pancakes for the win

Everyone has a different tradition when it comes to kicking off the holiday season. For some people it revolves around things like ‘Black Friday’ shopping, extreme home decorating or proudly wearing a truly ugly sweater. For others it’s taking the kids to see Santa, sending out that years Christmas card (after agonizing over the picture) or seeing the first flakes of snow. For me it’s all about putting up the tree. Once that white light twinkling, ornament festooned, towering cone of green takes over the corner of my great room it’s ‘game on’. (Although to be honest there have been some years when I started working on my holiday gifts in September. There was the year everyone on my gift list got a hand knit scarf and another year when everyone got baskets of homemade goodies. I made and jarred my own applesauce, bottled my own flavored vinegar and made biscotti, nutella shortbread cookies and toasted almond crack like I was the last baker on Earth. And then I designed and printed my own labels and gift tags. Yeah, that year almost killed me.)

This year however is a different story, This year ‘game on’ is more like “Umm, what? There’s a game? Where?” You see even though we put up the tree earlier than usual and the house has been in a jingle all the way state for sometime— I have yet to knit a stitch, bake a crumb or even get my Christmas cards into the mail. Between the craziness of school assignments and obligations; “Sure I’ll come read to your class on my only day off.” “Yes I remembered the cash for your (crappy and overpriced) ‘Holiday Shop’. ‘The bow on your violin is damaged? Okay let me contact the music people, work out the details of getting a new one and then remember to send the damaged back to school with you.” (I didn’t remember. They had to remind me. It took several weeks to get the new bow. It hasn’t improved his playing.) “What time is your holiday concert and what exactly qualifies as your ‘holiday best’ outfit?” Your Minecraft shirt is green, will that work?!?” “You need how many holiday cards signed and addressed by you (and only you) for your kindergarten classmates? And by when?” “Oh and stocking stuffers for each and every one of them as well? Fantastic!” “No of course were not just giving money for a boring old class gift. Special teacher presents for everyone!” Not to mention we had a soccer season that lasted until Thanksgiving and basketball practice that started soon after, the double-whammy of both kids down with step and ‘Readers Workshop’ books needing to be read nightly and the accompanying flow chart updated (Ok so we got a bit behind on that and had to read six books on one night to catch up). With all this going on I haven’t exactly had the chance to properly pull together Christmas, and now that jolly ol’ Saint Nick will be here in only a handful of days the pressure is seriously on. Which brings me to the point of this post: pancakes. Ha! Betcha didn’t see that one coming did you?

For me pancakes are synonymous with Sunday mornings and Sunday mornings have to be without a doubt my favorite part of the week. On Sunday I get to enjoy my coffee (not guzzle it down before rushing out of the house), I get to read the paper or watch the news and I get to say “What do you want for breakfast?” and have it mean something other than toast or cold cereal. Sunday is the one day that breakfast means bowls and whisks, skillets and spatulas, time and effort, comfort and care. Often that resembles a stack of pancakes. My kids love pancakes. Love them. LOVE THEM! Pancakes with chocolate chips. Pancakes with diced strawberries. Pancakes with bananas. Even pancakes straight up. If you’re offering pancakes they’re eating! And so because I like Sunday mornings and they like pancakes and I like them… I make pancakes, frequently. In fact even when the week prior has been crazed and the one coming up looks no better. When Rudolph and his team are breathing down my neck and I don’t feel remotely filled with good cheer. Even when I’m officially out of time, energy and ideas… A Sunday morning stack of pancakes is never entirely out of the question. Why? Well because pancakes make them happy and because someday I hope they look back on these Sunday morning breakfasts nostalgically. And because good homemade entirely from scratch pancakes are actually easy. “Easy like Sunday morning…”

Simple Homemade Pancakes
I know it’s easy to open a box of pre-mix and just add a little water, but this recipe really is simple and the pancakes are delicious.

pancake

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups low-fat milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil

  1. In a large bowl whisk together all the dry ingredients. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl beat the eggs, then whisk in the milk and oil.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, whisking until just incorporated and a few small lumps remain.
  4. Lightly grease a skillet or large griddle and heat. Pour 1/4 cup batter onto the hot griddle and cook until bubbles begin to form on the surface. Flip and cook the opposite side until done. Serve with butter and plenty of maple syrup.

