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Three years blogging

June 26th, 2009 | 17 Comments »

Today marks the 3rd anniversary of this blog. Am I happy about it? That depends on the day, but usually yes. And sometimes, more often than not these days, I would say no.

I admit that I’ve toyed a lot lately – a lot!-  with quitting this past time of mine. Part of me feels if I hit the ‘Delete’ button that there wouldn’t be many people who would notice. You see, the thing is, everyone is writing a blog these days; it’s the thing to do- it’s cool, trendy etc etc. And the sheer number of food blogs out there is astonishing beyond imagination. It seems like anyone who’s ever been told ‘Hey, this is GOOD!’ has decided to write a food blog. Some of them are amazing, and they humble me greatly. Others? Feh. A can of soup poured over a microwaved potato somehow doesn’t strike me as being fodder for a blog, but hey, who am I to ask what other people want? After three years it has become apparent to me that I still haven’t got a clue, and that maybe I never will. This has become OK with me, in a hard-fought and harsh sort of way.

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I’ve had some recent face-palm moments of anxiety though, there’s been ranting and grousing; Facebook conversations with treasured blog buddies and true friends have been able to talk me me down off the ledge which is why I am here to write this anniversary post. These moments of extreme instability have thankfully had a purpose. I have at least come to understand the most important reason why I continue to do this even when it often makes me crazy; I would rather have half a dozen genuine and honest comments about what I post that come right from a readers heart lush with praise than a hundred fickle and shallow ones that only say ‘Yum!’. Because it’s important for me to touch someone through this giant web we live in, to touch a part of them that matters. Our lives are too informal and detached. We type messages to one another instead of speaking face to face, fall into television shows and disappear, plug in our earbuds and tune out the rest of the world. If this is how life has turned, I can jump aboard with the rest and I certainly have. You all know, if you’ve been here long enough, how much I love Facebook and how it keeps me connected with so many, over thousands of miles, the past and the present colliding all in one crazy spot, and this blog is yet another way that I can reach out across the spaces in between and give everyone a part of who I am. That is what’s important to me. I want it to feel like coming home to an old and trusted friend. My reward is in your words, and I want you to know I appreciate them immensely.

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The rest of it is certainly still evolving and no one is more surprised than I am about how this blog has pushed me to stretch and re-define my food tastes and more thoroughly examine both what I do and how I eat, and in keeping with the way I choose to nourish myself and my family, the food will remain real and honest. My hope each time I post a recipe is that you find something in it that lights a spark. That you read the recipe and say not only “I can do that!” but “I WANT to do that!” Because I don’t find it at all coincidental that as we strive towards that always elusive brass ring, surrounding ourselves with technology and silencing the voices of those around us in favor of an array of electronics, that the urge and need to feed our stomachs AND our souls grows ever louder and more persistent. We congregate where there is nourishment for every aspect of our lives and our hunger isn’t always for food; it’s for something to touch us, to touch our lives and give us a reason to smile, a means for being connected – really connected and not just with a power cord-  and I hope that you’ll find a small part of that here.

This blog- this three years in the making blog of mine, it’s not about mass appeal and I hope someone smacks me a good one if I even think to post an ad on it. It isn’t about my stats, or readership. I don’t feel I need to roam the USA going to blog conferences and schmoozing (I hate schmoozing for schmooze sake….I just like to hang out and talk to people). I’m not big on posting recipes that have worn out a welcome, I don’t jump on food trends, I’m not a locavore and I dislike labels. I love to cook and I’m really darn good at it. That’s all I want to share.

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And I did promise you something food related as you put up with me in my last post going on about learning life lessons in the garden and talking about my darling shaved cat, so I won’t disappoint but this is something pretty simple. Almost too simple. That’s what makes it so good though.

It’s a wrap.
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Nothing superbly special, right?

But I’ll tell you, start with this creamy Avocado White Bean Spread and any wrap you make will be just a titch better. Grill some chicken, beef strips or shrimp, get some good crab meat or top quality tuna and add whatever vegetables you prefer. Grate some good cheese into it. Wrap it in a nice flavorful tortilla and pour some ice tea. The weather has been HOT here, and this cool and quick dinner was just the ticket. We were picking at the crumbs and sighing in contentment at each other. A few fresh cherries rounded out a perfect summer meal.


