Monday, December 19, 2011

Fun-Guy Soup

I know what you’re thinking. I can practically see the wheels turning in your head as you send me a snarky mental note.
Really Samantha?  Another soup? A) of all, that's an awful pun in your title.  B) of all, this isn't very Vagabond-y of you and, of all things, it deals strictly in mushrooms which don’t really taste like anything.  I see your adventurous side has taken to long walks in the forest while you search for things that only hermits eat, like nuts, berries, and mushrooms.  I need more than mushroom soup to be a happy adventurer.
Hoping you jump out of that soup bowl and into something more exciting,
--Anonymous Reader
WELL, anonymous readers, I do need to let you in on a little secret.  This ain’t yo mama’s mushroom soup (at least it ain’t mine, bc my mama never MADE mushroom soup. So there.) It especially is not, at all, a Campbells-esque style mushroom soup (which I don’t even consider as being mushroom soup.)  It is, however, from a New York City landmark restaurant, Balthazar, and it is a Cream of Mushroom Soup as you've never had before.  It is lush. It is earthy (which appeals to me since I’m a Virgo. Translation = Earth sign!) But it is completely, utterly, all-encompassingly, mushroomingly… perfect.

There are many riffs of this version in particular floating around the internet, but I foresaw the need to have the Balthazar cookbook on hand years ago when I ran across it in a used-book store, and to the original book I went. You can look a million things up online, but I swear, nothing compares to a soup-spattered page of a beloved cookbook nestled in your cabinets.  
And, surprise of all surprises, it’s pretty easy.  It has a lovely amount of herbs to make the soup juuust interesting enough without overpowering the mushrooms. I kid you not, this mushroom soup wowed my work friends enough to have my boss ask me to cook for her holiday party, featuring pretty much this, and only this, soup. (Turned her down to actually go home for the holidays, but don’t think I wasn’t tempted to spend my days before Christmas wrapped up in my kitchen making boatloads of this magical deliciousness).
I’m sharing this just in time for your Christmas Eve dinners, and as a special present to you this holiday.  I’m glad to have this blog, I’m grateful for your readership, and I can’t wait to see what kind of adventures we can get into together by next Christmas.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ginger Lovin

This is a bit belated, but HAPPY BIRTHDAY Vagabond Table! Three years and counting.  I cheers to you and your continued, well-written health, and may you continue to share recipes I love with the world beyond my front door.

I'd like to dedicate my first official Winter-timey post to soup.  Seems obvious, but I would like to defend this for a second, if I may.  Especially when this particular soup has already encountered quite a bit of disbelief in its greatness (ahem, MOM), but is really one of the best soups I've made in the past year.  Imagine something velvet-smooth, with the sweetness of carrot, the tang of ginger, a swirl of greek yogurt peeking through and suddenly you have Carrot Ginger Soup and you are not quite ever a fan of normal carrots anymore.  Not like I ever was, but this soup will sit you down, woo you, and make you a believer in the power of ginger.

Speaking of Ginger, I feel like both the food and real-life gingers I know need some winter lovin.  I'd like to proudly announce that, of my friends with babies, of which there are only two, they are BOTH Ginger Babies and both my favorite little ones out there right now.  Can we take a second to appreciate the pigtails below?  My friend Little Ginger as I like to call Miss Miriam, the first of my fave gingeroos? 

I'll share more pics of my new little friend, Blake, at some point when his ginger hair grows out beyond what would usually be called 'bald' on any man 40 years older than he currently is.  More ginger lovin to come, I promise you.

Ginger is also amazing for a sore throat (ginger tea! getcha some) and is nice surprise in this dish, kind of like an unexpected visitor that stays for a while, or a chance meeting with a friend on the street. You never know what might come your way, and I think that alone proves this soup deserves the spotlight in your kitchen on a cold evening. It also doesn't hurt that during these long days Carrot Ginger Soup is like a neon shot of bright orange straight to your kitchen table.

All that's warm and good in life, wrapped up in a bowl, from me, for you. Happy beginning-of-the-holidays and may this be the start to a season of only good things for you.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Up In Knots

For months it seemed like I had no time to write on here.  But now, on my 2nd day staying home sick from work, I've found some time.  And it feels great to sip at some potato (beer!) soup and get back to Vagabond basics while listening to Feist's new album, Metals. 

