Tag Archives: easy

No Brainer Blueberry Ice Cream

For the first time in many years, I missed strawberry season.  In my defense, the season fizzled out pretty quickly this year.  But the reason doesn’t really matter when there is no strawberry jam to fill the freezer for the entire winter.  It just seemed that between travel and schedules, I couldn’t get a flat when they were available and by the next week they were just done.  I hate that.

So, I’ve been going through the freezer and assessing what is left from last season.  Luckily, we’ve still got quite a few blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries.  Has anyone ever made jam from frozen strawberries?  If so, let me know how it turned out.  I might give it a try so I don’t have to break down and buy grocery store strawberries for jam — which just seems absolutely sacrilegious.  I think I’d rather just live with raspberry and peach jam than have grocery store strawberry jam.

We still have a ton of frozen blueberries and no one here is a big fan of blueberry jam.  So, I decided to make up a batch of blueberry ice cream.  I tweaked two different recipes/styles and the resulting ice cream is very easy and delicious.  The first recipe is from Epicurious and it is a quick and easy method that doesn’t require a custard base.  The second is from the latest Cooks Illustrated (paywall for recipes), where they discuss how to prevent your ice cream from being too “icy.”

The basic idea is to substitute some corn syrup for part of the sugar and then make sure the base is super chilled before churning.  If you don’t have time to give it a good chilling (4-6 hours or ideally overnight), they have a great method where you take part of the base and put it in a separate container in the freezer (while the rest chills in the fridge).  When you are ready to make the ice cream, take the frozen part of the base and mix it in the refrigerated base — it acts like a big ice cube of ice cream.  Stir it in to melt into the base and then it will be cold enough to put in the ice cream maker.

The resulting ice cream is rich and creamy, but not at all icy (which can happen easily with fruit-based ice creams).  You’ll notice it’s not exactly low fat, but it is also not the kind of ice cream you are going to eat a big bowl of.  A small scoop of this and you’d be entirely satisfied.   It highlights the perfectly simple flavors of summer that require absolutely no lily gilding.

No Brainer Blueberry Ice Cream

I’m sure it would also be good with other berries, but I’d probably strain the base if using raspberries of blackberries to get the seeds out.

Yields about 1 quart

2 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/8 t salt
1 cup half and half
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 t vanilla extract

1.  In a medium saucepan, mix blueberries, sugar, corn syrup, and salt.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for 5-7 minutes.

2.  Place blueberries in a blender or food processor with half and half.  Blend or process until very smooth (allowing any steam to escape from blueberries by keeping the feed tube out of the processor or keeping the lid slightly off the blender).  Remove and place in a wide freezer-proof container (like a square pyrex).  Stir in heavy cream and vanilla extract.  Chill for 4-6 hours or overnight.  (To ensure the mixture is super chilled, which is imperative, you can take a cup or so of the ice cream base and freeze it.  When ready to make the ice cream, stir the frozen “ice cube” into the base until melted.

3.  Process in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.  Mine took about 20 minutes.  Serve immediately for a soft serve texture or transfer to a container and freeze for a harder texture.  (Let soften a few minutes before scooping.)

 

Sesame Crusted Fish Tacos with Avocado Salad and Slaw

So, here we have meal #2 from the Cuizoo Arsenal.  I’m pretty sure I won’t be getting one done per day, but I’ll try to keep these coming as frequently as possible.  I know I’ll be cooking tonight, but once the weekend hits, I don’t make any promises as cooking cuts into my drinking time.  I kid.  (I should mention though that one small bottle of white wine has lasted me *all* week, which is some sort of healthy living record for me.  And no, I haven’t switched to bourbon in an attempt to take it easy on wine.)

Today we are going to talk about tacos.  They are generally a huge kid favorite and when it comes to flexibility, anything in a wrap is about as good as it gets.  Let’s first discuss the shell.  I, for one, don’t really like grocery store taco shells because they just break and make a mess.  When I came across this lightly fried/soft shell method for tacos a while back, I began to enjoy them again.  Basically, you soften a corn tortilla in a bit of oil in a saute pan, fill it with toppings and cheese, fold it over, and let it crisp a bit before flipping it and then crisping the other side.  What you end up with is a crispy (but not crunchy) taco shell with warm fillings and melted cheese.  It’s sort of a cross between a quesadilla and a taco.  This all being said, if you like regular taco shells or if you want to do soft tacos with flour tortillas, it’s totally up to you. One thing to add here is that you should always have some corn or flour tortillas in your freezer (and regular taco shells or tostado shells — which I do love — in your pantry).  It is a no-brainer of a meal.

