Heirloom Tomato Tart – My “flours” are not your “flours”

Gabe recently brought me home some really beautiful heirloom tomatoes that he snagged from work (Yay for community gardens!). While I’ve always been a sucker for flowers, sometimes a surprise basket of interesting vegetables means more to me. It reminds me of that scene in Stranger than Fiction when Will Ferrell’s character tries to woo Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character, a baker, with flours…As in “I brought you flours”…Get it?…teehee…But seriously though, one woman’s flowers might be different from another’s. For some, a new book is what’s going to make her smile. For others, it’s a tin of chai tea. Or maybe it’s TARDIS slippers, a chocolate protein shake, or the new Beyonce single. I ain’t judgin’. When you see that your partner has observed, acknowledged, and expressed appreciation for the little things that you’ve shown interest in, however quirky they may be, that’s when you feel special. My flowers just happen to be cool looking produce (among other edible things). Whatever it may be for you, I think the moral of this story is simply, “Man, know thy woman.”

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Get a load of those colors! I’m not exaggerating when I say that each one tasted different than the other – The yellow, more bright and floral; the red, more sweet and meaty. I took one look at these and thought “tomato tart.” But you best believe I ate a good lot of them sliced raw right off the cutting board, with just a sprinkle of sea salt, juices running down my arm and all. Heaven.

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For the dough, I made a sort of standard tart crust but added about 1 1/2 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese and some black pepper (because cheese is delicious, especially with tomatoes), and all of this turns into buttery, flakey, savory perfection. I chilled the dough for an hour then rolled it out thin. I then spread on a mixture of herbed goat cheese, mayonnaise, salt, and pepper. On top of that I layered these beautiful tomato slices, alternating colors. Finally, another fine sprinkling of salt and pepper, and some fresh chopped basil. The edges were folded over, leaving a fairly narrow border since I prefer more filling to crust. I baked this at 425 for about 40 minutes.

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The tomato flavors shine bright in this one and the crust is just delicious. This would be great for brunch, or, in my case, a late night dinner. There’s never really a wrong time for delicious food.

Don’t judge a book by its cover…

…or vegetables by their ugly. Not long ago, I read an article on how a European supermarket took a stand against food waste by promoting and selling the ugly cast-offs of the produce world in their stores (at a discount, of course). They touted these quirky veggies by proving that they were just as nutritious and delicious and worthy of love as any other. And they sold out quickly! (Their marketing video, here, is actually really great and definitely worth a watch).

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Well, I have to tell you that these little purple potatoes that I had in my pantry aren’t so sexy looking either. The skins are wrinkly, the ends lumpy, and what’s up with that root?! However, I was beyond excited to get my hands on these little guys. Any idea why a girl like me would get this pumped about a potato? Well, just cut into one and see!

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Wow! That color! The modest purple potato, everyone…And hey, the bunch was only $1.00. Of course I couldn’t wait to eat them. With pigment like that, you know they’re going to be good. I cleaned their nubbly skins by scrubbing under running water and cutting off anything too unsightly (like eyes and roots). There is no need to peel since the skin tastes great too (and just think of the extra vitamins, ya’ll!).

I prepared them by boiling in water until just tender, about 15 minutes. While the potatoes were boiling, I sautéed some sliced Kalamata olives in a little olive oil along with some fresh chopped rosemary. Once the potatoes were cooked, I drained them, sliced them into thick rounds, and added to my skillet. I added a small dab of butter (aka flavor gold) to the pan and sautéed them for a bit on med-high just until the skins began to brown. I then finished with a little sprinkle of Kosher salt.

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You can see how they turned and even darker shade after cooking. So fun. These babies are actually pretty sweet, almost like a yam, so I would consider that when pairing with other foods. I tossed mine with some fresh steamed green beans (not only for taste but because of the beautiful complimentary colors), added an extra drizzle of olive oil, and just a pinch more of salt. Fresh, quality ingredients need little fussing over. Delicious!

