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

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

have kids, will travel.

Once upon a time, long before children were part of the equation, my husband and I traveled. We worked hard and vacationed even harder; off to the Caribbean in the Spring, overseas in the Fall and nearly every Winter weekend spent skiing in Vermont. “I work to pay for my next vacation.” I would joke. We were young and unencumbered, determined to enjoy everything our carefree lives and big fat paychecks would allow. And enjoy it we did.

And then they arrived.

All sweet gummy smiles and tiny gurgley coos. Seemingly innocent babes, ready to take over every facet of our previously fancy free lives. And so began our adventure into parenthood and all the joys (and trials) that go along with it. And our passports sat. And our passports grew dusty. And eventually… our passports expired. But we never forgot those carefree adventures and we’ve regaled our kids with stories of our trips as soon as they had the attention span to listen. Wrapping up each story with the same phrase: “When you get older we’ll take you to…”, promising wholeheartedly to one day head off with them to some far off local. And we meant it when we said it, but for years it was just words. Until it wasn’t.

Doing anything with kids adds an additional layer of complexity, so when we decided that they (and we) were ready for a trip overseas it was not done so lightly or impulsively. I wanted them to fully experience everything traveling to an unfamiliar country has to offer; I wanted them to see sites that would inspire them, transform them, make them into broad-minded, open-eyed, free-thinking little people, but… I wanted to do so with as little stress as possible. While we never let the fact that we don’t speak Spanish, Italian, French or Dutch stop us from enjoying any of our past trips or dictate our destination, that was then and this is now. The idea of having to juggle kids while attempting to do a respectable job at translating seemed too daunting of a proposition. Nope, if we were going to make this trip happen it would have to be to an English speaking country. And honestly, once I made that decision it actually simplified matters. English speaking, in Europe with tons of awe inspiring cultural sights to see… London seemed to totally fit the bill.

I had been to London once before but it was on a whirl-wind trip with my mother years ago. We saw some sights, drank some tasty cocktails, ate some lovely dinners and came home. This trip however would require a bit more advanced planning. I knew I wanted to stay at a hotel that would give us enough space to get away from each other after a long and tiring day of sightseeing. We decided to stay was a residence hotel on the Thames, adjacent the the London Tower called The Cheval Three Quays. We booked a two bedroom, two bath, full kitchen and living room apartment with a washer and dryer, maid service and a concierge bar none. It was the perfect quiet oasis after a day out and about in the city. Now to focus on the sites we most wanted to see. Our list was long and believe it or not we saw almost everything on it, but what we loved beyond belief and suggest everyone visit was:

The London Science Museum (an AMAZING combination of design museum/ hands on science museum/Smithsonian museum with a fantastic restaurant to boot.) Right next door is the Natural History Museum, home to massive collections of botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology. Their dinosaur and fossil exhibits are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Another must if you have a little person interested in experiencing a traditional British tea is the “Mad Hatters Tea” at the Sanderson Hotel. It was a fabulous “just the girls” afternoon for my daughter and I. Every detail of the meal was well thought out and delicious. From the jewelry box full of sugar cubes to the tiny bottles of “Drink Me” potion, the handmade chocolate teacups full of light as air mango mouse to the perfectly replicated miniature queen of hearts cards made out of white chocolate. And the tea sandwiches, scones and mini quiche were all perfectly perfect. Another not to be missed destination is Borough Market, a permanent (partially indoor/partially out green market) that will make any foodies eyes roll. To say the place is amazing wouldn’t even begin do it justice. Since we were in the home of Hogwarts we booked tickets for the Harry Potter Studio Tour and got to see up close the actual sets, props and costumes from the eight movies. Even from a non-Potter aficionado’s point of view it was pretty incredible tour. (A word of advice; book these tickets months early. Entrance is timed, a limited number of visitors are allowed in and they sell out fast.) We went to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in The West End and honestly, it was one of the best musicals I’ve ever seen. Who cares if you have Broadway right around the corner, seeing a show in The West End is a vastly different experience than one in NYC and absolutely worth the expense. We took a ferry out to Greenwich to see where time keeping as we know it began. The village was lovely with lots of shops and restaurants lining quaint winding streets, and Greenwich park is beautiful with a fantastic playground. Here’s a tip: While the hike up to the observatory will reward you with fabulous views of the city, you can actually see (and straddle) the famous Meridian Line just outside the entrance to the park. The National Maritime Museum, with the Cutty Sark at permanent anchor nearby is also a must see for anyone interested in nautical history. Another thing you must do; walk over the Tower Bridge at least twice, once in the daylight and once at night. (I’ve live in the NYC area for more than 25 years and I’ve never walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, yet we walked back and forth over the Tower Bridge at least a dozen times over the course of the week.) And speaking of walking, we walked nearly everywhere and saw sites we would have missed taking the tube. One day we wandered around our hotel neighborhood just to see what was close by and discovered not only the remains of a former Roman Wall dating from 200 A.D. but also All Hallows by The Tower; the oldest church in London. The building, with its scorched stone walls and puddles of melted lead, barely survived WWII bombings and has the scars to prove it. It also had super cool catacombs below with tons of historic artifacts. My son is a budding WWII history buff so he and my husband spent one afternoon touring the HMS Belfast and the Imperial War Museum. They both loved and were moved by the exhibits as well as the stories of heroism and courage. I could go on more about where we went and what we did, but instead I’ll a quick rundown of some of the fantastic meals we ate:

