You’re So F#*king Saucy.

Between kid activities, endless school half days and work kicking into high gear, the last thing on my wish list is holiday menu planning. Yet here we are once again. And while I would love nothing more than skipping the bird for one year and serving poached salmon or a simple risotto, the mere suggestion seems to send everyone into a tizzy. Traditionalists, each and every one of them! And so I give in and plan the Thanksgiving meal they all so desire, but the rebel in me can’t go quietly into the night. Not me, not ever. So how do I show my resistance? Prove that I might be swayed but not strong-armed? With cranberry sauce.

I make cranberry sauce each year that gets rave reviews, but this year I’ve decided to tweak that age old recipe up a bit. Kinda a lame act of rebellion I know, but work with me here… I swapped out the granulated sugar for brown, added Five Spice Powder, lime juice and a healthy dose of fresh ginger. The results were delicious, but then quiet conquest always is. Will they notice? Probably not. They’ll say it’s good, they’ll clean their plates, and perhaps they’ll even ask if there are any leftovers the following day, but that’s where it will end. They’ll be none the wiser to the belligerent act of mutiny they just devoured, and that’s fine by me. I will sit back and quietly savor my resistance.

Cranberry Sauce
This recipe is so easy and so delicious you won’t believe you ever considered dinner complete without it.

cran.sauce3

1 12 oz. bag fresh cranberries
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
juice of 1 lime
1/8 tsp. ground Five Spice Powder
zest of 1 lg. orange

  1. Add the first 5 ingredients to a small saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the berries begin to soften.
  2. Increase the heat, bring to a simmer and cook uncovered 2-3 minutes longer until the sauce begins to thicken and nearly all of the berries have popped.
  3. Allow to cool slightly in the pan before adding the orange zest to the sauce. Transfer to a glass jar and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
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kale for the win

Today is National Kale Day, HOORAY! Kale is without a doubt the green of the moment. You can’t swing a vegan around Whole Foods without hitting a kale display. Seriously, google “kale recipe” and you’ll be astonished at the array that comes up; soups, salads, smoothies, baked, broiled and braised. And why all this leafy green glorification? Well, because kale is a super food of course! As a lover of all things veggie I can’t help but be excited about this superstar green having a day all to itself. I also see it as my civic duty to encourage others to give green a chance, and I take that duty quite seriously. So seriously that… I have a secret. Wanna hear it? I’ve been formulating a plan to switch my family to a plant based diet after the holidays. It will be a test of sorts, not so much for me but for them. I will keep my test relegated to a week, after all my goal is to change thinking not torture souls, and I will allow all forms of dairy. I’d just like to prove to my pack of carnivores that one can in fact live well on a diet of veggies. Wish me luck!

This plotting and planning has me thinking a lot about what constitutes a well-regarded meal in my house, and how to play off that idea. It seems to me the key lies in a meal that tastes fabulous (duh) and is filling in a truly satisfying kind of way. I’ve been wracking my brain and I’ve come up with a few dinner possibilities that I believe will be winners including risotto, eggplant parm and a cauliflower and corn chowder (stop making that face, its delicious) but I would need more than that to make my test week a success. It turns out I already have that recipe in my arsenal; a side dish that I always thought had the potential for greatness but had simply never been given the chance. A plan slowly formed in my head [que evil laughter]. Intrigued? Ready for the reveal? Okay here goes, the dish that will make all things possible is… Lentils with Brown Rice, Sautéed Mushrooms + Kale. What you’re not impressed? Well you should be. This combination is really and truly delicious together and it’s super easy to make, especially if you use canned lentils and instant brown rice. So what if I took this simple side dish and used it to stuff peppers, potatoes or squash. Deliciousness that what! High in protein and fiber, low in fat and cholesterol, deliciousness. Are you starting to see things from my perspective? Yeah, I thought you would. And who knows, with the right love and support lentils and brown rice could legitimately be the one thing that changes the Greco family’s lives FOREVER.

