Nosh: Hot Pepper and Tomato Sauce

Hey, all.

First things first: regarding my previous post about damage done to my external hard drive, the verdict is in. My photographs have been deemed unrecoverable. Gone. Kaput. I still have some stored in various places, and (silver lining, I suppose) most of the images I posted on this blog are what I considered among the best of my photographs. So I have the blog photos too, of course. It breaks my heart; there were a lot of shots I wasn’t done with yet, but I wallowed long enough and wallowing won’t bring them back. The fact remains that they are unrecoverable and I am tired of wallowing. Ever forward.

Now. On to the good stuff.

Oh, this pepper…sauce? Condiment? Magical addition to one’s food lineup? A word of warning: if you don’t like garlic or hot and spicy food, then this recipe is soooooo not for you. But for me? Garlic + spicy = perfect. We are in the home stretch of vegan January (necessary to rid myself of the clutter of forty pounds of butter I ate while making cookies this holiday season) so it’s perfect for us to eat right now, but it’s always good. I’ve made this so many times that I don’t remember where I first heard about it, and I think by now the recipe for it has coded itself into my DNA. Do note: it takes 40-45 minutes to cook, so it’s not a super-speedy recipe, but it’s all delicious. Here’s what you need:

  • 2 large-ish bell peppers (whichever color you prefer)
  • 2 hot peppers; I generally stick with serranos but use whatever you’d like
  • 2 or 3 or 4 cloves of garlic; it’s all dependent on your taste. And my taste for garlic is deep and abiding.
  • 2 cups tomato puree
  • 1 (ish) cup vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Oil

That’s it! No long list of spices, no hard-to-get ingredients. That’s one of the things I love about this pepper sauce. It’s a simple approach that makes things that already taste really good, like peppers and tomatoes and garlic, even better. Getting started: Assemble your ingredients.

Off to a good start!

Off to a good start!

Start some oil in a pan, over low-to-medium heat. Cut the bell peppers into nice, bitey chunks. Slice the serranos into nice, thin wheels. The sauce is supposed to be hot, so don’t remove the seeds from the hot peppers. Cut the garlic into thin slivers. Toss everything in the pan and add some salt.

Use gentle heat to coax out the flavors.

Use gentle heat to coax out the flavors.

Let these start to cook, but stay nearby and stir the peppers and garlic fairly regularly. You want them to get soft, you don’t want them to fry and get crisp. After about twenty minutes, they should be nice and soft–not totally squishy, but definitely flexible.

On their way to savory goodness.

On their way to savory goodness.

Once the peppers and garlic are ready, add the tomato puree and enough vegetable stock to give the ingredients something to hang out in for a while. I found that a cup of stock tends to work. Give the mixture a taste; because of the varying and unpredictable heat of hot peppers (if you look up serranos on the Scoville Heat Scale, you’ll see their heat ranges from 6,000 to 23,000 units, and there’s no way to tell which peppers are hottest without cutting them open and tasting them), your sauce may actually need another jolt of spice.

If you find that’s the case, don’t be afraid to shake in a little more hot pepper; cayenne works well. But be judicious about adding in extra cayenne. The sauce will thicken and concentrate the flavors, and you don’t want your beautiful spicy sauce to morph into a pan full of molten agony. If it’s still not spicy enough for your liking at the end of the cooking time, sprinkle in a little more cayenne and call it a day. Continue the cooking at the same medium-low temperature, and–again–stir it fairly regularly. At the end of another twenty minutes or so, you should have a nice, thick sauce. You can always use the back of the spoon test to see if the sauce is thick enough. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Yep. Plenty thick.

Yep. Plenty thick.

Ahhhh…now it’s ready.

So what do we do with this? Oh, so very many things. This hot pepper sauce can be:

  • Schmeared on sandwiches
  • Stirred into pasta sauce
  • On top of chicken breast
  • It tastes great with arugula. So…anything with that
  • Mixed into beans
  • Over a baked potato topped with broccoli and cheese (I speak from experience)
  • And so on. The possibilities are endless!

The first thing we made with this batch was hummus and pita pizzas. Homemade pizzas of any ilk are a great way to use up random leftovers and/or open things in the fridge, so see what you’ve got in there and go for it. Here’s how:

Preheat the oven to 400°. Smear some hummus on howevermany pita breads you want to make and place them on a cookie tray. Spread some of your delicious, spicy, peppery, tomato-y sauce on the hummus.

Oh, hells yeah!

Oh, hells yeah!

This is a delicious nosh as it stands, right now, with nothing else done to it. But hold on! We can make it even better.

Top this with whatever you choose. George and I had some onions we’d chopped up and an open bag of arugula (a staple in this house) sitting in our fridge, so on they went. We also had a bunch of leftover roasted acorn squash, so that got chopped up and put on top.

Almost home!

Almost home!

