gritfaced

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If there is one thing you should know about me (if you don’t already), it’s that I adore breakfast.  I tend to lean savory–eggs, bacon, toast slathered in butter–but I am also a sucker for the sweets; namely blueberry pancakes and sticky buns.

Another thing to note is that I am a born and bred northerner. Which, among other things, means I was introduced far too late in life to the glory of grits.  Those buttery, creamy, cornmeal dream clouds that I understand folks in the south eat quite regularly.

Despite my instant love for them, I was intimidated at the concept of making them myself.  Admittedly my frame of reference for cooking up grits at home was having minimal. I think I saw Paula Deen make them once on the Food Network with an entire stick of butter and heavy cream.  While I do not shy away from indulgence…even I have limits.

So the internet and I debated on how best to go about making grits that wouldn’t immediately stop my heart.  I consulted Ina Garten (obviously because her word is gospel to me), and a few others and came up with a perfect bowl of morning joy.  And then when I couldn’t finish them (embarrassing though that is for me to admit) I was gifted a second magical meal by baking them off and adding a little spinach.

Conclusion: Grits deserve northern love. They are worth it.

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Grits for 2 (+leftovers)
2 cups cold water
1/2 cup quick cooking grits
1/2 cup milk (I used 1%)
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Bring the water to a boil. Just before it’s rolling, add salt and the grits slowly.  Bring heat down to a low simmer and stir consistently with a wooden spoon until grits thicken (about 5 minutes).
  2. Add the butter and milk and stir to combine.  Cover the grits and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes (or until the grits reach your desired thickness…I like mine fairly loose but the longer they cook the more they will firm up).
  3. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese (this also thickens the consistency). Taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper as desired.

FOR BREAKFAST: with poached egg and crumbled bacon highly recommended…but with chives or scallions to garnish or just straight up won’t disappoint.
FOR DINNER: I put the leftovers in a dish and baked them for 20 minutes at 350 degrees, then topped them with sauteed spinach and yet another poached egg. I’m an egg monster.

 

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gritfaced

roasted three squash soup (with spiced yogurt)

IMG_6689Few things are as satisfying on a cold October day than a mug of soup.  Something that is equally satisfying is finding a way to use the different varieties of squash that came out of your CSA farmshare that have been serving merely as decorative gourds because you didn’t know how to use them all.IMG_6693Whenever I am at the farmers’ market I find myself staring longingly at all the crates of squash, they are just so festive.  I am particularly drawn to the miniature ones.  Be honest, you are too.  So while you’re digging around in the back of your closet for your thick socks and your sweaters, this is the perfect thing to have bubbling away on the stove.

Butternut squash soup is easy and a standby once fall comes around, but every now and again it needs a reboot to keep things exciting.  The delicata and buttercup squash add other flavor dimensions, roasting them brings out their sweetness, and generally I am a sucker for anything with pumpkin pie spice — and it really just makes this soup that much better.  You can use other squash varieties (like sugar pumpkin which would fit perfectly in this crew), these are just what I had on hand.

IMG_6712I had considered getting ambitious and caramelizing some roasted pumpkin seeds to put on top, but lost steam and got hungry so I ate it with a hunk of baguette instead (a choice I don’t regret).  I encourage you to eat it however you see fit.

IMG_6688roasted three squash soup with spiced yogurt

SOUP
1 medium butternut squash
1 medium delicata squash
1 medium buttercup squash
1 cup yellow onion, diced
3 ½ cups vegetable stock
1 cup apple cider
½ cup heavy cream
2 tbs butter
1 tbs pumpkin pie spice (OR ½ tsp each of cinnamon, cardamom, clove, nutmeg, and ground ginger)
½ tsp each of fresh thyme and fresh sage, finely diced
salt and pepper to taste

YOGURT TOPPER
1cup plain greek yogurt
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or a tiny pinch of each of the spices listed above)

  1. Set oven at 350 degrees. Slice each squash down the middle lengthwise and remove the seeds. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet flesh-side-down and bake for 30 minutes or until fork tender.
  2. Let the squash cool and using a spoon scrape out the flesh from the skins and set aside.
  3. In a large heavy bottom pot over medium heat, melt butter and sauté the onions until soft and translucent. Add in the spices, herbs, and squash, salt, and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes. Add in the cider and stock, cover, turn down the heat to medium low, and let simmer for 20 minutes stirring occasionally.
  4. If after 20 minutes everything is softened (if not, give it 5 more minutes or so), remove from the heat and blend (either with a hand blender or transfer the mix in batches to a traditional blender). Return to pot and stir in the cream. Test the flavor for seasoning, adding more spice, salt, and pepper if needed.
  5. Stir spices into the yogurt and serve a healthy dollop on top of each cup of soup with an additional dusting of spice.IMG_6709
roasted three squash soup (with spiced yogurt)

roasted vegetable lasagna

Well, we have arrived at the sweet spot.  These few early weeks of September: it’s getting cooler so fall crops are appearing, but it’s still warm enough that the summer goodies haven’t completely disappeared.  It’s the epitome of produce.  There are too many vegetables to choose from! Raspberries are still available! There are apples!lasagna 1

What’s to be done with an excessive farmers’ market hall and a change in season? Dinner parties.  That’s what.