Second, you need some protein.  Obviously, the choices are pretty obvious here.  A can or two of white or black beans heated up with some garlic and spices and mashed is fantastic in a taco (and about as fast as you can get for a dinner).  Grilled chicken or ground beef are the old stand-bys.  Sauteed veggies with cheese is great too.  You can also do a combination of several proteins and let everyone pick their favorites.  But it seems that the whole world is gaga over fish tacos right now (and I can’t say I blame them), so that’s what we did last night.  On the subject of the fish, I will add that the sesame crusted method I used makes a great and easy stand alone entree with a simple salad or vegetables. You can also add some bread crumbs to the sesame seeds if you like.

Third, you need some condiments.  The easy ones are salsa and sour cream.  Not much more difficult is making some basic guacamole.  When I do that, I simply mash one or two ripe avocados with a chopped garlic clove, salt and pepper, some cumin, and lime juice.  With last night’s meal, I had some tomatoes and cucumbers left over from the previous night, so I just chopped those up with the avocado for more of an avocado salad.  As the veggie or an additional condiment, I like to serve some form of cole slaw or salad greens with tacos because they are just as good inside the taco as on the outside. Find a good hot sauce for the grown-ups at the table and you are basically done.

Now, for variations that we love:  Spicy Mashed Black Beans with a Creamy Red Cabbage Slaw and Queso Fresco or Feta cheese — that is one of my favorites; Grilled BBQ Chicken (or leftover chicken) with Creamy Slaw and Cheddar Cheese; Steak with Caramelized Onions and a bit of Blue Cheese and Balsamic Greens; Fajita style with Grilled Chicken and Sauteed Red Peppers and Onions; or for a VERY quick dinner, just cheese and whatever else you may have leftover or in the freezer (guaranteed to be faster than any fast food).

As for the $15 limit, I might be slightly over because the fish itself was about $10.  But clearly you can make this meal just as easily with chicken or beans and cut that cost dramatically.  So, I’ll let it slide.

Sesame Crusted Fish Tacos with Avocado Salad and Slaw

Makes 8-10 tacos (enough for 4-6 people)

1 pound of mild white fish (I used cod)
1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds (you can buy them pretoasted in Asian markets)
1 T butter
Salt, Pepper, Smoked Paprika or Chipotle Powder
10 – 6 inch corn tortillas
4-6 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
Sour Cream
Salsa
Hot Sauce

Avocado Salad
1 ripe avocado
1/2 cucumber
10-12 grape or cherry tomatoes
Onion
Fresh cilantro from one bunch
1 garlic clove
1/2 of a lime
1/4 t cumin
Fresh cilantro
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Slaw
A small Napa or Chinese Cabbage (or any type of cabbage will work)
Fresh cilantro from one bunch
Olive Oil
1/2 of a lime
A bit of orange juice

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Melt 1 T butter and mix with sesame seeds.  Add to that 1/4 t salt, pepper, and smoked paprika to season (Chipotle Powder if you like it spicier).  Place fish on a parchment line baking sheet.  With a sharp knife, cut it into 3/4 inch slices, but leave whole filet in one piece (See pic above). Pat sesame seed mixture all over top.  Bake for 12-13 minutes until just opaque.

2.  While the fish is baking, mix avocado salad.  Halve, peel, and remove pit from avocado.  Chop it into a medium-sized dice and place in bowl.  Halve the cucumber lengthwise, remove seeds with a spoon, and chop into a medium-sized dice.  Quarter the cherry or grape tomatoes. Finely chop a small piece of onion to make about 2 T.  Chop about 1 T of cilantro.  Finely chop the clove of garlic.  Mix all of the above in the bowl.   Add the juice of 1/2 of a lime and a drizzle of olive oil.  Season with 1/4 t of salt, pepper, 1/4 t of cumin, and a bit of Smoked Paprika or Chipotle Powder.   Set aside.