Creamy Avocado and White Bean Spread

From Eating Well magazine (and adapted slightly by Kate)

1 15-oz can Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 ripe avocado
1/2 c. grape tomatoes (my addition)
1-2 T. finely minced red onion (or use some good onion powder like Penzeys)
Fresh ground black pepper and coarse salt to taste

In the bowl of a food processor, combine all ingredients and process until slightly chunky. Scrape sides. Pulse once or twice more to fully combine and scrape into a clean bowl. Season to taste.

Spread about nice layer of this on a tortilla and top with your choice of fillings. Roll up tightly and enjoy. It’s also delicious as a chip and raw vegetable dip (but it does NOT photograph well! Sorry!)

Would you like something equally delicious and appealing with little fuss? How about a nice Mexican Rice?

Kate’s Mexican Rice

1 15-oz can diced or whole tomato
1 medium onion
1 jalapeno (seeded if you wish)
1 4-oz can green chilies
1 1/2 c. white rice

Fresh lime wedges and oil for cooking.

In the bowl of a food processor, place tomato, onion (cut into fourths) jalapeno and green chilies. Blend until mixture is finely chopped, almost to the point of being like a thin salsa. Pour into a measuring cup. It should be about 3-4 cups.

In a deep skillet over medium high flame, heat about 2 T. of cooking oil until very hot. Pour in the rice and stir to coat with oil. Turn heat down to medium and continue to cook, stirring regularly until the rice is turning browned and becoming very fragrant, about 5-8 minutes. The pan should be smoking hot by now. Carefully pour in the tomato mixture- careful of the steam!- and quickly stir to combine it with the toasted rice. Allow to come to a simmer and then cover, reduce heat and cook until liquid is absorbed. Turn off heat and allow pan to stand, covered, for about 10-15 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve, squirting some fresh lime juice over the top.

NOTES FOR THE RICE:
You can stir in another chopped jalapeno before serving the cooked rice. It adds another level of heat to the dish. Other good additions are canned black beans (rinsed), frozen corn, sauteed zucchini or roasted peppers. Or all of it. For varied flavors, try using fire roasted tomatoes. If you wish to use fresh tomato, the equivalent would be about three medium sized ones and it’s a good idea if you peel them before using. This is excellent as a rice to use with burritos and tastes fabulous topped with cold chunks of avocado.

The small things, and life lessons

June 22nd, 2009 | 5 Comments »

My apologies to those who come here for the food. Although, yes, I am mostly about food in my little corner of the blog-world here, there’s a lot more to what nurtures me than the food I cook; hard to believe, I know, but in the snippets of insight you sometimes get to the rest of my existence, there is a great deal more that brings me joy and I just want to share it with you. It’s not overbearing, really. and feel free to click away if you only want to read about food.
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This post is NOT about food or taste, but a glimpse into other areas of my life that offer nourishment to me. Like sight and smell and touch.

That lovely orb of yellow is a Coreopsis, with a happy critter deep in the middle of an examination. It looks like a honey bee- enough reason to rejoice if it is- but I’m not sure. It’s a delightful flower to see, bright and shiny in the morning sun. The petals look like duck feet.

Having a flower garden has been an amazing joy to me. The tiny little plot was here when we bought our house nearly six years ago. I mulch, water, add plants I enjoy and subtract the efforts of the existing plants to sow their seed everywhere,  and I’ve loved every moment of watching it each year as it always has something to show me, and teach me.

This is one recurring surprise in my garden- English Lavender.
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I planted an “Annual” Lavendar plant about three years ago, and every year since it has decided to return and assault my sense of smell with it’s fragrant blossoms and leaves. Just brushing my leg up against it releases it’s amazing odor and the tiny purple flowers last forever. It gently reminds me of the importance of perseverance and fortitude.