We put that in the oven and let it all roast for 12-ish minutes; turn the baking sheet once after 8 minutes or so to check on how it’s doing. When you take the pitas out of the oven, top them with some fresh parsley, if  you have any on hand. In the end, you’ll have a lovely, toasty pita topped with roasted veggies, hummus that turns almost nutty in the oven, and this amazing, savory, thick, spicy, all-around vegtastic, and (best of all) healthy sauce. Because that’s how we do in central PA.

Plus, it's good cold the next day.

Plus, it’s good cold the next day.

Vegan January ain’t so hard to handle when you get to eat food like this. Enjoy!

Nosh: Sauteed Eggplant, Peppers and Potatoes

I’ve discovered I really enjoy Spanish food.  Usually when we think of Spanish food here in the US…well, first we think of Mexican food until someone else reminds us that no, Spain is on a different continent and they’re really not the same.  Fair enough.  Then we think of things like paella and sangria, which are of course notable–indeed, even mighty–dishes in their own right (though me + paella = death by allergy), but Spain is more than two dishes and some romanticized, gauzy image of bullfights and naps popularized by Ernest Hemingway.   Spanish food is as diverse at the many regions of Spain.  But there are common tendencies in Spanish cooking and if you want to give me a dish that involves smoked paprika and sherry vinegar and peppers and tons and tons of garlic and call it Spanish, I won’t complain.

Thanks to an afternoon spent in a Baltimore tapas restaurant, that’s exactly what I did.

Their eggplant was just. Too. Good.  So even though I was home and cooking not even 24 hours after eating tapas and you might think enough is enough and how many potato and eggplant dishes can one girl dine on in two days’ time, I was busy trying to reverse engineer what I ate.  With delicious results.  Here’s what I used:

  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 1 medium onion
  • tons and tons of garlic (I think I used 6 or 7 cloves for this)
  • 2 peppers, you can decide how hot you want the dish to be
  • 1 pound of potatoes, either very small so they can be thrown in whole or cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, and it can be smoked hot paprika if you’re feeling unstoppable
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • water or broth to achieve desired consistency
  • salt & pepper to taste

Chop the eggplant into manageable chunks.  Put it into a nice hot pan and start it cooking right away.  Eggplant has that…I’m not quite sure if quality is the right word…where it can become a luscious piece of silken deliciousness wrapped in a dream if it’s cooked thoroughly.  BUT!  If it’s not well cooked then it’s like nature’s chewing gum made out of chalk, vegetable gristle and woe.  So get it going first and let it cook and cook and cook.  If it starts to kind of break down and become a sauce (but it won’t because you won’t be cooking it THAT long but even so, if it does), so what?  At least you’ll know it’s cooked through, and it will wrap the rest of the dish in love.  Anyway.  Eggplant.  Some olive oil.  In the pan.  GO!

If you never believe another thing I write, at least believe me when I tell you not to undercook your eggplant.

If you never believe another thing I write, at least believe me when I tell you not to undercook your eggplant.

Let this cook for a few minutes to start getting nice and brown and then?  Things go in.  Add onions, peppers (I went semi-spicy; the cubanelle I used was, of course, totally mild but the Hungarian wax pepper had quite a lovely kick. Use whatever kind of pepper you’d like), and garlic, and let them saute together for a few minutes.  Then add thyme, bay leaves, paprika and turmeric, give them a good stir and let them cook in for another minute or two.

Mmm hmmm, it's looking quite yellow at the moment.

Mmm hmmm, it’s looking quite yellow at the moment.

If you decide you want to add some kind of crushed red pepper flakes or cayenne to the mix (because hot food is your friend) you can add it here too.  Or not, it’s your decision. Once it all starts to cook together for a few minutes at medium heat, you’ll probably start to notice crusty brown bits of caramelized food and spices (a/k/a the “fond“) adhering to the bottom of your pan.  This is a good thing, but in order for that goodness to become reality you need to deglaze.  This, is a foodie (and concise) way of saying, “you want to pull all that yummy stuff off the bottom of your pan and re-incorporate it into your food before it all burns”.  Which is precisely what you’ll do, by pushing the contents of the pan slightly off to one corner, thereby exposing the fond, and pouring your sherry vinegar onto it.  It will steam and make a hideous hissing sound, but give it a stir and get whatever’s stuck on the pan back in your food where it belongs.  It won’t take more than a minute.  Then add the can of diced tomatoes, the potatoes, and enough broth and/or water to bring the liquid level high enough to make you feel confident it will cook your potatoes.  (Of course, you can always parboil or steam the potatoes prior to adding them to the pan, but that just adds an extra dish when it’s not really necessary so…why bother?)

I love the smell of a one-pot meal in the...uh...well, that line just falls apart out of context, doesn't it?

I love the smell of a one-pot meal in the…uh…well, that line just falls apart out of context, doesn’t it?

Cover for twenty minutes or a half-hour or so and cook at a medium-high heat, until the potatoes are cooked through and the sauce has thickened to the consistency you’d like.  Once everything is cooked through, it’s ready to eat.  Yes, it really is that simple.

When eaten on the back porch, it's EVEN BETTER.

