, rice and lentils is not the point (but haven't I intrigued you to want to get chards of garlic in YOUR hair?). I am partial to adding grains to my vegetables, because it keeps me full longer. This very well could suffice as a simple vegetarian entree, but is also a colorful side. I have sung my song of how I adore leftovers, so I put the chilled reminance over some salad greens the next day. The pistou dressed everything perfectly. The ingredients had marinated overnight, and was just as nice cold as it was warm. It made the garlic scented locks seem worth it.
WARM ASPARAGUS SALAD WITH BASIL + MINT PISTOU // Serves 4
I used a pestle and mortar for the pistou, but it would be less hassle in a blender or food processor. To save yourself time, you may purchase pre cooked brown rice in most freezer sections now. Any variety of lentil is fine, cooking times will vary.
2 Cups Cooked Brown Rice
1 1/4 Cup Cooked Lentils (I used Black Beluga Lentils)
1 lb. Asparagus
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped, Fresh Chives
// BASIL, MINT + WALNUT PISTOU //
2 Cloves Garlic
1 tsp. Sea Salt
1/2 Cup Walnut Pieces
1/3 Cup Fresh Lemon Juice (about one lemon)
1 Cup Fresh Basil Leaves
1/3 Cup Fresh Mint Leaves
1/3 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Pepper and Red Pepper Flakes to taste
1. In a food processor or blender, add the garlic cloves, salt and walnuts and pulse a few times. Chop or tear the herbs into smaller pieces, and add them to the processor with the lemon juice, pulse until everything is coarsely combined. Add a generous pinch of pepper and red pepper flakes and the extra virgin olive oil. Again, a few more pulses to combine. I like to leave mine a bit chunky.
2. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cut the asparagus spears on a diagonal, about one inch pieces. Add them to a steamer basket (or to the boiling water, but they will only need about 1.5 minutes here) and steam for about 2.5 minutes. Prepare another bowl of ice water. Remove and add the asparagus to the ice water bath to set their color. After a few minutes, drain completely.
3. Prepare the brown rice and lentils according to instructions. While warm, mix them together in a large bowl. Add the asparagus and a few big dollops of the pistou (amount based on personal preference), and fold gently to coat everything in the sauce. Add the chives, fold again. Garnish with fresh chives.
I am testing recipes for a cooking class I am teaching next week. Though I assume there will be ladies of all different skill levels, I feel it is a unanimous preference to have a simple dessert recipe under your belt. We will make a naturally sweetened cake too, for those that like to spend more time on their treats. However this recipe requires one mixing bowl, and everything else goes straight into the pan. Since I will be acting as both teacher and dishwasher, I strongly approve of the limited mess involved here.
I think this general idea inspires so many other combinations as the seasons change. In the summer you could substitute peaches, and use vanilla bean instead of cinnamon in the yogurt cream. Or I imagine in the fall, you could give the pan a bit of extra time in the oven and use apples instead... then sprinkle some granola and nuts on the top. It's dessert, but I mean, if there is granola involved, you can call it breakfast. That's what I tell myself when I get into the oatmeal cookies first thing in the morning. Don't judge me.
HONEY ROASTED PEARS // Serves 3-6 depending on pear distribution
Inspired by Joy the Baker
I used three pears, because that is what fit perfectly into my cast iron skillet. You could probably adjust more or less depending on what type of pan you use, just be certain it is heavy bottomed and oven proof. I don't often push an organic agenda, but since this is a short list of ingredients, I'd suggest using organic dairy products for best flavor results.
3 Ripe Pears (Bosc worked beautifully)
2 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
1/2 Cup Honey
1 tsp. Real Vanilla Extract
2 Tbsp. Muscavado or Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup Thyme Sprigs
8 oz. Whipping Cream
1 tsp. Cinnamon
2 Tbsp. Honey
3/4 Cup Plain Greek Yogurt
Oven to 450'
1. Cut the pears in half length wise, use a small spoon or melon baller to remove the tough seeded center.
2. In a cast iron or heavy bottomed skillet, add the butter, honey, vanilla, muscavado or brown sugar, thyme sprigs and a generous sprinkle of salt. Let everything come to a gentle boil and stir continuously, about 2 minutes.
3. Add the halved pears to the pan, cut side down. Give it a shake and let them simmer on the stove about 2 minutes. Turn the pears over so they are now cut side up and transfer the pan to the oven, middle rack. Bake for 12 minutes until the pears are soft and the sauce has caramelized.
4. While the pears are baking, beat the cold whipping cream with an electric mixer until stiff. Add the honey, pinch of salt, cinnamon and beat another minute to combine. Gently fold in the greek yogurt, this will make it a bit thinner, but that's ok, it still tastes lovely, I promise.
5. Put one or two pears on a plate, drizzle with a hefty spoonful of sauce with a sprig of thyme for garnish, and a generous dollop or yogurt cream.
* If you were serving this to guests, you can do most in advance. I would pull the pears out of the oven just a few minutes early, let it cool and leave it covered at room temperature until you are ready to reheat them in the oven. They should probably warm back through in about 6 minutes. I don't suggest making the yogurt cream in advance, as the weight of the yogurt and honey will make the whipping cream fall completely.