And talk about persevering!
22june 004I discovered this little Maple sapling early this Spring growing in the corner underneath our sunroom. This part of our house stands alone from the rest, and has an open area below it that we’ve walled off with a cedar wall. We use the area to store our firewood and miscellaneous equipment that is not in season, and this tiny seed took root and has grown stupendously surviving on what little morning sun it receives and the rain that sweeps into it’s corner. I am hoping it will grow strong enough for me to remove in late summer and plant somewhere in our yard. The presence of such potential for strength and quiet beauty makes me think that there is much more to the idea of  “Grow where you’re planted” than most of us ever consider.

And again, when all else seems to look bleak for one of my plants, nature has a way of surprising me.
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This is one of three Clematis vines that grow on the cedar wall surrounding the space under our sunroom. Clematis grow in several ways; one type grows and blooms on the old growth from previous years, and another will only grow from the roots.  This variety, called ‘Mrs George Jackman’ is one that grows solely from the roots, and in the early spring it burst from the earth as usual, and then I suddenly noticed that all the vine had died. The roots were still firm in the earth so I let it be, and instead allowed the enormous native Columbine to take over the spot. It was a happy day indeed that I spotted among the Columbine flowers several thick Clematis buds and was able to separate out a single stalk of the vine that had grown and survived.

The white blooms are enormous.
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And given its rough start this year, I don’t even mind that it hasn’t caught up in height with it’s cousins that grow alongside.
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Where there’s a will, there’s a way, right? Again, nature shows me that despite circumstances, it doesn’t mean we give up and quit trying. Sometimes it just requires patience, and the right amount of time to reach our potential.

And among all this is a lovely and adorable shaved cat, another source of joy.
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Harmon normally has a very long thick coat and each spring he gets shaved. It makes him more comfortable in the heat and is easier on him in terms of keeping clean. He’s 16 now, and slowing down more each year. He has back issues (yeah, he’s overweight) and some kidney problems and so we do what we can for him. I’ve had him since he was 4 months old, and when I think too long about him leaving this earth, I can hardly stand it. If you’ve never owned a pet, I don’t expect you to understand and it’s OK. He’s a cuddly, snuggly, purring, lovable cat that never fails to crawl into my lap or curl up next to me for a snooze and I love him dearly- almost beyond an ability to express. When he’s shaved like this he feels like rich suede and his big furry feet are adorable. He shows me every day that the best remedies for life are a good nap and spreading the love around, no matter how you may feel.

And so, on the official first full day of Summer, there’s a little bit of the other parts of my life that lift my spirits and ground me in reality. Next time I come back, there’ll be food. I promise.

Dads of any shape or kind

June 21st, 2009 | 6 Comments »

Here’s to the Dads of life, no matter what form they take.

Here’s my Dad
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That’s me, yup…on the right; kid sized anyway. My sister Kris is on the left. I must have been 7 or 8 because I still have my original front teeth which were broken in an accident when I was 9. I vividly recall that sweat shirt I was wearing as being one of my favorites. Funny how you can remember things from so long ago.

I have a very fond memory, food related, of my Dad. When we were younger one of our most requested dishes that he would make for us was Fried Chicken. I don’t recall how he did it precisely, I just remember that it was so delicious and moist that I could eat it until I was about to burst. The smell alone was enough to make me crazy. It wasn’t anything fancy, but we loved it. Time with my Dad meant pizza, pigs in a blanket, lots of ice cream and plenty of fun.

My Dad taught me to swim, patiently teaching me to arch my back with my arms out to the sides, relax and breathe as I tried to float. Over the course of one winter, he would regularly take us to the pool and play all afternoon with us, and I got so good in the water that in high school I was on the swim team, and I recall that he told everyone he knew that his daughter was a swimmer and that I had got my start as a skinny little kid learning how to swim at his side.

Each Spring my Dad would take us for a fun leisurely walk from Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis, to the edge of the Mississsippi River. It wasn’t very long, but we were pretty young and it seemed like to took forever. We would linger on the riverbank, tossing stones, watching boats and exploring the water’s edge. The day always ended at the Dairy Queen nearby, with an ice cream cone or a Root Beer float. Those were my Dad’s favorite.