When eaten on the back porch, it’s EVEN BETTER.

We ate this with roasted beets and goat cheese, sauteed beet greens and kale (recipe coming) and a crisp green salad.  It?  Rocked.

Nosh: Orange Salsa

It’s summer!  And summertime, to me, means salsatime!

Actually, who am I kidding?  Any time to me means salsatime.  I not-kiddingly joke that it’s one of my major food groups (you’ve got your grains, your fruits and vegetables, your salsas…).  What can I say?  I like the spicy.

This recipe for orange salsa is kind of a workhorse recipe; you can interchange things at will and you’ll get good results.  Do you have a mango hanging around and want to use that?  Make mango-orange salsa.  Are you at a loss for what to do with peaches?  Sub in peaches instead of oranges and have peach salsa.  It’s also a great recipe for a raw tomato salsa, just make sure you seed the tomatoes before you use them.  It should take you about forty minutes or so to put it all together, dependent on how comfortable you are cutting things into a small dice and whether or not you have a glass of wine you wander over to intermittently for refreshment.

Here’s what you need:

  • 3 oranges, but normal-sized oranges, not those giant mutant size-of-a-baby’s-head-type oranges and their zest
  • zest of 1 lime
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 jalapeño (or some other kind of spicy pepper; I used a cheery red mirasol pepper)
  • 1 medium onion (I opted for a red onion; theoretically you should try to lean toward a sweet onion but ultimately, use whatever you’ve got)
  • 1-2 scallions, whites and greens
  • 1/4 c cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon cumin (or possibly less, depending on your taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1 big handful of cilantro, cleaned and chopped (I admit, I have *never* measured cilantro for this, if you must, start with 1/4 c packed and see if you want more or less)
  • salt and pepper to taste

First, and I say this in the interest of full disclosure: accept that when you cut the oranges, you’re going to get messy.  They are juicy.  Juice runs.  Make sure you cut your oranges on a cutting board with a blood gutter that can contain a runny mess (or put a folded towel under one end of the cutting board so that the board will slightly tilt into the sink, if you don’t have a cutting board with a gutter), or you’ll be taking a break every few minutes to wipe off the juice running onto your countertops and the floor.

Zest your oranges and the lime.  You won’t need the lime flesh or juice, so put the zested fruit back into your fridge for another use.  Scoop up all the zest and put it in a  mixing bowl.

I got'cher zest riiiiiiight...heeeeere...

I got’cher zest riiiiiiight…heeeeere…

And in all seriousness if you ever intend to zest a fruit in all your life and don’t have a microplane?  Get thee to a kitchen supply store!  Works like a charm.  Plus, it’s good for ginger, garlic, nutmeg, grating cheese (and the cheese grates all nice and…well, “fluffy” is the best way to describe it, and who wouldn’t want some fluffy cheese?).

And I digress.  Once you zest, you’re going to get to work on your oranges.

The easiest way I’ve found to cut the oranges is to slice them into manageable bits, trim off the peel and start to cut them into smaller bits.


See what I mean about the juice? I had the board positioned so the juice ran into the sink.

While the objective is to get rid of the hard, gnarly, bitter membrane in the middle of the oranges and most of the pith surrounding the oranges, you don’t have to get crazy and make orange supremes.  Just slice them into rounds, trim them, cut them nice and small, pull out the central membrane and toss them right in your mixing bowl. Then cut the garlic and onion into a fairly small dice; the onions should be no more than a half-inch dice, because who wants to bite into a huge chunk of raw onion?

See?  Try to keep the pieces fairly small.

See? Try to keep the pieces fairly small.

Slice the scallions into rounds.  I love the contrast between the sweet onions and the brisk, fresh bite of the green ones.  Scallions can wildly vary in size, which is why I say use 1-2.  Use enough to make you happy; it’s your kitchen, and your salsa.  Cut the jalapeño in half lengthwise and–more praise for my favorite kitchen multitasker–scrape a teaspoon along the inside to de-seed the pepper and take out the heat.  Who needs to worry about tricky knife skills when a spoon will do the job?  Or, you know, don’t take out the seeds and keep it nice and spicy-hot.

Guess what I did.

Dice the pepper into a small dice and toss all the diced veggies into your mixing bowl.  Then add the really fun stuff–the vinegar, cumin, honey, cilantro, salt and pepper.

All will soon meld into one cohesive, salsatastic whole.

All will soon meld into one cohesive, salsatastic whole.

Mix.  Taste.  Reseason if necessary, though experience has taught me that this salsa is best if it sits for a few hours and even overnight.  The flavors will mingle, the heat from the peppers will become less in-yer-face, and it will all mellow into a beautiful, nuanced, cohesive unit of salsa that is simultaneously fruity and savory and smoky and tart.  Have it with chips to get a salt-kick as well.

Time to get my snack on!

Time to get my snack on!

I often hope that with food this good hanging around, it will distract me from biting my nails.  Damn bad habits.

This salsa goes incredibly well with chicken burritos, for the record.  Happy salsa season!