We had some amazing Indian food and sushi, crazy delicious fish and chips and a steak and ale pie to make your eyes roll. The kids discovered that malted vinegar really is the perfect condiment for fries, they were introduced to foie gras and LOVED IT (I have the giant dinner bill to prove it) and they were seriously delighted by the fact that Kinder Surprise Eggs were available everywhere. But the one meal we were all the most bowled over by, the one meal that we actually asked the server to ask the kitchen what their secret was, the one meal that my son declared in need of replicating at home was actually the simplest; Beef Burgers with Caramelized Onions and Blue Cheese. Sounds delicious right it? It was the onions that made it. Not only were they caramelized, they were caramelized with balsamic vinegar and brown sugar and they were outrageous.

So now were home… and while I still haven’t found the time to download or print all of our pictures, or put our tickets and receipts in my memory shadowbox, I have found the time to try and replicate those onions. Mine were nearly as good as in London, and if I closed my eyes and really focussed I could almost hear Big Ben.

God Save The Queen.

london fam

Balsamic-Brown Sugar Caramelized Onions
These are a delicious addition to just about anything..

2 large sweet onions, halved and sliced thin
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. brown sugar
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

  1. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan. Add the onions and salt, give a stir to coat with oil and allow to cook over a low flame until they just begin to color, stirring frequently.
  2. Add the brown sugar and stir to combine. Add the balsamic vinegar and let cook, stirring frequently, for about 40-45 minutes, or until the onions have cooked down and the liquid has turned into a thick syrup.

pickles in the rainforest

There are a few things in this world that I just can’t cope with; tops on the list being bugs. I’m not proud of this and I try to be brave when faced with one needing “relocation” but really… Blech! Glack! Eeek! (with a shiver thrown in for good measure.) However I’ve come to realize that for me location totally factors into my bravery quotient. When I discover a GIANT spider among the cucumber plants, only after I’m elbow deep attempting to harvest what’s ripe, I’m totally calm, cool and collected. Yet if the same spider should happen to show up in the house (or god forbid in my car), I come completely unglued. Sad, yet true. But here’s my theory: The universe places obstacles in your path as an opportunity for growth. It’s then up to you to deal with and overcome the obstacle or to allow it dictate the journey. And since I’m the kinda girl who prefers to be the captain of her own ship, I’ll be damned if I let a spider or two determine my path. (Not to mention what if one day the opportunity for an all-expenses paid trip to the Amazon rainforest should come along. I need to be prepared to laugh in the face of creepy, crawly things!)

Okay so back to cucumbers. (What, you didn’t know that’s where all this was headed?) This year my garden produced an abundance of cucumbers like never before. I would harvest an armful in the evening and find a bunch more ready for picking the next morning. In the past when I’ve had more cucumbers than we could eat I attempted to make pickles. The results can only be categorized as a total epic fail. Nothing but a heartbreakingly salty, vinegary, mushy mess in a jar. I swore I would never waste my beautiful homegrown cucumbers to pickling again, but that wicked and wily universe I spoke of earlier had other ideas. Flash forward to this Summer’s bumper cucumber crop. My daughter (and fellow cucumber lover) and I have eaten cucumbers as a snack on a near daily basis, I’ve exhausted every salad and sandwich recipe I have in my repertoire, I’ve sent them to work with my husband and given dozens away… yet I’m still faced with more on the vine. “Pickles Mom. Just make pickles.” my daughter says matter-of-factly. I considered the idea. Maybe she was right. Maybe I was letting past failures dictate my journey. Maybe it was time to get over it and get on with it.

And so that’s just what I did.