One of my very earliest memories involving my Dad was from when I was 4 years old and learning to ride a bike. My brother Mike was teaching me, running up and down the sidewalk with me as I pedaled frantically, picking me up after I wiped out and soothing my scrapes and bruises with graham crackers before taking me back out to try again. This is, by far, my fondest and most beloved memory of childhood. I was riding that bike by the time my Dad came home, and as he pulled into our driveway, he stopped to watch me come pedaling down the sidewalk, bobbling around like the novice I was, and of course, without even understanding what was going to happen, I pedaled right into the side of my Dad’s car and crashed to a heap. Mike helped me up and pulled the bike upright. My Dad looked at him, and at my shining face, bruised and scraped knees and elbows and said  “It’s a good idea to teach her how to stop too.”

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This is my brother Mike, with Griffin, who is maybe 9 or 10. Mike has been a doting Uncle, and a wonderful father figure to Griffin from the time he was born, and they have a wonderful bond. Mike is famous for teaching Griffin Apple Baseball, using the abundance of the fallen apples from his backyard tree to enjoy a rousing and loud game of Baseball, complete with exploding apples. Never have I seen Griffin having so much fun as I would see on those Fall weekends, the yard rich in colored leaves and Griffin, at about age 3 or 4 with a giant plastic yellow bat, standing with his favorite Uncle smacking rotten apples around their yard. It was a sad day indeed when Mike had to cut down the old apple tree as it meant the end of an era. Mike and Griffin golf together, take in current sci-fi movies and other hits and enjoy all kinds of fun together like sleepovers, bowling and Boys Day Out at the Twins baseball games. My brother has been a rock in Griffin’s life, and the love is very apparent.

Dads come in all forms, you know; it isn’t just the ones that create the life that can be a “Dad”, in fact, sometimes it’s in the ones who see the need and step in to fill it that I feel are more worthy of the title. My husband, my Mike, is one of those people, and I’ve extolled the merits of his attention to Griffin many times. It takes a very special person to look into the eyes of a child and accept them into their hearts and soul even when they’ve missed out on the first seven years of that child’s life, nor share one scrap of genetic material. These two have formed their own unique form of father-son love, and it’s wonderful to me to listen to them guffawing over old videos of Red Dwarf, seeing them glued to Mythbusters or The Dirtiest Job or find their heads bent over any number of projects and the basic everyday stuff of life that they’ve decided to try and figure out.

Griffin is so very lucky to have not only a great Dad, but a wonderful doting Uncle and a terrific Grandfather. Happy Fathers Day to you all, and my heartfelt thanks at making my son’s life so much more rewarding and fun.

Smashed Potatoes and Olive Tapenade

June 15th, 2009 | 9 Comments »

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From my lips to yours, I never would have thought to put these two flavors together in all the world of combination’s; one so briny, the other so mellow- who would have thought that they’d be any good together?

Thankfully someone did, and they had the fortitude to put it in a cookbook for all of us to see.  And for me to find. I love a good potato, especially charred in a hot pan, a nice crust on the outside. And tapenade?  I have no reticence, and no restraint for all things constructed of chopped olives. I’ve been known to use a pastry brush to glean the remains from any given jar that crosses my doorway.  I love the stuff that much.

The ironic thing was, several days before I happily discovered this recipe in the New York Times Dining Section, I was browsing through the cookbook ‘Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way’, from where this recipe came, by Francis Mallman and Peter Kaminsky. I was enraptured, and getting hungry. I even saw this recipe and thought to myself, once again, about whether or not it was wise to purchase a cookbook based on one divine recipe in it, decided that yet again I couldn’t justify it, and placed it back on the shelf. Then my normal Wednesday browsing on the NYT site nearly made me shout out loud.

What was unexpected was that I had all the ingredients right in the pantry to make it .
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What wasn’t so expected? I waited, for more than a week, to actually do it. Had I known, or better yet believed fully that I would love this to the extent that I did,  I would not have hesitated one instant to put it together, and I encourage you to do the same. For breakfast. For brunch. For a nice supper, a late night snack.

But hesitate I did, and the tapenade, thrown together in about 10 minutes, languished in the fridge in it’s oil and vinegar bath, most likely improving in flavor  immensely prior to me unearthing it. And the finished product was so outstanding and perfect that I awoke the next day craving more.
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When I think of Smashed Potatoes, I think of a fluffy mash of skin-ons. This is more like Home Fries, Fried Potatoes or anything of the same sort, and the crusty-ness of the potato chunks is one of the biggest pulls of this dish. The pairing of the briny and sharp tapenade with the mellow, mild potato seems unlikely; too much of one and not enough of the other, but the mix is divine, the flavors perfect in their execution.

