A Card, and 3 Simple Ways to Begin Your Valentine’s Day Dinner

Parmigiano Love

So often, for me at least, the best part of a dinner out happens shortly after I am seated, when the server sets down a warm roll with a pat of soft butter sprinkled with sea salt or a basket of freshly baked focaccia and a little dish filled with olive oil swirled with a few drops of balsamic vinegar. It’s these simple details that, when done well, distinguish the meal from one prepared at home, when such delights are often absent and when relishing every morsel is not always the order of the hour.

With that in mind, I have a few very simple ideas for beginning a Valentine’s Day dinner at home. If you thrive at arranging delicious things on plates, ideas 1 and 2 are for you. If you like to fuss a little bit more, idea number 3 might interest you more.

But before we get to the food, let’s discuss cards. You have to begin Valentine’s Day with a card, right? I’ve added four Valentine’s Day cards to the print shop, including the above pictured one, Parmigiano Love. Each Valentine’s Day card costs $3 and can be shipped to you for the price of a stamp (45 cents). Continue reading

Real Sour Cream & Onion Dip and a Wisconsin Cheese Giveaway: Set of Cheese Knives, Cheese Board, and 3-Bowl Bamboo Server

caramelized onion and sour cream dip with Ruffles potato chips

The unfortunate consequence of being deprived of chips and dip as a child is that I am the girl at parties (much to my husband’s embarrassment) hovering over the crock pot filled with queso dip, piling more than a manageable amount of hot crab spread into my Tostitos scoops, and destroying the poor bowl filled with spinach-artichoke dip.

In addition to childhood deprivation, part of my love for these sorts of dips, I suspect, stems from the fact that I never make them. As many of you know, so many of these most-adored party dip recipes call for opening a pack of soup mix filled mostly with dehydrated ingredients, two days worth of the recommended salt intake, MSG and a host of nitrates and preservatives. While this knowledge never seemed to prevent me from eating these dips — all willpower dissolves when confronted face to face — for many years it prevented me from making them.

With the recent success of a homemade sour cream-and-onion dip, however, I am hoping homemade queso dip along with a few other classics might be in my future, with any luck before the Super Bowl. Who knew that real sour cream-and-onion dip is astonishingly easy to prepare and far more delicious than its dried-soup variation? While caramelizing onions takes time — time, not work — throwing together this dip couldn’t be much more difficult than opening a box of instant soup. One bite of this sweet-and-tangy dip atop a salty Ruffles potato chip allayed my fears that my Super Bowl guests, upon observing the spread — my mother’s olivata, my aunt’s whipped feta with roasted red peppers, and not a crock pot in sight — might run out the door. If you feel like going this homemade-sour-cream-and-onion-dip route, rest assured that your guests will feel right at home watching the game. Just don’t forget the Ruffles… for some things there are no substitutes. Continue reading

Homemade Breadcrumbs & Infinite Ways to Use Them

pasta with toasted bread crumbs, anchovies, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and basil

Homemade breadcrumbs slipped into our dinner regimen slowly, appearing on our salads to start, the kale caesars in particular, quietly replacing croutons altogether. But shortly after their introduction, perhaps encouraged by their warm reception, they made haste, and soon began garnishing our pastas, mingling with our roasted vegetables, delicately topping our fish fillets. These days they’ve gotten completely brazen, sometimes accompanying every item on the plate. I don’t know when this trend will fizzle, but I’m liking it very much at the moment.

The inspiration to start whizzing my stale bread in the food processor, storing the crumbs in the freezer, and toasting them in a skillet with olive oil at the dinner hour, came from two sources: a great chef interview on the kitchn in early November and the editor’s letter in this month’s bon appètit, which offered tips on how to be a better cook from seven renowned chefs around the world including Mario Batali who admits that “there’s almost nothing [he] wouldn’t put homemade breadcrumbs on.” I’m starting to share this sentiment. These crunchy, salted, olive-oil toasted bits are truly addictive. Continue reading

Detox: Sesame-Crusted Tofu with Nuoc Cham

tofu bite

When my paleo friends arrived at my doorstep carrying a Dean and Deluca bag, I suspected my fears about my non-paleo olives were for naught. And when they were as eager to open the bag as Ben and I, my suspicions were confirmed. With it still being pre-2013, we all had one last hurrah with the spoils, snacking on Vahlrona chocolate brownies and an assortment of cookies the size of frisbees for a good day and a half.

It was awesome, but when New Year’s Day arrived, I, as many of you can relate I am sure, was ready to detox. I made a grocery list. Wrote out some resolutions. Ate tofu. Watched Happy. Cried a lot. Wrote out a few more resolutions. Went to sleep, for the first time in a long time not feeling stuffed, early. And woke up, for the first time in a long time, feeling like a million bucks.