Yeah I know, it’s unlikely. But a girl can dare to dream.

Lentils with Brown Rice, Mushrooms + Kale
This can totally be served as side dish or used for stuffing. Whatever floats your boat.

rice+lentils

3 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 medium onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. baby bella mushrooms, diced
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, minced
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 handfuls baby kale, roughly chopped
2 cups cooked brown rice
1 can lentils, rinsed and drained

  1. In a large skillet warm the oil until shimmering. Add the onions and sauté until nearly translucent. Then add the garlic, mushroom, thyme, salt and pepper and let cook for 8-10 minutes or until the mushroom have released all their moisture.
  2. Add to the skillet two handfuls of roughly chopped baby kale and stir well. Then add the cooked rice and lentils and allow to cook until everything is heated through and the kale has wilted.
  3. Serve as a side or use as stuffing in baked potatoes, peppers or acorn squash.

gluten-free donuts that won’t make you barf

Well hello. That’s right, I’m baaack— We’ll technically I’ve never been gone, just busy. But I’m here now and ready to dish (pun intended).

A while ago I talked about going gluten-free. I’ve continued to vacillate over gluten, frequently debating with myself whether it makes a difference in how I feel day-to-day, and never really coming to a conclusion. Then my daughter started suffering from frequent stomachaches. However since it was the year of the debilitating stomach-flu and she does have a propensity to worry, I kept thinking perhaps those were the culprits behind the complaints. But then she threw up in school. After eating snack. And a classmate slipped in it. (Yeah, disgusting. He cried, she didn’t.) That’s when the clouds parted and the pieces fell into place, each time she ate food with gluten she got a stomachache. Sometime a little gassy ache and sometime a big barfy ache, but an ache nonetheless. I did a little gluten elimination experiment, and she felt great. I concluded my experiment with a celebratory grilled cheese on regular bread and guess what. Bellyache. She is now officially a gluten-free girl.

It’s pretty easy these days to find tasty and inexpensive gluten-free options at the store and more and more packaging is including “Gluten-Free!” on the label, making it all the easier to shop. But I have to say that when it comes to breads and baked goods the options are a bit bleak. I was recently gifted a andwich bread and bagel recipe from a co-worker whose daughter is celiac (I’ll share them after I make the recipes a few times) but I was on a mission to find a recipe for something that seemed indulgent and treat worthy. Hello donuts!

Since I’d already conquered Chocolate-Beet Donuts and Baked Cinnamon Spice Donuts I thought revisiting those recipes was a good place to start. While chocolate is always a fan favorite the extra moisture from the beets, coupled with the nontraditional flour, made recipe conversion tricky. The spiced donuts however were begging for a re-do, and so I re-did. Behold… The best homemade baked gluten-free donuts guaranteed NOT to make you barf. You’re welcome.

Gluten-free Cinnamon Spice Donuts
These are the best donuts. Seriously. Gluten and guilt free deliciousness in one good to go package.
glutenfree donut2

1 cup flax meal
1 cup rice flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp. whole milk buttermilk, room temperature
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp. Angostura bitters

sugar coating:
3 tbsp. coconut oil, melted
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. In a medium bowl whisk together all of the dry ingredients. Place the coconut oil in a large bowl and pop in the microwave for a minute to melt. Add to the coconut the buttermilk and eggs and beat, then add the bitters and whisk to combine.
  2. Gradually add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until just until combined.
    Grease or spray the doughnut pan and fill each doughnut form half way. (I find it’s easiest to pour the batter into a ziplock bag, snip off one corner and pipe it into the pan.)
  3. Bake for 8-10 minutes. (You’ll know they’re done when they spring back when touched and are just beginning to brown on top.)
  4. While the donuts are baking mix together the cinnamon-sugar coating in a medium bowl and melt the coconut oil. Set aside.
  5. When the donuts are finished baking, immediately remove them from the oven and brush them with coconut oil. Give them a quick roll in the cinnamon-sugar coating and enjoy!

plant smiles. grow laughter. harvest love.

