Culinary Cousins: Mushroom Bolognese

I’ve just posted a new recipe over at Culinary Cousins.

I’m happy to report that I’m still living the vegetable-centric life, and it’s going pretty well. Recipes like this mushroom bolognese make it especially easy. It’s rib-sticking enough to satisfy but also pretty healthy. Plus, when I make it from scratch, I know exactly what I put into it. 

Read all about it: Mushroom Bolognese

Cooking Spree: Mini Oreo cheesecakes

Every morning I get an email from Foodimentary that informs me of the national food of the day and regales me with key moments in food history. By pure coincidence, today is National Oreo Day — the very day I planned to tell you about my latest cooking spree using, what else, Oreos.

Only I cheated.

The real Oreos weird me out a bit. What is in that creamy vanilla center, exactly? Besides harsh chemicals and toxic substances. I mean, probably.

But let me not get ahead of myself. To the beginning.

I hate to waste food. I’ve likely told you about this before. It just pains me to leave a box or pint or bunch or basket of anything unused, or worse, to throw it away. A few months ago, I was at Trader Joe’s, and I spied a box of the elusive Joe-Joe’s. That’s the TJ answer to Oreos. To me, they were only a figment — the top item everyone raves about, but the most impossible one to find. At my stores, they’re almost always sold out. So, in the interest of belonging and being part of the in crowd, I bought a box. I liked them — the cookie is chocolate-y and the creamy center is ultra vanilla-y. They’re very good — but I just couldn’t finish a whole box.

What to do. What to do. Continue reading

A roast and a toast.

I’m sorry. How is it only January 21? With as much as I’ve had going on at work since January 2, it feels like it could be May already. Sheesh.

Luckily, I’ve still had a few moments of fun in those harried three weeks. In fact, the weekend after New Year’s my family, and friends who are family, reconvened for a celebration: my uncle Jim’s 70th birthday. The weather gods were with us, because it was a clear — if crisp — evening for a party.

In the fall and winter, during months with an R in them, it is tradition in the Lowcountry — the area of South Carolina stretching from Charleston through Beaufort and Hilton Head Island to Savannah — to have an oyster roast. It’s a backyard, wear your jeans and relaxed clothes kind of occasion. We always do a mini oyster roast on Christmas Eve, but oyster roasts in general are the soirees of choice for almost any fall and holiday get-together in that area.

The oysters are usually harvested locally, sometimes even directly from the river 10 feet away. They aren’t to be washed, since the briny marsh mud “seasons” them as they cook. (Let’s just not think about that part.) I’ve never done the roasting myself, but I understand that the oysters are shoveled onto and layered between water-soaked burlap sacks and left to steam over an open fire until they open. That’s one way to do it, at least. At our gathering, I think a proper steamer was involved.

You may be thinking at this point that oysters are disgusting. Slimy, salty, mucousy, revolting. I don’t disagree with you. Oysters are not my go-to seafood or shellfish of choice, but somehow I can handle them at an oyster roast. For one, they’re cooked, which greatly improves the texture. And the bit of work you have to do to break into one means the reward is that much sweeter.

oysters

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Down with the sickness.

danger-sign

It all started at a festive Thanksgiving family gathering.

I mistakenly picked up another’s wine glass and went on my way. When I realized and tried to exchange, she confessed that she hadn’t been feeling well. No problem, I shrugged, what’s the worst that could happen?

Two days later, post Black Friday-induced sleep deprivation and early morning exposure to the elements, I was down for the count. That guest took out four others that night as well.

It’s been weeks, but I’m barely hanging on. I thought I was over the hill last weekend and on the road to recovery, but I woke Sunday with symptoms anew. A complete and total relapse. Continue reading

Cooking Spree: Homemade Applesauce

It’s a question that paralyzes me every time. That summons the angel to one shoulder and the devil to the other.

“Would you like chips, bread or an apple with that?”

I try to behave when I eat at Panera Bread, and choose that apple to accompany my meal instead of more bread (delicious!) or potato chips (decadent!). But, instead of keeping the doctor away, I just collect a lot of tiny apples that I never eat.

Then last week I came home with a bag of apples someone brought my family from a nearby orchard. So I stared at those, alongside my Panera stash, perplexed. What do you do with such abundance?

I could have made a tart or a pie, but I was trying to eat decently healthy. Continue reading

Cooking Spree: Skinny Banana "Ice Cream"

Consider my mind blown.

A few weeks back, when I was still on the wagon and trying to eat sensibly, Stephanie told me about skinny banana ice cream. You just blend a frozen banana in a food processor, she said, and voila! You have a dessert-like treat with the consistency of soft serve. Nah, I doubted. There’s no way a measly frozen banana can trick my brain into believing I’m eating ice cream.

Then I tried it.

The result is everything she promised — smooth, creamy, sweet, icy. You totally feel like you’re eating banana ice cream, but with zero guilt.

I heard recently that bananas and mangoes are the only fruits that maintain a creamy consistency when frozen, so the science does make sense. And I suppose that means frozen mangoes are next on my shopping list.

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Skinny Banana “Ice Cream”

1 frozen banana
1 tablespoon milk
Honey or sugar, to taste (if you’d like)

Equipment: small food processor or blender

Peel a medium banana (or a few bananas) and place it in a large ziploc bag. Freeze for a couple of hours until solid.

Remove a banana from the plastic bag and, (carefully!) with a sharp knife, chop it into chunks.