Looking out my window, the wind is racing, and changing the day from gray to sunny to gray to sunny and everything in between.  It's a continuous movement, and I find myself mesmerized by how constant the weather changes are.  The reliability of change.  A lovely thing, once I start to think on it a bit more.

From The Vagabond Table

Another lovely thing is my finally cracking open Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce (a Christmas present I'd begged for last year) and trying my hand at a few things, most notably the Soft Rye Pretzels (!) for our annual Oktoberfest shindig that went down last weekend.

From The Vagabond Table

In all honesty the roomie and I made 2 types of pretzels, and while the 2nd recipe might have been slightly easier in terms of rising times, this one was the more hearty and flavorful of the two, being a mix between white and rye flours.  If the idea of rye conjurs up images of rye bread, try your best to put them aside...rye bread also gets its flavor from caraway seeeds, not necessarily the rye, and, in an earnest suggestion between you and me, rye deserves a  second chance.

From The Vagabond Table

I found that pretzels are pretty fun to make...kind of like when you rolled play-doh into logs and worms when you were a kid (which is quite a useful skill to maintain in the making of pretzels) and that it's even more fun to knot them up and boil them and sprinkle them and bake them and suddenly have pretzels on your hands.  Real Pretzels! Not the hard kind from a bag at the grocer, but the warm, crackly, soft kind, (mall-variety, but infinitely better).

From The Vagabond Table

These pretzels are even better when served with this Beer Mustard recipe I'd adapted a few years ago, these Bratwurst Bites and this incredible red cabbage dish .  Happy Oktobering to you all and may you soon find a Soft Rye Pretzel in one hand and brew in the other.  Prost!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Funny Thing

Space is a funny thing.  Sometimes you crave it, a little distance from x-y-z, or sometimes it happens when you didn’t even mean for it to (ie, not writing on here for about 2 months now) and a lot of times, when you get exactly what you (un)intentionally wanted, it isn’t always rainbows and puppies.  (Case in point, I've missed you, Vagabond Table.)
But space is good, too.  It’s good to refocus, to reflect, to put all your energies into one or two things instead of 20 things, because sometimes just a few things require that much time to get through, or, in some cases, get over.   And, either way, or all around, or however you end up interpreting this, that distance is a great healer, encourager, and clarifier.  And lets you value yourself, and your relationships, and your goals in ways that you never quite had the time to do before.   Maybe it even gives you some good ideas for what you want to do in your 29th year of life, as you gratefully bundle up all the 28 years that came before and see what other adventures you can get lost in. 
Taking a step back also helps you realize that simple things somehow end up being most important.   Things like taking 5 minutes to just pause before the day even starts, when you’re still curled up in bed.  Or give a long, long hug to a Grandmother you never get to see.  Even just spending the night chatting about anything and everything with a soul-friend, celebrating a new life coming into this world, your brother’s new start at college, a good friend's wedding (in Colorado!) and remembering to never, ever, ever, sell yourself short of the good things in life. 

Coffee in the morning.  Being lazy on a Saturday.  Listening to summer thunderstorms (or hurricanes!) outside your window and watching the lightning electrify your walls.  Tostada and movie nights, homemade stovetop popcorn, curling up in the blanket your mom knit you ages ago, listening to records, and feeling the first break in heat as Fall starts creeping up.  Late summer peaches being turned into pies.  A gift or rosemary from a friend’s garden.  Simple things, good things.  
And sometimes space works to your cooking favor… for example spaces work most excellently on said Peach Pie, with the classic lattice-woven crust that lets the fruit caramelize while letting the steam out.   Maybe that’s all a bit of space is good for in life…letting things cool off, letting the steam out, letting things settle, and then, when it’s time to dive in, all that patience and space leads to something much better.

Use up those peaches and plums, my friends.  Put them in a pie, put them in a jar, just put them somewhere you get to enjoy every lovely bit of them.  And here's to allowing yourself to pause enough to focus on things you love, and to diving in.  Just like we dived into this Rosemary Peach Pie, but hopefully the benefits of that last longer than how long this pie lasted.  Which, between 3 people, was less than a day.  