Roasted Red Pepper-Walnut Dip (Muhammara)

During one of my semi-annual trips to visit my old Russian professor in the Boston area, George and I got to experience the red pepper dip known as muhammara for the first time.

Oh. Em. Geeeeee.

Amazing.  It was deeply flavored and fruity and sweet and spicy and roasty and redolent of garlic and rich, toasted walnuts.  All that in one dish?  Yeah!  I knew after trying it that my mission (which I chose to accept) was to learn how to make it myself, since my local supermarket sure isn’t carrying pre-packaged muhammara.  Happily, they carry all components.  After years of tasting and experimentation (a rough job, I know), I can finally say neener neener, made it myself, and celebrate one more weirdo recipe in the repertoire.

Here’s what I used:

  • 2 fresh roasted red peppers, peeled and seeded, plus the liquor they exude after roasting
  • 2/3 cup (ish) plain bread crumbs (or maybe not as much, or maybe more; it depends on what you need to achieve the right texture)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 2 or 3 or 4 garlic cloves, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses (check the ubiquitously dubbed “international” section of your grocery store)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes (or none, or more, purely to taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste (if you use pre-roasted peppers, be sure to go easy on the salt since they will be saltier than if you roast them yourself)
  • olive oil for garnish

The first thing to do is roast the peppers.  (If you are pressed for time you surely may use jarred or frozen roasted peppers.  Just drain or defrost them and make sure they’re peeled and seeded.)  There are two different camps surrounding roasted peppers; you can char them at high heat just so the skins blister off, but the flesh of the peppers really won’t cook.  Or, you could roast them at a lower heat so the peppers cook thoroughly.  It depends on what you want to achieve.  I chose to roast the peppers at a lower, slower heat (400°, 20 minutes, turn once, back in the oven for 20 more minutes) since I wanted them to be softer and more amenable to become a dip, and not as dependent on a fatty olive oil added at the end to provide a soft texture.  Plus, I love the liquid they exude.

Mmmm, peppery goodness.

Mmmm, silky pepper goodness.

See that golden liquor oozing out among the roasted peppers?  That’s pure concentrated pepper sweetness, and it would be a crime to not include that in your dish; it is TOO GOOD.  Once the peppers are roasted and cooled  (in a heat-proof bowl that’s covered with plastic wrap, so the skins will steam apart from the flesh, making your job that much easier), peel them, pull out the stems and seeds, put the roasted pepper flesh into a food processor and strain that pepper liquor into your food processor as well.  You won’t regret it.  If you use jarred or frozen peppers, you won’t have this, and you’ll need to resist the temptation to use the liquid from the jar.  It’s probably going to be too salty and/or vinegary to be of much use; you can throw in a splash of cranberry juice or broth or water if you want to get a little extra liquid rolling around in your dip.

While the peppers are roasting, measure out your walnuts, put them in a dry pan (meaning, one with no oil in it) and let it start warming over a medium heat.  Don’t wander too far away since it won’t take long for the walnuts to start to brown and once they’re brown they’re ready to burn.  Don’t let that happen.  Also, you need at least 1/3 cup, but make 1/2.  You may need more than the third, depending on how soft (or not) the dip is when you first blend it, and walnuts will help add structure.  Besides, the temptation to snack on fresh-roasted walnuts is great, and you wouldn’t want to short the muhammara.  I speak from experience here.

And so.  Put all ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor; remember to start with 1/3 cup each of bread crumbs and walnuts, and then taste test your muhammara so you may appropriately tinker.

Give it a whirl!

Give it a whirl!

Blend, scrape down the food processor bowl, taste.  Repeat.  Bread crumbs and walnuts will provide structure so if your dip is too runny, add in a little bit more of one or the other (or both!) at a time.  You’ll want it to be firm yet scoopable, like a really thick hummus.  Scoop it into a bowl, drizzle it with a little olive oil for a garnish and serve with bread or crackers or pita wedges.

Hell yeah.

Hell yeah.

Trust me, once you try this you’ll want it again.  And again.  And again.  Bonus: it’s easy!  Enjoy.  xoxo

Nosh: Corn and Blueberry Salad

Summer salads!

I get the mystique that surrounds summer salads.  They usually involve minimal cooking, are made with fresh ingredients, and (with the exception of things like potato and macaroni salads) tend to be heat-friendly and waist conscious.  Bonus!  They make use of the myriad fruits and vegetables that come into season in the summer.

That is exactly what makes this corn and blueberry salad so perfect.  It’s not entirely no-cook since you have to boil the corn (I suppose you could roast it, but that would involve turning on the stove and it’s 95° out today so as far as that option goes…no) but it’s pretty close, and otherwise you simply chop.  It’s seasonal.  It’s easy.  It’s healthy.  And, oh yeah…it’s delicious.

The recipe claims to serve 6-8 people, which I readily believe.  It’s easily halved for smaller households.  Just, you know.  Put in half of everything they ask for; this is corn, not rocket surgery.  Anyway.  Here we go.