Soup no more

This last Thursday was the official first day of spring. In my head, I like to think that this is some magical day where as soon as the rosy faced sun comes up a’whistling and a’dancing, the dark clouds run away shrieking, with their skirts hiked up over their white ankles, and the newly sprouted flowers bop and flail about in celebration as if in a Steamboat Willie cartoon. Sadly this day isn’t as cute and conclusive as all that. The clouds remain and so does the chill. However, this day is still a lovely turning point in the season that can be used as an opportunity to air out the literal and figurative mothballs in your home and life. To me this means stowing away the heavy boots and coats, opening the windows to let in the fresh air, dusting the dusty the things, updating my short and long terms goals lists (as well as my shopping list to accommodate the changing produce selections), and preparing my final pot of winter soup.

I had picked up a butternut squash on my last trip to the grocery store, intending to roast it along with a few other root vegetables and serve it as a side dish. But after looking at the calendar and browsing my cupboards I opted to make a soup instead so that I could give a proper and delicious farewell to the winter season. I’ve had butternut squash soups before and they tend to be on the sweet side. While this type of squash does contain some good natural sugars (and roasting it really brings out the caramelized nuttiness locked inside) the addition of salty bacon and spicy chili oil help to balance out the sweet notes.

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Butternut Squash Soup with Pepitas, Bacon and Chili Oil
Serves about 6

1 Butternut squash, peeled and cut into large cubes
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1 quart of chicken stock
pinch of cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp dried oregano
1/3 cup cream (optional)
2 T plus 1 T of olive oil
Salt
Fresh ground black pepper

1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
6 strips of bacon, fried until crisp and chopped
*Chili oil

Heat the oven to 400F. Spread cubed squash onto a sheet pan (lined with foil for easy cleanup, if you like). Drizzle the squash with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. Toss it around to coat the pieces evenly with the oil and then roast for about 30 minutes. At around 15 minutes, give the squash a stir to keep one side from getting too dark. At around 20 minutes, feel free to poke your squash with a fork to see how tender it is. If it’s soft and caramelized, take it out. You can either use the squash right away, or, if planning ahead, simply let cool off and store in a container in the fridge until you want to make your soup.

Add about a tablespoon of olive oil to a large pot and heat over medium. Add the onions and saute until soft and translucent. Add the stock and give the pot a stir. Bring the liquid up to a boil then turn the temp down to medium-low so that it remains at a steady simmer. Add the cooked squash, cinnamon, turmeric, oregano, a good pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper. Stir and cover, letting simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the pot from the heat. Add the soup to a blender and pulse until smooth. Return to the pot. At this point you can either stir in the cream or leave it out for a more low-fat dish. It’s great either way.

Dish soup into bowls. Spoon about a tablespoon of bacon into the center of the bowl. Sprinkle on some pepitas and drizzle the top with a little chili oil.

Eat up and say a prayer of thanks that winter is finally over. It will only get sunny from here on out, right? RIGHT?!**

*I made my chili oil by infusing olive oil with dried chili flakes. You can either buy an infuser or simply combine a spoonful of chili flakes and some olive oil in a mason jar and let it steep for a about a week before using. It keeps for a very long time.

** Along with this being the last bowl of winter soup that I make until the next season, I promise this will also be the last time I passively complain about the weather.

Po’ Me Po’ Boys

This last bout of chilly weather got me feeling quite restless. While I accept my fate as a northwesterner, obliged to walk the drizzly streets in sandals and a raincoat, willing the weather to be warmer and drier, knowing full well that it won’t comply until it darn well feels like it, I can’t help but let my mind wander to places not-quite-here.