3.  Prepare the slaw.  Cut the cabbage in half and remove the core.  Thinly slice 1/2 of the cabbage and place in a bowl (reserve other half for a different use).  Chop about 1/4 cup of cilantro and add to cabbage.  Drizzle with about 1/4 cup of olive oil, the juice of 1/2 lime, and a bit of orange juice to taste.  Season with 1/2 t of salt and pepper.  Play with the dressing if needed, adding more citrus, salt, or olive oil if necessary. Set aside.

4.  To prepare the tacos:  heat a bit of olive oil in a large saute pan.  Take one corn tortilla and place it flat into the pan, spinning it a bit to coat it with olive oil.  After about 10-20 seconds, it should be flexible (if it’s not, your shells may crack).  Add one or two slices of the baked fish and about 1 T of shredded cheese.  Gently fold the taco in half and hold with a spatula for a few seconds to make sure it stays folded.  Repeat with another taco (I usually do two at a time).  When the tacos are lightly golden on one side, flip and cook on the other side.  Remove to an oven safe platter and place in oven to stay warm.  Repeat with remaining tacos.

5.  To serve, put a bit of the avocado salad inside the taco and serve with slaw, sour cream, salsa, and hot sauce.  The slaw is also good inside the taco as a condiment.

Crispy Calamari Chopped Salad

Mark Bittman has me thinking again.  He has a way of doing that.  After reading his latest NYT piece, “Chop, Fry, Boil:  Eating for One, or 6 Billion,” I once again realize that people who like to cook have a way of making things way too complicated for those who don’t (Bittman is not one of those people). We teach using recipes, when we should actually be teaching with models and systems.  Whenever I talk to someone about cooking a meal, it’s always the same complaint:  “I can usually follow the recipes, but I have no idea how to pull the meal together and time things correctly.”  And that’s the problem  — getting a handle on the bigger picture is truly the hardest part of cooking when you are learning.  But recipes don’t help with this unless they are written in a “non-mise en place” manner.  (For the non-French speaking, mise en place means simply to have everything in its place and ready to go — chopped, toasted, sauteed, etc. — before cooking.)

So, my plan for the next few weeks is to teach 7 basic meals using a systems focus.  We will talk about soups, curries, pizzas, salads, rice and beans, tacos, and stir fries.  The goal is to give you a meal for each day of the week that you can confidently play with using the ingredients you have on hand.  The meals will be cheap (less than $15 to serve 4 people), easy (done in 30-60 minutes), healthy (whole grain and light on meat), family friendly, and flexible for many types of ingredients.  Because once you know the method for a stir fry or a hearty soup, you can rework it endlessly and never get bored with it.  And the “recipes” may not look like my normal ones (and may seem longer because of it).  I will try to focus on listing the ingredients, but not indicating how to prepare them in the ingredients list (e.g. I won’t write “2 onions, finely chopped”).  Instead, I will work the preparation into the directions so you can save time by chopping onions while water is coming to the boil, etc.  Mise en place is necessary for a restaurant kitchen, but it’s not always realistic for the home cook who is trying to get dinner on the table while doing third grade homework with children hanging off his/her legs.

I think by giving you models and showing you how I would actually cook a meal like this with logical instructions, rather than recipe notation, you can increase the repertoire of meals you cook on a regular basis and start to cook based on intuition rather than following a recipe word for word.  And when you get to that place, I can almost guarantee that you will begin to enjoy cooking more because it becomes an expression of creativity and more of a challenge.  So, our first recipe in the “Cuizoo Arsenal” is a Crispy Calamari Chopped Salad.

A main course salad like this needs only a few components:  salad greens or cabbage, some protein (fish, chicken, beans, or tofu all work), extra chopped veggies, some nuts or seeds, fruit or cheese if you like, and a dressing.  Use the veggies that you have, or the ones that your family loves the most.  We like chopped salads with a creamy dressing, but feel free to use a vinaigrette too.  Making your own dressing takes all of 1 or 2 minutes and is so much more flavorful and healthy than a bottled variety (Here’s my recipe for Balsamic Vinaigrette which you can leave as is or tweak with herbs, mustard, etc.).  In this salad, I lightly fried our calamari, but it would be equally good sauteed or grilled if you don’t feel like frying.  And this easily feeds 4-6 people for less than $15.