It’s already May, isn’t that stunning? I feel as if only yesterday I was rooting through the kids Halloween candy looking for the Jr. Mints, but then it has been a crazier than usual year so it’s no surprise its a blur. Let me fill you in on what I’ve been up to the past few months: Last September, as the kids started a new school year I began my crusade to build vegetable gardens at their school.  I walked into my first meeting with the principal with an idea, a passion for gardening and the confidence that my diy pro of a husband could help me execute whatever plan I came up with. Eight (somewhat tedious) months later that idea has become a reality and yours truly is now the proud chairperson behind the ‘Oak View Elementary Garden’ (O*VEG for short).

Our school garden is a true labor of love, for me and everyone else involved. Countless hours have been spent planning, researching and jumping through flaming hoops to get to where we are today. Thankfully I wasn’t alone in my belief that a school gardens matter. Once word went out that approval to build had finally been given, the volunteers started pouring in and what a marvelous and irreplaceable group they proved to be! The physical garden was built in the rain (and only after multiple weather delays including a Spring snowstorm) by a group of remarkably dedicated parents and children. Hauling gravel, dumping loads of soil, installing beds and fencing and painting sheets of plywood beneath the protection of tents. All the while smiling, laughing and filled with good cheer despite the crummy conditions. I was knocked out by the sheer number of parents willing to give up their weekend to help turn an ugly expanse of blacktop into an oasis of growth. A group who believed in the power of possibility and who knew their efforts mattered. Mother Nature however had other ideas. The very same night as our garden build storms blew through the area; uprooting trees, downing power lines and blowing apart our fencing. I won’t lie, it was heartbreaking but it didn’t diminish our spirits for long. Back to the drawing board, back to work and before long… back to a lovely garden.

We had our ribbon cutting ceremony on April 22nd— Earth Day. Four hundred students circled the garden cheering as the gate was officially opened. Then a student representative from each of the six grades as well as special ed helped us plant the first vegetables of the garden. Back in the early Spring we had kicked off our garden adventure with a little seed starting with kindergarten and first grades. They scooped dirt, read direction sheets and planted seeds like the future urban farmers they all are. Beginning next week each classroom will be transplanting their seedlings into the garden, and then the real work will begin!

The other O*VEG’ers and I understand that there is only so much time in the day and that curriculums are already quite full. To insure that the kids have every opportunity to experience and enjoy the garden, a parent committee has been working to develop an extra curricular program for interested students. First on our list is an afternoon spent learning about earthworms, their importance in a garden and (hopefully) even setting up our own vermicomposting bin. We’d like to purchase night crawlers that can be added to our beds, allowing the kids (some of whom have never held a worm) the opportunity to touch one of natures ultimate aerators before it’s sent off to work. Another afternoon the students will be invited to visit my garden and meet the beekeeper who maintains my two honey bee hives. We will discuss the importance of pollinators and why we need to protect them. Our hope is that this school garden will create a learning opportunity for our children outside of the constraints of the classroom. The plan is to donate any food harvested from the garden to a local soup kitchen, thus also helping our children to gain an understanding of the value of volunteerism. Education, environmental stewardship, and a deeper connection to nature and the world at large is what we hope the garden will be able to offer to our school community. Oh and a few Jersey tomatoes of course! 

So you see I may have been absent from my blog, but certainly not from my life. I’m tired, but here’s the thing… It’s an extraordinarily exciting time to be at Oak View for both the students and parents. It’s been inspiring to witness the enthusiasm and sense of community the garden has already generated throughout the school. A community I can only imagine will continue to grow and thrive as the plants themselves do. Seeing the kids visiting the garden, checking out the few plants that have already been planted and considering the space their own, makes my heart smile. And that my friend, makes all the effort worth it.