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Lasagna is the perfect food for a crowd, and with this veggie version you don’t even miss the meat.  As with all things, I looked to Ina Garten for guidance on this one.  She has a wonderful roasted vegetable lasagna recipe in her Make it Ahead cookbook, which I followed closely (because I trust her implicitly) but I also made some tweaks to suit my tastes and clean out my fridge.

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Roasting the vegetables takes out some of their water, so as to avoid a soggy bottomed lasagna.  I mean, could anything be worse than that?

So invite your friends over and celebrate summer. Or fall. Whatever your preference.

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roasted vegetable lasagna
(adapted from the incomparable Ina Garten)

3 small to medium sized zucchini (some green and some yellow makes for a real pretty lasagna)
1 large eggplant
2 cups fresh spinach
1/2 pound button mushrooms
1 cup ricotta cheese1 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
1 jar preferred tomato sauce (you could of course make your own, try this one)
1 package dry lasagna noodles

1. Slice the zucchini and eggplant lengthwise to 1/4 inch thickness.  Arrange on parchment paper covered cookie sheets, brush liberally with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then roast for 40 minutes in a 375 degree oven.  Set aside.
2. Slice the mushrooms thin and sauteé over medium-high heat until just cooked. Set aside.  Wipe out the pan and cook down the fresh spinach over medium heat until it just begins to stick to the pan.  Remove from heat and run with cold water. Squeeze the spinach (in your hands or with a cheese cloth) to remove as much liquid as humanly possible, then chop it up. Let cool.
3. Mix together cooled spinach with ricotta until combined.
4.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt the water well (like, more than you think is appropriate). Cook the pasta for 7-8 minutes.  It should still be quite al dente, just cooked.  Strain it and run it under cold water.
5. AASSSSEMMBLLEEEEEE.  In a 13 x 9 inch pan, start with a thin layer of tomato sauce.  Add base noodle layer. Dollop 1/3 of the ricotta mixture evenly (it will spread out in the cooking), sprinkle evenly 1/3 of the mushrooms, then do a layer of the roasted squash and eggplant (some of each), cover with sauce, and sprinkle 1/3 of the mozzarella over it.  Then start again with noodles and build up until you’ve used all the goods.  The top layer should be pasta, spread with a tiny bit of sauce and sprinkled with some saved mozzarella.
6. Bake tented with tinfoil (you don’t want all that gooey top cheese stuck to the tin foil so make sure they aren’t touching!) for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, then remove the foil and cook final 10 minutes to let the cheese get good and melty.  When you see sauce bubbling up the side of the pan, you’ve nailed it.

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roasted vegetable lasagna

a sweet finish

Turns out summer is leaving, and I haven’t cooked all that much.  I was too busy eating everything. After 2ish months of countless lobster rolls, ice cream cones, and hot dogs (a strange but totally welcome part of the Summer 2015 diet), I was ready to close out the season with a bang.  And this was certainly that.

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Brian Mercury, the silly talented pastry chef at Harvest in Cambridge of bacon bun fame, teamed up with Tracy Obolsky from NYC’s North End Grill for a night of sweet frivolity in the form of a 6 course desserts only tasting menu.  And these 2 were not fooling around.  And despite being more of a savory girl myself, I would do eat every bite they gave me again in a heartbeat.

Obolsky's lime mousse with lemon verbena gele, raspberry, graham crumble, and crispy meringues
Obolsky’s lime mousse with lemon verbena gele, raspberry, graham crumble, and crispy meringues
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Mercury’s chamomile sugar dusted fried dough with hibiscus lemon curd, cream cheese mousse, poppy seeds, and berries

The effortlessly dynamic pair went plate for plate, taking turns at each course.  Obolsky kicked things off with an elevated play on key lime pie (dotted with tiny toasty meringues), that led into Mercury’s fried dough rounds with hibiscus lemon curd (that was a lovely shade of pink). There was then a cheese course with unadorned but beautiful tiger stripe figs, and an unexpectedly refreshing mint vinegar sorbet as an intermezzo.

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Obolsky’s Old Chatham Kinderhook Creek sheep’s milk cheese with black pepper gastrique, candied marcona almonds, and tiger stripe figs
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Mercury’s mint vinegar sorbet with mead foam, concord grape gele, and buttermilk

Already deep into a sugar coma, the final dishes gave no respite. Obolsky’s coconut pavlova with dulce de leche and cubes of tropical fruits and Mercury’s “grown-up” root beer float were both elegant feats not only of flavor but of plating.  It was almost too pretty to eat.  Except that it wasn’t, because I cleaned my plate at every course.