About this time of year every year, I go on a little tofu binge. I know, I know. I can hear you barking. There are lots of ways — moderation, namely — to eat healthy without taking extreme measures. But, and I’m not just saying this, I have two tofu recipes in my repertoire, one of which I’ve already shared with you and could genuinely eat nearly every day, both of which I would serve to company without apology. Continue reading

Gingerbread Biscotti And A Few Favorite Holiday Recipes

gingerbread biscotti in jar

Biscotti lovers seem to fall into two camps: those who view dipping as essential and those who view dipping as optional. As you can see from the photo above, I fall into the dipping-is-optional camp. I like my biscotti with a chewy center (a texture achieved by butter, which dipping-biscotti recipes generally do not call for) and a crisp crust, and I like them on the larger, meatier size — I want to eat one (not ten) and feel satisfied.

While I am partial to classic almond biscotti, these gingerbread biscotti are a treat this time of year. This recipe is just a variation of my favorite recipe with molasses replacing some of the sugar and the addition of traditional gingerbread spices: ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. With coffee or tea, a latte or hot cocoa, this dunking-is-optional treat will put anyone in the holiday spirit. Continue reading

Salsa di Parmigiano; Homemade Advent Calendar, for next year perhaps

salsa di Parmigiano and grilled bread

Yesterday I spent the afternoon with two of my aunts in northern Virginia. Over the course of seven hours, we found a reason to use this sauce — salsa di Parmigiano — three times. For our lunch, we spread it onto French bread and made paninis filled with artichoke hearts, golden cherry tomatoes, and fontina cheese; for the children’s dinner, we tossed it with pasta; for our meze-style dinner, we spooned it onto grilled bread, which we ate all evening along with some olives, feta, and various other treats. It was a delicious spread, but this dipping sauce received the most attention by everyone who joined the party.

This is a nice little sauce to know. Made mostly in the food processor, it comes together in less than ten minutes and makes enough to last you for weeks. Apparently, at Michael Chiarello’s Bottega, every table receives a bowl of the sauce along with crispy bread before the main courses arrive. Sounds heavenly. Continue reading

Tartine’s Currant Scones & Lemon Cream

Tartine's currant scones, just-baked

I’m preparing for Thanksgiving and for my sole visitor, my father, who loves a proper English scone. Unfortunately, these currant scones, I am fairly certain are not proper by any British standards, and I’m fairly certain that serving them with lemon cream is not proper either. What I am certain about, however, is that after one bite, my father will tell me that what I have created is not in fact a proper British scon. And then he’ll proceed to devour two or three, slathering each with lemon cream, uttering mumbles of approval all along the way. I can’t wait.

I’m sorry to bore you with a recipe I’ve posted about before, but when I find a recipe I like, I tend to stick with it. Tartine’s buttermilk scone recipe is the one I use year-round, studded with berries in the summer and currants in the winter. The recipe yields a huge batch, too, which is nice when planning for visitors, so I froze eight unbaked scones for Thanksgiving morning.

With scone dough stashed away, I thought it would be fun to have some of Tartine’s lemon cream on hand, too, a recipe I overlooked in the cookbook but have had bookmarked since seeing it on Food52 a few months ago. The cream is as luscious as promised, and I cannot wait to serve it, though I suspect my father is going to ask if I’ve got any clotted cream around. Also, just a note: these scones certainly don’t need anything as spectacular as homemade lemon cream — they honestly don’t even need a dab of butter — but if you’re feeling the gilding-the-lily spirit that is the holiday season, then go for it.

Incidentally, I have been watching Call the Midwife — amazing! — and have been craving proper English scons since hearing the midwives giggle about them in the last episode. Continue reading

Eggplant Caviar on Grilled Bread

eggplant caviar

Last summer the eggplant chapter of Chez Panisse Vegetables treated me kindly, introducing me to a favorite pasta recipe as well as a most-delicious gratin with tomatoes and onions. And with this eggplant “caviar,” a mash-up of roasted eggplant, fresh parsley, and macerated shallots and garlic, the chapter just seems to keep on giving.

In each of these recipes, eggplant is roasted (as opposed to fried), which requires minimal oil, allowing the eggplant’s sweet flavor to really shine. And after a gentle mashing with a fork, the eggplant’s flesh becomes creamy, a perfect consistency to whip into a spread to spoon over grilled bread. Here, shallots and garlic that have soaked in vinegar add both sweetness and bite without taking over, but I imagine eggplant can hold its own in the presence of even stronger flavors — anchovies, olives, and roasted peppers come to mind.