On a particularly cold, drizzly “poor me”-inducing sort of evening, I resolved that the only immediate cure to the gray day blues would be to bring a little bit of the south into my home. I’ve never made a New Orleans Po’ Boy in my life, nor am I experienced in the arts of the deep fry, but desperation sent me scanning my brain for something with a little spice. Po’ boys popped into my head as I already had the basics: Shrimp and a good baguette. I reviewed a few recipes and saw that the whole concept of the po’ boy is ingeniously no fuss, really – Meat, bread, mayonnaise or a remoulade. I took some tips from Bon Appétit on frying my shrimp and went from there. Traditionally the shrimp might be a bit larger but I happened to have some smaller “baby” shrimp in my freezer. I thawed and drained those well. I also wanted some heat, so instead of just dousing the sandwich in hot sauce I decided to make a spicy cabbage Sriracha slaw instead. The crunch from the hot fried shrimp and the cold creaminess of the slaw made for a euphoric finger-licking experience. Po’ boys are a little messy. I’ll just warn you in advance.

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Shrimp Po’Boys with Spicy Sriracha Slaw

Fried Shrimp
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
Vegetable oil for frying
1 1/2 pounds small shrimp, pre-cleaned/peeled.
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal

Sriracha Slaw
1/2 head of green cabbage, finely shredded.
1 cup mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons Sriracha
1 Tablespoon cider vinegar
Salt
Fresh ground pepper

1 Baguette, split, cut into 4 pieces.
1 Tomato, cut in half then sliced

Whisk first 8 ingredients in a small bowl to blend and set aside. Add about 2” oil to heavy bottomed pot (dutch ovens work well). Heat oil over medium heat to 350°. A deep fry thermometer would be best, but I just estimated the temp by using a regular meat thermometer as well as the sizzle factor of the oil when I dropped in a piece of shrimp.

While the oil is heating up, place shrimp and 2 Tbsp. spice mix in a medium bowl and toss to coat. Pour buttermilk into another medium bowl. Whisk flour and cornmeal in another medium bowl.

Dip seasoned shrimp briefly in buttermilk, then coat with flour mixture. Working in batches, fry shrimp, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and just cooked through, about 4 minutes per batch. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

In another bowl whisk together the mayonnaise, Sriracha, vinegar and salt/pepper, then add the shredded cabbage and incorporate well.

Open the baguette and line one side with tomato slices. Add a line of slaw on the other and fill the center of the sandwich with shrimp. Be generous! More is better when it comes to fried shrimp and po’boys. May this sandwich whisk you away to someplace hot like it did for me.

Saturday Breakfast – Sweet Potato Apple Hash

I realize it’s not Saturday, but I just couldn’t wait any longer to post this. Gabe and I don’t always get to spend a lot of time together between work and other weekly activities, so when we finally get a day off at the same time we try to make it count. One of our favorite things to do after rolling out of bed at a reasonably late hour (is 7AM reasonably late?) and brewing some french press (we save the fancy coffee for the weekend) is make breakfast together. I’ve done eggs benny, biscuits and gravy and crepes, but our hands-downs favorite go-to dish for quick and painless deliciousness is this sweet potato and apple hash. We really don’t seem to tire of it. Now, I realize I’ve said that I’m not a big breakfast person, but when it comes to this hash my appetite immediately perks up. I’m not going to tell some fancy pants story about this recipe. I’m only going to say that you should make this for breakfast asap, preferably this Saturday.

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Did I mention that there is also bacon in it? Because there is.

Sweet Potato and Apple Hash

6 strips of thick cut applewood smoked bacon
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ chunks
1 crisp apple, peeled and cut into 1/2″ chunks
1/2 yellow onion, diced
Fresh thyme, chopped
1 T of bacon fat (reserved from bacon)
1 T of butter
Salt/Pepper to taste

Cook all six slices of bacon in a large skillet until browned and the edges crisp. Move the bacon to a paper towel to drain. Eat one slice immediately then reserve the remaining five pieces for the actual dish. Pour your bacon grease into an old mug and save it in your fridge. Contrary to popular belief, not all fats are bad for you and bacon fat is oh so good for frying potatoes.