a beacon in the night chowda’

This is recipe makes me think about a cold rainy Summer day in Cape Cod. Let me set the scene; It was the 80’s and my family had decided to go to the Cape for our annual vacation. I had a ‘totally mint’ new pair of flashy red sunglasses, Bruce Springsteen’s “Brilliant Disguise” was playing nonstop on the radio that Summer (and I sorta new all the words) and my favorite partner in crime would be joining us on the trip. Good times were clearly on the horizon! And then the bottom fell out…

First I discovered that we’d be camping on the Cape— I hate camping. Secondly my cousin who had planned to come along got sick and bailed, so it was just pre-teen me and my parents. Ugh. And then it rained.

Rain is never fun on vacation. Rain when you’re camping on the Cape is even less fun, take my word for it. Rest assured we made the best of it and continued to sightsee and explore just as we would if the sun had been shining. (“What can I tell you? Let’s just make the best of it.” was such a frequently used phrase in our house I should have had it printed on a t-shirt.) However those damp Summer days actually did hold two bright spots for me; The first was finding an old-fashioned penny candy store where a couple of dollars could still buy you a boat load of sugary goodness and the other was a truly no-nonsense lunch we stumbled into one afternoon.

We had clearly spent the morning out in the elements ‘making the best of the situation’ because I remember being cold, wet and unhappy in a sulky pre-teen kinda way. We then piled back into the truck, destination unknown, when my father abruptly decided to steer the car down to the end of one of the docks, just to see what’s there. That’s when we found a tiny dockside shack that made and sold steamy cups of soup. New England, Manhattan and whatever the fisherman had caught that day Fish Chowda’. The rain drizzled down and seagulls swooped from piling to piling while we ordered and quickly took it back to the truck to stay dry. And then suddenly the clouds lifted, the sun shone through and like a beacon in the night or manna from heaven the soup instantly warmed us and lifted our spirits! (Okay so it wasn’t actually that dramatic. It in fact continued to rain and I was sandwiched between my parents eating soup out of a styrofoam cup with a plastic spoon. But… the soup was seriously delicious and it did warm my chilled body and make the remainder of my soggy day more tolerable. And frankly, that says something.)

So the moral of this story could be something like: It never hurts to try and make the best of a situation; don’t be afraid to suddenly take a new road or it is possible to find simple, delicious, perfection in a little styrofoam cup!

Fish Chowder with Bacon and Butternut Squash
This reminds me of summer at the Cape and works perfectly well with either haddock or cod.

cod chowder

5 slices thick cut bacon, diced
1 medium onion, diced small
4 stalks celery, sliced thin
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 2 lb. butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 tbsp. flour
1/4 cup cream sherry
3 cups fish or chicken stock
1 cup bottled clam juice
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1 1/2 lbs. skinless haddock or cod filets
1/2 cup heavy cream
cayenne pepper, for garnish

  1. Dice the bacon, add to a large stock pot and cook until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the diced onion, celery and thyme to the bacon fat and cook until the vegetables begin to soften.
  2. Add the flour to the pot and allow to cook until golden brown. Then add the sherry to deglaze the pan, being sure to scrape up any stuck on bit from the bottom.
  3. Stir in the stock, clam juice and butternut squash and allow to come to a boil. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer until the squash is just tender 10-12 minutes.
  4. Cut the fish filets into large bite sized pieces. Stir in the salt, pepper and smoked paprika. When the squash is tender add the fish to the pot, cover and simmer until it flakes apart easily, about 4-5 minutes. Stir in the cream and allow to cook for 2 more minutes.
  5. Serve with a hearty sprinkle of cayenne pepper.

*inspired by epicurious

ya can’t beet a brownie

I don’t know about you but I love brownies. Rich, chocolatey, cakey, satisfying brownies. No nuts. No frosting. No edges. (I’m a center of the pan kinda girl.) I love those classic, foundation of many a bake sale and potluck, way better than a slice of cake treats— But I almost never make them. Why? Because while they exude an air of nostalgia and casual effortlessness, they are in fact persnickety little monsters and total baking with ease impostors. Let me explain..