  • 6fresh sweet corn, husked
  • 1cup fresh blueberries
  • 1cucumber, sliced
  • 1/4cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1/4cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped*
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin


I don’t know why I find it so amusing that Dagwood Bumstead is pictured near my food and yet, I do.

Start your water before you peel the corn so that it will be ready for boiling (or at least almost ready) by the time you’re done peeling and de-hairing your corn.  While it’s cooking and cooling, you can measure out and chop the other ingredients.  Really, I wasn’t kidding.  Simple.  Boil it for five minutes and certainly no more than ten.  Then pull it out and let it drain.  In the meantime, measure out and wash your blueberries…


And chop the rest of the goodies.

Chop, chop, chop.

Since the primary ingredients in this dish are corn and blueberries–both relatively small–I cut the cucumber to a comparable size.  It’s up to you how to cut them but the general practice is to keep ingredients relatively on par with each other and no, I’m not just saying that to placate my own OCD.  Granted, it’s a more important guideline when you’re dealing with food that is cooked, but it’s a helpful kitchen guideline nonetheless.

For those of you playing along at home, I would like to point out that that what is pictured is indeed more than a quarter-cup of onions, as is called for in the recipe.  I’ve said this before and I mean it every time; if you don’t like onions, you will starve at my house.  I even added more into the salad at the end when I tasted it.  I don’t apologize.  My kitchen, my rules.

I highly recommend that you seed your jalapeño, especially if you’re not absolutely positive that everyone who’s going to eat this likes fiery foods.  I’ve made this unseeded before…it goes from summer salad to Ain’t No Joke salad pretty quickly.  All the heat lives in the seeds and surrounding membranes, but those are easy to remove with the cunning application of a teaspoon.


A teaspoon will fit quite nicely into the cavity of a jalapeño or serrano or just about any other hot pepper.  Dig the spoon under the seeds in the pepper and give it a good, firm scrape.

All hail the multitasking teaspoon!

I wouldn’t even worry about wearing gloves if you de-seed your peppers this way.  Everything will come out with the spoon, and you can drop the scrapings in your compost pile and move on.  Of course, if you don’t want anything that has any heat at all, by all means use about a half a bell pepper.  Use red.  It will add some color and has a more robust flavor than a green bell pepper, so it will help compensate for the loss of the grassiness from the jalapeño.

Once the corn is out of the water and cool enough to handle (it can still be sort of warm when you start working with it, you just don’t want to burn yourself), slice the kernels off the cob.  For those who don’t know how to do this, it’s pretty simple.  Stand your corn in a utility bowl, and slice your knife down the side of it.

Pretty straightforward, no?

For extra fresh corn credit, take your new favorite workhorse utensil–the teaspoon–and run it down the cut sides of the corn cobs.  It will pull out even more delicious, sweet corn pulp and in these tough economic time you can be virtuous in using every edible thing on the cob.

And then here’s what you have left to do:

A little olive oil, a little honey, a little cilantro, and some fresh lime juice. Sounds like a snack in Heaven.

A few things:

1) One lime should render two tablespoons of juice.  If your lime is hard and seems like it won’t give up much juice, then by all means, stick it in the microwave for ten seconds.  That’s what I did.  Voila!

2) Make sure you use a good, fruity, extra-virgin olive oil.  You want something that’s got some savory heft of its own, not just a salad oil that disappears into the background.

3) You don’t have to use buckwheat honey.  I have it at home right now and chose to use that because I love its complicated flavor profile (please note, I could have used Mr. Clover Honey Bear, sitting in the background on his head, but I didn’t).  If what you have is Mr. Honey Bear or agave syrup or whatever, then by all means, use that.

4) Have extra cilantro on hand in case you decide you want some more.  🙂  Just saying.

5) The star ingredient that brings this whole dish to a special plateau is…

Ground cumin.

Ground cumin gives the dish a little bit of smoke, and a little bit of depth, in a dish that dances on the edge of being one-note-sweet.  You can toast and grind your own cumin seeds to get the freshest, deepest flavor possible but if your objective is simplicity, then let the good people of Badia do the grinding for you.  When it’s this hot out, stay out of the kitchen when you can.

And now, we combine.  Everything.  The corn, the berries, the cuke.  All your spices.  Everything, in a gloriously unceremonious free-for-all.  Toss in a little salt and pepper to taste and then?  Cover it and stick it in the fridge for at least an hour.  If you decide to add any additional spices–more cumin, another bit of cilantro, some pepper–don’t do so until you’ve given the flavors a chance to mingle in your fridge.  What may taste a little drab when you first mix it can become a lovely symphony once your ingredients have gotten to know one another.  For me, it’s onions.  Always gotta be onions.

Once you’re ready to eat…

Behold the bounty of summer!

Don’t be shy.  Dig in.  And I’ll see you in a shady spot, plate in hand, far away from a hot stove.

Nosh: Sweet Potato-Kimchi Pancakes

Because everybody loves kimchi, right?

