Category Archives: Side Dish

Portuguese Stuffing

So, I was getting ready to can tomatoes and make pesto the other day when I realized it’s basically Thanksgiving.  Last I looked up, we were celebrating Labor Day weekend in our hometown (Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania) with many of our closest high school friends and their families.   As we gathered in the basement of my in-law’s house and attempted to get pictures of all the children in one place (we gave up on them all smiling), it was one of those moments that you realize is, truly, once in a lifetime.  To have everyone there — in the place where we gathered after basketball games in high school and on weekend visits during college — with our babies and children instantly having fun and getting in trouble the way their parents did … well, that’s the stuff movies are made of.

The very next weekend, flooding from Tropical Storm Lee devastated our hometown.  The basement where we gathered just a few days before was inundated with four feet of water (and it never had a drop of water in it previously).  The toys that all of our kids played with were covered in river mud and sewage.  The bedroom that my husband grew up in was destroyed.  The bar that we stood at and drank beers at as 20 year olds, and now 40 year olds, was gone.  It was total destruction for the town that we grew up in and love so much. Whenever I pack my children’s things before we go there, I invariably ask them what they want in their suitcase to take “home.” We may leave our hometowns, but they definitely don’t leave us.

In the next month, we decided to start an online news source, The Bloomsburg Daily, to capture the stories of the Bloomsburg flood. No one knew what was happening there and we felt that needed to be changed.  A terrific team of volunteers from Bloomsburg (and beyond) came together and now our weeks are spent having virtual editorial meetings, conducting interviews, planning photo shoots, and creating videos for the Flood of Silence Project. Our reasoning was simple: Some can hang drywall. We can tell the stories and create information to help a community heal.

My life has been consumed with Bloomsburg — until last week.  If the floods brought total physical destruction to our home, the events of the previous week have brought total emotional destruction to our adopted home:  State College, Pennsylvania. It is obviously the story that everyone is talking about — Jerry Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator of the football team, is accused of sexually abusing at least 8 children, with more potentially coming forward.  Two university administrators have been charged with perjury.   President Graham Spanier and legendary Head Coach, Joe Paterno, have resigned or been fired.  And the Nittany Nation is rocked to its core.

I came to Penn State as a freshman and received a Master’s Degree here many years later.  My husband and I moved here over ten years ago so I could pursue my Ph.D.  Both of our children were born here.  It is now our home.  And we are horrified that members of the institution that we all know and love so deeply could have been involved in this at any level.  Just as the flood waters swept away the foundations of so many homes in Bloomsburg, those affiliated with Penn State feel like the foundation of everything we thought we knew to be true has been taken out from underneath us.

We are sad and angry and confused.  We are crying uncontrollably at times.  We are walking with our heads held low, wondering how this could have gone on at such a great institution.  We are watching the national media report on our small town and the people in it (who we usually only see at the grocery store), and we are incredulous.  We are listening to the hateful remarks about who we are as an institution — judged by the horrific action and inaction of a handful of people — and trying to defend our honor. We are trying to explain how we can be both outraged by the possible inaction of Joe Paterno and so incredibly sad that he is no longer part of our institution.  We are a community, and being in the middle of that community is much more nuanced and difficult than reporting on it from above and outside.

But everything we thought to be true about ourselves is in question.  We are questioning everyone that we thought was a “good man” or a “great person” or had the “utmost integrity.”  We are saying we would do better in a similar situation, yet most of us do not or else the cases of the 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men who are sexually abused would be reported — and the majority of cases are not.

We feel the need to mourn what has been lost, for the victims primarily, but also for the collateral damage in our community.  We need to mourn, but then we need to stop crying, strip out the mud soaked drywall and insulation, cut out the rotten 2x4s, spray down the mold, and slowly start the process of rebuilding.  It will take time and it will take effort.  But it can be done for emotional destruction just as it is done for physical destruction.  It probably won’t be as straightforward, but we will do it because we are a community.

So, this Thanksgiving I want to give thanks for home.  Wherever it is, whatever we call it, however destroyed it is, or however complex the problems may be.  Whether it is our original home, our birth home, or our adopted home.  Whether it is the smallest of towns, or the largest of cities.  It is the place in which we feel most loved and safe and comfortable.  It is the foundation for everything we do.  And after being faced with losing big parts of not one, but two, of my homes, I realize it is worth fighting for. We must hold our heads high, rip out the damage, and get ready to rebuild.

