love + red cabbage

Last year I read the book My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story (with Recipes) by Luisa Weiss. To me it was one of those books you look forward to picking up each day and are truly saddened when it’s finished. It’s a memoir written by a former publishing assistant/cookbook editor/food blogger (www.thewednesdaychef.com) who discovers that for her, the key to dealing with life’s ups and downs is to be found in the kitchen. Her touching memories of simple childhood meals and stories of life, love and food truly resonated with me. And the glorious yet simple recipes at the end of each chapter made me want to head directly to the kitchen.

My Berlin Kitchen isn’t the first food centric novel I’ve been drawn to. A quick scan of my bookshelf and you’ll read titles like Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris, Rosemary and Bitter Oranges by Patrizia Chen, A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle, Licking the Spoon by Candace Walsh and of course Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes (the book, not the movie). Each story focusing as much on the characters as the meals they prepare and enjoy. When I finished My Berlin Kitchen I jumped right into trying out some of the recipes. The very first one I made (and the one I still like best) is the braised red cabbage.

Let me begin by saying that my husband is a self-proclaimed red cabbage hater. A pint of German beer… You bet! Bratwurst… He’ll take two. Spätzle… Stop talking and start serving. But traditional German-style red cabbage… Nope, no thanks, not now, not ever. I on the other hand love braised red cabbage but I had never attempted to make it. The recipe sounded so easy, truly requiring minimal time and effort to prepare, that I figured it was worth a try. And so what if I was the only one who ate it! (Perhaps I could bribe my kids into giving it a shot, it would after all be my daughters favorite color.) But just to stack the deck in my favor I was sure to serve it along with tasty chicken sausages and of course mashed potatoes. How could they possibly resist!

Turns out they couldn’t. While the kids weren’t exactly knocked-out by the cabbage they both ate it without much complaint, perhaps due in large part to my husbands declarations of “It’s good, you’ll like it!” as he went back to the kitchen for seconds…

Braised Red Cabbage
Even proclaimed red cabbage haters will like this recipe. Yeah, it’s that good.

red cabbage2

2 tbsp. butter
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 medium (2 pounds) red cabbage, quartered, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 tbsp. yellow mustard seeds
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup dry red wine
1 medium apple, coarsely grated
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper

  1. Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the cabbage and toss until it begins to wilt, 2 to 3 minutes.
  2. Add the brown sugar, mustard seeds, vinegar, wine and apple. Stir to combine, and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Cover and allow to simmer until the cabbage is soft, about 45 minutes. Adjust seasonings and serve.

*adapted from the wednesday chef

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beet greens + augustus gloop

As much as I love beets and as often as I buy them, I’ve never done anything with the greens except add them to my backyard composter. I knew they could be eaten, I just never bothered to give them a try. All that changed last week. I bought two big beautiful bunches of purple beets and the greens were so vivid and so crisp that I just couldn’t bear to throw them away.

I eat a green salad nearly everyday; most often spinach, kale or arugula; so I figured why not beet greens. Why not indeed! It turns out that beet greens are the perfect vehicle for a simple chopped salad. They’re kinda bitter and a little tough, but if you lightly dress them and let them sit for a bit they become supple and delicious. “What,” you may be asking yourself, “would be the perfect dressing for this simple salad?” Well I’m glad you asked…I just happen to have the most amazingly delicious Spicy Peanut-Ginger Dressing recipe to share with you.

In my mind the combination of peanut, garlic, ginger and soy sauce (with a little chipotle kick thrown in for good measure) is the perfect blend of flavors. It’s the stuff my food dreams are made of and it’s really what makes this chopped beet green salad so good. As it turns out this dressing doesn’t just make the salad, it also makes the perfect sauce to drizzle on some cold soba noodles or a delicious dipping sauce for grilled shrimp. It’s a multi-purpose, delicious on everything, symphony of flavors that I could literally eat with a spoon. In fact if I could swim in a pool of this dressing (a la Augustus Gloop lapping up chocolate from the Wonka river) I think I would. It wouldn’t be pretty to witness, but man would it be delicious. So anyway, even if you’d never in your wildest dreams consider eating a beet green salad (although you really should), give this dressing a try— it totally rocks!

