Friday, December 26, 2014

A Year of Firsts—A Few Virgin Foodie Experiences

I just put iPhoto on the "Last 12 months" view and started flipping through my pictures...  Boy, we've had some fun foodie firsts this year!

Like our first Pimm's Cup (now a favorite summer beverage!):

My first totally failed attempt at making a paleo fruit tart.  Don't let the pic fool you.  GAG.

My first pitas.  DELISH.

My first (and last) bout with appendix cancer.  Had appendicitis.  Apparently had appendix cancer, too...

I had my first cupcake ATM experience at Sprinkles in Chicago.  The frosting was good...

I learned to take my husband to T.J. Maxx.  I walked out with all the kitchen gadgets I've always wanted but was too cheap to buy myself--like a mandoline.  Here are my first potato chips:

I learned to grow a pair and make spice blends in the coffee grinder (the grinder is washable):

Michael had his first taste of Maryland blue crabs and decided...he didn't like the mess for all the work.  He's a man after my own heart (we did not smear seasoning on our faces. I'm not sure why the phone did that...):

Chef Reiton and I did our first kitchen tiling job:

I made my first pan pizza from Bon Appétit's September 2014 issue.  Holy crapola...

I made tater tots.  Mashed, not hashed.  Again, from B.A.  Yummy.

And GOOSE!!! My dear friend Heinz had the lonely Reiton women over for a Christmas dinner that was worthy of a Dickensian novel.  Oh, delightful goose! What an ending to a wild year!

Although most of this year was obsessed—and I mean OBSESSED—with our kitchen remodel, we managed to financially and gastronomically survive.  We learned a lot, suffered a bit, but loved a lot. We had Life show us of what matters. Our family and friends showed us what matters. Our food showed us what matters. What matters is US.  

That's why Chef Reiton and I do this kitchen thing.  It affects us on so many levels: our chemistry. Our stress level. Our memories. Our family. Our health.  

I don't think I am the same person I was 10 years ago. And the kitchen has a lot to do with that. I hope my transformation continues. With another year of firsts, it's got to, right? And, boy, is it going to be a big year of firsts in 2015!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ode to a Grecian Breakfast: A Recipe for Strapatsada

For as much as I hated eggs as a child (just ask my family about "Rachael's egg stories"), I can't believe that I'm actually blogging about this breakfast.  But it is so good and so quick and so easy, I simply have to.  It is called strapatsada: Greek scrambled eggs with tomatoes, feta, and oregano.  Chef Reiton saw it being made by Bittman on Times On Air, JetBlue's video magazine, and came home with the recipe written down on a airplane beverage napkin.  We tried them and--mamma mia! New favorite breakfast in the Reiton house!

To those of you who don't like eggs, give this recipe a shot.  I know this may sound strange considering you are technically eating scrambled eggs, but--it doesn't taste like eggs.  The whole concoction is a delicious blend of flavors and textures that oddly doesn't resemble American scrambled eggs at all.  Instead of being squishy and mild, strapatsada are tender and robust and herby.

This cooks together quickly, so have everything ready before you start.

You will need: a hand grater, a small bowl, a fork or a whisk, a small rubber spatula, a small non-stick pan.

To make a single serving, this is what I use (but you can multiply this times however many people you are serving):
  • 1 small tomato-on-the-vine tomato (or a plum tomato from the garden. Yum!)
  • 1 1/2-ish Tblsp. olive oil
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced or grated
  • 2 separate portions of crumbled plain feta cheese, 1 Tblsp. each (use less if this is too much for your taste)
  • 1/4 tsp. dried oregano, crushed or 1 tsp. fresh leaves, roughly chopped with a few as garnish
  • kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
  • 2 eggs, whisked together until well-blended

1) Slice the very bottom off the tomato.  Hold the hand grater at an angle in the bowl, place the sliced bottom of the tomato against the grater, and then grate the tomato into the bowl.  As you slide the tomato up and down the grater, the skin will peel back and flatten out on the face of the grater and the flesh will squeeze through the holes into the bowl.  Set the pulp aside and toss the skin.