A tremendous group, Proud to Be a Penn Stater, has come together to raise money for RAINN.org.  Please give if you can.  If there is any good to come out of this, it is that the Penn State community can bring tremendous light to a horrible, and often ignored, crime.

Portuguese Stuffing

This is my in-laws’ famous recipe for the stuffing that is always served at their Thanksgiving table.  It has both Italian and Portuguese roots and is a highly spicy and seasoned dressing.  Don’t let the bottle of vinegar scare you off — it is used to slowly saturate the stuffing and most of it burns off, leaving just the spicy tang behind.  This stuffing is generally not baked inside the turkey, but instead in a shallow pan, allowing it to become brown and prevent a mushy mess. The key is making sure you don’t skimp on the seasoning.  My husband is our official taste tester and always says it needs more spice and more vinegar.  I’m not sure if it’s an acquired taste, as I learned to love it instantly — covered in gravy and occasionally mixed with a bite of cranberry, but I do know that most people who try it fall in love.

Makes a 9×13 pan

1 lb. Hot Italian Sausage
2-3 large onions, chopped
3-4 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
6 or 7 celery ribs (with greens attached, if possible), chopped
1 or 2 bunches of parsley, chopped
Salt
Pepper
Italian Seasoning (about 3 T total)
Dried Fennel Seeds (about 2 T total)
Red Pepper Flakes (about 1 T total)
Cinnamon
Nutmeg
Allspice
16 oz. Apple Cider Vinegar
1 1/2 loaves of Italian Bread, cut or torn into one inch cubes, and sprinkled with a bit of water
Olive Oil

1.  Remove sausage from casing and cook in a very large non-stick saute pan over medium heat, breaking the sausage up into small clumps.  When the sausage is browned nicely and cooked through, remove with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel lined plate to drain.

2.  Remove some of the fat that the sausage rendered, leaving about 2 tablespoons of drippings behind.  (Alternately, if your sausage was very lean, add some olive oil to make about 2 tablespoons of fat.) Sauté the onions, garlic, and celery with about 1/2 cup of chopped parsley, 1 t salt, freshly ground pepper, 1 t Italian Seasoning, 1 t fennel seeds, and 1/2 t red pepper flakes.  Cook for about 8 minutes until the onions are translucent.  Add about 1/3 cup of apple cider vinegar, let it absorb and reduce for a minute or two. Remove mixture from pan and place in a very large bowl.

3.  Add drained sausage pieces and bread cubes to the onion mixture in the large bowl.  Season with additional salt and pepper.

4.  In the very large non-stick sauté pan, heat a 2-3 T of olive oil over medium heat.  Take about 1/2 of the stuffing mixture and add to pan.  (I can usually split this recipe into two batches, as I have a VERY large sauté pan, but you might need to do do three batches.) Sauté the stuffing mixture in olive oil, stirring frequently, to allow it to begin to brown.  Add approximately 1 t Italian Seasoning, 1 t fennel, 1/2 t red pepper flakes, 2-3 T parsley, and about 6 T vinegar.  Continue to stir and brown, for about 20 minutes until the mixture is darkened and heavily seasoned.  As you cook, re-season with additional italian seasoning, fennel, red pepper flakes, vinegar, and salt and pepper.  Toward the end of the 20 minutes, add in a generous pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.  Repeat with remaining stuffing and add to a 9×13 pan as each batch is finished.  (This seasoning and frying process seems complex, but it’s really not.  In order to make the entire batch, I generally use about 3 T total of Italian Seasoning, 2 T total of fennel, and 1 T total of red pepper flakes.  And I generally go through a 16 oz. bottle of apple cider vinegar.  This seems weird, but as you fry the stuffing, it soaks into the bread and burns off, so you are not left with too much of an intense vinegar flavor. And whenever I ask my husband if it is nearing the correct flavor, he always indicates that I need “one more round” of all the spices, salt and pepper, and vinegar. It’s zesty for sure!)

5.  When you are finished browning all of the stuffing on top of the stove, add several handfuls of additional chopped fresh parsley to the stuffing mixture.  At this point, you can either refrigerate it (can even make it a day or two ahead if you like) or bake it immediately.  I then generally bake at about 350 degrees Fahrenheit, covered for about 20 minutes, and then uncovered for an additional 10 minutes.  (You just want to reheat it thoroughly and brown it more on top.)