With eggplant season peaking, now is the time to experiment. And for you eggplant lovers in particular — I know eggplant can be polarizing — get roasting. Continue reading

Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad Piadines, sort of

piadines topped with kale caesar and grilled chicken

On May 25th, I pressed the “on” button on my food processor. I haven’t turned it off since. It’s just been going going going, churning out bowlfuls of the kitchn’s magical one-ingredient ice cream, batches of Bittman’s one-minute mayonnaise, and mason jars full of Darcy’s pesto.

The latest addition to the food processor’s regimen is caesar dressing, made in the same fashion as the Bittman mayonnaise, through the teeny hole of the food pusher insert. It works like a charm, and I’ve discovered that if I give the processor bowl a quick little rinsey rinse immediately after I’m finished using it, it’s as if I never dirtied it. Umpteen parts? No big deal. Back onto its base it goes; onto the next job it moves.

Anyway, I’m planning a dinner party and thought it might be fun to make little flatbreads — “piadines” I saw them called in a Michael Chiarello cookbook — piled high with caesar salad — boring, I know, but perhaps made interesting by kale — tossed with sliced grilled chicken breasts — boring, I know, but safe. I love this kind of thing, when bread and vegetable and meat are all wrapped up in one casual, fun, summery, light dish.

As you can see, I gave this idea a little test run, and while I still think it has potential, my piadines need a little bit of work. They puffed way up in the oven, almost like pita bread, making them better suited for falafel or chicken souvlaki. I’m looking for something thin thin, as my grandmother would say, and not too crisp but a little less imposing than what I made here. Despite the shape of the bread, however, the combo was delicious, and fortunately, I still have some time to experiment. In the meantime I might just run a few more things by you.

One last thing. If you’re looking for a rustic, summery dessert for one of your own get togethers, here’s something that might interest you: Stone Fruit Galettes with Homemade Frangipane. Make one dough (in the food processor), a batch of frangipane (also in the food processor), and assemble three tarts each perhaps with a different stone fruit. Plum is my favorite this year. Get the recipe over at Lifestyle Mirror:

stone fruit; peach galette

piadine topped with kale caesar salad with grilled chicken

Lahey no-knead pizza dough, risen

piadine dough balls

piadines ready for the oven

piadines in the oven

just-baked piadines

deflated piadines

uncooked chicken breasts seasoned with basil, salt and pepper

grilled chicken breasts

grilled chicken breasts

sliced grilled chicken breast

kale

kale caesar with grilled chicken

kale caesar salad with grilled chicken

Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad Piadines:
Serves: As many as you like

Notes: As I mentioned above, my piadines are not quite there. They were delicious, just not flat. I used the Lahey No Knead Pizza Dough, which I adore, and which I think might work if I handle the dough a little more aggressively — next time I might even use a rolling pin to remove as many air pockets as possible.

What’s great about something like this for a party is that nearly everything can be prepared ahead of time: kale washed, cheese grated, dressing made, chicken grilled (though it is nice when the chicken is freshly grilled). And with everything prepped, the salad can be assembled in seconds while the flatbreads are baking.

components:

Jim Lahey No Knead Pizza dough or your favorite pizza/flatbread/piadine dough portioned into 3-oz balls
kale, washed and torn into salad-sized pieces
freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
caesar dressing (recipe below)
grilled chicken breasts (recipe for two below), sliced

to assemble:

1. Preheat the oven to 500ºF. Stretch or roll dough balls into 5-inch rounds. Place on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes or until lightly golden.

2. Meanwhile, place kale in a salad bowl with grated parmigiano and sliced grilled chicken breast. Toss with dressing to taste. Taste. Adjust seasoning accordingly.

3. Remove flatbreads from oven. Place one on each plate. Pile high with salad.

Food Processor Caesar Dressing:
Yield = 1.25 cups

3 cloves garlic
3 anchovies
pinch kosher salt
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar*
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

*Lemon juice is obviously more traditional, but white balsamic has a nice flavor, and using vinegar is also easier than juicing lemons… forgive my laziness.

1. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the anchovies, garlic and salt until finely puréed. Add the yolk and quarter cup of white balsamic. Pulse until blended. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream. (Your food processor should have a teeny hole in the food pusher insert in the top). When an emulsion forms you can add it a little faster. (Again, the little hole makes this unnecessary.)

Grilled Chicken Breasts
Yield = 2 breasts; serves 4 when sliced for a salad

2 chicken breasts
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
fresh herb of choice — I like basil
olive oil

1. Preheat the grill to high. Season chicken breasts all over with salt and pepper. Toss with the fresh herb. Rub lightly with oil. Grill for 2 to 2.5 minutes a side if breasts are smallish. Let rest for five minutes before slicing.