Chopped Beet Green Salad with Spicy Peanut-Ginger Dressing
This salad is delicious with any mix of sturdy greens, but it’s the dressing that really steals the show. Yum!

beet.green.salad

1 bunch of beet greens, washed
3 1/2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp. blue agave nectar
2 tbsp. water
1 1/2 tbsp. + 1 tsp. tamari soy sauce
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tsp. chipotle chili powder
3 1/2 tbsp. all-natural peanut butter
2 cloves fresh garlic, grated
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

  1. Add all the dressing ingredients to the bowl of a food processor. Blend until smooth and all the ingredients are fully incorporated. Set aside.
  2. Wash and remove the stems from each beet leaf. Slice diagonally into thin strips and place in a bowl.
  3. Spoon a few spoonfuls of dressing over the julienned greens and toss. Add additional dressing until the greens are nicely covered but not soggy.
  4. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving (This will allow to greens to absorb some of the dressing and soften up a bit.)
  5. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and serve. Store remaining dressing in a glass jar in the fridge and drizzle with reckless abandon.

weirdly wonderful watermelon

“Now watermelon time is here.
And when the day is warm and clear,
Our uncle thumps the green balloon
And says it’s ripe and very soon, A splash of pink comes into view.
We know exactly what to do.
We take a bit. We take a bite. We eat and eat
And taste the summer pink and sweet.”
~Leland B. Jacobs

There are few more perfect symbols of summertime than watermelon. It’s a sweet, refreshing and all-American barbecue favorite, which also just happens to be a nutritional powerhouse. According to The National Watermelon Promotion Board (who knew?!?) “2 cups of watermelon chunks contain 25% of your daily vitamin A and 30% of your daily vitamin C. Watermelon also contains B6 (6%) as well as potassium (8%), phosphorus (4%) and magnesium (8%).” Not bad stats, right?

We go through a lot of watermelon in our house, on average one good-sized melon a week. My kids and most of their friends consider it to be the perfect anytime snack and I often throw a handful of chunks in my morning smoothie. But I recently started thinking about other ways to use this sweet treat, possibly in a more savory fashion. What did we ever do in the days before Google?… I found recipes for pickled watermelon, blw’s (bacon, lettuce and watermelon sandwich), watermelon pad-thai, and even grilled watermelon burgers with cheese; but none of these recipes begged to be tried. No, the recipe I decided to get watermelon crazy with was a grilled shrimp and watermelon salad with feta cheese, onion and avocado and tossed with a honey-lime vinaigrette.

I happen to be a fan of savory/sweet flavor combinations. Jelly and cheese sandwich… sure! Candied bacon… yes please! Carrot sticks and peanut butter… but of course! However I’ve never eaten watermelon as anything but a component of fruit salad, a sweet and refreshing end to a fun barbecue or as an addition to a smoothie, so I was intrigued as to how this seemingly crazy savory/sweet salad would turn out.

It was fantastic!

Grilled Shrimp & Watermelon Salad
This is the craziest, yet most delicious combination of flavors you’ll ever put together. Try it once and it will be your go-to summer salad!

watermelon salad 5

15 medium (21/25 count) raw shrimp, peeled
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4-1/2 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
3 1/2 cups watermelon, diced into small cubes
1/4 medium sweet onion, sliced thin
1/2 ripe avocado, diced
2 tsp. lime juice
1 tsp. honey
2 tsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves, minced
1/2 cup crumbled feta

  1. In a small bowl combine the 1/2 tsp. of salt, chipotle powder, paprika and garlic powder. Sprinkle it over the raw shrimp, making sure they are completely covered with the spice mixture.
  2. Light the grill. While it warms up slice the watermelon and place in a strainer to allow some of the juice to drain out. Quickly grill the shrimp and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl whisk together the lime juice, honey, olive oil, salt and pepper. Combine the shrimp with the onion, watermelon and avocado. Add the feta cheese and cilantro, drizzle with the dressing and gently toss.
  4. Serve immediately and enjoy!

*adapted from real simple

Holy-peño Peppers!

One Saturday this past Spring my husband and son went to Home Depot for lumber and came home with herbs and jalapeño peppers. My son apparently took a little side trip into the gardening department and knowing how much his mother enjoys spicy food, decided to buy me a jalapeño pepper plant. He’s right I do love spicy, but I don’t have much experience cooking with jalapeño peppers and I didn’t really know what I would do if the plants grew and produced fruit. But since my sweet boy bought it for me, you know it got the utmost love and attention. Well my one small plant not only grew, it sprouted into a jalapeño tree laden with enormous peppers!