Orange Marsala Cranberry Sauce with Sage

I make it no secret that I am a little particular about what kind of food I generally serve.  I wouldn’t call myself a total food snob, because I still enjoy a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese as much as the next person.  It’s just that when I cook, I rarely use processed or convenience items.

This morning I bought both Cream of Mushroom soup and Pillsbury Crescent Rolls.

Sometimes tradition wins out.  And sometimes it’s OK that you serve Green Bean Casserole and don’t make rolls from scratch.  Our Thanksgiving meal has a certain set of necessary items … anything “experimental” is fine, but you will not replace my grandmother’s Creamed Corn with Quinoa Salad.   Or decide that you are going to try something “new” with the stuffing — our table can only have my grandmother-in-law’s Portuguese Stuffing on it (which I will photograph and write up for future reference).  The mashed potatoes must be made from yukon golds and the gravy will be laced with Marsala.  You just don’t mess with the memories.

The one exception to that is the cranberry sauce, because no one in my family cares about it in the least.  They will take an obligatory bite, but I will eat it with a spoon.  This year I made a version with orange zest, Marsala, and sage (to meld with my Marsala-laced gravy).  If I thought anyone cared enough, I’d try to form it in the shape of a tin can, with the requisite ridges we all grew up with.

And I haven’t ventured to look at the ingredients on the Crescent Rolls yet, but what is Thanksgiving without some good old petroleum by-products in your bread?

Orange Marsala Cranberry Sauce with Sage

Make about 3 1/2 cups

1 quart of fresh cranberries, rinsed
3/4 cup Sweet Marsala, plus 1-2 T
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
Healthy pinch of salt
Zest of two oranges, finely chopped
2 t fresh sage, finely chopped

1.  In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries, 3/4 cup Marsala, orange juice, brown sugar, and salt over medium heat.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium low.  Simmer uncovered for 10-15 minutes until all cranberries have popped and mixture is thick.  Remove from heat.

2.  Stir in additional 1-2 T of Marsala, chopped orange zest, and chopped sage.  Store in refrigerator.  (Can be made 2-3 days ahead)

Smoky Scalloped Potatoes with Sausage

I’m thinking there is a guide to parenthood somewhere that I forgot to read.  Before I had kids, I imagined parenting to be similar to, um, living — except with children.  And I know that sounds simplistic and parenting is much harder than just living, but I guess I imagined that I would continue to do things that I enjoy, rather than things that I do not.  This isn’t making much sense, is it?

You see, there is an entire underbelly to our culture that I truthfully had no idea existed until I had children.  Festivals.  Apparently, once you procreate, there is an unwritten rule that you must both enjoy and faithfully attend all festivals occurring within a 50 mile radius of your home.  These can include, but are not limited to, Fun Fests, Fall Fests, Arts Fests, Music Fests, Octoberfests (those I enjoy more), Jazz Fests, Spring Fests, Renaissance Fests (sometimes called Fairs), Apple Fests, Maple Syrup Fests, Strawberry Fests, Ice Cream Fests, Chili Fests, Winter Fests, First Night Fests, and Random Nature Event Fests.  Corollary events can include Carnivals, Public Easter Egg Hunts, Holiday Plays and Pageants, Santa Parades, and Bug Fairs.

And let me just make myself clear.  I do not particularly like festivals.  Maybe it’s the walking around aimlessly saying “Look kids, a donkey!”  Or maybe it’s the whiny kids who are generally just looking for the funnel cake stand.  And refuse to STFU until they get a funnel cake.  Or maybe it’s the same old Lion’s Club food truck.  Or maybe it’s for the simple reason that NONE OF THESE FESTIVALS SERVE BEER.

For example, this recipe for Smoky Scalloped Potatoes with Sausage could inspire an entire festival.  There would be crafts for the kids that included painting a potato.  There would be some sort of Scalloped Potato cook-off.  And a potato peeling competition.  That sounds fun, doesn’t it?  And don’t forget about the food vendors.  There will most assuredly be kettle corn, funnel cakes, and french fries.  And some sort of random animal to visit — llamas, donkeys, reindeer, or horses (of course) are logical choices.  I can’t wait to spend my entire Saturday afternoon at the Scalloped Potato Festival, now that you mention it.