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eat like an inca

If you know me then you know I’m a restless spirit; I would much rather jump into the unknown then live in the routine. This adventurous streak probably explains my love of travel and my current obsession with the tv show Expedition Unknown. Some episodes make me think things like: “Hmm. Honduras definitely does not look like my cup of tea (or rice and beans as the case may be).” While others actually make me consider enduring the twenty plus hour flight to see the ancient temples of Thailand. I love watching them investigate age old myths and legends in far flung places. A recent episode all about the ancient Inca Trail, with a detour to the ruins of Machu Picchu, really hit home with me. Visiting Machu Picchu has long been on my list of someday adventures. I mean c’mon, have you seen pictures of the amazing stone ruins smack in the middle of the Peruvian mountain forest? How could you NOT want to go and see them for yourself?!? It must be a truly amazing, and perhaps almost life altering experience. (And husband of mine if you’re reading this, don’t be surprised when I say “I’ve been watching flights to Peru and…” Okay so I watched the episode, made notes (not kidding) about airports to fly into and altitudes to adjust to and went to bed. The next morning while standing in the kitchen drinking coffee I spotted a piece of paper sticking out from behind one of my cookbooks. As I went to shuffle it back into the pile the bold letters at the top of the page caught my eye: “Chili-Lime Inca Corn” Seriously? Incas last night. Incas this morning. I think someone is trying to tell me something.

This seemingly mystical connection just happened to take place on the first warm weekend of the year. Since I was looking for any excuse to be outside enjoying the sunshine and hoping “this is finally it for Winter” I decided it was time to break out the cast iron pan, fire up the grill and make a little Inca corn. So how’d it turn out? Well, I have but one thing to say: The demise of the Inca Empire clearly had nothing to do with their choice in food. These little fried corn kernels are pure gold.

Inca gold.

Homemade Chili-Lime Inca Corn
These are totally addictive. Be prepared.

Inca Corn2

15 oz dried giant corn/Maiz Mote
Canola/Olive oil blend
1 tsp chipotle chili powder
zest and juice of 1 lime
1 1/2 tsp fine pink salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
  1. Place the dried corn in a pan with a lid, cover with water and allow to sit for 7-12 hours.
  2. Drain corn, shaking as much water off as possible and spread out on a clean tea towel. Allow to dry for an hour or so minutes. (It doesn’t need to be bone dry, you just don’t want much water on the surface as you’ll be dropping it into hot oil.)
  3. While the corn is drying make your spice mixture. Mix together the chili powder, lime zest, pink salt and smoked paprika. Transfer the spice mixture to a doubled paper lunch bag and set aside.
  4. Line a rimmed sheet pan with paper towels for draining the fried corn.
  5. In a cast iron pan or high sided skillet heat 1/4 inch of oil to 375º F. Working in batches add the corn to the oil and fry until the it’s a toasted golden brown, stirring frequently. Use spider or slotted spoon to remove the corn from the oil and transfer it to the paper towel lined sheet pan. Continue with the remaining corn.
  6. When all the corn is fried squeeze the juice from your tested lime all over it. Carefully transfer the corn to the lunch bag containing the spices and shake well to coat. The corn will become cruncher as it sits and will keep for several days (if it lasts that long).

*adapted from the kitchn

soul satisfying shrimp risotto

Stirring. Surveying.
Slow.
Starch. Stock. Shrimp.
Self Restraint.
Supper.
Soul Satisfying.

Risotto, that sublime Italian rice dish with a reputation for being incredibly time consuming and fussy. In reality it’s really pretty simple to pull together. Hot broth in one pot, toasted arborio rice in another. A wooden spoon, a bit of butter and cheese. A smidgen of patience and buon appetito!… Risotto like you thought you could only get in a restaurant. Yes the spoon has to be wooden (so as to not damage the grains of rice). Yes the broth has to be warm (it’s more easily absorbed than cold stock). Yes you need to stir the rice almost constantly and it needs to be served IMMEDIATELY or it becomes dense and gluey. But that’s a small price to pay for a creamy, rich and luxurious dish of perfect risotto.