I really wanted to use the peppers whole, to make the most of their tremendous size, rather than dicing them up and adding them to a dish. Naturally the first thing that came to mind was stuffing them; jalapeño popper style. But instead of your traditional deep-fried disaster with gloppy cream cheese oozing out when you attempted to eat it, my poppers would be civilized. Mine would be knife and fork poppers, not beers and football poppers. I stuffed each one with aged cheddar cheese, wrapped it in real turkey bacon and grilled it for a few minutes on each side. The results were crazy good, with such a subtle amount of heat that even my “we don’t like spicy food children” enjoyed them. And they actually turned out attractive enough that you could serve them to guests, even if it’s not Super Bowl Sunday.

Grilled Jalapeño Poppers
These would also be tasty stuffed with Monterey Jack (or a Jack/Cheddar blend) and wrapped in real bacon.

4 large jalapeño peppers
4 slices turkey bacon
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

  1. Make a slit from stem to tip on the top side of each jalapeno pepper and scrape out the seeds. Fill each pepper with the shredded cheese, pressing it in well with your thumb. Wrap a piece of bacon around each pepper and secure it with several toothpicks.
  2. Place the peppers onto the preheated grill and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Flip and continue cooking until the peppers begin to soften and the bacon is cooked through, about 3-5 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

*adapted from the food network

Summer Salad Perfection

“What can I bring?” “I don’t know, what would you like to bring?…” goes the conversation of summer entertaining. We all want to be thoughtful guests and contribute to the party, but crowd worthy cold side dish recipes aren’t so easy to come by. Sure you can always bring a tried-and-true pasta or potato salad, tossed green salad or coleslaw, but those all seem so expected and that’s not really how I roll. I prefer to bring a dish that I’m pretty sure no one else will. I am after all a girl who enjoys a challenge!

A few years ago a girlfriend of mine was slowly cooking her way through the latest Weight Watchers cookbook. As a side dish at one of her barbecues she served the most delicious corn and bean salad. It was full of fresh seasonal veggies, raw onion and black beans and was dressed with a spicy/zesty vinaigrette. I was in salad love! I talked about this corn and bean salad so much that the next time she came over not only did she bring the salad, but also a copy of the cookbook.

As you are aware by now I can not leave a perfectly good recipe alone, and this one was no exception. I swapped ingredients here, tweaked amounts there and created what I consider one of my all time favorite summer salads. It’s simple to prepare, colorful, flavorful, and loaded with lots of wonderful seasonal vegetables. Give it a try and it may become a favorite of yours too! And yes, I do realize that means that I’m upping the chances of someone else showing up at the next barbecue with my “special” side dish, but I guess that’s just one of the pitfalls of writing a food blog…

Spicy Corn & Black Bean Salad
I truly love everything about this salad. The fresh corn, tender black beans, crisp red peppers, cilantro and sweet onion in a spicy lime dressing—yum!

1 tbsp. apple-cider vinegar
1 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2-1 tbsp. chipotle powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
4 ears fresh corn, shucked
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup red pepper, diced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
3/4 cup sweet onion, diced

  1. Whisk together the vinegar, lime juice, olive oil, chipotle powder, salt and pepper, set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, stand each ear of corn on end and cut the kernels off the cob. Add the beans, red pepper, cilantro, and onion, stir to combine.
  3. Drizzle with dressing and gentle toss until all the ingredients are coated. Cover and chill for 30 minutes before serving.
*adapted from weight watchers

(Transplanted) Yankee Baked Beans

“The pot of bak’d beans! With what pleasure I view it
Well season’, well pork’d by some rosy-faced dame,
And when from the glowing hot oven she drew it,
Well crisp’d and well brown’d to the table it came.
O give me my country, the land of my teens,
Of the plump Indian pudding and pot of baked Beans.”
~ A. Yankee, 1829

When one thinks of New England a few things come to mind; beautiful Fall foliage, scenic country roads, Mark Twain, lobster rolls and baked beans. And when it comes to baked beans there is one undeniable truth; they’re a classic. Baked beans are a definite comfort food, consumed at many the summertime barbecue, pot luck dinner and full English breakfast. In fact July is National Baked Bean Month, did you know that? Yeah me neither, but it is.

Not wanting to lose touch with my Yankee roots, I started experimenting with my own version of homemade baked beans a few summers ago. I’m happy to say they were an instant hit! It turns out that the U.S. Dry Bean Council (did you know there was such a thing? Yeah again, me neither.) was right, people really do love baked beans. My recipe calls for all the traditional ingredients; small white beans, brown sugar, molasses and some flavorful bits of pork, but it also gets a contemporary update from some fresh herbs, lots of onion and garlic and my oh so beloved smoked paprika.