Actually, I made these scalloped potatoes the other afternoon when we were skipping out on some random festival in our area.  It’s been fall (season of lots of festivals!), so I have already forgotten which one it was.  It is a wonderful, easy dinner for a cold night with its simple but delicious flavors.  The smoked sausage bastes the potatoes as they cook and you won’t believe how few ingredients you need.  I questioned the idea of scalloped potatoes without cheese, but this really works.  And made with 2% milk (which I did), it isn’t nearly the calorie and fat hog that some scalloped potato recipes are.

And I must mention that this is my dad’s recipe.  And I’m pretty sure he hates festivals too.  That afternoon, I cooked and sipped a glass of wine while the kids played school (after helping me peel the potatoes).  Donkey rides kick some ass, but this is more of what I imagined motherhood to be.

Smoky Scalloped Potatoes with Sausage

Serves 6 as a main dish

6-7 medium potatoes, peeled
1 lb. smoked sausage (very important to get high quality, local smoked sausage for the best flavor)
Flour (1/2 T per layer)
Butter (about 1 T per layer)
Salt and Pepper
2 cups of 2% milk (approximately)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Slice potatoes thinly. Slice smoked sausage into thin rounds (or chunks, however you like it).

3.  Butter a 9 inch by 13 inch glass pan.

4.  In the greased pan, make one layer of potatoes.  Sprinkle 1/2 T of flour over the potatoes and season well with salt and pepper.  Break 1 T of butter into little pieces and scatter it over the potatoes.  Top potato layer with slices of smoked sausage.

5.  Repeat by layering potato slices, flour, butter, salt and pepper, and smoked sausage.  Your top layer should be potatoes.  (I made three layers of potatoes, with two layers of sausage in between).  On your final layer of potatoes, sprinkle with 1/2 T of flour, additional salt and pepper, and 1 T of butter (in small pieces).

6.  Pour milk over top the potatoes until you can start to see it come up the edge — it should be about 2 or 2 1/2 cups.  Using a metal spatula, press the potato layers down into the milk, so the milk mixes in well.

7.  Bake uncovered for about 1 hour and 30 minutes (mine took more like 1 hr. and 40 minutes).  Every 20 minutes or so, press the layers down with the back of a metal spatula again so the top layer gets saturated.  The potatoes are done when the milk is absorbed and the top is very golden brown.  Let rest for about 10 minutes before serving. (Helpful hint:  you may want to put a baking sheet underneath your baking pan, as the milk tends to bubble and make a mess of your oven.)

Garlicky Bread Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes and Sweet Corn

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day lamenting the fact that I have had nothing to post because my summer cooking has been so simple — and really not recipe worthy.  How can I legitimately write a recipe for tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil?  Or chicken on the grill? Or lightly cooked corn with butter and salt? Or cucumbers with a bit of sour cream and mint?

It’s just all so … basic.  When you start with seasonal produce grown down the road and picked the same day, you just really don’t have to do much.  And late summer has all of our favorite stuff — corn, tomatoes, raspberries — which are not exactly challenging to eat up.  Zucchini, on the other hand…

So after my little pep talk, I decided to make something slightly more “recipe worthy.”  A counter full of heirloom tomatoes, a crate of sweet corn, a bunch of basil, and some beautiful artisan sourdough bread were the inspiration — and I’m pretty sure nothing bad can happen when you combine those ingredients.  The key to dishes like this are simple, but high quality ingredients.   Your dish will go from delicious to “out of this world and I feel like I’m in Italy” if you invest in wonderful olive oil and have a great artisan baker for the bread.

This would be perfect for a picnic or party and is still good the next day (the bread in the leftover salad loses its crispness, but my daughter and I didn’t mind and polished the rest off for lunch.)  Pour yourself a large glass of red wine and savor summer.

Garlicky Bread Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes and Sweet Corn

Serves 6-8

1 1/2 loaves of sourdough bread (about 1.5 pounds)
4-5 ears of corn, husked
1 large handful of basil, washed and torn into pieces
4-6 heirloom tomatoes, cored (I used 2 large and 4 smaller ones)
3-4 T good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil (plus 1 T)
1 1/2 T lemon juice
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Coarse sea salt or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

1.  Prepare bread:  Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Remove crusts from bread (reserve crusts for another use) and tear bread into bite size pieces.  Don’t cut it — the rustic nature of the torn bread is perfect.  Toss the bread with 1 T olive oil and salt and pepper.  Place on a baking sheet and toast (stirring occasionally) for about 8-10 minutes until just lightly toasted. Set aside.

