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Jake O-K!

My kids have a saying for foods that are safe for their dairy-and egg-allergic cousin to eat… Jake OK!

As much of Christmas dinner as possible will be Jake-OK but I was struggling with the baked squash and pesto gratin. As it is Winter Wonderland-ing outside to the tune of 8-20″ (YAY for SNOW, SKIING, SNOWSHOEING, and SLEDDING!) I’m here doing a lot of cooking prep for the holiday this week. For those not blessed with either being born Italian or a Foodie, Pesto is a basil-garlic-nut-cheese paste that is often used as a sauce for pasta. Anyway – after combing the net and my own recipes for ideas I created this one and is is YUMMY *and* Jake O-K, and I wanted to write it down before I forgot it. Since Christmas is the season of giving, I’m giving it to you, too. I intended it to be all parsley but I mistakenly grabbed cilantro instead of parsley at the store this morning and just went with it.

Parsley-Cilantro Pesto

1/2 bunch of flat leaf Italian parsley leaves, washed and picked over

1/2 bunch cilantro leaves, washed and picked over

3 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered

1/2-3/4 cup shelled walnuts

kosher salt

1″ piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 tablespoon orange zest

1 slice of good-quality bread (1/2 a slice it they are large slices), crust removed and bread crumbled

good quality extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process for a few seconds. With processor running, pour in the oil in a slow, steady stream until a smooth paste forms. You’ll need to scrape the sides down a few times. I’d guess I used about 2-3 tablestoons of oil but I go by look/taste/feel more than precise measurements.


p.s.: You’re on your own, kid, with your daddy’s scalloped potatoes…there’s only so much I can do.

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Taste This!

From the folks at VeryGoodTaste comes this foodie meme…

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at http://www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare

5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue

8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich

14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jello
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat

42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut

50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake

68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers

89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab

93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox

97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee

100. Snake

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Well — our first full day in NH was Saturday July 5 and it’s Opening Day for the Wilmot Farmers’ Market. We can WALK there – I am SO excited about that. The kids asked if they could take plastic bags to pick up trash along the way (!!!) and off we went. Sadly, we filled a bag of trash on our short walk (Note to our local beer-drinkers: Find a trashcan. ps: life’s too short to drink bad beer…Ditch the Bud. Yours, MM.)

Being this far north we’re just starting the summer harvest season. We scoped out the yummies and planned supper. We bought: kale, garlic scapes, and leaf lettuce from Two Mountain Farm, and the most gorgeous semi-boneless leg of lamb from Fruit Cake Farm. At Autumn Harvest Farm we picked up some potted basil, thyme and rosemary to transplant (since I hadn’t had a chance to get any started back in Maryland) and a dozen eggs that were soooooo good. The kids fell in love with honey sticks from Cutting Farm, too. I was a little taken by the abundance and quality of the food — next thing you know I was buying an $8 loaf of french bread. Don’t get me wrong – it was great bread but even in DC and NY you don’t pay $8/loaf for the best, freshest, most authentic Italian and French bread there is (except for the stuff in, well, Italy and France.) Thankfully I found more reasonably priced bread at another local market.

I am really looking forward to Local Supper Nights each Saturday as I am calling them.

The following Tuesday we celebrated being partly unpacked (yeah, I know — any excuse for a party but we needed a pick me up) and I made a fresh (and local!) lob-stah dinner, complete with fresh (and local!) corn and a salad of leaf lettuce, pine nuts, fresh goat cheese from Twig Farm dressed with some gorgeous peppery olive oil my mom brought back from Tuscany last Fall, sea salt and fresh ground pepper and a squirt of fresh lemon juice. It was fabulous until I realized our nutcrackers were at my friend Deb’s (left behind at the last crab feast on the Chesapeake) and we had no butter. Ah well — we muddled through and I had the best leftovers ever…a fresh lobster roll for dinner the next night.

We’re still drowning in boxes but some rooms are more or less unpacked which gives us a respite. The kids are adjusting beautifully — for which I am so thankful — and we’re looking forward to our trip to Maryland at the end of August for A’s birthday and my girlfriend Renee’s Labor Day Bash. Working with the relo company to sell the Maryland house is proving to be an absolute nightmare (they say Sirva, we say Satan…) but this too shall pass…eventually. The latest bugaboo is that when we repaired some drywall in the basement we apparently disturbed some mold spores so we now have “bad air” which must be remediated and reinspected by July 31. Or else they won’t buy the house. Sigh. Well, we’ll get through it, I’m sure…

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C is for Cooking, Part II

How cool – I had a couple of requests for this recipe so here it is. I made it for D’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, and parents for Easter this year and it went over really well – I hope you enjoy it, too.