2) Heat the olive oil in a small non-stick pan and toss in the garlic for about 30 seconds.  Add the tomato pulp, salt and pepper to taste, and the oregano.  Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down so that the mixture is at a simmer, stirring occasionally.  Cook until you don't see any more water in the pan when you push the tomatoes to the side with the spatula.  You want to be only seeing the more viscous liquid of the olive oil left.  I would say give it a good 7 minutes or more, depending on the heat setting.

3) Add the eggs and one of the portions of feta cheese and start slowly stirring.  The tomatoes and the eggs will begin to blend.  Continue stirring until the eggs are opaque and have cooked mostly through, about 4 minutes.  They will finish cooking on the plate from the residual heat.  You will still see liquid in the pan, but this is from the oil and tomatoes, not the eggs.

4)  Plate your strapatsada, sprinkle with the second portion of feta and your oregano garnish, and dive in!

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Lazy Creation: Messy Caprese Salad Recipe

To accompany our Italian-themed dinner the other evening (I totally cheated--it was a pre-seasoned Italian pork loin.  Sorry.), I decided to make a Caprese salad to use some of our beautiful Roma tomatoes and sweet basil from the garden.  But--due to my laziness--I just wanted to throw it all together and not take the time to get all pretty with the typical layering.  So that's what I did, darn it! And what resulted tasted better than almost any Caprese salad I have ever tasted! It doesn't look as pretty (especially with a kind-of crappy photo), but you can count on those flavors melding together for a true Italian eating experience!

I'm going to pull a David Rocco on you and tell you to quanto basta everything: use how much you want to—no exact measurements needed! I'll tell you below what I did, but definitely feel free to use more or less of an ingredient to suit your own tastes.

The amounts below fed just two of us, so gauge your quantities from there, too.

What you'll need:
  • good, ripe Roma tomatoes, halved lengthwise and then sliced into chunks: I used 3
  • fresh mozzarella cheese, torn into bite-sized pieces: I used 3 balls, still dripping brine, from BelGioioso's Bocconcini tub, usually found in the "nice cheese" section near the deli
  • fresh basil leaves, slivered or torn
  • fresh lemon, juiced: I used half a lemon
  • extra virgin olive oil: I used about 3 Tblsp.
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper until it looks like everything has completely incorporated.  Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and toss gently but well, making sure everything is coated.  Let the salad rest in the fridge while you finish dinner.  Toss once more before serving.


Friday, August 1, 2014

Making Homemade Ghee (and Making Butter Dairy-Free!)

I am grateful for you, readers, all puns aside.  I started this blog how many years ago having no idea that people from around the world would be reading my cooking and eating thoughts and adventures. And now when I write, instead of thinking I am writing to my mom and sisters as I did in the beginning, I find myself imagining who some of you may be, and I write to you.  And my mom and siblings.  Ye all have made my world expand, and it's wonderful.  Thank you.

Speaking of ghee, Chef Reiton has been yearning to make ghee (pronounced "gee" like "ye" hence my horrible puns) for an eternity.  Ever since he bought his cookbook titled "Oriental Step-by-Step Cookbook" (seriously), he has wanted to make this high heat-tolerant oil used in pan frying, sautéing, etc.  When he found out a few months ago that ghee is also paleo, he had a batch made within the week.

Having used up that batch a few weeks ago, I made another batch the other day.  I tried to document the melting process as best I could for you.  Here's the step-by-step process for making about 1 2/3 cups of oil from one pound of organic unsalted butter.  (This process takes awhile, so it's a good project to do while you are making something else in the kitchen.)

Unwrap four sticks or one 1-pound block of unsalted organic butter in a 2-quart saucepan. Set the pot on a burner set to the lowest heat setting.  As the butter begins to melt, you will see the whitish milk solids separate from the clear, yellow oil.  DO NOT STIR.

Soon the milk solids will rise to the surface, and the oil will begin to simmer.

As the oil simmers, the milk solids will begin to brown.  Some of them will settle to the bottom of the pot.  This is okay; the oil will be strained at the end.  

When the solids are a nice nutty color, strain the oil through a mesh strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth.

The result? An oil that is extremely heat tolerant and free of milk solids that tastes deliciously of butter.  

Pour your ghee into a jar, let it cool, then cap it and store it in the fridge.

Now, for my veteran ghee makers out there: did I overdo my browning? I don't remember my husband's being as dark... It tastes good; I just want it to be "right."  Let me know if a comment if you have the answer.