I’ve found that these beans taste the best after they’ve sat and the flavors have had a chance to meld, so I usually make them a day or two before I plan to serve them. Then a simple reheat on the day of the party and beans are served! They’re fantastic as a side to burgers or chicken, go great with some eggs the next morning and would be the perfect accompaniment to some lovely barbecued ribs (wink, wink!). I won’t deny that these babies take a little time to pull together, they do it’s true, but they’re so totally worth the effort!

Smokey Yankee Baked Beans
Don’t be thrown by the amount of garlic the recipe calls for, after it all cooks down these beans are sweet and delicious, not overly garlicky at all. I promise!

1 pound dried Great Northern beans
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 11 oz. package raw Mexican chorizo, diced small
4 cups onion, chopped
10 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
2 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. chipotle chili powder
2 tsp. smoked paprika
3 bay leaves
1 quart beef broth
2 1/2 cups water, divided
3 tbsp. brown sugar
3 tbsp. tomato paste
3 tbsp. robust molasses

  1. Sort and rinse the beans; place in a large pot and cover with 2 inches of water. Cover the pot and let stand unrefrigerated for 8-12 hours. Drain and rinse beans, set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat a large dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the olive oil and heat until shimmering, then add the chorizo and cook 6-8 minutes or until fat begins to render. Add the onion and garlic and sauté 10 minutes or until onion is tender and translucent. Add the beans and stir to coat well with the rendered fat/onion/garlic mixture, cover and let cook for 10 minutes.
  3. Finely chop the herbs and add them and the next 5 ingredients (through broth) and 1 cup of water, bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes or until beans are just tender.
  4. Stir in the brown sugar, remaining 1 1/2 cups water, tomato paste and molasses into the bean mixture. Cover and bake at 350°F for 1 – 1 1/2 hours or until beans are very tender and sauce is thick. Remove from oven, discard bay leaves and serve or let cool and refrigerate.*

*I think these taste the best after they’ve sat for a day. However, when you reheat them you may need to add a half cup of water to thin out the sauce a bit.

*adapted from Cooking Light

All About Me, Chickpeas

I cook to please my family nearly everyday. I make them the breakfasts, lunches and dinners they love because I love them, and I want them to be happy. But some days… some days I need to cook for myself. And sometimes they eat what I make for myself and call me the next Julia Child. And sometimes they do not. Sometimes they complain and grimace over what I serve them… (sigh)

The other night I had a craving for something “exotic”. Coconut milk, warm Indian spices, ginger and garlic. Throw in some chickpeas and serve it over brown rice— yummm! This combo sounded absolutely perfect to me, like soul satisfying food. I was going to make it and who knows, maybe it would actually end up appealing to my family as well. Maybe they would discover that exotic was delicious. Maybe.

I’m happy to say that it was great (well my husband and I thought so anyway). The kids weren’t exactly on board with curried chickpeas, but ya know what? That was okay with me. Sometimes making a dish purely for my own enjoyment is gift enough.

Curried Coconut Chickpeas
This can be served as a side dish or a meatless meal. I often eat it with brown rice, but it’s also delicious with a couple of eggs the next morning or even over salad greens.

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, diced
5 cloves of garlic, grated
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
1 can of chickpeas, rinsed
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. Indian curry powder
1/2 tsp. garam masala
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. salt
1 can lite coconut milk
cilantro, for garnish
brown rice, for serving

  1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Saute onion, ginger and garlic for 8-10 minutes, until the onion is transparent.
  2. When the onion is ready add the spices and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until they become fragrant.
  3. Add the coconut milk and bring to simmering. Then add the chickpeas and allow to simmer for an additional 10 minutes or until sauce has thickened.
  4. When cooked allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with cilantro and serve over brown rice.

*adapted from vegan dad

Candied bacon…I’m all shook up!

Over dinner one night many years ago, a friend made an out of the blue declaration that “bacon was the perfect food!” Naturally we all laughed and have continued to joke about the perfect food ever since. But the more I think about it the more I think this friend of ours may have been onto something. What would Quiche Lorraine be without bacon? And how sad would that BLT sandwich be without good ol’ bacon? Not to mention my roasted brussels sprouts or mashed turnips. Yes, in-fact I’m beginning to think that bacon may be just a bit more important (and versatile) than it’s been given credit for.

I recently started planning my Easter dinner menu (yes, I do realize it’s still four weeks away!) So perhaps it was just a coincidence or maybe it was predestined, but while flipping through cook books the other day I stumble upon a recipe for Candied Bacon Brownies. “Candied bacon brownies…” I thought to myself “…that’s a crazy good idea! But way too decadent, too rich and too over the top to actually bother to make.” And so I moved on. Then a few days later the Today section of the paper had a recipe for an escarole salad topped with candied bacon.