Sunday, June 19, 2011

It Reminds Me

I don’t know what it is about summer, but I want to eat seafood All. Of. The. Time.  Shrimps! Fish! Ceviche! Crab (and crab cakes!) Mussels and Frites!  There really isn’t a downside to any of this.  Actually, there’s an additional plus.  All of these thoughts of seafood reminded me of Red Lobster, which immediately brought to mind Cheddar Bay Biscuits, the true source of everyone’s obsession with the place.

I found a riff on these in the form of Cheddar and Jalapeño Scones from Smitten Kitchen, and by golly I had to have them one Friday night not too long ago.  It wasn’t a convenient time to make them: 
A) It was after work.  On a Friday. Which usually equals happy hours and a lack of work. 
B) It was before a concert (that I ended up ditching out going to anyway, but still).  
C) There aren’t a lot of scones being baked at 7pm on a Friday.  It's kind of's a breakfast food. 

As you might already know, I am, unabashedly, a cheese lover. And I had to have these scones. Nothing could deter me! I was a woman with a mission, and that mission, once it was ingrained in my head was one that needed to be completed.   And complete it I did, in all its buttery, cheesy, glory.  These scones are most excellent fresh out of the oven, though they’re fine put back in the oven the next day to warm up a bit.  I wish I had some crab and butter or a nice green salad to go along with them instead of just hoarding scones for my dinner that night, but c'est la vie. 

However... these white cheddar scones were met with approval from a bevy pre-concert peeps that night, and I’m sure would meet approval with your own crew of summer devotees.  So for your next clam bake, BBQ, picnic, or crab-fest, make these and you won’t think twice about needing to turn your oven on for a few minutes, even in the midst of summer heat.  Your cheese-loving soul deserves it. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Catching Up

Things have been so dang busy these past several weeks that I’m realizing Spring Fever isn’t necessarily about getting excited for Spring…it means you’re completely caught up in the whirlwind of activity that arises after the sleepy quietness of winter.  Did you know that almost everyone and their mother (mine and Roni’s included) have birthdays in May? And that it's also the month of Graduations and Weddings and Very Important Events?  At least it seems that way, and I’m never one to turn down a righteous birthday/graduation/wedding celebration.
I kind of love the hubbub that has come with all this great weather…people in their plaid shorts, dudes in brown flip flops, summer dresses, sandals, and this carefree way of laughing and getting together that suddenly makes life so brimming with fullness that you (accidentally) don't do laundry for two weeks and also forget to go to the grocery store for just as long.
Do you know what that calls for? Emergency meals that feed you for at least 4 days and are kind of great for the odds/ends left in your fridge.  Like a ridiculously easy Pasta Puttanesca, which takes those odds and ends and delivers something authentic between all of the glasses of white wine and runnings-about-town that usually replace real meals with fun goings-on.

Canned tomatoes.  Some olives and garlic.  Parmesan and some parsley. Tuna (in this case I got real with it and did anchovies, but I feel everyone has a can of anchovies or tuna somewhere in a cupboard), leftover dried spaghetti noodles from the last time you made spaghetti noodles, and voila! Pasta Puttanesca, and it is very, very good.  It’s even better the next day (bonus!) and sounds a bit fancier than what it actually is.

Also, happy Memorial Day to everyone!  I'm currently writing you from sunny San Diego (more on that in a future post) but I'd like to take this quick second to congratulate my brother Christian on his high school graduation (Go Hawks! and now...Go Sun Devils!) and also Brennan and Julie on their wedding.  Love you guys. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Secret's in the Crust

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster these past few weeks.  Being apart from my fam, it’s been even harder, but, I think, things are starting to buck up again.  It also helps that my street is drop-dead gorgeous with its tall arching trees, old houses, and a winding, dipping path down to the zoo.  Families and young people are out, dogs are being walked, people are laughing, and, thankfully, the humidity hasn’t set in so I’m not quite looking like Sideshow Bob yet. 