Variations I could easily envision would include a Leftover BBQ Chicken Salad with greens, thawed corn, avocado, tomatoes, Jack cheese,and a creamy cilantro dressing; a Turkey, Dried Cranberry, and Pecan Salad with greens, carrots, celery, chopped apples, white cheddar cheese, and an Apple Cider Vinaigrette; a Vegetarian Greek Salad with greens, chick peas, roasted red peppers, green onions, feta cheese and a basic Greek Vinaigrette; or a Pizza Salad with greens, peppers, tomatoes, torn basil, some crisped prosciutto, rustic croutons, mozzarella, and a Basil Vinaigrette.  The key is to take flavor combinations that you enjoy and convert them into a salad.

I’m looking forward to this challenge and I hope it gets you in the kitchen more in 2011!

Crispy Calamari Chopped Salad

Serves 4-6

3/4 pound of calamari (squid) bodies (Not tentacles —Here’s a before and after pic)
1/2 cup of pumpkin seeds
Large bunch of salad greens (or enough to fill a large salad bowl or spinner)
1 cucumber
1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes
2-3 radishes
1 lemon
3/4 cup of corn starch or arrowroot starch (or flour if you like)
Smoked Paprika (or Chipotle Powder if you want it spicier)
Salt and Pepper

Thousand Island Dressing:
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup low fat plain yogurt
1 T low fat milk
1 T pickle relish
1 T finely chopped onion
1 T chopped parsley
1/4 t salt
Dash of cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
Lemon Juice

1.  Preheat the oven (or toaster oven) to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Clean squid bodies by making sure there are no remnants of cartilage, etc. inside the pouch.  Slice in thin rings and toss with juice of 1/2 of a lemon, salt and pepper, and a bit of smoked paprika.  Let marinate while you prep the veggies and toast the pumpkin seeds.

2.  Put pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet and toast for 10-12 minutes in preheated oven.

2.  While pumpkin seeds toast, place salad greens in a salad spinner or bowl to wash.  Meanwhile, wash cucumber and slice in half lengthwise.  Using a spoon, scrape out the cucumber middle to remove the seeds.  Cut the halves into quarters lengthwise and cross cut to make bite sized pieces.  Wash the tomatoes and set aside. Wash and trim radishes, quarter them, and chop into bite sized pieces.  Remove the salad greens from their rinsing water, and spin or towel dry. Tear dry salad greens into bite sized pieces if necessary and place in a large salad bowl with chopped cucumbers and tomatoes.

3.  Finely chop onion and parsley for dressing.  Make the dressing by combining mayo, yogurt, milk, relish, onion, parsley, salt, cayenne pepper, and black pepper.  Thin with a little leftover lemon juice if needed.  Place in refrigerator until you are ready to serve.

4.  Preheat a large saute pan with a thin layer of olive oil in it over medium high heat. On one plate (oven safe), place a double thickness of paper towels and set aside. On another plate, mix cornstarch (or arrowroot) with some salt, pepper, and a bit of smoked paprika or chipotle powder.   Take about 1/3 of the calamari rings and dredge in the cornstarch or arrowroot mixture.  Shake off excess and lightly fry in the preheated saute pan.  They will take only about 1-2 minutes per side.  When they start to look just golden, flip them with tongs and cook about 30 seconds more. (Don’t overcook your seafood!)  Remove with a slotted spoon and place on paper-towel lined plate and stick it in your still warm oven (shouldn’t be on, just warm from toasting the seeds).  Repeat with the remaining calamari until it is all fried (if you need to, add a bit more oil to the pan).  When it is done, remove the warming plate from the oven and toss the calamari with a bit of salt and more Smoked Paprika or Chipotle Powder.

5.  Assemble the salad by tossing the vegetables with most of the prepared dressing (reserving about 1/4 cup).  Mix in pumpkin seeds and either place on a platter or leave in a large bowl.  Top with Fried Calamari and serve with additional dressing if needed.

Rum Balls

I planned to write this post detailing how it included my favorite things — rum and balls, of course.  And then I was going to integrate how appropriate Rum Balls are during the holiday season because of the infamous Pete Schweddy’s Balls.  And then I planned to go into the typical territory that we all need alcohol to get through the holiday season with the stress of busy schedules, travel, not enough money, and families that drive us crazy.  And don’t forget the dinner table arguments with Republicans.  (I kid because I love, Dad.)

But I’m not going to do that.