Over bake them and they’re tough and chewy, sticking to the pan and in your teeth. Under bake them and they’re a mushy, gooey, fall apart mess. And then there’s the cooling factor. Even if you time the baking exactly right you still have to let them cool an inordinate amount of time before even attempting to cut into them. Can’t fight you’re impatient inner child and start slicing while they’re still too warm… Hello stuck to the knife brownie mess! And honestly, whom among us hasn’t been lured into making a batch (whether it be from scratch or boxed) only to end up standing at the counter scraping bits of brownie off the bottom of the pan, smushing them together to create a pitiful brownie lump and shoveling them into your mouth so as to not have your efforts wasted. All the while swearing “NEVER AGAIN”. I know, I’m with you. I’ve totally been there. Which is why it’s all the more surprising that I decided out of the blue to make brownies from scratch. Perhaps I was feeling invincible or perhaps I was simply feeling that keeping up with work, kids and home wasn’t enough of a challenge that week. Whatever the case may have been there I was whipping up a batch of brownies for two sick kids. (Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that my kids were both home sick from school. Yup, they were. Two sick kids. Both home. Two days. Good times.) Anyway… Amid the chaos that was last week I decided to make brownies, no doubt as much for myself as for them.

I’m a bit of a recipe pack-rat; squirreling away magazine pages, newspaper clippings and dozens of forwarded to myself emails containing recipes that I plan to make “someday”. One of the scraps of paper at the top of my pile was a brownie recipe from C for Food & Agriculture. (If you’re not familiar with Stone Barnes then by all means you should be, it’s an incredible place with an equally amazing restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns smack at the center.) The recipe was for rich, decadent brownies with a subtle orange flavor and beets as the secret ingredient. This wasn’t the first time I had decided to sneak beets into my baked goods, remember those yummy Chocolate Cake Donuts with Chocolate Ganache, so I jumped right in. I knew the beets would add moisture and texture to the mix and that once cool, their flavor would be virtually undetectable. And I was right, they were delicious! Rich, moist and chocolatey with just the right hit of orange and just the right amount of soul soothing decadence to make this harried mom and her two sick kids feel momentarily better.

The kids are thankfully on the mend and everyone will be heading back to school (and work) tomorrow, perhaps with a tasty little square of Orange-Beet Brownie tucked into their lunch boxes. Unless of course I tell them the brownies are all gone and secretly polish off the rest myself. A little white tie never hurt anyone and frankly, I think I’ve earned it.

Orange-Beet Brownies
Once these babies are cool no one would ever guess they contain beets!

beet brownie3

3 small beets, trimmed
8 oz. good-quality bittersweet chocolate (such as Ghirardelli 60% cacao)
1 stick salted butter, diced
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
zest of 1 orange
3 tbsp. orange juice, divided
1 1/4 cups self-rising flour*
confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

  1. To make the beet purée: Preheat oven to 400°F, wrap the beets in foil and roast for 45 minutes or until the beets are easily pierced with a fork. Let cool until they can be handled easily, then peel and dice. (I usually do this the day before I plan to bake the brownies.)
  2. Add diced beets and 1 tablespoon of orange juice to the bowl of a food processor and blend to a purée, set aside to cool.
  3. Lower oven temp to 350°F and lightly grease an 8×8 pan, set aside.
  4. Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Add the diced butter and let melt, stirring often.
  5. In another bowl, beat the sugar with the eggs until smooth and creamy. Stir in the orange zest and remaining orange juice, puréed beets and flour. Then slowly add the melted chocolate and beat until fully combined.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes.
  7. Allow to cool for 15 minutes in the pan before removing to a rack. Then cool for another 15 minutes before attempting to cut. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and enjoy!

*To make gluten-free self-rising flour: Combine 2 cups of gluten-free flour with 3 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Whisk to combine.

*inspired by stone barnes center

the grateful guest

I love party planning; the recipe research, list making, ingredient shopping and tabletop setting. Sure it’s a lot of time, work and money but what can I say— I truly enjoy that meal savored, compliments accepted, pots n’ pans washed feeling of a dinner well done. But ya know what I like even more? Occasionally being the guest rather than the host. Yup you read right, sometimes I prefer to be responsible for nothing more than a hostess gift and a side, rather than the whole shebang. Seriously. Instead of missing out on conversations because I’m stuck in the kitchen, watching the clock like a hawk to ensure that everything comes out hot, washing and packing back away countless pots, pans, dishes, glasses, platters, bowls, napkins and tablecloths… I get to drink wine, nibble on appetizers, chit-chat and relax.