Pork Tenderloin with Pears in Balsamic Reduction

6 fresh sage leaves
1 TBS fresh rosemary
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste pork tenderloin
olive oil
1
large red onion (sliced into medium size pieces)
3 r
ed bartlett or bosc pears (sliced into medium size pieces)
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup apple juice
2 shots port wine – either ruby port or tawny

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Very finely chop the sage and rosemary, add some salt and pepper, and rub it all over the meat. In a large, deep frying pan, brown the meat on both sides in some olive oil over medium high heat at first then turn it down to medium (be careful not to burn the herbs or they’ll be bitter). Add the onion. When the onion starts to wilt a bit, throw in the pears. In a mixing bowl, combine the balsamic vinegar, honey, apple juice, and port wine. Add this mixture to the pan. Leave uncovered to let the alcohol burn off a bit. Lower the heat and continue to cook another five minutes or so. Either put the pan directly into the oven (if it is oven safe) or transfer everything to a baking pan and let it roast in the oven, uncovered, for about 18 – 20 minutes.

If you want to make that reduction sauce, just add some balsamic vinegar to a small pot and cook over high heat. Be sure to keep stirring or it will burn. It will eventually thicken (coats the back of a spoon) and you can drizzle it over the meat.

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Ho Ho Ho

We had our 4th annual Progressive Dinner last night. Amy had cocktails and appetizers – the hit of that course was Pear and Cranberry cocktails. I had the salad course this year which was easy-peasy (fuji apple salad with cider emulsion – quite yummy and very different.) Chris had the main course, which was a HUGE Asian feast – fresh sushi (both nigiri and maki), steamed and fried homemade hong kong and shanghai style dumplings (which I helped make – fun!), authentic fried rice, pickled cucumbers (funny DH moment…”don’t we just call those…pickles?”), stir fried broccoli, cabbage, sesame noodles…YUM YUM YUM. His mom is Japanese so he’s had years and years to perfect and experiment – it’s SO good. I swear he made enough food for 20 people – we’re having a group lunch today to finish up the leftovers. Debbie brought us home with a pear tart and individual triple-chocolate tortes with molten chocolate centers. WOW.

Before the dinner, I picked up my Christmas present — $1800 worth of new air flow sensors, brakes, and a timing belt. 😦 We also got the Christmas tree and raked and bagged 28 bags of leaves.

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Harvest Pumpkin Bread: Take 2

When last we baked, Dear Reader, I had mucked about with a pumpkin bread recipe and came up with a healthier version. Last night I tweaked further and…success! I knocked out another cup of sugar (we’re down to a total of 1 cup total — so 1/2 cup in each loaf). Then I replaced 1 cup of flour with oat flour (whole oats whizzed in the Cuisinart to a fine powder) and switched to cake flour for the remaining 2 cups for a more tender crumb. I can’t say I noticed much difference in texture but it may be more important next time when I replace another cup of flour with whole wheat flour…I didn’t have any on hand yesterday. I also added 1/2 c golden raisins, but they are optional. It also seemed spicier this time around – if you don’t like strong flavors you might want to knock back a bit. The kids still loved it, as did DH and for him, there’s no such thing as “too sweet.”

For those keeping track, the latest version is:

Harvest Pumpkin Bread

1 cup sugar
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 large eggs
1 16-ounce can solid pack pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups cake flour
1 cup oat flour (whiz oats in Cuisinart until powdered)
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray two 9×5×3-inch loaf pans. Beat sugar and applesauce in large bowl to blend. Mix in eggs, vanilla and pumpkin. Sift flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, salt and baking powder into another large bowl. Stir into pumpkin mixture in 2 additions. Fold in raisins (if using.)

Divide batter equally between prepared pans. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 80 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool 10 minutes. Turn loaves out onto racks and cool completely.

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Meatless Monday

Yeah, yeah…I know it’s Wednesday. But it was my first day in the office this week so if was *my* Monday. On *your *Monday we were driving home from our Thanksgiving trek (a story for another time) and on Tuesday I worked from home. Part of the beauty of teleworking is that I can get a lot of other things done at the same time. Yesterday’s multitasking project was to make about a gallon of fabulous beef stock…while I worked, it simmered on the stove for 7 hours. So – back to today. Today I needed an easy meal when I got home from work so I made Mushroom-Barley Risotto. I was inspired by a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated. Technically it wasn’t a meatless meal since I used some of yesterday’s homemade beef stock but the meal itself had no actual meat in it so just go with me here.