2.  Prepare corn:  Cover ears of corn in a large pot with cold water.  Bring water to the boil (as soon as it boils, the corn is done).  Remove and allow to cool for a few minutes.  Cut corn off the cob and set aside.

3.  Prepare dressing:  Mix 3-4 T of olive oil with lemon juice, chopped garlic, a healthy pinch of salt, and freshly ground pepper.

4.  When you are ready to serve, cut tomatoes into wedges or small chunks.  On a large platter or in a bowl, gently mix toasted bread, corn, tomatoes, basil, and dressing.  Taste and adjust with more salt and pepper or additional olive oil if necessary.  Using a vegetable peeler, make large strips of Parmigiano Reggiano and scatter over top of salad.  Serve immediately.

Late Spring Couscous with Spinach, Zucchini, and Pumpkin Seeds

So the school year is wrapping up  and I am firmly planting my head in the sand related to how I am going to a) keep everyone entertained all summer, b) get my paid work done and deliver a large project at the end of August, c) maintain some sanity amidst the fighting siblings and wet bathing suits and towels on the floor, d) have a house that doesn’t look like it needs an intervention, e) keep the plants thriving outside given that hoses are quite possibly the most annoying thing to use ever, and f) do grocery shopping with an entourage who likes to find every possible piece of crap and put it in my cart.

And this all with cocktail time not starting until 5:00 PM?  Can’t we push that up a little?

Oh, but I kid.  I complain a good game, but I am actually looking forward to summer.  Just the idea of relaxing mornings where we aren’t rushing around to get out the door … or the idea of making a pot of coffee and actually being able to drink a few leisurely cups… and not having to think about getting homework done every night… or throwing dinner together at a seriously uncivilized time just to get to soccer practice.  We are all ready for a little vacation.

This dinner was put together on one of those rushed evenings where we were hurrying to get to an end of the school year concert, but I think it would also be a great aprés swimming dinner when you have to divide your energy between hanging up that wet stuff, making a meal, and unpacking the pool bag. To non-parents I know this sounds like a pathetically small task — but you are wrong. Unpacking the pool bag is a terrible task filled with wet stuff, soggy snacks, water bottles, leaky sunscreen, loose change, hats, visors, goggles, Spiderman diving toys, wallets, cell phones, floaties, allergy medicine, and reading material that rarely gets read.

Ahh.  Summer.

Late Spring Couscous with Spinach, Zucchini, and Pumpkin Seeds

Serves 4-6

2-3 cups of spinach, stemmed and chopped
1 small zucchini, trimmed and diced
1 clove garlic
Salt and pepper
Olive Oil
1 1/4 cups water
1 cup couscous
3/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1-2 large green onions, trimmed and finely chopped
4-5 sprigs of oregano (remove leaves from stem and chop)

Dressing:
2/3 cup canola or olive oil
1/3 cup sherry vinegar
1 large clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 t salt
Freshly ground pepper

1.  In a large sauté pan, heat a few teaspoons of olive oil with chopped (1 clove) garlic.  Sauté spinach until wilted.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove to a bowl.

2.  In same pan, heat a bit more oil and sauté diced zucchini until lightly browned and softened.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove to a bowl.

3.  In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil.  Add one tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Add cous cous, stir, and cover pan.  Immediately remove from heat and let stand for about five minutes.  Stir to fluff the cous cous and allow to cool a bit.

4.  Whisk together dressing ingredients.

5.  In a large bowl, combine cooked spinach and zucchini, cooked cous cous, toasted pumpkin seeds, chopped green onions, and chopped oregano.  Re-whisk dressing and pour about 2/3 of it over cous cous mixture, tossing well to combine all ingredients.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.  Salad can be served at room temperature or chilled.  Reserve remaining dressing and add to the salad before serving if necessary (if the cous cous sits in the fridge for a while it will soak up the dressing and may need more.)

Black Beluga Lentil Salad with Ham and Kale

I have been MIA in the Cuizoo world lately.  Sorry about that.  It’s the strangest thing with this stage of life and motherhood (or maybe parenting older children in general) . . . I feel like I never have a minute to rest, yet I never have anything to show for it.  I’m not closing big deals.  I’m not renovating a house.  I’m not planting a garden.  I’m not traveling.

The things that occupy my days are the same old things.  People ask me what’s new and I struggle.  The driving to and from school and activities? The laundry that needs to be put away again? The twenty minute crying benders over the wrong pair of socks or the lack of cookies? The cooking? The grocery shopping? The loading and emptying of the dishwasher? The cleaning up of toys and clothes from the floor? The piles of junk that stack up in the exact same places?