Homemade Vanilla Extract, Moo Labels

vanilla bottles

I know it’s hard to think about the holiday gift-giving season when it’s 1000 degrees outside, but if you’re the type that likes to be prepared, I suppose it’s never too early. Here’s a fun little project to undertake the next time you find yourself trapped indoors this summer: homemade vanilla extract.

To start, you’ll need some vanilla beans. IndriVanilla, supplier of Fair Trade bourbon vanilla beans at beyond reasonable prices, is a great source. Since discovering them back in January, I have reintroduced vanilla beans to my pantry and have never been happier.

Next, a little alcohol. I made two batches with what I had on hand — vodka and rum — but the type of alcohol can vary from Frangelico to butterscotch schnapps to spiced rum to amaretto, all of with which Whitney Olsen, owner of IndriVanilla, has experimented. With 50+ variations of extract now bottled, Whitney has learned a few things, namely that the longer the beans steep and the more that are used, the stronger the vanilla extract will taste. And, moreover, because sugars in lower-proof alcohols can inhibit steeping, the higher the proof of the alcohol — 80 or above is ideal — the better the extract will taste.

And that’s really it. With vanilla beans and alcohol on hand, you are all set to start making homemade extract. The process couldn’t be more simple: heat alcohol just to its boiling point; pour it over split vanilla beans; let the extract steep for at least six weeks.

If you feel like turning your homemade vanilla into gifts, here’s what you’ll need:

Bottles. I, for once, was practical (thanks to guidance by Whitney) and didn’t order cute cork-topped bottles, which leak and apparently can impart unpleasant odors. I ordered 4-oz. amber glass bottles on Uline. Each bottle holds about 7 tablespoons (just under 1/2 cup) of liquid. At $1.05 a piece, my 24 bottles cost $25.20 and shipping brought the total to $36.81, making the ultimate cost per bottle $1.53.

Labels. There are lots of great resources for printing labels at home, but I love Moo.com, so I ordered my labels there. If you like the look of these, I’ve enclosed links to the files below, which you can download and order from Moo, too. There are three color options, and depending on when you get around to making the vanilla, you can choose a label with the appropriate 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, 5- or 6-month-aged stamp.

Got it? Get crackin’. At the very least, order some beans and pick up some alcohol. The bottling and labeling can wait for a day this winter when you might find yourself trapped indoors again with any luck snow falling outside your windows.

filling the vanilla

vanilla bottles

vanilla beans

vanilla caviar

vanilla caviar

vanilla beans

vodka & rum

beans in jar

ball jars

bottles overhead

homemade vanilla, bottled


Homemade Vanilla Extract

Recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated; much guidance sought from owner of IndriVanilla, Whitney Olsen, who happens to be the nicest person on the planet and is always willing to offer advice with anything vanilla related. Check out her FB page for recipes and ideas.

Whitney’s notes:
• For the Indonesian vanilla beans (the variety IndriVanilla supplies), Whitney believes that rum complements the flavor of the vanilla best.
• For strong extract ready to use in 6-8 weeks, you’ll want to use a minimum of 3 luxury vanilla beans or 4 ultra-premium vanilla beans or 5 gourmet vanilla beans per 8 oz. of alcohol.
• Steep for a minimum of 6 weeks, but the longer the better.
• Cheesecloth or coffee filters work well for straining if you wish to do so.

Cooks Illustrated proportions:
1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup alcohol of choice (Cooks Illustrated used Smirnoff vodka; Whitney recommends something with a proof of at least 80)

1. Split a fresh bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Place the seeds and split pod in a sealable container such as a mason jar. Meanwhile, heat the alcohol just to a boil, then pour over seeds and pod. Let the mixture cool to room temperature. Seal the container and store at room temperature for at least 6 weeks. Strain the extract, if desired (I didn’t), and store in a cool, dark place. The extract should keep indefinitely.

Labels for Download:
Order a pack of 50 on Moo for $16.99

Red Label, Aged 1 month
Red Label, Aged 2 months
Red Label, Aged 3 months
Red Label, Aged 4 months
Red Label, Aged 5 months
Red Label, Aged 6 months

Green Label, Aged 1 month
Green Label, Aged 2 months
Green Label, Aged 3 months
Green Label, Aged 4 months
Green Label, Aged 5 months
Green Label, Aged 6 months

Blue Label, Aged 1 month
Blue Label, Aged 2 months
Blue Label, Aged 3 months
Blue Label, Aged 4 months
Blue Label, Aged 5 months
Blue Label, Aged 6 months

Box of Moo labels:
box of Moo labels

moo labels

homemade for you