Good luck to "ghee" all!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Missing Food...and You: Reflections on a Kitchen Remodel

We are nearing the end of a kitchen remodel (kind-of).

Which I got acute appendicitis in the middle of. 

Is that a coincidence? I don't think so.  ZERO kitchen = eating out all the time = ONE UNHAPPY GUT.

All I can say is: I MISS FOOD. I miss cooking with my husband. I miss the way my house smells after dinner. I miss my spice drawer. I miss trying new recipes. I miss eating boatloads of vegetables. I miss shooing my dog away from the stove because he can't keep his nose away from the pot. I miss feeling healthy. 

If there is one saying I can adopt during this massive redo, it is this: you don't know what you've got until it's gone. 

With that being said, I am excited—extremely—about our redo. We have done it rather quickly, and considering that we gutted the 100+ year old kitchen to the bones, rather cheaply, too.  It has been a month since we started, and we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I promise to do a big ol' post when we are done, including the whole before-and-after hoopla. (Although those of you who have read around here in the past may have already seen pictures of our gold-flecked laminate counters, our three different styles of wallpaper, and our stained, peeling '80's vinyl flooring. Not to mention the hung ceiling. With fluorescent lights. Yeah, and you whine about your kitchen...). Anyway, stay tuned. I think you all will be pleasantly surprised. 

AND I swear that regular posting will soon be back. The school year is almost over, so I will actually have time again.

Sigh. I can't wait. And with a new kitchen.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Norwegian Codfather—Chambersburg, PA

Okay, I feel like a jerk as I write this post...

You see, I thought I had written this post over a year ago because I'd been dreaming about this little shop for a year.  AND I told some very important people that I'd written it!  They probably think I am a total liar... Oh, geez.

So, my aim is to make it up to them.  (Tom and Pauline, this one's for you.)

Tom and Pauline, for those of you who have not had the delight of meeting them, own a small European grocery in my old hometown of Chambersburg, PA.  No offense meant to my heritage, but when I heard that they existed, I really did not know what to expect.  A European grocery? In Chambersburg?

But Luke, the fabulous chef from Cafe d'Italia just around the corner from them, recommended them to me for some fantastic prosciutto he had used on a white pizza.  The name of their establishment? The Norwegian Codfather.  I had to check them out...

OH, dear Lord, was I glad I did! The treatment! The finds! A deli case stocked with sausages, meats, and cheeses you can't find anywhere else: a sharp provolone that will take your lasagna from good to glorious.  Smoked bacon that I put on ice and drove for 13 hours so I could have some at home for breakfast. Caramelized goat cheese that you can shave into divine little curls and serve for dessert with fruit.  And then there's the licorice.  Licorice like you've never had before.  REAL licorice.  There's even one that is salted.  (My dad finds excuses to go into town just for that!)  And all of this Tom and Pauline offer you to try before you buy. You will even find yourself tasting items that you would never have asked (or thought you wanted) to try--because Tom and Pauline know: the foods they sell are superb, and all it takes is one taste...

On top of all this foodie wonder, The Norwegian Codfather sells random European baking and cooking ingredients that I've read about and wanted to try but have never been able to find without ordering it online.  Like pearled sugar for sprinkling on a braided lemon bread.  And rosewater for cocktails.  Juniper berries for a braised meat dish.

It really, truly is a shop you must explore, at least once.  And here's the ultimate reason why: after last year's visit, I absolutely HAD to go back this past Christmas break, and--can you believe it? They remembered me.

THAT, my dear foodie friend, is what Life is about.  Amazing food made even more amazing by the relationships we build with the people we share it with.  Even if it's just for an hour once a year.

**UPDATE as of Jan. 2016**

I am so sorry to see that the Norwegian Codfather has closed.  I made the discovery a little over a week ago when I tried to visit while back in PA.  Tom and Pauline, you will be greatly missed.  I hope that your closed doors have opened up a new adventure for you elsewhere! Best wishes to you both!

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Primal Eggplant: Tweaking Eggplant Rollatini

If you are a vegetable lover like me, you probably are pretty open to trying mostly any vegetable out there.

If you continue to be like me in such matters, you are still--no matter your openness--wary of the eggplant.