Seriously, what are the chances of candied bacon popping up in my life twice in a matter of days? I took it as a sign.

I immediately liked the idea of using candied bacon as a garnish, it would allow you to enjoy the salty/sweet aspects of the bacon but not be overwhelmed by it. Since I had already planned to serve my spinach salad with sliced strawberries and goat cheese on Easter, sprinkling a little candied bacon on top seemed like a no-brainer! Now to come up with a more decadent use… I imagined that a combination of chocolate and candied bacon might literally cause some folks to swoon. But I also thought that it would be so rich that any more than a single bite would be too much. So I decided that instead of brownies or even cookies I would make… fudge. Yup, Candied Bacon Fudge. Sounds like something Elvis would have eaten doesn’t it?

Okay, so let me tell you what I’ve discovered about candied bacon… It’s pretty damn delicious! It was a great addition to my spinach salad (actually I can’t believe I ever thought the salad was good without it!) and it turned already delicious fudge into something a bit more special.

Candied bacon doesn’t belong everywhere, but it definitely has its place in my cooking repertoire.

Candied Bacon
I know this sounds like a crazy idea but it really is delicious, and surprisingly versatile. It kicks a plain old BLT up a notch, is great along side a couple of eggs and tastes pretty fantastic eaten all by itself.

1/2 lb. thick cut bacon
1 cup dark brown sugar

  1. Preheat oven the 350°F. Line a jelly roll pan with foil and place a cooking rack in the pan, set aside.
  2. Put brown sugar in a container with sides (something long enough to allow you to lay a slice of bacon out flat). Add bacon, one slice at a time and dredge in the brown sugar. Put the sugar coated strips of bacon on the rack and repeat until all the slices are done.
  3. Sprinkle a little additional sugar over the top of the strips and put into the preheated oven.
  4. Bake for 15-25 minutes (depending on thickness of bacon), turning the pan half way through. When the sugar has melted and the bacon is looking browned and crispy, remove it from the oven.
  5. Immediately peel the bacon off of the rack and lay it flat on a sheet of waxed paper to cool a bit.
  6. Use the candied bacon as a garnish on salad, alongside your favorite breakfast meal or as the “are you insane?!?” addition to chocolate fudge.

*adapted from lords of bacon

Spinach Salad with Strawberries, Goat Cheese and Candied Bacon
This is a great springtime salad and the addition of candied bacon makes it perfect. Feel free to change the toasted nuts to whichever kind you like most.

8 oz. fresh spinach leaves
2 oz. goat cheese
several slices of candied bacon, crumbled
1 cup sliced strawberries
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

  1. In a large bowl create a bed of fresh spinach. Top with sliced strawberries and toasted almonds.
  2. Pinch off small bits of goat cheese and distribute over salad. Sprinkle crumbled candied bacon over everything and serve with your favorite vinaigrette.

Simple Dark Chocolate Fudge
This is my standard chocolate fudge recipe. If you have a favorite of your own or prefer milk chocolate, feel free to modify the recipe.

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 stick unsalted butter
2 cups mini marshmallows
1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips (60% cocoa)
1/2 tsp. vanilla

  1. Line a 8×8 brownie pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan combine sugar, evaporated milk and butter. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to cook for another 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
  3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the marshmallows, chocolate and vanilla. Stir until the marshmallows and chocolate are melted and the mixture is smooth.
  4. Pour the fudge into the prepared pan and chill for several hours, until it’s firm.
  5. When the fudge is set lift the parchment out the pan, gently peel it off the block of fudge and cut into squares. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator.

Candied Bacon-Dark Chocolate Fudge
I know this seems like a crazy idea but I have yet to have a single person try this say it wasn’t delicious. Rich, extreme and they couldn’t possibly eat more than one piece, but delicious.

1/2 lb. of candied bacon
1 batch of dark chocolate fudge (your favorite recipe or mine listed above)

  1. Place half of the prepared fudge in the bottom of an 8×8 brownie pan lined with parchment paper.
  2. Lay the strips of bacon on top of the layer of fudge, making sure to press the bacon down to eliminate air bubbles.
  3. Pour the remaining fudge on top of the bacon and chill for several hours, until firm.
  4. When the fudge is set lift the parchment out the pan, gently peel it off the block of fudge and cut into squares. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator.

*adapted from the kitchn