You know, kimchi.  National dish of Korea?  Fermented spicy cabbage?

Fact: I made the mistake of saying that to my boyfriend and he looked at me like I was a visitor from the planet Venus.  And here’s the thing: I’ve always loved kimchi.  I remember the first time I had it, I was in a restaurant in San Jose with a friend–let’s call her CRB  (you know who you are).  And in this restaurant, they had kimchi sitting on the table as a sort of condiment, like hot sauce sits on the table at a Mexican place.  In my not-yet-a-foodie naivete  I asked CRB, “What’s this stuff?”  She said, “Oh, it’s just this kind of spicy stuff they give you here.  You should try it.”  I like kind of spicy.  I don’t like face-meltingly spicy, but I can rock a pretty solid throwdown with the hot food.  I tried it and it was salty and pickley and spicy and crunchy and for me?  Love in an instant.

Thus when I saw the recipe for sweet potato-kimchi pancakes, it was a no-brainer.  Because sweet potato pancakes = YUM on their own, so who wouldn’t want to feast on yum + kimchi bonus?

There’s no reason to not feast on yum + kimchi.  None at all.

And so…

Step one: Shred.

Like I said, I can manage a fairly good spicy food throwdown, so when the recipe suggested that adding serranos was “optional”, I thought, no it’s not.  As I was unfortunately out of serranos, I had to make do with the jalapenos chilling in my fridge, but that was just fine.  It all worked out in the end.

Option, indeed. I don't *think* so!

And then measure out your beautiful, underappreciated, much maligned, delicious kimchi….

Even if no one else loves you, kimchi, I do. *pinky swear*

If only I’d taken the time to make it home-made.  For future delicious food-making reference.

Once that’s thinly sliced, mix everything together except, of course, the oil, which is not for mixing.  No!  It is for frying!

Let this all meld into perfect deliciousness for a few minutes. And then? Don't hold back.

In the interests of full disclosure…of course I didn’t follow the recipe exactly.  I had cilantro, I put in some cilantro.  I had Szechuan peppercorns, so I put in Szechuan peppercorns.  It’s all good.  And then, in the spirit of putting that oil to good use, start frying.

Note: if you use more than the one pound of potatoes the recipe calls for, or put in extra extras like additional peppers or something like the unanticipated bunch of cilantro, then be ready to add a bit more flour to the recipe.  You won’t add much because you’re not even adding a cup to start with BUT, you want to make sure there’s enough to hold everything together.  And, when you have to add more oil to the pan give it a minute to heat back until it shimmers, because then you run the risk of making a soggy cake.  I’ve made those mistakes before, people.  Learn from my pain.

Frying, stage one. Dig my righteous steam.

Yes, frying.  Reality check: the Asian influence of kimchi doesn’t negate the fact that these are, essentially, fried bits of potato with nommy things stuck in them.  This ain’t no diet food, people.  But it’s goooood.  And once both sides are fried to crusty goodness–which really should only take maybe three minutes for the first side and a minute or two for the second–put them on paper towels to drain and, when they’re all done…FEAST!  Good with ginger-soy dipping sauce, sriracha, Tabasco, beat up shoes.  I dare you to find a meal/condiment/cocktail party these little babies won’t sex up.  They make everything better.  They’re that good.

Not gonna mislead you: You'll make these again.

Nosh: Goat Cheese and Mushroom Tortas (sort of)

There I was, with a barrel full of homemade goat cheese, a hungry vegetarian and a need for dinner.  What to do, what to do?  And then I saw it, in Food & Wine magazine: Rick Bayless’s mushroom and goat cheese tortas.

For those of you who don’t know, Rick Bayless is the gringo king of Mexican cuisine.  He was born into a family of Oklahoma barbecue restaurateurs, but thanks to love and college made a multi-year trek through Mexico which resulted in a cookbook that revolutionized the North American concept of Mexican cooking.  So who am I to quibble with a recipe of his?  This is the man who, according to the people who reviewed his book, single-handedly changed a national perspective on an ethnic cuisine, and this is no small feat.  Just make the recipe the way that God and Rick Bayless intended, and go on with my dinner, right?  Right!


You see, I get that Mexican tortas are traditionally supposed to be sandwiches, on beautiful, crusty bolillo rolls, but I didn’t want a sandwich.  I didn’t want all that bread for dinner; I eat enough carbs in the pasta I will never give up, and I can guarantee you I had some sort of sandwichey thing at some point in the day.  Blah blah blah whatever, it all comes down to this: I didn’t want to prepare it on a sandwich roll and (we’ve heard this from me before, haven’t we?) I have no respect for the integrity of a recipe.  And I had a red bell pepper and a poblano that I had to put to good use before they went off, and can you cook peppers without onions, in any cuisine?  No, friends.  I think not.

Delicious interlopers!