Smashed Potatoes with Tapenade
Adapted from ‘Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way’ by Francis Mallman and Peter Kaminsky (via the New York Times Dining Section, 5/20/09)

For the Tapenade:
1 c. kalamata olives, minced
2 T. capers, minced
1 t. grated lemon zest
1 T. fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 t. fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper

Mix everything in a bowl. I stirred in about a tablespoon of red wine vinegar and it sat in my fridge for at least a week.

For the Potatoes:
About 1-1/2 pounds of waxy small red or white potatoes,
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 bay leaf
6 black peppercorns
Salt

Wash potatoes. If not uniform in size, cut to size and boil, with all added seasonings, until tender. Drain and discard seasonings. Gently break the potatoes into smaller chunks. I did this on a paper towel.

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Heat a heavy seasoned skillet until very hot (a drop of water immediately sizzles and evaporates). Place potatoes in skillet and cook without stirring for about 10 minutes. Dot top with tapenade and gently turn potatoes over. Cook on other side for about 10 minutes more, or until crisp and browned. Serve immediately.

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An excellent option:
Cook the potatoes and tapenade until hot and crispy. Push aside from the center of the pan, making a circle and drop two eggs onto the hot pan. Cook to desired soft or hard stage and serve with potatoes.

A warning:
Although these flavors are wonderful together, it could easily be overpowering by adding too much tapenade. The recipe given makes a nice amount, but I caution against using all of it with the potatoes, as the original recipe seems to suggest. Add in less than you might think, and taste when it’s hot. There should be a nice balance between the two flavor components. If you wish for a sharper taste, add more of the tapenade.

And a great suggestion:
Use some of the oil from the tapenade to flavor the potatoes as they cook. The recipe calls for a half cup olive oil for the tapenade and it seems like a lot until you realize how flavorful it gets, and how it can really amp up the end result of this dish. Use it, and love it.

Cherries!!

June 10th, 2009 | 10 Comments »

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I almost thought to do this as a Wordless Wednesday post, but I simply can’t be quiet about fresh cherries and when I get passionate and excited about a food, my hyper-articulate and descriptive nature fully reveals itself and well, I just can’t stop. Either talking about them or eating them.

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This time of year, I’m not even that picky about how much a bag of cherries will set me back. This is one fruit that I will splurge on when in season without even a blink of an eye. And it’s the easiest to consume too; just a wash under water, a bowl for the pits and stems and no white clothing. I’ve eaten them until I feel like one big round fat cherry myself, lips and fingertips stained purple. I rarely make anything with cherries; they just don’t last long enough for me to search for the perfect recipe, I have little patience for the mess and hassle of pitting them by hand and really, I struggle with feeling like I am wasting this precious summer treat by putting it in anything, making it into something other than what it is- a perfect, simple, nutritious and fabulous treat. You do a great deal of good for yourself to snack on fresh cherries- they are low in fat, cholesterol and sodium and contain high levels of antioxidants such as anthocyanins, quercetin and ellagic acid. They have high levels of vitamin C, fiber and anti-inflammatory properties. One cup has about 90 calories.

On or about the third bag of the dark and sweet red drupes that came into my kitchen, I started thinking about making something like cherry spoonfruit, or a cherry syrup to have on hand, then I began thinking about chocolate and cherries. Pretty soon, it was Chocolate Cherry Pancakes for dinner, with fresh and warm cherry syrup on the side.

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It was like having dessert for dinner. The key to a good pancake- besides a good heft and height- is that they taste good all on their own. I’m no spartan when it comes to my cakes; they’ve got to be chock full of something good, something flavorful and tasty enough so that I can eat it all on it’s own. These certainly fit that need. Chunks of sweet cherries, a sprinkling of Guittard semi-sweets and a hot pan was all I needed. That and an appetite.