I spend my days in constant do loops and nothing is ever done.

And because of it, I end up mostly frustrated and bored out of my mind.  Is that honest enough for you?

The spring weather helps.  Activities and schedules are changing a bit.  I have gone back to work ten hours per week.  I’m thinking about heirloom tomatoes and swimming pools.  These are good things.  But, damn if I still don’t feel absolutely unproductive and unrewarded.

And it’s the ultimate “it’s not you, it’s me” thing.  The love I have for my kids and husband is beyond anything I have ever known.  I am so truly fortunate in that and I thank the Baby Jesus for them every day.  My rewards come climb in bed with me early in the morning and write me notes telling me how much they love me.  I know that is enough for now and forever.

But what is it about motherhood that makes you feel like you are in Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” silently crying out, simply hoping that the act might break up the monotony and frustration?

Or is that just me?  And beyond, what do you do when you have a leftover ham bone?

Black Beluga Lentil Salad with Ham and Kale

Serve 8-10

3/4 lb. dried Black Beluga Lentils
1 ham bone/ham hock
1 small bunch of kale, stemmed and chopped
1 large leek (or 2 small), trimmed, well washed, and white part thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, trimmed and chopped
1 1/2 cups of cooked ham or prosciutto, chopped
Salt and pepper
2/3 cup of olive oil
1/3 cup sherry vinegar
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 T dijon mustard
Juice and zest of one lemon
Chopped fresh herbs, if desired (thyme or chives would be nice)

1.  Place lentils and ham bone in a large pot and cover with plenty of water.  Bring to a boil and cook for about 20 minutes until lentils are tender.  Strain and remove ham bone.  Place lentils in a large bowl.

2.  In a sauté pan, cook chopped kale in a bit of olive oil over medium heat until wilted.  Add 2-3 T of water, reduce heat, cover, and cook about five minutes longer until tender.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove and place in large bowl with lentils.

3.  In the same pan, sauté chopped leeks for 2-3 minutes in a bit of olive oil until just wilted.  Remove and place in bowl with lentils.

4.  Mix the dressing by combining olive oil, sherry vinegar, garlic, dijon mustard, juice/zest of lemon, and about 1 t of salt and pepper to taste.

5.  Add chopped carrots, celery, and ham to lentils, leeks, and kale.  Toss with dressing and season to taste with additional salt and pepper and chopped fresh herbs if desired.  Can serve slightly warm or make ahead and chill.

Lima Beans with Garlic, Lemon Zest, and Herbs

I hated lima beans as a kid.  They would come out of my grandparents’ garden in buckets and the difficult task of shelling them was a shared responsibility.  However, given the skewed memories of children (and knowing what I now know about how much mothers get done), I probably had to shell about four of them before I decided it was the most impossible thing ever and I needed to go play. Something tells me that my grandmother, my aunts, and my mom probably did a few more than I.

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But I think I hated the lima bean eating even more than the shelling.  This is meant to be of no disrespect to the hands that cooked them, but HOLY SHIT, did you have to cook them so long?  I’m sure that some people like their lima beans really cooked, but I could never get over the mushy, paste-like texture.

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When I started to get involved in our CSA and local farmer’s markets, I decided to give lima beans another try.  I guess the nostalgia of my childhood got the best of me and I was pretty sure there was a reason the adults loved them so much.  And low and behold, I realized that I do indeed love lima beans.  And my kids do too.  But we tend to season them heavily and err on the side of about five minutes of cooking — unless we have a lot of art projects to do.

Lima Beans with Garlic, Lemon Zest, and Herbs

Serves 4-6

4 cups of lima beans, shelled
1/2 red onion, chopped (can use shallots also)
2 T butter
1-2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Zest of two lemons, finely chopped
1 T lemon juice
Chopped Chives
Chopped Mint
Salt and Pepper

1.  Melt one tablespoon of butter in a saute pan, and cook red onion until very soft and slightly caramelized.  Set aside.

2.  Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of salted water to the boil and cook lima beans for 4-5 minutes until just tender.  (Larger beans will obviously take longer than smaller ones.)  Drain the beans and immediately plunge into an ice bath or rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process.  Put beans out on paper towels and dry off a bit.

3.  Reheat red onion over medium high heat and add the additional tablespoon of butter.  Add beans and cook 1-3 minutes, just until hot.  Remove pan from heat.