Because in the last three weeks, our family and friends have been crushed by loss.  A dear family friend and the mother of one of our best friends lost her battle with pancreatic cancer.  A friend lost her best friend to a heart condition.  We (and some of our dearest, old friends) lost a friend we went to high school with when he died of a sudden heart attack at 38 years old (with a wife and two boys, 10 and 7).  And now, another friend has lost her 44 year old brother (with a 2 year old and a baby on the way) to a sudden heart attack also.

So my thought is this:  please take the next few days and embrace those around you.  Tell them how much you love them and how much they mean to you.  Don’t argue over whether someone bought a cheap bottle of wine.  Don’t worry that the presents aren’t wrapped yet (Cuizoo, I’m talking to you.)  If the pine needles haven’t been adequately vacuumed before the company comes, ignore it.  I have distinct memories of being a little girl with pine needles on the floor and in all of my presents.  It’s OK and it hasn’t scarred me or anything.  If you didn’t get the last two batches of cookies made, skip it.  Against all of my normal advice, go to the store and buy something pre-made.  I’m buying a deliciously non-organic, non-pastured, antibiotic-fed Honeybaked Ham for Christmas Eve.  So there!

As I was passing a fellow parent at school drop off today, she remarked that Christmas is only magical for kids because they don’t have to do any of the work.  True enough, I guess.  But we need to step outside all of the work and find the magic in simply being together, as contrived as that might sound.  We need to cut ourselves a few breaks and not hold one another to insane standards that aren’t attainable.  We need to let go of anger and silly bickering.

We need to think about children who have lost parents and remember that the only thing our kids truly care about is that we are together (even if they claim they are pissed about not getting a Wii).  We need to hold our siblings and parents and grandparents a little tighter, knowing that this ride doesn’t last forever.  Some of us have been taught these lessons already.  Some of us will learn soon enough.

So, Merry Christmas and Happy 2011.  Please hug those who make you feel safe.  Tell them that you love them.  Thank them for all they do for you.  And raise a glass to those we have lost too soon.

Rum Balls

Makes about 3 dozen

2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs, from a 9 oz. box (I do this in the food processor)
2 cups toasted pumpkin seeds, finely chopped (or other nuts … I do this in the processor too)
4 t. light corn syrup
Pinch of salt
2 generous shot glasses of good quality rum (I used a pure cane sugar rum)
1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar

1.  Combine vanilla wafer crumbs, chopped pumpkin seeds, corn syrup, and salt.  Stir in rum.  If mixture is too dry, you may need a bit more rum.  It should be clumpy, so you can roll into balls.

2.  Put powdered sugar on a plate.

3.  Taking about 1 heaping teaspoon of the rum ball mixture, roll into a ball using the palms of your hands.  Drop into powdered sugar and coat well.  Place onto a parchment lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining rum ball mixture.  When finished, place rum balls in a ziploc bag and store in the refrigerator.  They are best if made up ahead and allowed to “ripen” for a few days (my grandmother’s words).   (This is the only time you want balls to be ripe.)

Apple and Fontina Monte Cristo

When my husband is traveling on business (which seems to be way too much lately), I usually keep the cooking to a minimum.  I hate having a big mess to clean up when I am the only one to clean it.  And combined with homework, baths, and bedtime routines, sometimes it just seems like more than I can handle — especially when he is on a long trip.  Single parents have my ultimate admiration.  If parenting with help is exhausting, parenting solo sucks your every will to live.

On those nights, we usually do some simple pasta or soup.  A big pot of soup made at the beginning of the week can feed you for many days.  I love making chicken noodle soup — by the end of the week, the noodles have soaked up so much of the delicious broth that they are a meal on their own.  But our other favorite thing in Daddy’s absence is breakfast for dinner — eggs, omelets, pancakes — you name it.  The kids are guaranteed to love it and the cooking/cleaning load is much easier.

Lately, the kids have fallen in love with Monte Cristo sandwiches — a great combination of a grilled cheese and french toast.  It’s just as easy as the two component dishes and can be mixed and matched with lots of different fillings and dips.  Today we made Apple and Fontina Monte Cristos, but you could easily add ham or turkey, use any kind of cheese, and dip in anything from maple syrup to grainy mustard to whipped cream.  Quite honestly, I think you could make a version of this for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, or dessert.

You might even be able to get through a whole week of travel with nothing but Monte Cristos.  Next time he goes to California, I guess.