So you may be wondering, what do I bring when the opportunity to be a grateful guest should arise. Well I’ll tell you. I like to bring a bottle of wine, something I know the host will enjoy whether they decide to open it at the gathering or not, and a dish that requires minimal serving effort. There’s nothing worse than having someone show up at your house with a contribution, that in theory is intended to make the dinner easier on you, but in reality requires elaborate assembly and/or preparation. For me the answer is always something that can be made at home, transported easily and (ideally) served at room temperature. Something like a cheese platter, a salad of some sort, dessert (a total no brainer) or an array of crudités and dips.

People love dip, it’s an undeniable fact. Give them something to dunk, dip or slather and they’re happy as clams. And why not— its easy, unpretentious and personally… makes me think of childhood. As a product of the 70’s I have fond memories of old school Lipton Onion Soup Dip served alongside a big ol’ bag of greasy crinkle potato chips. Man, it really didn’t get much better. I would never consider going the Lipton route now but I’m fairly confident that if I did, it would get devoured in no time flat. (Because let’s be honest— corn syrup, hydrolyzed soy protein, caramel color, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, monosodium glutamate and yeast extract may be unhealthy, but they’re just as yummy as they were in 1978!)

When I bring a crudité platter I like serve it with a couple of homemade “healthy” dips. Hummus is always an option and sometimes guacamole, but when I want to switch things up a bit I make Rosemary White Bean Dip or a super simple Feta & Lemon Dip. They’re delicious, can easily be doubled and the leftovers makes great sandwich spreads. I haven’t discounted the idea of attempting to create a healthy/from scratch version of everyone’s beloved Lipton Onion Soup dip, so keep your eyes out for that sometime in the near future. However something tells me that no matter how tasty it turns out, it just won’t compare to my MSG tinted memories.

Rosemary White Bean Dip
The rosemary flavor is very subtle, so even if you’re not a huge fan don’t omit it.

2dips3

5 lg. garlic cloves, smashed
4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 fat sprig of fresh rosemary
3 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 can Great Northern Bean, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp. plain Greek yogurt
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
crudités, chips or crackers, for serving

  1. In a small skillet warm 2 tbsp. of oil until it shimmers. Add the smashed garlic and rosemary and sauté until the garlic is golden brown. Remove the rosemary spring and discard, add the garlic and oil to the bowl of a food processor.
  2. Add to the food processor the remaining oil, lemon juice, rinsed beans, yogurt, salt and pepper.
  3. Allow to process until the mixture is completely smooth. Transfer to a serving dish and allow to chill before serving.
  4. Serve with crudités, chips or crackers.

*adapted from serious eats

Feta + Lemon Dip
Seriously simple.

8 oz. block feta cheese
3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, smashed
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
lemon zest, for garnish
drizzle of olive oil, for garnish
crudités, chips or crackers, for serving

  1. Break the feta into chunks and place in the bowl of a food processor along with the lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil. Process until smooth and fully combined.
  2. Spoon into a serving bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with a bit of fresh lemon zest.
  3. Serve with crudités, chips or crackers.

*adapted from sweet paul magazine

gluten-free… is it for me?

A few weeks ago I decided to try going gluten-free. I’ve had quirky issues with my stomach most of my life (ironic since I’m such a food lover right?) and I wanted to see if making the switch would make a difference. It’s too soon to make any concrete declarations but all signs are pointing to… maybe.

Deciding to change your diet can feel like a daunting task. I’ll be honest, my motto is more “Life is too short not enjoy dinner!” than “Moderation is the key too happiness.” With that in mind I’ve tried my best not to let gluten-free mean flavor-free, but it hasn’t been easy. I’ve discovered that potato chips and wine are both gluten-free (which frankly made me one happy girl) and I’ve come to the conclusion that if you fall into three simple categories you’re certain to find eating well gluten-free to be a snap. And here they are:

1.) You like vegetables and are happy to eat lots of them.
2.) You’re not a big fan of carbs and can give them up without a backward glance.
3.) You’re more of a baked goods buyer than a from scratch baker.