I love the creamy bite of risotto and was intrigued by making it with whole grains rather than arborrio rice. It came out fabulously, if I do say so myself. And it was healthier to boot. I probably used less oil than normal — maybe a tablespoon or so — when that was almost smoking I added a chopped onion and a package each of oyster and shitake mushrooms, chopped, plus a 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. When the veggies were softened and gave up their juices, I added 1 1/2 cups barley, stirring well. To the pan, I added a cup of dry white wine and let that absorb for a few minutes. When the pan was almost dry, I added about 2 cups of heated stock.

Unlike traditional risotto where you stir constantly, I only stirred every so often. I kept adding more stock by the 1/2 cup until the barley was tender but still chewy (probably 4 cups in the recipe, total.) At some point I also tossed in a few bits of fresh chopped rosemary just because I had some lying around. I also added a small handful of reconstituted porcini mushrooms along with the strained soaking liquid, again just because I had them…Mom brought them back from her trip to Italy 2 weeks ago.)

When everything was cooked I finished the dish with a half tablespoon of butter, some chopped fresh Italian parsley, and about 3/4 cup of freshly grated romano locatelli cheese.

Mmmmmmmmmmmm. Pronounced “yummy” by all.

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10,000 Spoons

As someone with a dry, sarcastic, deadpan sense of humor…I love irony. I appreciate it. It makes me laugh in that wry sort of way. Except when it come to food. I can’t help it – I’m Italian…food is in my blood. For Hell’s sake, my personal food pyramid has individual bricks for Pierre Marcolini, Humboldt Fog, Barolo. Don’t misunderstand – I am not a Food Snob. I like my macaroni and cheese and pizza as much as the next person. I make a mean crockpot full of Redneck Meatballs. But it’s homemade mac and cheese with real cheese, not processed cheese foodstuff; it’s real New York City by-the-slice pizza, not Domino’s or Papa Johns. It’s homemade meatballs, not the 128 oz. Val-U Pak of meat-like spheres made with ingredients that each seem to be competing for the title of Longest Word In The English Language. No…being a Foodie is about quality, not class.

Unfortunately, tonight I won the Alanis Award in the Food Category. I have found my Personal Food Hell, and it is called Cactus Willie’s.

Cactus Willie’s was the chosen location for A’s end-of-year soccer dinner. You walk in the door into a winding queue where you pay your $9.49 for your All-U-Care-2-Eat adult dinner ($9.99 on weekends, thank you very much) and $0.60 x your age for the under 12 set. And then they set you loose on a full buffet of overcooked “food.” Forrest Gump would have felt quite at home…there was fried shrimp, baked shrimp, boiled shrimp, shrimp creole… There was a line full of people waiting for well-done steak. Fried seafood of every sort. Veal Parm, chicken parm, eggplant parm…flat, fried rectangles — identical in every way except for their name tags. Besides the salad bar there were exactly 2 non-starchy vegetables: overcooked, soggy broccoli drowning in butter-flavored sauce , and chopped collard greens drowning in bacon-flavored sauce. Day-glo colored pie slices.

Because nothing appealed to A (probably because she couldn’t recognize anything), her chosen dinner consisted of: mashed potatoes, corn, spaghetti w/ sauce. I insisted she add a veg or some salad. She chose the broccoli, and declared it “wet, mushy, and gross.”

Still, she had a ball. But what I wouldn’t have given to be home in my jammies with a bowl of leftover Roasted Artichoke and Pea Risotto. On the way home she had fun offering me two completely awful restaurant choices and making me pick which one I’d go to.

And then she said the words that made me see how truly blessed we were…

“At least we aren’t on Grady’s team, mom…they’re going to Chuck E. Cheese tomorrow.”

Pass the Maalox…

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C is For Cooking

It’s a thing I do – the weather gets cooler and I start cooking. Well, technically I never stopped cooking, but when Fall finally arrives (and it took its own sweet time this year – thanks, La Nina) I cook A LOT. Saturday I had planned to make some wild Salmon I got at Trader Joe’s but we spent the day running around and ran out of time so we scratched Plan A and made the salmon Sunday night instead. Looking for inspiration, I visited one of my favorite food blogs and it didn’t disappoint. There were some lovely entries describing various seafood with tomato-fennel sauces, broth, and ragouts. Perfect.