In the words of chef Jamie Oliver “Risotto… It takes a bit of time and a bit of love. In life, you can’t have everything in one basket.”

Simple Shrimp Risotto
You can get fancy and add asparagus or sweet peas to this risotto, but it’s perfectly perfect without it as well. Abbondanza!

3 cups shrimp* or chicken stock
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1 lb. small shrimp, shelled and deveined
2 tbsp. salted butter
1/4 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
2 tbsp. heavy cream

  1. Place the stock in a tall sided pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling reduce to a low simmer to keep warm.
  2. In a large high sided pan with a heavy bottom, heat oil and sauté onions until nearly translucent, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, add the rice, stir to coat with oil and sauté with onions to toast each grain, another 5-6 minutes (stirring frequently).
  3. Once toasted slowly add the white wine, stirring gently with a wooden spoon. Once the rice has absorbed the wine, add 1 cup of warm stock and stir. Allow to cook until stock has been absorbed.
  4. Add a second cup of stock to the pan, stir gently and allow the rice to absorb the liquid and the pan to once agin become dry. Continue to stir frequently and add the third and final cup of stock to the pan, cook once more until dry.
  5. Roughly chop half of the shrimp. Add all of the shrimp to the risotto, stirring gently and cook until they are just pink, this will only take a few minutes.
  6. Remove the pan from the heat, add the butter, cheese and heavy cream. Gently stir to melt the butter and combine ingredients and serve immediately.

*To create shrimp stock I simply placed the shrimp shells and some water in a small saucepan and allow it to for for an hour or so. Strain the liquid and voilà— shrimp stock.

**adapted from the reluctant gourmet

mayonnaise musings

I think I need a muse. It appears that I’ve become so distracted by “my life” that when I’m actually able to carve out a little time for “my self” I’m at a loss. I need inspiration, a creative catalyst, a bit of meaningful illumination. Seriously, I think a muse is the answer. (And just for future reference, if you should one day decide to search ‘creative muse’ on Craigslist be prepared to be surprised.) Okay, so back to my slump… I’ve been trying to come up with an idea for a new post ever since my last one two months ago. It’s not that I haven’t been cooking, frankly the cooking is the easy part, it’s that I haven’t had the time to test, photograph and come up with a few snappy lines about the amazing thing I just made. So instead I’ve been pondering and considering, waiting for the ‘spirit of the whisk’ (not a real thing but it should be) to transcend upon me and simply biding my time until it does. After all you can’t rush transcendence.

I was standing in my kitchen the other morning drinking coffee and checking email when the strangest idea popped into my head: “I should really make mayonnaise.” That was it, nothing more. “Huh… Should I?” I thought to myself. I’ve made plenty of perfectly-good-as-store-bought-but-took-the-time-to-make-anyway condiments in the past (including Hollandaise the fancy cousin of mayo), so why not mayonnaise. Why not?

As it happens at the same time I was have my little egg and oil emulsification epiphany the NY Times was running a recipe for Classic Deviled Eggs written by the same co-author of the cookbook I based my mayonnaise recipe on; Sheila Lukins. Was my food processor a portal to the after life? Was Shelia trying to tell me to keep on truckin’? The answer remains unclear, but then you already know my stance on rushing the mystical, her mayonnaise however was a thing of ethereal beauty.

Simple Homemade Mayonnaise
You can totally adjust the tang of this mayo by playing with the amount of lemon juice you use.

mayonnaise

2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/8 tsp. salt
pinch of black pepper
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil

  1. Combine all the ingredients except for the oil in the bowl of a food processor and allow to run for 1 minute.
  2. With the motor still running slowly drizzle the oil through the feed tube, allowing the eggs and oil to emulsify. Scrape down the sides, pulse a few more times then transfer into a airtight container. Store in the refrigerator, it will keep for 5 days.