Honestly I’ve got no problem with 1. And I’m actually surprised at how easily I’ve given up 2., but the baking part has been tricky. You see while it’s quite possible to find recipes for ooey-gooey gluten-free cinnamon buns and chewy chocolate chip cookies; these recipes are often labor intensive and usually require a boat load of special ingredients. Ingredients such as tapioca and rice flour, xanthan gum, potato starch and agar flakes, things you probably don’t exactly have lying around the pantry. Yeah, I know— annoying. I’ve decide that if I stick with this little wheat-free detour then perhaps I will make the ingredient investment, but until then I’ve been trying to manage with my own little tweaks and substitutions. So what have I come up with? Well I’m glad you asked…

My daughter and I made our own oat flour and used it to bake up some lovely applesauce muffins. I’ve made dozens of loaves of cornbread with a blend of fine and coarse cornmeal, a couple of eggs and some cream style corn— the results were delicious. But my biggest gluten-free success so far has to be macaroni n’ cheese. I swapped regular pasta for rice (I like Trader Joe’s brand the best), used arrowroot powder instead of flour in the roux for the cheese sauce, and punched up the flavor big time by using a combination of goat brie and cheddar. Afraid of that goaty flavor? Don’t be, it’s really subtle but makes a huge flavor impact and this combo seems to be loved by all. Seriously! My family thinks it’s one of the best versions of mac n’ cheese I’ve ever made, which is fantastic, but I really knew I was onto something when I served it at our July 4th barbecue. Not a single one of the dozen kids who were here had anything but “Is there more?” to say about it. I’ll take that as one big fat recipe success.

I guess you can say that I’m slowly learning to navigate the world of gluten-free living. I can almost imagine myself continuing to live this way if I can just conquer one all mighty obstacle… The ultimate crusty loaf of gluten-free bread. So stay tuned!

Gluten-Free Goat Brie + Cheddar Mac n’ Cheese
I make this with goat brie and my family loves it, but you can use all cheddar if you don’t think yours will.

glutenfree mac2

2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. arrowroot powder
1 1/2 cups skim milk, warmed
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
4 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, diced
4 oz. wheel goat brie, peeled and diced
16 oz. gluten-free rice macaroni

  1. Begin cooking the macaroni according to package directions. While it cooks melt the butter in a medium saucepan.
  2. Add the arrowroot powder and whisk until it turns golden. (The key to using arrowroot is not to overheat it, otherwise it loses it’s thickening magic.)
  3. Slowly add the warm milk and whisk until the sauce has thickened. Add the garlic powder, salt and Dijon mustard and stir until well combined.
  4. Drain the macaroni and return to the pot. Add the diced cheese to the white sauce and stir until the sauce is smooth.
  5. Pour half the cheese sauce over the cooked macaroni and give it a gentle stir. Add additional sauce until the macaroni is coated to your liking. (I often have extra sauce that I use when I reheat the leftovers.)
  6. Serve, enjoy and be amazed at how tasty gluten-free can be!

smoked beer can chicken soup

Autumn is my favorite season. I love the chill in the air; I love the contrast between the bright blue sky and Mother Nature’s muted colors; I even love the cool, earthy and slightly damp way the world smells. Around this time each year I’m typically elbow deep in end of the season garden veggies; namely peppers, tomatoes, onions and eggplant. But not this year. This summers garden was a serious bust. I gave it just as much love as I ever do and the meager amount of veggies it produced was beyond disappointing. Sure my cucumber plants grew so voraciously we were eating cucumber with nearly every meal, but I got exactly two habanero and six bell peppers, the yellow and acorn squash flowered but then nada, the radishes and beets were nothing but greens and the tomato plants grew taller than me but only offered up a few handfuls of fruit. It broke my heart. What did truly flourish and produce in abundance were the tomatillos. The plants were so tall and willowy they resembled trees and each was covered stem to stern in little paper-thin green lanterns that would later be filled with the tomatillo fruit. It was the bountiful harvest I had been longing for. So you may be wondering, what did I do with all those lovely tomatillos? Well… I ate them sliced in salads and as a garnish for tacos. I made an insanely spicy Salsa Verde and I threw a handful in with some heirloom purple tomatoes for a kooky homemade pasta sauce. And I made soup.