Today, stuck home with a raging sinus headache I messed about in the kitchen again once my Mucinex kicked in. My plan was to use up some eggplant that had seen better days and also make my family’s now-famous Pork Tenderloin with Pears in Balsamic Reduction for dinner. Oh, and I had some wheat berries I had been wanting to turn into a salad… Then I realized the kids had no snacks for their lunches this week so I thought I’d make some pumpkin bread, too.

I decided on Caponata for the eggplant – epicurious was my inspiration there…that recipe reminded me of my grandmothers — both of them. I tried out my pressure cooker for the wheat berries since I hadn’t soaked them overnight. Looking for side dishes to go with the pork, I asked my mom and brother for ideas and they offered up several, from which I chose roasted sweet potatoes and green beans with toasted almonds. Epicurious also had a bazillion recipes for pumpkin bread but the one I liked best needed a serious overhaul as it called for 3 cups of sugar and 1 cup of oil (!!) I made progress but next time I need to figure out how to cut more of the sugar – even though it makes 2 loaves, 1 cup per loaf is still way too much. At least I got rid of the fat.

The results for all of these were so good that I don’t want to lose them. Which you might think would be impossible since I could just find the recipe again…and therein lies the problem. I am genetically incapable of following a recipe without amending it somehow…and then I forget how I tweaked it and can’t ever go home again. Which isn’t all bad since I always have new creations to enjoy, but I digress.

So here you are, Dear Reader, the beneficiary of my culinary experiments this weekend.

Salmon Filets with Lemon-Scented Fennel-Tomato Ragout

4 salmon filets
sea salt
freshly ground pepper
fresh breadcrumbs
olive oil
1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 14oz can fire-roasted tomatoes
juice and zest from 1 lemon
1 T. capers, drained
slug of dry sherry

Saute the fennel and onion in olive oil until they begin to caramelize. Season with salt and pepper and add tomatoes, lemon juice and sherry. Turn heat down to medium and simmer gently until tender and liquid is slightly thickened. Add capers and lemon zest.

In a second frying pan large enough to comfortably hold the filets, heat olive oil until very hot. Season filets with salt and pepper, and coat one side of salmon with breadcrumbs, pressing crumbs into fish. Carefully transfer filets to the pan and cook crumb-side down for several minutes. Carefully flip filets and cook another minute or two until just cooked through. Serve filets over tomato-fennel mixture.

Caponata

olive oil
1 1 1/2-pound eggplant, unpeeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium onion, sliced
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes
4 ribs celery, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons drained capers
several large cracked green olives, roughly chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
Toasted pine nuts
Handful of golden raisins
Fresh parsley, chopped

Heat oil in large, heavy saute pan over medium heat. Add onion, and garlic cloves and saute until they begin to soften and color. Add eggplant and sauté until soft and brown, about 15 minutes. Add diced tomatoes with juice, vinegars, sugar, olives, and capers. Cover and gently simmer over low heat until eggplant and onion are very tender, stirring occasionally. Season caponata to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in fresh herbs. Transfer caponata to serving bowl. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and raisins. Toss gently. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.

Harvest Pumpkin Bread

2 cups sugar
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 large eggs
1 16-ounce can solid pack pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans. Beat sugar and applesauce in large bowl to blend. Mix in eggs, vanilla and pumpkin. Sift flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, salt and baking powder into another large bowl. Stir into pumpkin mixture in 2 additions.

Divide batter equally between prepared pans. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 70-80 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool 10 minutes. Turn loaves out onto racks and cool completely.

And though I am too tired to do the recipes for the Pork Tenderloin, you can get the idea from here…

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My fledgling organic whole food sensibilities are under attack and seriously offended. Beans’ school district has a new policy about birthday treats and other food for school parties: all treats must be store-bought! I understand and applaud efforts to reduce or mitigate allergic responses – which is what this is. But there has GOT to be a better way than insisting on prepackaged, processed, additive and preservative-laden, chock-full-of-HFCS foods. Blech. I know I can go to Whole Foods and buy A’s treats there – and I will – but I sure can’t count on everyone else to do that. And while she isn’t allergic to crappy, body-polluting food I don’t want her eating it twice a month at school in the name of a new “health” policy, either. Don’t misunderstand – I love cupcakes and am not advocating they be banned altogether. I just don’t like my children’s diet – or even portions of their diets – dictated by well-intentioned yet misguided nutrition policy.

On the other hand, Muppet’s preschool goes completely in the other direction and bans treats and salty snack foods in favor of “healthy” choices…which is fine except they define healthy as including cereal bars and sugary yogurts.

Where did the sanity go?

Clearly, on both scores I’m not the only one who is annoyed. Not even close.

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