I did make the mushrooms almost entirely as directed, and thanks to Rick Bayless’s genius, they were amazing.  Take a ton of ‘shrooms which should ideally all be fresh, but this is central PA and my access to things like oyster mushrooms are limited.  I rehydrated a bunch of dried oyster mushrooms I had in my pantry and will use the now-frozen mushroom broth in a vegetarian onion soup, but I digress…


And cut them in thin slices.  They go into a baking dish with the garlic-lime confit you’ve already roasted (two heads of peeled garlic, a half-cup of oil, one quarter cup of lime juice and some salt, 325°, one hour, and hallelujah) though in the spirit of full disclosure, I tell you now I didn’t put all the oil from the confit into the mushrooms; it just seemed like a little too much.  I reserved about half of it and turned it into a lovely roasted garlic citrus vinaigrette with the simple addition of a little mustard and the juice from a clementine.  Score!

Anyway, mushrooms and confit go into a 400° oven for ten minutes covered and 35 minutes not, and when they’re done mix in the cilantro at the end.  You’ll get something that looks a little like this…or hopefully, a lot like this…

This is an example of what Rick Bayless can teach you.

And then put it all together.  A little goat cheese, a little salsa, some baby arugula, my errant peppers and onions and these glorious, glorious mushrooms.


Nosh: Peperonata with Ricotta Crostoni

As the boyfriend is a vegetarian (though not a vegan, a very important distinction for the purposes of this recipe), I am always–as in, ALWAYS–on the lookout for veggie entrees.  So when I came across this recipe for peperonata it was sort of a no-brainer; peppers, olives, onion?  Tomato sauce?  On bread?  Done and done!  (And it goes pretty nicely with some chicken, for all you carnivorous types.)

But the kicker for this recipe, the thing that had me at hello, was the do-it-yourself ricotta.  Admittedly, it’s an ersatz ricotta as it is only cooked once (“re-cooked”, ricotta, get it, get it?) and directly from milk, not from the milk solids left over from making other cheeses.  But it’s something I’ve wanted to try for a while and when I saw it paired with a pepper stew?  It was as though choirs of angels sang over my head with joy.  Was I going to make this?  You bet I was.

I’m just linking to the recipe, as it was so good I didn’t really change a single thing about it (except one; I added a serrano pepper for a little bit of heat and next time, I’ll add two, but that’s the only change I made).  So here is the recipe: and many thanks to the good people of Bon Appetit.

The first thing I did was start the cheese.  They recommend giving it plenty of time to drain and after making it, so do I.  This is all you need:

That's it! Well, and 1.5 teaspoons of kosher salt.

OK, OK.  You don’t need the raisins or the Tia Maria.  But on a completely unrelated note…does anyone else here think Tia Maria + vodka + almond milk sounds like a good idea?  Or is it just me?

Take the above ingredients, put them in a pot larger than you’d expect to need, and let it boil.  When it starts to boil it will expand so in all earnestness, please use a large pot or you’ll be cleaning steaming cheese curds out of your cabinetry.  Remove it from the heat and DO NOT TOUCH IT for fifteen minutes.  The curds are delicate and will break apart and then you’ll never be able to retrieve them correctly and your cheeselicious efforts will be for naught.  Leave them alone.

This is what they look like immediately post-boil.

Once you’ve finished not touching it (fifteen minutes, people!), get a nice big spoon–not a slotted spoon as you want to cause the curds to break as little as possible, and they’d go straight through the slots–and scoop it into your waiting cheesecloth-lined colander sitting on a utility bowl.

And here is my very first ittle-bittle bouncing baby cheese curd! Isn't it precious?

Here's all the cheese, waiting to get drained.

Isn’t that a book?  Who Drained My Cheese?  No?  I’m off?  Oh, OK.  Moving on.

And then, let it drain.

You could also just keep it in a colander over a bowl wrapped in cheesecloth, but I had a pasta drying rack and wanted to go for the groovy.  So.  I let it drain until everything else was ready, and when I unwrapped it I had a beautiful bowl of delicious, creamy, slightly lemony, ricotta cheese.



I was playing with the filters on my camera, hence the carrots look a little uber-orangey.


And thirty minutes of simmering time, plus a whirl around the food processor...


You’ll have plenty left over, but that is just fine, it’ll freeze.  It’s a really simple, lovely, basic tomato sauce.  The recipe calls for San Marzano tomatoes which, if you can afford, you should by all means use (and local peeps, you can indeed get them at the Weis).  But they’re usually three or four times more expensive than other sorts of canned tomatoes so believe me when I say you will not be disappointed if you use Furmano’s instead.





In a 375° oven for ten minutes...


And back in the oven for another 45 minutes...




And then with a little shave of some kind of hard cheese on top, like Parmigiano-Reggiano or asiago (which is what I used here, because that’s how I roll) and you’ve got…

Because seriously?  It is that good.