Ours is a house of soup eaters, in fact my daughter is so crazy for soup that she’ll frequently request the leftovers for breakfast. No problem… In my mind there’s nothing like a warm comforting bowl of some homemade goodness to make a chilly Fall day (or morning) seem downright toasty. Believe it or not I’ve actually been planning for my first pot of Fall soup for a few months now. I know, seems a little crazy right? But it’s not really. You see my husband really honed his smoked beer can chicken technique this past summer. What started out as a good recipe in June turned into a killer recipe by August. It was so good that beer can chicken was the meal requested by my son’s friend the night he slept over. (And you know when a super picky 10 yr old requests one of your recipes it must be good!) Anyway, to ultimately get to this poultry of perfection recipe he made beer can chicken fairly frequently— sometimes as often as two weekends in a row. Mind you I’m not complaining, just explaining that we had a considerable amount of leftover chicken in the house and one can only eat so many chicken salad sandwiches! So, I decided to quietly squirrel away some of the leftover bits in the freezer in anticipation of that first pot of soup.

Fast forward to a chilly day in September, a day that begged for soup. Into the pot went some onion, a green pepper and a bunch of those lovely tomatillos. Out of the freezer came my carefully rationed chicken and an hour later… into our belly’s went some of the tastiest soup ever to come out of my kitchen.

And yes, my littlest love did in fact have a bowl of it for breakfast the next day.

beer can soup

Smoked Beer Can Chicken Soup
Any sort of leftover chicken will do but the smoked beer can really brings a nice flavor to the party.

3 tbsp. olive oil
2 cups diced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. tomatillos, husked, washed and diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. chipotle chili powder
3 cups frozen corn, defrosted
2 15 oz. cans black beans, rinsed
8 cups chicken stock
4 cups leftover beer can chicken, cut into bite size pieces
Sliced jalapeño, fresh cilantro, avocado (optional garnish)

  1. In a large stockpot over medium heat warm the oil until it just begins to shimmer. Add the onions and cook until they become transparent. Then add the garlic, tomatillos and peppers. Season with salt and let cook until the tomatillos break down and become soupy.
  2. Add to the pot the spices, corn, black beans, stock and leftover chicken. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook for 10 minutes. Ladle into bowls and enjoy garnished with sliced jalapeño, fresh cilantro and avocado if you like.

a cherry pepper of a giveaway!

It’s over, can you believe it? Yeah me neither. It feels like only yesterday we were cheering over the first day of summer break and now ten weeks, countless day trips, endless hours spent floating in the pool and one family vacation later… and the summer of 2014 is coming to a close. I have mixed feelings about summer’s end. On one hand I’m ready to get back into a set routine; sure that means shuttling kids to and from school, soccer, gymnastics and so on— but there’s a certain comfort to be found in the routine. On the other hand I could do without another year of maddening school projects, endless video game vs. homework battles and the daily chore of making lunches. Not to mention feeling as though it goes from the first day of school to Halloween to Thanksgiving in the blink of an eye. Seriously, before you know it we’ll all be stressing over holiday dinner menus, Black Friday shopping and the impending countdown to the end of the year. Ugh.

Luckily the end of Summer doesn’t mean the end of garden fresh vegetables. Root vegetables, apples and pears, pumpkins and gourds and a variety of peppers are at their seasonal best this time of year. In fact on a recent trip to Corrado’s Market the local cherry peppers looked so good that I couldn’t pass them by. I threw a dozen in a bag and figured I’d decide what to do with them later. Turns out that inspiration was no further away than the cheese department. You see Corrado’s sells an amazing sharp provolone that my husband and I adore, but some may find too strong for everyday snacking. As I pushed my cart along I thought about that cheese and imagined the flavor mellowing beautifully if it was wrapped in a bit of imported prosciutto, stuffed inside of a cherry pepper and allowed to cure for a week or so in some quality olive oil. Oh yeah, you know what I’m talking about right? Those spicy little stuffed cherry peppers that are an integral part of every good antipasto platter and olive bar. Yup that’s right, that’s exactly what I made… and man were they delicious!