Apple and Fontina Monte Cristo

Makes 2-3 sandwiches

Note:  Simple dishes like this are best with simple, fresh ingredients.  In my case, I am extremely lucky to have the wonderful Gemelli Bakery as my challah source.  Use the best bread and cheese you can find.

Half loaf of Challah or Brioche Bread, sliced about 3/4 inches thick
6 ounces Fontina Cheese, thinly sliced
1 apple, thinly sliced
2 eggs
1/4 cup of milk
1/8 t cinnamon
Dash of salt and pepper
Butter
Maple Syrup
Grainy Mustard

1.  Whisk together eggs, milk, cinnamon, and salt/pepper in a wide pasta bowl or deep plate.

2.  Place one slice of bread on cutting board.  Make one layer of Fontina slices.  Follow with one layer of apple slices.  Top with another piece of bread.  Repeat with remaining sandwiches.  If you like, you can spread some grainy mustard right on the bread before cooking (my favorite, not the kids).

3.  Melt about a tablespoon of butter in a saute pan or griddle on medium low heat. Hold the sandwich together carefully and dip it into the egg batter on both sides.  Make sure it is coated nicely, but not too saturated.  Repeat with remaining sandwiches.

4.  Place sandwiches in saute pan or griddle and cook until golden brown.  Flip, press sandwich down a bit, and cook until golden brown on second side.  If your bread is extra thick, you may need to keep flipping for awhile in order to get the cheese to melt (the frequent flipping prevents the bread from becoming too brown).

5.  Remove from pan, cut in half, and serve with maple syrup or grainy mustard on the side.

6.  Pour yourself a tall glass of wine to get through the rest of the evening.

Crispy Salami and Pesto Tart

We are recovering from a month of hard core party weekends.  Living in a college town with big time football is always fun, but it’s sort of like having a vacation home in Florida — everyone wants to visit and it’s always time to imbibe.  I am not complaining because we love having family and friends around, but I will say that my liver might be crying “uncle.”  There are only so many mornings you can wake up slightly hungover and have to face a Bloody Mary at 9:00 AM — while your young children are screaming crazy demands like “I want breakfast.”

Beyond that, the pace is furious to get the shopping done, the sheets changed, the house cleaned, and the liquor cabinet stocked.   And then after the weekend is over, your house looks like a tornado has blown through, you have not caught up on any household chores, you are exhausted, and you basically have to get everything back in shape for the next weekend.

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So, cooking has not been first on my list lately.  I wish I could say that I have been making big pots of tailgate chili or lovely brunches served in the stadium parking lot, but it has been more like takeout wings, deli trays, barbecue chips, and store bought pasta salad.  I am *trying* to learn to recognize my limits and respect my sanity.

This weekend we had a party to go to and I offered to bring an appetizer.  The only problem was that my brother came into town the night before and we were all up way too late drinking rum cocktails with coconut water (he promised me it would stave off a hangover — so I can’t figure out whether I drank too many or too few).  Long and short of it, I was not feeling overly energetic the next day and made this tart with items that were all hanging around the pantry and freezer.  It turned out well, so I thought I’d share because it was so easy.

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And if I can ever get myself out from under the dirty dishes (my dishwasher is broken again — yeah!), children, laundry, Star Wars figures, and empty bottles for recycling, I might try to get back in the kitchen and cook something that doesn’t come with directions.

Salami and Pesto Tart

(Makes a 12×15 inch tart)

1 package of puff pastry, thawed (2 sheets)
8 oz. cream cheese (1 package), softened to room temperature
4 oz. pesto (mine was from the freezer)
1 egg
4 oz. thinly sliced salami, sliced into thin strips (prosciutto or other cured hams would be great too)
1 T olive oil
Salt and Pepper
2-3 T pine nuts
Parmesan Cheese, shaved into strips
Fresh basil, chopped
Heavy cream or beaten egg (to brush pastry with)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Unfold one sheet of puff pastry onto a sheet of parchment paper and roll out into a 12×15 inch rectangle.  Take remaining sheet of pastry and slice into one inch strips.  Lay strips on perimeter of the 12×15 inch rectangle (to make it look like a picture frame).  Prick lower rectangle all over with fork (don’t prick sides).  Bake pastry for 15 minutes, pricking center rectangle with a fork if it puffs too much.  The goal is to keep the center of the rectangle flat, while allowing the sides to puff.