Nosh: Stuffed Baby Peppers with Floral Yogurt, Sweet and Sour Jalapenos, and Walnuts

Yesterday was my boyfriend’s birthday, and (as usual) I cooked him whatever he wanted for dinner.  But as I am a foodie, I also wanted to try something new, some sort of appetizer, or something.  Shake the tree a little, if you will.  While I was reading Food & Wine a day or two ago I saw a recipe for Stuffed Baby Peppers with Yogurt and Floral Honey which, you know, yum, as I am the sort of foodie who digs floral flavors, wherever I can get them.  Remember those violet candies your grandmother had when you were a kid?  Yep, loved ‘em.  While I was in France I got violet ice cream, one of the best memories I have from there.  Rose petals + strawberries + Grand Marnier + some sugar and a chance to macerate + fresh whipped cream at the end = dessert I will knock people over to have.  Lavender?  Love it, particularly in lavender salted caramels.  Too much and it tastes like soap, I agree, but in the right amounts?  Heaven.  I’m the person who steals unattended nasturtiums from other peoples’ salad plates at events.  I even like hoppy beer (kids, hands off).  So, floral honey??!?  Yeah!

The problem: I didn’t have two weeks to infuse the honey with florally goodness.  And the recipe calls for olives, but I’m not in an olive mood.  There are times I can’t get enough of ‘em, the olives, and I put them in my salads and on pizzas and in hummus and pita and anywhere else I can think to stick them.  But today?  Not so much.  The boyfriend always reminds me that I have no respect for the inherent integrity of a recipe, and he’s right, and so in that spirit I give you:

Stuffed Baby Peppers with Floral Yogurt, Sweet and Sour Jalapenos, and Walnuts

The first thing I did was prepare the yogurt, but I did so hours before I was officially ready to cook so I didn’t take pictures.  But.  You take a single-serving of good thick Greek yogurt and whisk it together with (roughly, I unfortunately never measure) a tablespoon of crushed dried rose petals (seriously, crush them thoroughly) and a teaspoon each of rose water and pomegranate molasses.  Grate in the zest from one lime and sprinkle with salt, and whisk again.  Cover->fridge->done.  It’s pungent, elegant and sexy as hell.  You can get rose petals and rose water at various shops throughout the interwebs…I mean, it’s not like I have an organic edible flower gardener right down the road from me in central PA.  And if you’re really stuck here’s a recipe for pomegranate molasses, but it’s becoming more readily available, so check your grocery store if you think I’m crazy.

There were two of us, so I took ten baby peppers and put them in a grill pan (no, I didn’t fire up my grill and no, don’t put oil or anything on them) to get a little char on them.  Once they get their char on (any Greek mythology nerds find this stupidly funny?), set them aside to cool.

I love their beautiful colors!

See how cute and little they are?

Charred and chillin'.

Next, pickle your jalapeno.  Easy-peasy.  Slice a jalapeno super-thin and put it in a non-reactive bowl (Pyrex, something stainless, but not cast-iron or aluminum, as they could leach into your food).  Coat with salt–don’t be afraid, it’s a pickle, after all–and put in a good hearty squeeze of honey.  Top with enough vinegar to cover the peppers; you want to give them something to hang out in without your having to worry about stirring them to ensure even pickling.  I put them in cider vinegar, because peppers (and especially jalapenos, it seems) LOVE cider vinegar.  I don’t recommend getting too experimental with the flavor of vinegar you choose, because why ruin a good thing?  But use what you’ve got, keep it relatively mild (put the aged balsamic down and walk away, people), and just be aware that it’s going to have to interact with other flavors later.

Cover this and let the peppers hang out for a while, at least an hour.  I put them in a sunny spot on the windowsill, but if you don’t have a sunny windowsill just put them aside on the counter.  They’re so thin they’ll react to the acid in the vinegar and “cook” (sort of like a ceviche) without heating the pickling liquid.  I suppose you can heat the honey, salt and vinegar and pour that on the pickle slices, and then sit all that in the fridge but honestly?  That’s one more pan to clean, and I am personally made way more happy by the thought of a happy bowl of jalapenos pickling on my windowsill.

Firey, but good.

OK, so.  Baby sweet peppers grilled, and cooling.  Jalapeno pickling in the sun.  Relax for a little while.  Or, cut the peppers in half and clean the veins and seeds, dry-roast some walnuts and clean and dry a small handful of flat-leaf parsley (you’ll need twenty smallish leaves, for the twenty smallish pepper halves).

Once the peppers are cleaned and cut (and I cut off the stem area on my peppers, which was probably a mistake, as it made them way less finger-foodey and way more in need of a knife and fork, so if you make them try and preserve the stem cap)…

Ready to receive.

…stuff ’em.  Yogurt, then jalapeno, then tuck some parsley into the side.  Sprinkle the tops with toasted walnuts and drizzle them with honey.

Lookit the cute little guy, just waiting to be consumed. I think this was the first one I ate. 🙂

Plenty for you and your paramour to feast upon.

These little pockets of peppery love hit all sorts of flavor points–they’re sweet, hot, aromatic, fresh from the parsley and grounded thanks to the toasty walnuts.  They’re not difficult by any means, they just require time.  But MAN, are they ever worth it.  Enjoy!

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