But my story doesn’t end there— You see writing about back to school and the impending holidays began to make me feel a bit stressed. Don’t get me wrong, while I enjoy all the planning, prepping and preparing of a holiday meal it seems to become more and more difficult to pull off with each passing year. Apparently the universe sensed my stress and sought to sooth me with a little retail therapy… No sooner did I think ‘Thanksgiving’ then along came an email from Pacific Merchants Trading Company offering to send me a few pieces of their gorgeous tableware to use and review! By now you know that I’m a sucker for dishware (especially serving pieces) so you can imagine how quickly I jumped at the chance to add a few of their beautiful Acacia wood pieces to my collection. But the folks at Pacific Merchants didn’t just want me to be happy, nope they wanted you to be happy too! Pacific Merchants has offered to send one lucky beets and blue cheese reader a $50 gift certificate which they can use to purchase something amazing from their website. But that’s not all, they also wanted to offer EVERYONE reading this post a coupon towards a future purchase. Simply enter “WeLoveBeets” at checkout  on www.pacificmerchants.com  for 20% off your next purchase, from now until October 1, 2014. Pretty fantastic, right? Yup those lovely people over at  Pacific Merchants really know how to talk a girl in off a ledge!

So thank your lucky stars that I start worrying about Thanksgiving in September and go enter the giveaway, make this recipe and serve it up in something beautiful from Pacific Merchants

Pickled Cherry Peppers with Prosciutto and Provolone
I never need to buy those expensive olive bar peppers again. And now neither do you!

stuffed cherry peppers

12 large hot cherry peppers
6 cloves garlic, divided
1/4 tsp. black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2 cups white wine vinegar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cup water
1 tsp. coarse kosher salt
2 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 lb. wedge of sharp provolone cheese
12 slices prosciutto
3 cups extra-virgin olive oil

  1. Wash and dry peppers and put in a large glass jar. Peel and smash three garlic cloves and add them to the jar with the peppers. Then add the peppercorns and bay leaf.
  2. Combine the vinegars, water, salt, and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and allow to boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and carefully pour over the peppers, they should be fully submerged. Allow to cool to room temperature on the counter, then cover and refrigerate for 1 week. (The peppers will absorb a considerable amount of the vinegar. Once the level has dropped a few inches you’ll want to add something to the jar to weigh down the peppers and keep them submerged in the vinegar. I found that a small ramekin worked well.)
  3. Drain the peppers well and use a sharp paring knife carefully remove the stem. With a baby or demitasse spoon carefully scoop out the seeds, leaving the pepper hollow but intact. Place the peppers cut side down on paper towels and allow them to drain further.
  4. Cut the cheese into blocks small enough to fit in each pepper. Wrap one slice of prosciutto around a block of cheese (don’t worry if the prosciutto pulls apart), then gently stuff into a cherry pepper. Repeat the same process with the remaining peppers.
  5. Carefully place all of the peppers and the three remaining garlic cloves in a large glass jar. Cover with olive oil, put the lid on and refrigerate for at least 24 hrs. Allow to come to room temperature before serving. And speaking of serving…

*adapted from chez panisse vegetables

HIP, HIP HOORAY, IT”S A GIVEAWAY!— HAS ENDED

wood plates2CONGRATULATIONS MIMI… YOU’RE THE LUCKY WINNER!

To enter for a chance to win a $50 gift certificate to Pacific Merchants Trading Company (which can be used for any number of beautiful times including a set of Acacia serving pieces like mine), please leave a comment below telling me what you like or dislike most about hosting a holiday dinner.

Are you like me and you love the recipe researching, list making, planning and ultimately pulling together a meal that hopefully tops all others? Or do you dread everything involved with a holiday dinner including the cooking, cleaning and having your family converge on you like locusts? Whatever it is, I want to hear it!

Leave your comment between Wednesday, September 3, 2014 and Thursday, September 11, 2014. (One comment per person please, US residents only.) Entries must be left via the comment form at the bottom of this post. A winner will be selected using Random.org. on Friday, September 12th and will be promptly contacted.