The funny thing about this recipe is that I don't even care much for scallops, or any shellfish for that matter. However, I felt we were due for another simple meal option. I had the sweetest comment back when I posted the Walnut Crusted Salmon and Edamame Mash from a reader named Mel (are you still out there Mel? Because I've been thinking of you.) who said that recipe was her go-to dinner for entertaining. So Mel, hopefully this is another idea for you, if of course, you are one for scallops. It is fairly quick, simple and tastes much more impressive than the effort it requires. I'm pretty certain that is an instant selling point right there.
My suggestion would be to have all the ingredients for the scallop portion, cut and ready to go, because once you start searing the scallops, everything moves quickly. If you aren't a scallop person either, the leeks are worth your time. We're on the tail end of their season around here, and the two giant ones I found were just fabulous. Leeks are one of those impressive vegetables where less fuss, is more. They reduce down to pillowy, subtle onion strings of caramelized wonderfulness. I generously shared the scallops we made, but the extra leeks got tucked away in secret tupperware for yours truly.
SCALLOPS ON CREAMY LEEKS // Serves 2 to 3 people
It's hard to be exact with this, as the size of scallops you buy will vary the cooking time and amount of butter and wine you will need. For an entree, I suggest using larger scallops. If you can find a fish monger who sells fresh scallops, not frozen/thawed ones, the texture will be best.
3 Cups Cleaned, Chopped Leeks (2 Large Leeks, halved, sliced)
1 Tbsp. Butter
1/4 Cup Milk
1/2 Lb. Fresh Scallops
1/4 Cup Whole Wheat Flour (I Imagine that rice flour would work as a gluten free alternative)
1 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
1 tsp. Dijon Mustard
1/2 Cup White Wine
1/3 Cup Chopped Shallots
3-4 Tbsp. Finely Chopped Parsley
Zest and Juice of 1 Lemon
1. In a large saute pan, heat the first 1 tbsp. butter until melted, add the leeks and salt, and stir around to coat. Add a tbsp. of water if the pan is looking really dry. Leave the heat on medium and continue to stir every few minutes to avoid any burning, for about 15 minutes. Prepare your scallop ingredients in the meantime.
2. Add the milk and pepper to the leeks, turn the heat to medium/low and continue to cook while you take care of your scallop business. As long as the heat is on low, you can't really overcook them here.
3. Pat the scallops dry with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper. Gently toss them around in the flour.
4. In another pan, let them brown on one side (about 2 minutes), gently flip to the other side and place them in a buttery part of the pan if possible (sear another 2 minutes). Add the shallot, dijon, wine and parsley and give the pan a few shakes to move things around and allow the temperature to come back up to a simmer (again, probably 2 minutes). Remove the scallops to a plate, use the spoon to scrape up the bits on the bottom of the pan and stir the sauce. Pour the sauce on top of the scallops. Squeeze the lemon juice on top.
5. To plate, put a big spoonful of the leeks and then the scallops on top with some of the shallot sauce goodness. Garnish with the lemon zest, fresh ground pepper and fresh parsley.
So, yesterday I was partaking in one of those extremely overpriced flavored nut packs, and as tasty as they were, I couldn't help but think "I can totally figure out how to make these myself". Some ladies buy fancy shoes, fancy purses, or fancy makeup... I spoil myself with fancy snacks. However, as my days of corporate employment are coming to a close, a girl must learn to make fancy snacks on her own. I studied their salty, crispy parmesan crust and mix of herbs. I finished the bag (not difficult since there are about nine almonds per package) and set forth to make my own. No time to waste, I get a rush out of things like this.
A plain almond only satiates the mildest of hunger, but my goodness, these almonds are like the princess of nut snacks. They are the fancy shoe, fancy purse and fancy makeup of the snack family. I will show you big fancy nut company! Mine are fresh and I can have more than nine at a time! It's the little things isn't it?
SAVORY ROASTED ALMONDS
The spice measurements here are pretty moderate, if you like it spicier or love lemon for example, adjust as you desire. I know the sugar seems a bit out of place here, but it helps with the crust. Also, because ovens are all a bit different, test them after the recommended time. Note that they will dry out and crisp up even more once they cool out of the oven.
3 Cups/16 oz. Raw Almonds
2 Small Egg Whites (OR 1 Extra Large Egg White)
1/3 Cup Fresh Thyme Leaves
2 Tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
1 Tbsp. Dried Oregano
1 Tbsp. Garlic Powder
3 Tbsp. Lemon Zest
2 tsp. Black Pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp. Natural Cane Sugar/Sucanat
1/2 Cup Finely Grated Parmesan Cheese
Oven to 275'
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. In a bowl, or pestle and mortar, add the thyme, red pepper, oregano, garlic powder, black pepper, lemon zest and sugar together. If you have a pestle and mortar, grind all of the spices together to break them up a bit. You won't get much of a paste, but the thyme should break down a bit and the red peppers will get smaller. Otherwise, the back of a heavy spoon will suffice as well.
2. Whisk the egg whites until frothy (about 2 minutes). Add the almonds, and fold them over to coat. Add the spices mixture and mix again until they seem evenly distributed.
3. Spread the nuts out on the baking sheet and give them all a very generous grind of sea salt. Sprinkle half of the parmesan evenly, and toss to coat. Make sure the nuts are spread in a single layer, and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the nuts. At this point, I added a fresh grind of black pepper all over, but that is your choice.
4. Bake in the middle rack for 25 minutes. Remove to cool completely before serving. And a final little dusting of parmesan when they are hot out of the oven never hurt anyone either.