Simple Refrigerator Dill Pickles
These were delicious and the perfect way to use all your homegrown lovelies.

image

3 cups distilled white vinegar
5 tbsp. kosher salt
6 tbsp. sugar
5 cups cold water
3 1/2 lbs Kirby cucumbers
2 tbsp. coriander seeds
8 large garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 tbsp. black peppercorns
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
handful fresh dill sprigs
2 – 1 quart jars with lids

  1. Combine the vinegar, salt and sugar in a large sauce pot and whisk over medium heat until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the cold water. Refrigerate the brine while you prep the cucumbers.
  2. Cut the cucumbers into equally sized spears and set aside. Divide the coriander seeds, garlic cloves, peppercorns, red pepper flakes and dill sprigs between each of the jars. Tightly pack the cucumbers spears in the jars and top with the chilled brine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours, giving a little shake now and then. The longer the cucumbers are allowed to sit in the brine the less “new pickle” they will be and the more “traditional” dill pickle they will become.

*adapted from once upon a chef

spaghetti squash vs. carnivore casserole

I’m not typically one to make new year resolutions. Instead I like to use the dawning of the new year simply as a time of reflection. Recently I’ve been reading a considerable amount about the power of the plant. Articles talking about how tiny microgreens and blue-green algae are total nutritional powerhouses and the overall health benefits of a more plant-based diet. This got me to thinking and thinking got me to deciding that 2015 should be the Greco family’s “Year of the Vegetable”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not totally giving up meat. I still fully plan on curing and smoking another slab of bacon when the weather warms up and I’ll never say no to a pastrami sandwich from The Deli King of Clark, but I feel like we could all benefit from a little more of nature’s candy and a little less of nature’s inhabitants.

Since I’m already such a veggie lover this undertaking really shouldn’t be that great of a personal challenge, no the trick will be getting my family to switch to the green side. Of course knowing full well the reaction it would get, I didn’t discuss this plan with them. Instead I’ve decided to be stealth about it; add a few more veggies to soups here, some greens braised there, fresh fruit smoothies in the morning with a few carrots added in “just added for color” and lentils and beans more often for some good ‘ol fashioned non-meat protein. My plan was coming together nicely, I was subtly reducing their meat consumption while upping their vegetable intake and they were none-the-wiser. But then I got greedy. I few too close to the sun. I messed with the bull without expecting the horns. I was drunk with power and made a casserole of spaghetti squash, kale and smoked mozzarella… and I expected them to eat it. I was wrong.

My son ate most of his but not before declaring it “seriously not worth making again”, my daughter on the other hand couldn’t even muster than much of an endorsement. Instead she made a wild-eyed retching pantomime, waved her arms frantically and ultimately consumed about two forkfuls before flat out stating that she was DONE! I however thought it was delicious. Seriously… really, really good. And my husband agreed with me. (Of course I was angry with him at the time, so there’s a strong possibility he just may have been trying to get on my good side.) Anyway I honestly thought it was delicious and totally worth a repeat performance, but there’s a chance I may be alone on this one.

So the moral of this story is never be afraid to try something different and… You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make a carnivore love spaghetti squash casserole.

Baked Spaghetti Squash with Kale and Smoked Mozzarella
This was really delicious. Really.

spaghetti squash2

1 4 lb. spaghetti squash
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, diced fine
4 garlic cloves, minced
9 oz. frozen chopped kale, defrosted
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups spaghetti sauce (homemade or jarred)
16 oz. fresh smoked mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup fresh parmesan cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, remove all seeds and place on a rimmed baking sheet face down. Add some water to the bottom of the baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Keep the oven on.
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add the onions and minced garlic and saute for 4-5 minutes or until onions are translucent. Add the chopped kale, salt and pepper and continue cooking another 2-3 minutes, until kale is tender. Remove from heat.
  3. Once squash is cool enough to handle, use a fork to shred the squash into large bowl. In a medium bowl whisk the eggs. Add to the eggs the Greek yogurt and 1/4 cup of the parmesan cheese. Add the egg mixture to the squash strands and stir to combine.
  4. Pour 1 cup spaghetti sauce into a large baking dish. Spoon some spaghetti squash mixture over the sauce and spread evenly. Then add a layer of sautéed kale and onions over the squash, then half of the shredded mozzarella cheese. Top with another layer of squash, then kale, another cup of spaghetti sauce, the remaining mozzarella and finally the last of the Parmesan cheese.
  5. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until bubbling and nicely browned on top.
  6. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving.*

*I’ve found that the longer the spaghetti squash is allowed to sit and cool, the less watery it ends up.

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!

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.