So please leave a comment and then feel free to…

  • Follow @beetsbluecheese on Twitter.
  • Become a beets and blue cheese follower via e-mail
    (you’ll find the “follow me” button at the top of this page).
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  • Share this giveaway with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Good luck!

cucumber à la julia child

This week would have been the 102nd birthday of everyone’s favorite food maven and former spy Julia Child. Julia was a firm believer in following your heart, stepping outside of your comfort zone and embracing life regardless of the obstacles placed in front of you. In honor of her and all she has given to a world of home cooks and great chefs alike, I have decided to reblog my post about Julia from last August and my (her) recipe for Cold Cucumber & Potato Soup.

Until next post I’ll leave you with these wise words from the beloved Julia Child:

“The measure of achievement 
is not winning awards.
It’s doing something that you appreciate,
something you believe is worthwhile.”

Well said Julia, I couldn’t agree more…

Around this time each summer two things happen in my garden. The squirrels destroy my corn stalks (evil no-good rodents) and my tomato and cucumber plants explode with fruit. An over abundance of tomatoes is never a problem, I use them in salsa and salads of all kinds and for my Sweet Summer Sauce, but cucumbers are a bit more tricky. I’ve attempted to make pickles, only to end up with a soggy vinegary mess. I’ve given some away, but believe it or not a lot of people don’t like cucumbers (I know, can you imagine?!?) and I’ve eaten them simply sliced and in salads, but there are only so many cucumber salads that even this girl can eat! So I set out on a mission to find another use for all these cukes.

My initial thought was that I could try to bake with them like you would grated zucchini, they really are almost the same vegetable after all. In fact I’m sure they would be the perfect zucchini substitute in these Pineapple-Zucchini Muffins and with back-to-school only a few weeks away I think that’s exactly what I’ll do (don’t tell my son). But muffins weren’t what I felt like making amidst this August heat, so I continued to wade through my cookbook cabinet in search of inspiration. And there it was, in the NY Times food section that I had saved from last August. August 15, 2012 had been Julia Child’s 100th birthday and the food world had celebrated it in great fashion. Julia Child— the cooking and culinary legend and inspiration to generations of home cooks. She was “absolutly fabulous”. And here I stood, just days away from Julia’s 101st birthday and in need of cucumber inspiration. “Hmm, what would Julia make?” I thought to myself. That’s when I heard a warbly voice say “Potages aux Concombres!” Okay I didn’t actually hear Julia’s voice from the great beyond, but I did discover an old recipe of hers for cold cucumber soup which sounded perfect but for one exception; to thicken the soup she had used farina— that’s where she lost me. I would rather use a thickener that would add flavor to the soup as well as substance (sorry Julia). A bit more research and I found a vichyssoise recipe that seemed to have some of the elements Julia’s recipe had been missing, namely potato and buttermilk. It was at that moment, in my little New Jersey kitchen that a Julia Child/Cooking Light cold cucumber and potato soup was born.

Bon appétit and happy birthday Julia, thank you for being you!

Cold Cucumber & Potato Soup
This soup may not be for everyone, including my children and husband. But that doesn’t mean it’s not delicious and wouldn’t be the perfect first course on a hot summer day.

cucumber soup3

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 leek, halved and sliced thin
2 stalks celery, sliced thin
3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 cup sweet onion, chopped
6 1/2 cups cucumber (about 4), peeled, seeded and chopped
3 cups baking potato, peeled and cubed (about 2)
3 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 cup light buttermilk
1/4 cup heavy cream (as an homage to Julia)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
snipped fresh chives, for garnish
Greek yogurt, for garnish

  1. In a large dutch oven over a medium-low flame heat the oil. Add the onion, leek, celery and garlic and cook 6-8 minutes or until onion is transparent, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add to the pot the chopped cucumber, potato, and broth; cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until potato is very tender, stirring occasionally.
  3. Using an immersion blender (or food processor) blend the cucumber/potato mixture until it is perfectly smooth. Allow to cool on the stovetop for at least one hour.
  4. Once cool add the buttermilk, heavy cream, salt, and pepper and stir well. Cover and chill for several hours before serving. Garnish with snipped fresh chives and a dollop of Greek yogurt.