Cherry Syrup
by Kate

(weights are approximate; this was totally thrown together)

1-1/2# fresh pitted cherries
1 c. water
1/2 c. brown sugar
2 T. lemon juice
Cornstarch for thickening (the amount you use will vary with the juiciness of your fruit)

Combine all ingredients in a heavy pan and cook at a simmer until fruit breaks down and releases it’s juice. Mix about 2 T. of cornstarch with 1/4 c. cold water to make a pourable liquid. Slowly pour into hot fruit, whisking constantly until thickened to your liking. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes more, or until liquid has darkened and becomes syrupy. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

This should keep in the fridge for a week or so, if it lasts that long. Enjoy on pancakes or waffles, ice cream, yogurt, cereal…..the possibilities are endless.

Glorious greens and Spinach Pesto

June 8th, 2009 | 4 Comments »

Maybe I was a rabbit in another life. Or maybe it’s just my normal summertime affliction, but greens have dominated my meals as of late.

What fuels this obsession, and it can certainly be called one, is the availability of the ‘live’ lettuce heads my grocer has started carrying. I found these last summer and the love affair was ignited like an inferno; a big bunch of varied lettuces are packaged with the root ball intact. They can be planted and grown at home, or like I do, simply chopped off at the root, washed and held in the fridge. The amount of lettuce one gets in these offerings is grand, the quality is terrific and the price is exceptional, a bargain if there ever was one. I’ve bought two at a time and happily dug into their depths for countless meals, relishing the ease, the taste and the light fare. The bonus is that it’s a locally grown product by Minnesota’s own Bushel Boy.

Still, I’m chomping at the bit to get into Market season, where farmers by the score sell buckets of fresh lettuces for insanely cheap prices. A dollar gets me a five-quart buckets worth of fresh lettuces, almost more than I can manage, but that never seems to stop me. Once June is ever-present and the weather beckons me to other options, ones that don’t include standing over a stove, having fresh greens in the fridge gives me endless options for meals. I’m satisfied to have a plate of leafy goodness that hides all sorts of other crunchy vegetable options, a grain and legume for protein with a simple squeeze of a fresh lime and a dash of balsamic, and maybe a piece of chicken for Griffin to help his carnivorous cravings. With these offerings, and a few decent salad dressings, my young man surprised us all recently, including himself, when he ate a grilled chicken salad with amazing gusto and exclaimed  “That was the best salad I’ve ever had. And I never expected to use the words ‘best’ and ‘salad’ together ever!!”

Well, neither did we, and it was an awfully nice thing to hear.

So it was with great anticipation that I awaited the start of one of my favorite local satellite Farmers Markets and drove towards it with excitement. Imagine my disappointment when the normally over-crowded parking lot where it is held instead was home to just about half a dozen vendors, with only one selling any type of green stuff. I felt like a slowly deflating balloon, but shouldered on, purchasing a sackful of organic spring greens, spinach and radishes. At least it was a good start, and while I was heading back home with my goodies, the sack of spinach, crammed full of dark green curly leaves, gave me the idea of making Spinach Pesto and then dinner was born.

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Pesto is a favorite around here, well- of the adults anyway. A few summers in the past, I had a garden bounty of basil that I turned into approximately 20 cups of pesto that I coveted in the freezer for months to come.  I’ve been slow to experiment with other forms of pureed greens, but no more; this spinach pesto, combined with some remaining roasted red peppers that I found in the fridge, was so light, delicious and flavorful that now the craving for pesto, in any form, can be squelched with nary an effort outside of cleaning a bounty of my favorite leafy green.
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And it turned a plain box of pasta into a superb weeknight meal.

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Spinach Pesto
by Kate

4 c. washed spinach leaves, stemmed
1/3 c. olive oil
3 T. toasted pine nuts
1 clove fresh garlic, chopped

Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth, scraping down sides as needed. This pesto can be frozen for quite some time with only minimal loss of flavor. Do not add cheese to pesto if planning to freeze, otherwise, add to taste your preferred hard cheese.

For the Pasta-
Heat water to cook pasta.

I diced two ripe tomatoes and sliced a medium shallot. Sautè the shallot in olive oil, in a deep sided pan, until soft and starting to turn slightly golden. Reduce heat and add tomato, cooking over low heat until it begins to break down only slightly. Stir minimally.