Note: I stress again — be careful! The banana may be hard to chop while frozen. You could chop the banana before you freeze it but I didn’t because I wanted to easily see a one banana portion. You could portion banana slices into different bags or bowls before freezing, though. Hey, I’m lazy. 

Add the banana to the bowl of a food processor or blender. Add the milk. At this point, you could add sweetener — a touch of honey, sugar or sweetener packet, though I didn’t. I suppose you could also add some yogurt — plain, vanilla or Greek — but you do need the liquid of the milk to help the banana blend.

Blend the banana and milk in the food processor/blender for about a minute. The consistency will change and it will become smooth and soft, like frozen yogurt or soft-serve ice cream. Working quickly, pour the “ice cream” into a bowl and eat.

 

 

Cooking Spree: Fancy Egg Salad

Here’s something that’s been sorely missing on this blog for awhile … food. I used to do so well, cooking all week for nourishment and experimenting all weekend for stress relief. But I haven’t been doing any of that lately. I think it means I’m less stressed out, but also busier, if that’s even possible. Plus, who wants to cook (or eat) when it’s 100 degrees outside?

Lately I’ve been eating the weirdest things for dinner. Like peanut butter on a handful of Triscuits. The other night I ate shrimp salad on saltines with sesame noodles. This is what happens when you go to the grocery store hungry. My go to, weeknight, starving when I get home at 9 p.m. dinner, though, is egg salad. It makes a killer packable lunch too. All you need are 2 eggs, some mayo and a nice piece of crusty bread. Everyone has that in the fridge, so you can make a feast for yourself in 15 minutes. And when you want, you can also make it fancy.

When I lived in New York, there was a chain of European (well, Euro-style, at least) cafes called Le Pain Quotidien. They have great coffee and beautiful pastries, and everyone sits at long, rustic, wooden communal tables. Ooh la la. But the highlight is the tartine sandwiches — all manner of French-style, open-faced sandwiches served with tart cornichons (tiny pickles) and a green salad. They are delicious, and eating them makes me feel so cosmopolitan. As if I am dining on the sidewalk in Paris, instead of just the loud, dirty corner of 57th Street.

My favorite tartine at Le Pain Quotidien is the egg salad, and they make theirs with a few unique ingredients. The French may love mayonnaise, but here they actually use olive oil as a binder. It may sound odd, but it’s very good. Even I, a mayonnaise connoisseur, didn’t even miss it. In fact, the olive oil somehow makes the egg salad lighter and more buttery. The other special ingredient adds a shock of salt and tang: capers. Capers are apparently a berry from the caper, or Flinders rose, bush. The little, green berries are often pickled and used in Italian and Meditteranean dishes. To me they’re naturally kind of bitter, and then the pickling adds a vinegar bite. I confess I’m not often a caper fan because the flavor can be quite overwhelming, so I enjoy them when used sparingly or hidden in other dishes. In this, they are a great complement.

So, the next time you want to transform your home into a Parisian sidewalk cafe and feel a little fancy, try this egg salad. It’s much cheaper than the plane ticket.

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Fancy Egg Salad

2 large eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil (or more)
1 teaspoon capers, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

To boil the eggs, place them in a pot and fill with cold water just to cover them. Heat the water on high until it boils, then turn it off, cover the pot and let the eggs sit for 10-15 minutes. This apparently helps to prevent that green ring that can appear around the yolk, but I don’t care so much about that.

Remove the eggs from the water, and let cool or run cold water over them until they’re cool enough to handle. Peel and slice into a bowl.

Using a pastry blender (or a fork), mash the eggs until there are only small chunks.

Chop the capers and add them to the eggs.

Add the olive oil and mix everything together. At this point, you should taste it and add as much salt and pepper as you like. If the consistency is too dry, or you like yours creamier, add more oil a little bit at a time.

Spread the salad on a good piece of toasted bread. I didn’t have any, but you could add herbs or top with sprouts or shaved radishes or even mixed greens to make it truly fancy.

 

Cooking Spree: Peanut Butter Pie

I’m not one of those people who’s in love with peanut butter … I like it, it’s okay, sometimes it hits the spot, but I don’t have to have it. I am, however, a big fan of peanut butter pie.

That love affair began back in the ’80s with the peanut butter pie at Reilley’s, an Irish pub and restaurant on Hilton Head Island, S.C. Reilley’s pie is legendary, decadent and ridiculously delicious. We still talk about it, though it’s been years, probably decades, since I’ve had a piece there.

Last week I was at Hilton Head helping Mom recover from her foot surgery. Mom, I should note, is one of those peanut butter fanatics. She eats it by spoon right from the jar. On crackers, sandwiched between Thin Mints, atop gingersnaps, in a Thai sauce on noodles. Any which way it will come, really. (Oliver thinks it’s pretty nifty as well.)

While we were out to lunch during the week, Mom and I shared slices of peanut butter pie for dessert at two restaurants. Each was a different interpretation on peanut butter pie schools of thought: one a dense, rich version covered in a layer of chocolate, so dense in fact it could almost be considered a bar, and clearly inspired by peanut butter cup candy. The second version is a more traditional pie, with a light, frothy filling of peanut butter whipped with cream or whipped topping. It’s often drizzled with chocolate sauce and plenty of whipped cream, but the filling can be so light that its flavor only distantly resembles peanut butter. I suppose there’s another category for frozen and ice cream pie concoctions, though those don’t interest me as much.
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