*adapted from the new basics cookbook

 

perfect pie crust

“I have a confession to make; I love pie but I never make my own crust. I know I should, I realize that it’s not really all that difficult and that homemade is far superior to store bought, but somehow I’ve just never gotten around to giving it a whirl. However I promise that one day soon I will make the effort. I promise…”

I wrote these words two years ago and I’m embarrassed to say that up until recently, they remained true. As much as I preach about homemade real food I honestly had NEVER made or even attempted to make pie crust from scratch. Why? Good question and one I actually don’t have an answer to. I guess I simply just wasn’t in the mood. However it would appear that the universe was fed up with my wishy-washy attitude towards pie crust and decided to force the issue. How you may wonder. With the perfect storm of gardening scenarios… The threat of an early frost and tomato plants that just wouldn’t quit.

You see my vegetable garden; My suburban oasis, the fulfillment of my wannabe farmer aspirations and my favorite place to putter around and avoid all the things I should be doing instead had one of its most successful seasons ever. Was it thanks to the bees? The fact that last years crop was so pitiful that I was due a bountiful year or was it simply good luck? I’m just not sure. What I do know is that this year was one of the most prolific years my little garden has ever had. So imagine my dismay when the overnight temps were predicted to drop well below freezing and my tomato plants were still loaded with unripe tomatoes. I did the only thing I could think to do, I picked the fruit and decided to figure out the rest later.

According to Martha Stewart green tomato pie is DELICIOUS and the perfect substitute for apple pie. In fact she claims that by using the same spices as you would in a traditional apple pie, you can actually fool your unsuspecting guests.

Martha was wrong. Very wrong.

My tomato pie was a giant soupy, undercooked and fairly disgusting looking mess. But… The crust (which I had spontaneously decided to make from scratch) was AMAZING! So good that I actually couldn’t bear to throw it out. Instead I poured the tomato gunk out, wrapped up what remained and we ate crust with vanilla ice cream for dessert the rest of the week. Funny right, but true nonetheless. I am now a from scratch crust devotee and a total crust snob who’s shameful Pillsbury purchasing days are well behind her.

“Candy might be sweet, but it’s a traveling carnival blowing through town. Pie is home. People always come home…” This has been one of my favorite quotes for some time, but my newfound crust appreciation makes me feel like I finally truly understand it.

Super Simple Food Processor Pie Crust
Sure cooks have been making delicious and flakey pie crust by hand for hundreds of years, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Have a little faith in technology.

1 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp.) cold salted butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup cold vegetable shortening, such as Crisco
1/2 cup ice water
  1. Cut the butter into cubes and return it to the refrigerator while you prepare the flour mixture. Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to mix. In multiple batches add the butter and shortening, pulse in between additions until the butter is the size of peas. Continue to pulse and slowly pour the ice water down the feed tube until the dough begins to form a ball (you may not use all of the water.) Scoop out the dough and place on a sheet of plastic wrap. Gently shape into a ball, wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. The dough is now ready to be used. For a double pie crust cut the dough in half, roll out on a well-floured surface to the size of your pie pan and proceed as usual. For hand pies cut the dough in half, the halves into quarters and the quarters in half again. Roll out and using a pocket pie crimper (or a 6″ inverted bowl), cut out as many circles as possible. Re-roll the crust scraps and continue cutting out circles until you run out of dough. Fill with your choice of sweet or savory filling, bake and enjoy.*

*One of my fondest childhood memories actually revolves around pie crust. My mother has always made hers from scratch and as any baker knows, there is always a bit of leftover dough when the pie is finished. She’d gather the scraps up and roll them back out. Dust them with cinnamon and sugar and slice them into triangular strips. Then she’d roll the strips up, pop them into the oven for a few minutes and voilà… tasty little Rugelach type cookies that to my way of thinking were even better than the pie itself.

pie crust cookies