When the pasta is ready, lift all the pasta with tongs straight from the cooking water and into the saute pan. Stir to coat with the tomato mixture, then spoon in about a half cup of the prepared pesto. Using a little of the pasta water, thin the pesto slightly and toss to coat. Add more pesto if so desired. Top with grated cheese and toasted pine nuts and season to taste.

I stirred about a cup of chopped spinach leaves into this as well for a little more color and texture.

Simple Tip of the Day:
When you use spaghetti for a pasta dish, do you break apart the strands before placing them in the boiling water? Does tiny shards of broken spaghetti fly all over the kitchen?

Try this instead:
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Leave the pasta in the box and bend the box over the edge of your counter. All the broken pieces stay in the box, eliminating the annoyance of finding them scattered around your kitchen for days to come. Also, if you salt your pasta water, pour the salt directly into the box with the pasta while you wait for the water to boil. That way, you’ll never forget to add it.

Pesto Magic!
Pesto is so endlessly versatile. Have you ever stirred pesto into burger meat? It’s one of my favorite ways to use it. The oil helps to keep the meat moist and it gives the finished product huge flavor. Griffin won’t eat pesto on pasta, but when I turn the remains into a grilled and fragrant burger, he spares no restraint in consuming it without question.

Pesto is also wonderful in a grilled cheese. We didn’t get around to utilizing this method with the spinach pesto this time, even with wonderful Jalapeno Cheddar bread available as a base, but in the foreseeable future, I’m pretty certain this will be dinner.

Spread some pesto on slices of french bread, a pocketed ciabatta or crusty semolina sesame and sprinkle a little grated hard cheese over the top. Try something different than parmesan or asiago- maybe manchego?- and then place the slices under the broiler for a few quick minutes. Watch carefully! This is an excellent appetizer. Thick slices of fresh tomato can also be spread with pesto and cheese and broiled to a sizzling snack.

Roasted vegetables get a nice enhancement from being served with pesto, especially potatoes.

Pesto salad dressing is wonderful. A tablespoon or two can be added to your standard oil/vinegar mix, or thinned slightly and simply tossed with your greens.

Cake!? What's happening??

June 4th, 2009 | 3 Comments »

Let me tell you about my nephew Matt, or as he likes to refer to himself  ‘my second son’.

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Matt is nine, with light red hair and an adorable grin that’s going through its ‘Jack-O-Lantern’ phase, losing his baby teeth and replacing them with Chiklet chompers. He has a personality that just lights up a room. Last summer, he spent so much time at my house hanging out with Griffin, sleeping over and basically insinuating himself into our lives that it stopped surprising me to find him sprawled on the sofa with my own child, coming out of the bathroom in the early morning hours or pulling up a chair at mealtime. He became a permanent fixture, and when September rolled around, I missed him like crazy.

When Matt was about three, we were at our lake home for a perfect summer weekend and all the kids were outside playing Flashlight Tag as the sky darkened. On our screen porch, Matt’s mom Aimee pulled out a bundt cake, a stack of plates, forks and a big knife, and as she began cutting into the cake, the kids came racing inside to gather round the giant wooden picnic table that dominates the room. Matt climbed onto one of the benches, saw what his Mom was doing and loudly exclaimed “CAKE!?? What’s happening??”

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See, he always associated cake with celebration, and this was just another typical summer weekend for our extended family. But the sight of that cake was enough to send him into shivers, with the wonder of his age bringing forth a now most cherished family quote. Rarely does a real celebratory event pass where someone doesn’t exclaim “Cake! What’s happening!?” when dessert is being served.

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I’m not one to make a lot of cake. Special occasions aside, cake is just too tempting in this house, and should there be a plate of delicious moist cake hiding out under the domed cake holder, it slowly gets whittled away through furtive slips of a knife, while telltale crumbs are disposed of as sweet tooth cravings are duly satisfied. My family has no willpower. And neither do I. It’s best that we just leave cake to those special occasions where it can be appreciated in a quick burst of sugar joy and then forgotten. I think it leads to a better cake appreciation factor.