2.  Meanwhile, with an electric mixer whip the cream cheese with the pesto until well combined.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and add in one egg.  Mix well.

3.  In a small saute pan, heat 1 T olive oil over medium heat and add salami strips.  Fry until strips have rendered some fat and are slightly crisp.  Drain on paper towels.

4.  When pastry is done, remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.  Spread cream cheese/pesto mixture into the center portion of the pastry (just not on the “frame” portion of the pastry).  Sprinkle salami strips, and then pine nuts all over cream cheese/pesto mixture.  Brush “frame” portion of pastry with some cream or beaten egg.  Bake tart 15-20 minutes until golden.

5.  Remove from oven and cool completely.  Scatter parmesan shavings and basil all over.  Cut into squares and serve.

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Slow Roasted Plum Tomato Sauce

As much as I love to cook, there are some kitchen tasks that I find absolutely awful.  Emptying the dishwasher is one.  It is one of those tasks that I simply hate.  It probably has something to do with the fact that all of my cabinets and drawers are overflowing with various cooking tools, serving pieces, bakeware, and appliances — and every time I empty the dishwasher I have to unstack all of my leaning towers of cookware to find homes for things.  If everything in my kitchen is clean at one time, I literally have no room for it all.  Thankfully that doesn’t happen often.

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My other hated tasks include anything that is fussy — like peeling pearl onions, pitting cherries, or stuffing little new potatoes or cherry tomatoes for appetizers (Which I have done exactly one time each.  Never again.)  This list most definitely includes peeling tomatoes.  I love buying lots of extra tomatoes in the summer to freeze or make sauce, but I hate the thought of spending an afternoon in the kitchen scoring, parboiling, coring, and peeling tomatoes.

I usually do it because the thought of not having those tomatoes for my soups and sauces all winter long is too terrible.  And let’s face it, for many preparations you just don’t want little tomato skin sticks in your recipes.  So I suck it up and while I’m doing it, I try to channel my grandmother who would process tomatoes for what seemed like weeks on end every summer.  The shelves in her basement were lined with the literal fruits of her labor.

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But whenever I get a chance, I do everything in my power to skip that step.  This year,  I wanted to try a slow roasted sauce that didn’t force me to process all those extra pounds of tomatoes.  I was really pleased with the result — the skins almost melt away after hours in the slow oven and once pureed, you’d never know they were there.  And feel free to flavor the sauce any way you see fit.  Obviously you could use a lot more herbs, add other vegetables (like eggplant, fresh fennel, or zucchini, etc.), cook ground beef, veal, or sausage in the final product for meat sauce, or go the fra diavlo route and spice it up with red pepper flakes or chiles.

All you need is a really big roasting pan (like what you would use for a big turkey), lots of time in the oven with the occasional stir, and a blender or immersion blender.  And I promise, you won’t burn one finger trying to peel a hot tomato.

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Slow Roasted Plum Tomato Sauce with Basil

Makes about 3 or 4 large jars ( or 10-12 cups of sauce)

1-2 large onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1 head of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
2-4 sweet peppers, stemmed and roughly chopped
8-10 pounds of Roma Tomatoes (that was about 36 large ones for me), cored and halved
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup of honey
1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar
3 t sea salt
1-2 t freshly ground pepper
2 t dried oregano
1 t fennel seeds
2 bay leaves
3-4 T red wine
Additional Salt, Pepper, and Sugar/Honey to taste
2 big handfuls of basil, chopped

1.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.  In a very large roasting pan, combine the onion, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, olive oil, honey, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, oregano, fennel, and bay leaves.

2.  Roast tomato mixture in preheated oven for 5-6 hours, stirring every hour or so.  Put your feet up and read a book while your house starts to smell delicious. Or more likely, clean your house and fold some laundry.

3.  Remove from oven and let cool slightly.  Remove bay leaves.  Puree with immersion blender or in traditional blender (cool mixutre a little more if using a traditional blender and be very careful to keep lid off slightly and covered with a towel so the steam can escape).

4.  Add red wine and taste for seasoning –adding more salt or pepper if needed.  And if your tomatoes are on the acidic side, you might need to add more honey or sugar.

5.  Stir in chopped basil and serve as is or put in containers to freeze.

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