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Obolsky’s coconut pavlova with dulce de leche and tropical fruits

Good meals are always worth sharing.  This one was worth showing off so that you might find your way into either of these chef’s restaurants to eat anything they are making.  I would happily take on another sugar rush at either of their hands.

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Mercury’s “grown-up” root beer float: root liquor ice cream, bourbon cake, vanilla foam, root beer gastrique, and mascarpone
a sweet finish

caprese & roasted garlic bruschetta

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The tomatoes are coming.  You can see them popping up here and there, in glorious shades of yellow and orange, and even bits of red. They will continue gain glory as the summer progresses. It’s all terribly exciting.

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Tomatoes tend to pair well with a lot of different flavors since they somehow manage to be sweet and acidic and unique all at once. However one of the simplest, and most pleasurable ways to enjoy them is unadorned with some basil and mozzarella. And bread, obviously. Because bread makes everything better. You add roasted garlic and it just becomes aggressively addictive.

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Sometimes you have to just eat this standing up at the kitchen counter, because to take it all the way to the table is just too long to wait.

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Caprese & Roasted Garlic Bruschetta

The caprese piece of this is as you expect, but the roasted garlic is the secret weapon that sets it apart. It’s such an easy way to add another element to an already delicious situation.

3 medium beefsteak tomatoes (or 2 quarts of cherry tomatoes), diced
2 large balls fresh mozzarella, cubed
fresh basil to taste
1 head of garlic
1 baguette, sliced
fresh basil, balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper to taste

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Slice the head of garlic horizontally and place on a baking sheet flesh side up and drizzle with olive oil.  Cook until fragrant and slightly browned. Set aside.
2. Dice tomatoes and mozzarella, mix together in a bowl with salt, pepper, chopped fresh basil, and balsamic vinegar.
3. Slice the baguette (or other equally delicious bread) and drizzle with olive oil and toast in oven until just browned on the edges. Dig the roasted garlic cloves out of the husks and spread one or two cloves on each slice of bread (the beauty of roasted garlic is that it becomes creamy and takes on a nutty, dreamy flavor. If you don’t like it though, you can omit it or use butter).
4. Top the slices with the tomato and mozzarella mixture, and eat immediately while the bread is warm and the mix is cool.

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caprese & roasted garlic bruschetta

arugula fennel citrus salad

Salad can be sexy, when it wants to be. I feel akin to salad in this way. It may not be easy, and you definitely have to work for it, but it can happen. Besides it’s what’s on the inside that counts and this salad is overflowing with inherent goodness.

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It’s bright and refreshing, and helped me understand why some cultures eat salad as a palate cleanser course after the main dish. It’s not necessarily an everyday salad. The flavors are bold but not overwhelming, which sounds oxymoronic but it’s true. They are flavors begging to be served alongside some seafood or with just with some bread and cheese. And wine.

IMG_6158So really, this is a sexy salad. Splashy colors…aggressive flavors…but approachable. What else could you ask for?

arugula fennel citrus salad

orange (or grapefruit)
fennel bulb, sliced uber thin
radishes, sliced uber thin
avocado, sliced
baby arugula
toasted pistachios
shaved parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
olive oil

The amount of any ingredient used is to your specific taste, and for how much salad you intend to make.  There are no rules with this–everyone’s sexy…er, salad…is different.

Per the photos above, build up your salad starting with the arugula. Supreme the citrus (instructions here), and then squeeze the juice from the remaining pith over everything. Drizzle some olive oil, add salt and pepper, then toss all together.  Serve it up immediately.

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arugula fennel citrus salad

“gluten is not the devil” – Jenn Louis

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I realize I keep talking about pasta.  But it’s because not only do I believe it deserves constant love and praise, but also because I recently went to a dinner completely dedicated to it with things that looked like this:

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So how could I not talk about it? Chef Jenn Louis of Portland, Oregon was in Boston promoting her new cookbook Pasta By Hand, which is beautiful and drool inducing.  She showcased some of the book’s goodies in a collaborative dinner at Alden & Harlow in Harvard Square with some of Boston’s finest chefs. Swoon.

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Each chef took one of the pastas from her book and created a dish around it, and what came out of the kitchen was incredible. Silly delicious. And beautiful to boot.

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The pièce de résistance for me was Louis’ own dish. Strozzapretti (a Florentine dumpling whose name Louis explains translates to “priest strangler” – just so you know) are made with seasonal greens and ricotta.  Louis served them simply with butter and Parmagiano-Reggiano. I could eat them every day. I may even move to Florence so I can. Or attempt to make the recipe from Louis’ book. Either way.

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All of this eye candy is merely to remind us of some really important mantras: everything in moderation, treat yo self, and carbs are lifeblood.

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“gluten is not the devil” – Jenn Louis