4.  Stir in chopped garlic, lemon zest, mint and chives (several tablespoons of each), 1 T lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.

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Grilled Mexican Corn

In our house, we love the movie Nacho Libre.  Of course it is silly, but it is also heartwarming and touching in many ways (with a great soundtrack too).  Thankfully, most of it is safe for children because it is one of their favorites — but I am a little liberal when it comes to movies. Every time we see it, I seem to enjoy it more.

In one scene, Steven is eating street corn and it always looked absolutely delicious.  And when he offers it to Nacho, he yells “get that corn outta my face” and swats it away. It has become a standard line in our house anytime corn is served.  Actually, movie lines are a big part of almost everything we do (Hello National Lampoon’s Vacation? We can’t start a trip without some reference to it.  OK, so maybe not that part I linked to though.)

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When we saw that a local vendor started serving grilled corn at our farmer’s market, I immediately told the kids we were going to have Nacho’s “Get That Corn Outta My Face” for lunch that day.  After trying it, my three year old decided we needed to call it “Get That Corn In My Face.”  He devoured it.  And then, somehow, ideas for Mexican Corn or Cuban Corn were everywhere.  I saw recipes in Cooks Illustrated and my hometown newspaper all in the same week.  It is apparently the “Tuscan” anything or the dulce de leche of this summer — somehow everyone decides it’s popular and pretty soon Pizza Hut is serving it.

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I decided I was going to figure out my version of it in time for corn season — even though I generally don’t fuss too much with corn beyond boiling, buttering, and salting.  I never want to risk the fleeting season by wasting a dozen ears on a dumb recipe.  This, however, is worth it.  It is divine.  I will warn you that it is rich — much richer than the corn you are probably used to.  Grilling the corn really enhances the sweetness and the kernels lose a little bit of their pop, making it almost meaty.  The toppings make it even richer — so it’s almost a meal in itself. Definitely serve it with something light.  If I could get my act together, I’d love to have a grilled corn party where I serve nothing but corn in this style with lots of different sauces and toppings.  What a great end of summer party that would be …  served up with appetizers and lots of real margaritas.  And, of course, we’d all have to wear our stretchy pants.

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Grilled Mexican Corn

Makes one dozen ears

Mayo mixture:
1 cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped finely
1/2 t ground cumin
1 t smoked paprika
Zest of one lime
Pinch of chipotle powder (or more to taste if you like it spicy)
1/2 t salt
Freshly ground pepper

Butter mixture:
2 T butter, melted
1/8 t smoked paprika
1/8 t ground cumin
1/8 t salt
Freshly ground pepper

1 dozen ears of sweet corn
1 1/2 cups Queso Fresco, Cotija, or Feta Cheese (in small crumbles)
1 cup cilantro, chopped
12 wedges of lime

1.  Mix ingredients for mayonnaise mixture in medium bowl.  Mix ingredients for melted butter mixture in a small bowl.

2.  Preheat grill and rub ears of corn with melted butter mixture.

3.  Grill corn for about 8 minutes.  (We used indirect heat and grilled the corn for about 8 minutes indirect, turning frequently, followed by about 1-2 minutes over the coals to char the ears lightly.  I have also done this on a low flame gas grill — just be sure you are turning and moving the corn frequently so it doesn’t char too much.  The goal is to have the corn be just cooked with a slight char on it.)  Remove corn from grill and place onto a platter.

4.  Put cheese, cilantro, and lime wedges in separate serving bowls next to platter of corn.  Brush each ear of grilled corn with the mayonnaise mixture.  Then sprinkle with cheese, cilantro, and the juice of a lime wedge.  (You can do the whole platter or allow guests to prepare their own ear of corn.)

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Roasted Beets with Dill

So, I have decided that this will be the post where you get to know the real me.  And it’s a beet recipe.  Are you scared yet?

I am a raging hypochondriac.  I like to blame it on my crazy mind extreme intelligence.  I am like a real live database of stored symptoms and scary horror stories of that one lady who had a strange pain and collapsed with an aneurysm and cancer all at the same time.  I don’t know why I do it to myself.  But I do.  I read too many health-related articles and then store up these little details only to be retrieved when I have a random condition.

Sore calf?  Blood clot on its way to my lungs.

Strange rash and an ear infection?  Antibiotic resistant Staph.