While the bacon is cooking, bring a pot of water to boil. Add the potatoes to the water and cook until a fork can just pierce the flesh. You don’t want to fully cook them as they will finish cooking in a pan. Drain your potatoes and set aside.

Return the pan that you used for the bacon back to the stove and turn the burner to medium heat. Add your butter. Once melted, scrape up any remaining crispy bits on the bottom of the pan then add your onions. Cook until just translucent. Add the apples. Once the apples begin to soften and the onions begin to caramelize, add about a tablespoon of bacon fat back to the pan and stir to melt. Turn the heat on your pan up to med-high. Add the potatoes, incorporating into the mix and cook until they become fully tender and start to brown on the edges. While that is browning, chop your bacon and add back to the pan. Stir in your thyme. Add a good pinch of salt and some fresh ground pepper. Be sure to taste it often to make sure it’s not poison.

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Excuse my language for a moment, but you would be a feather head if you didn’t serve this hash with a poached or over easy egg on top. When you cut into the egg for that first bite, the yolk pours out and becomes a silky sauce that coats each potato, which is oh so divine. You may or may not want to add a little dash of hot sauce to this as well. It’s good either way. Enjoy!

The Last of the Really Great Muffins

Have you heard of the Whangdoodle? He lived among us at one time, and was the wisest, the kindest, and the most extraordinary creature in the world. However, fearing that people were losing their imaginations in the pursuit of power and greed, the Whangdoodle disappeared, going off to create his own magical world where creatures like him could live in peace and love*. Except for those that pursued him long ago on a once grand adventure, the Whangdoodle, to this day, has sadly become a thing of myth and has essentially been forgotten.

Today, as I leaned over the kitchen counter and munched on the last of my pumpkin muffins, I pondered this mysterious creature. I wished that I could tap into child me’s imagination again, to lose my inhibitions and journey to Whangdoodleland where the world is open for exploring and creating and for pursuing magical things just for the fun of it. Perhaps Whangdoodleland is only myth, but perhaps we could use the dream of this place and our own creativity to create a little bit of magic in our own land. Do I sound like a dreamy fairy princes? Those who spend time with young ones can attest to the great heights at which unbridled imagination soars. Why can’t this cardboard box become a home (or a chair or a table)? Why can’t these weeds plucked from the woods become a fantastic meal (with proper research and precaution, wild foraging is a marvelous thing)? And why couldn’t a muffin be both healthy and delicious?

I suppose these muffins must have little bit of magic in them to be called healthy and tasty at the same time. I mean, let’s be honest here. Muffins are really just cake in disguise. Any muffin in the supermarket being marketed as “healthy” under the guise of a “bran” label or some other nonsense are typically loaded with as much “bad” stuff as a candy bar. P.S. Have you ever had a Costco muffin? Holy moly are those good and so so bad at the same time. However, because they’re called muffins and not cupcakes they’re cool to eat for breakfast, right? Right?! Hah. Well, with all that in my mind, I resolved to use my imagination to seek out the mythical, healthy AND (key word) delicious muffin. Chocolate of course needed to be invited, because…chocolate. I also needed something to bring the substance, so nuts and dried fruit were in order. And finally, I had some leftover pureed pumpkin in my freezer that I was intending to use for a pumpkin roll (which, for those unfamiliar with this little gem, is cake and pumpkin and cream cheese and drooooool…), but that didn’t happen. It seemed a bit odd to make something so “fall-esque” in January, so on to the healthy muffin quest!

The Last of the Really Great Muffins

1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 T flax meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup applesauce
1 1/2 cups pureed pumpkin (*Canned is fine. But making your own is so easy! I’ll post instructions when sugar pie pumpkins are back in season next fall)
One large egg

Mix Ins:
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup dried cranberries or other dried fruit, chopped if larger pieces.