In defense of myself, I am (mostly) a believer in the food adage: "In-order-to-know-if-you-really-like-something-you-have-to-try-it-10-times." So, eggplant and I keep trying.  Yes, I discovered the amazing coal-roasted eggplant this summer, which I truly did love.  But, if you've been watching the news as of late, it's not necessarily grilling season up here in Wisconsin.

In perusing my David Rocco cookbook, Made in Italy, the other day, I came across this winner of a recipe (approved by two teenage boys--and I didn't even lie about what it was!): Involtini di Melanzane e Provola.  I adapted it for my primal husband, which is the version I've posted below, but you can use flour instead of the almond meal if you wish.  I do encourage you to give it a try the primal way, though.  I think you'll be happy you did.  The slightly nutty flavor was one of the things the boys liked about it.

1 medium eggplant
Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
1 cup almond meal (I used Trader Joe's) in a pie plate
1 egg, beaten in a pie plate
Extra virgin olive oil for frying (amount will depend on the size of your skillet; you want it a good 1/4 inch deep)
12 slices of smoked provolone

As thinly as you can, slice the eggplant lengthwise.  I got about 12 slices, and that includes discarding some that were just wonky (I'm not very good at slicing thinly and evenly).  Salt the slices heavily and let rest for half an hour to draw out the water.  Pat dry.

Get a plate and a pile of paper towels ready.  Heat the oil in a skillet until it is almost smoking.

Dip a slice of eggplant in the almond meal, coating both sides, then dip it in the egg, coating both sides.  Let the excess egg drip off, then lay the eggplant in the hot oil and fry for about a minute until golden brown.  Flip and get the other side golden.  Remove to a paper towel to absorb excess oil.  Repeat for the rest of the eggplant slices.

When you are done frying, lay a slice of smoked provolone on each slice of eggplant and roll up, lining the rolls up on a warm platter.  Season with fresh cracked pepper.  If you wish, spoon some of Beppe's tomato sauce over the top.

Eggplant Rolls with Marinara by David Rocco

Delizioso! I promise!

Reflections on Teaching Strangers How to Cook

I've been having these experiences lately where I can't keep my mouth shut.

It happens almost every weekend at the grocery store.  I'm minding my own business, doing my shopping, when someone standing near me picks up a vegetable that I just learned to prepare a new way.  Or they will stand staring at an item with a giant question mark floating above their head.  And I just....can' it.  The teacher in me wants to help.

And so I open my mouth and:

"Have you ever tried roasting that?" (speaking of cauliflower)

"Do you know what's really good with that?" (dates) (and the answer is "bacon")

"My mom used to make those for us all the time..." (a girl wanted to know if I knew how to cook artichokes)

And this week, it was regarding steak.  An adorable old man was hunched over the bargain meat case with me, staring with a critical eye at the New York strips.

"That's a high price," he commented and pointed to the "$12.99/lb" on the package I had in my hand.

"Oh, but it's on sale!" I joyfully corrected, and pointed to the "$8.99/lb" at the bottom of the sticker.

"You're gonna go for it?" he asked.

"I can't help it," I said.  "Sometimes you've just gotta have steak!"

He laughed.  "I never seem to cook it right," he said and watched as I picked up a thick marbled steak.

I could tell he wasn't sure about the choosing process, so I hunkered down next to him.  "Get a nice thick one," I said and pointed.  "That one's good.  It's got some good fat streaked through the meat.  Do you have a cast iron skillet?" I asked.

He nodded as he picked up the steak I had pointed to.  "Okay," I said.  "Salt your steak really well."

Another laugh.  I could tell he was thinking of what his doctor would say.  "No, really," I said.  "Lots of salt.  Then get your pan really hot.  Do you like your steak rare?"

His blue eyes looked into mine.  I realized that we were now huddled shoulder-to-shoulder over the meat case.  "Mmm, more medium-rare," he said.

"Okay.  Five minutes a side, then let it rest for a few minutes.  Best steak you will have ever had,"  I promised.

He laughed again and then smacked me in the arm with his steak.  "You sound like you know what you are talking about," he smiled, and then wandered off to his cart.

Do I? I thought as I watched him go.  I guess I do, to a degree.  To some I'm a culinary moron.  But to others—the ones I want to reach? I guess it feels good to hear them say that.  And it feels even better to know that I've helped one more person take those first foodie steps like I took.

And still take.

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