Lower back pain?  Cancer, of course.  Although, I am not entirely sure because I actually have major lower back pain right now and have yet to fully identify my condition.  It might be my culminating thesis project at WebMD.  I will graduate with a degree in “why the hell didn’t you actually become a doctor?”

And can I add something here?  Why is it that when you search on a symptom the first Google result is always from “wrongdiagnosis.com”?  I mean how shitty is that for someone like me?  Or how about the time I was going shoe shopping online and I typed in “nord” thinking that my browser would autofill with “nordstrom.com” (I go there a lot) and it actually took me to the National Organization of Rare Disorders?  Does the interweb realize what it did to me that day?

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So, as I weave my way back to beets, I should tell you that I have a wonderful husband.  He puts up with my craziness and still loves me.  At times he needs to ban me from my computer, but it’s usually for my own good.  And the other really nice thing he always does for me?  He always reminds me when I have eaten beets.  It’s something only your mother or your mate of 13 years can do.  And I love him so much for it.   Because otherwise who knows what path I would go down the next day … but I’m guessing it would have to do with some major gastrointestinal disease.

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And now that we have become intimate with one another, here’s a great and easy recipe for roasted beets.  They are truly delicious and my kids (surprisingly) really enjoy them.   Just make sure you remind them that they ate beets.  But actually, the little girls might think it is pretty cool to have pink pee.

Roasted Beets with Dill

Serves 4

1 bunch of beets (about 5 or 6 medium beets), greens removed and saved for another use
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
1 T butter
1 T chopped fresh dill (other herbs are great too)

1.  Preheat oven to 450 F.  Scrub beets and remove greens, leaving about one inch of stem attached to the beets.  (There is no need to trim the root end, just wash them well).

2. Lay out a large piece of foil and place beets in the center.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Wrap up foil around beets into a small packet.  Make sure it is wrapped tightly and sealed well.

3.  Place packet on a small baking tray (just so it doesn’t leak) and put in preheated oven.  Bake for about 45 minutes until a knife inserted in the largest beet meets no resistance.  Obvioulsy, smaller beets take less time, larger more…  If they are not done, simply wrap them back up and cook a few more minutes.

4.  Remove from oven and put one beet on a paper towel.  Trim ends (you can keep stem ends on if you like, but I find that soil and grit get trapped in there easily).  Using another paper towel, rub off beet skins and discard.  They should come off without any trouble.  Repeat with remaining beets.  Put whole beets in a bowl until ready to serve and cover with foil.

5.  When ready to serve, slice or quarter beets into the size you like (or leave whole if they are small).  Toss with butter, additional salt and pepper to taste, and fresh dill.

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Rhubarb Applesauce

When I picked up our CSA share yesterday, I got another bunch of rhubarb to join two others in my fridge. We like rhubarb, so there is no good reason why we haven’t used it. I guess between weekend travel and having no time to make a dessert (which is how we prefer it, obviously), it has just started to pile up. I wanted to do something slightly more savory, which is tough with rhubarb because it is very tart and needs some sugar. I settled on the idea of something “applesaucey” and it was a hit with our grilled pork. It would be great with some strawberries added in (if you like the strawberry-rhubarb combo and are willing to part with your strawberries — but I’m not there yet.)

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I added fresh ginger because it marries with the rhubarb so nicely, but the kids probably would have enjoyed it more without it. There were yelps from my almost three year old son about it being a little “spicy” — but I have a hard time judging that because he thinks rosemary is spicy. His other beliefs include: 1) Don’t trust anything with a tongue (“lickers” as he calls them) based on a fear of dogs who lick him, 2) The best parts of being a grown up are being able to watch Harry Potter movies and touch the ceiling, and 3) The purest form of evil is the garbage disposal. So, take or leave his cooking advice.

I sweetened this with a bit of honey (not to be confused with a bit o’honey) and it worked well. If you are making this for a more mature audience (one not afraid of lickers), I think it would be wonderful with some freshly chopped chives or rosemary.

Rhubarb Applesauce

Serves 4

4-5 cups of rhubarb, cut into 1 inch pieces
3-4 cups of apples, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped
1/2 cup of honey
1/2 cup of water
1 T freshly chopped ginger
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of cardamom
Freshly chopped herbs (if desired)

Combine all ingredients (except herbs) in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Simmer for 20-30 minutes until completely softened and the rhubarb is falling apart.  If your apples are still too chunky, you can use a potato masher to break them up.  Serve as a side dish or with grilled meat.

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