Preheat your oven to 350 F and grease a muffin tin. Mix your dry ingredients together then your wet. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet and mix well. Stir in your mix ins. Spoon the mixture into the muffin tins. Bake for about 20 minutes. These muffins are moist so it’s okay if you insert a toothpick into one after your timer goes off and it comes out a little gummy.

*This creature’s story is told by Julie Andrews in The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, which was one of my favorite books growing up and still is to this day. I highly recommend that you enjoy these muffins while reading this book to your children, or to your cat or just to yourself.

Breakfast on the Go

I fight an ongoing battle with breakfast. I do enjoy the meal itself and its related foods on occasion, but I’m nothing like my husband who could eat breakfast for every meal of every day and be happy. One of my issues is that I find it difficult to eat a big meal first thing in the morning. My body never feels quite awake enough to power through an entire plate of eggs and bacon or an enormous bowl of oatmeal. I tend to be a black coffee and bite of toast kind of girl. I’ve also been in such a rush some mornings that I forget to grab anything at all, which means that a few hours into work I’m groggy, famished, and in desperate need of some protein.

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Looking through my refrigerator the other day I noticed a large package of deli ham that was reaching it’s use-by date, so I began thinking of ways to use it up quickly. Because both Gabe and I run on such a tight schedule during the week I’m a big fan of anything make-ahead that allows us to just grab and go, whether that is breakfast, lunch, or dinner. We’d made eggy breakfast muffins before, but this time around I thought, “Why not skip the egg scrambling and use the ham as a vessel for baking a whole egg?” Now folks, out of curiosity I googled this idea. Apparently ham cups are a thing that people do (I should have known, considering the whole “bacon bowl” craze), so is nothing entirely new. However, it works great, tastes delicious, and is a wonderful way to get that much needed nutrition first thing in the morning. The cups are also not too big, so if you have a small appetite in the morning like I do, one (or two) are enough to hold you over.

The base ingredients are simple (ham and egg) so lend themselves well to many yummy additions. Make it your own! I chose to use some cherry tomatoes and green onion because that’s what I already had on hand, but almost anything would do. How about red peppers with a little crumbled chèvre? Or chopped bacon (MORE PIG!), a few pieces of thinly sliced apple and a little gruyere on top?

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I started by spraying a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray and layering a few slices of the ham into each cup to form the walls.

photo 3Next, I spooned in some diced cherry tomatoes and a little green onion. I cracked an egg into each cup and seasoned with salt, fresh ground pepper and a little dried basil (Fresh basil would be fabulous, but, again, sometimes you’ve just gotta clean out your fridge and use what you’ve got. Waste not want not!

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I then sprinkled the tops with a little cheddar cheese and put them in the oven to bake at 350 F for about 15 minutes. The cheese was melty, the ham crispy, and the eggs just set.

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Let them cool a little bit and PRESTO! Quick and easy morning fuel so there are no more mid-morning groggies. And look how cute they are. Wouldn’t these be fun to serve at a brunch?

On-the-go, clean-out-the-fridge baked ham and egg breakfast cups
aka Ham and Egg Cups

24 slices of ham
12 eggs
2 green onions, sliced
Half pint of cherry tomatoes, diced
1 cup of grated cheddar cheese
Salt
Pepper
Dried basil

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. Layer two slices of ham into each cup. Spoon some of the cherry tomatoes and green onion into each. Crack one egg into each cup. Season with salt, pepper and dried basil. Sprinkle some of the cheese on top of each one. If you will be eating these right away and would like runnier yolks then you’ll only need to bake these for about 13 minutes, just until the whites set and the ham gets crispy. If you will be making these ahead and storing in the fridge for later, I would suggest cooking the eggs a bit longer, from 15-20 minutes depending on your oven. Note that the eggs will continue to cook once you take them out, so it’s usually best to take them out a minute or so before you think you should based on looks. If you’re eating these for your weekday grab-and-go breakfast, simply wrap one in a paper towel and reheat for 1 1/2 minutes in your microwave.