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On a whole other level, cakes that fall outside the ordinary of the flour, butter and sugar world have quite a different effect on me, hence the siren pull of this Nectarine Ginger Cake. With an unusual (at least for cake) recipe, lots of ripe fruit and a one-bowl and pan deal, this was a cake that I knew wouldn’t languish under the cake dome once we got our cake-ness fill,  especially given the fact that the recipe mentions this being a perfect breakfast, snack AND dessert option. Cake with multiple personalities should be on everyone’s To-Do list.

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Who am I to argue with lemon zest, olive oil, crystallized ginger- this is cake?- not to mention using one bowl, getting to cut into fragrant nectarines and all that finished off with an aroma of baking cake that rose from my oven like a treasure trove slowly displaying its riches. I’m so there. Even with a few fundamental flaws in the recipe (which are totally correctable and well worth a repeat- I’ll spare you the same issues) this cake was a hit.

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Now, admittedly, I’ve never made a cake with olive oil and whoa, tell me why I waited so long? That won’t be happening again. The subtle flavor of this moist and tender cake was only a part of it’s beauty; this cake sang like the Spring days outside my window. It was fresh and incredibly light with a nice browned crunchy top full of chewy nectarine slices and tiny dots of candied ginger. And about that breakfast option? I might just have to pour another cup of coffee and check that out. I mean, you need all the exquisite details, don’t you? I would be a bad blogger to leave them out.

So what did go wrong with this, as I hinted to? For one thing, again I didn’t trust my culinary instinct and when I read some things in the directions that just didn’t sound right, I went with them anyway and had some issues. The temperature called for was 375°, which to me seemed a bit hot for a cake. Most cake recipes I’ve used require 350°. The cake pan called for was way too small, and I knew it but didn’t scrape out the batter into a bigger one. At least I put the pan on a foil lined cookie sheet. First instinct ignored, and I fumed as I watched it bubble over. Secondly, it called for 5 large nectarines, four of them diced. Folks, that’s a lot of fruit, and this cake needed a 9″ pan. I used barely four and got a super fruit-filled result which is fine; the snack of the leftover fruit held off my cake-hunger, but if you’re making cake- that fluffy concoction of flour and sugar- it’s good to actually have something cake-like in the finished results.

Other than that, the recipe is indeed very simple. While it calls for ground ginger in the batter, I think that fresh grated would taste better. I detected little ginger taste in the end result. The lemon zest is amazing, people, and do yourself a favor; slip a few tablespoons of juice into the batter. Your taste buds will high-five you in joy.

Nectarine Ginger Cake
(with modifications already made)

Preheat oven to 350°.  For your cake pan options, the original recipe called for a 9-inch round cake pan with a removable bottom. This is entirely too small so don’t do it, unless your pan is higher than normal. I started to use an angel food cake pan and decided against it. Then I kicked myself as the cake poured out while baking. A 9 x 13 would work well too, with a slightly shorter end result. Whatever pan you use, spray it and sprinkle a little sugar in to coat.

Cake:

2 eggs
1/3 c. milk
1/3 c. good quality olive oil
1 lemon, zested completely and half of it squeezed
2/3 c. sugar
1  T. fresh ginger, grated
1 1/2 c. AP or cake flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
4 large nectarines, three diced small and one for slicing
1/4 c. crystallized ginger, minced or sliced

In a large bowl, whisk eggs, milk and oil until emulsified. Add in all the lemon zest and juice and blend well. Stir in the sugar and fresh ginger. Seperately, blend flour, baking powder and salt then stir into wet ingredients until just barely incorporated. Fold in diced fruit gently.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Arrange nectarine slices on top and scatter crystallized ginger over that. Sprinkle with about two tablespoons of sugar, either white or something fancier. I think raw sugar would be awesome. I’ve been gifted with a divine pistachio sugar, and I’m almost inventing excuses to use it.

Bake until cake top is nicely golden brown and cake springs back when touched- about 45-60 minutes (See Notes). Be careful if you touch the cake top- the candied ginger gets really  hot! The toothpick method will work as well.  Allow to cool, or serve warm.

CAKE NOTES:
Depending on the freshness and juice level of your nectarines, this cake’s cooking time could vary. Be sure to check starting around the 45 minute mark. If the top is browning too much, place some foil over it.