I’ve also re-encountered a new, easy, and favorite breakfast food.  I think I’d accidentally forgotten about it, but thankfully, Banana Bread hadn't forgotten about me.  I like to think it's been lingering around in the back of my mind, waiting (just like the frozen bananas in the back of my freezer) for some months now, and the gift of a week of real and true Spring (!) was the perfect time to make this Coconut Banana Bread,  slather on some butter, and watch the happy wanderers below my window.

This bread is good, with a spattering of sweetened coconut inside, a whisper of rum, and a crackly crust. To be honest with you, it's the rustic and uneven crackly top (thanks to a hefty sprinkling of sugar) that absolutely made me fall in love with it.  This was also the first time I used frozen bananas in a quick bread, and it was kind of nice knowing I had the foresight to save overly ripened fruit in my freezer for further works of baked goods.  It's also reassuring to open my freezer and still see three frozen bananas waiting for their next repurposed dessert... banana cake perhaps?  The options are endless, as is my love of banana bread for breakfast. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Comfort Cookies

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

                                    ----T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

I don't know if I've indulged myself in sharing my complete and utter devotion to T.S. Eliot with you before, but man do I have a poet-crush.  This crush has lasted for the past 9 years, so I'd be comfortable with saying it's now a deep-seated love, not just a poet crush, but either way, isn't that stanza just beautiful?

The images are gorgeous and tangible and tantalizing.  The verbs at the end of each line sound like a weird recipe.  And lilacs?  The heavens couldn't smell better, all glazed in spring rain.  It captures April perfectly.

But the thing is, I think of this stanza when things get hard throughout the year, not just in the spring, and definitely just not in April, and I think it's because Eliot was perfect in his mixing of nature and emotion and letting the images translate for themselves.

I'll be honest.  This is a hard time for my family, for me, and for some of my friends.  And not just small things like being late for work or for sitting in gum or having a bad hair day.  I'm talking big things, that seem to be made all the more big by being 3,000 miles away from home.  But how can I dwell on the spring rains and the gray and not see all the beauty that's stirring around me?  How can I witness something like multiple trees of flowers spontaneously burst around me and not stop dead in my tracks?  How can I not smile?  And that's when I think of Eliot, and this poem, and that the flowers always come through the rains, and even when it's hard, good things are working deep within.

If I was back home, I'd make a big batch of these Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies for everyone I know, especially my Grandpa, and serve them warm and fresh with an ice cold glass of milk.  We'd play some card games, laugh, tell stories of old hunting and fishing trips around the kitchen table, and forget about the fickleness of spring and the funny way life sometimes is, and sometimes isn't.

Because these cookies are so silly easy, and are so silly good, and so necessary.  Sometimes, just a plate of warm peanut butter cookies are good for more than just a few minutes.  They're good for a lifetime.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

National Grilled Cheese: The Salute

Ladies and gents, I'd like to wish you a (slightly) belated National Grilled Cheese Day!

Just the fact there's a day devoted to the awesomeness of a grilled cheese inspired me to get all crazy on the original concept and concoct my new fave grilled cheese.  Yay for creativity and the original grilled cheeses (cheesus?) that supported it.

I've been a big fan of grilled cheese sandwiches (with tomato soup!) for...I don't know...27 years now?  Seriously. I love me my grilled cheese, my soup, and now, 30 Rock playing on Netflix as I snuggle into a chair with this purest of comfort foods.

With dark German wheat bread, a dash of a cayenne sprinkled over my Naani's Apple Chutney, thin slices of red pear, brie, and some fresh spinach leaves, this sandwich was a beauty.  Also, ridiculously filling.

It's been a gray week, with extreme flashes of warmth and sun...the perfect Grilled Cheese weather, if you ask me.  So join me in saluting our national treasure, the Grilled Cheese Sandwich!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

You Say Lemon, I Say Limoncello

Once upon a time my friend Veebs went to faraway land known as Italy, and came back bearing the gift of gold:  Limoncello.

I very much valued this gift of Limoncello, so much so that I refused to part ways with it (for over a year, now) unless it was for a worthwhile and ridiculously delicious cause.  I finally found this cause in the form of Limoncello Mint Sorbet, and my friends, I could not have chosen better.

I found this recipe via The Craving Chronicles, and on pondering the loveliness of a lemonish sorbet, I decided to halve the amount of sugar from the original.  Lemon sorbet, (and Limoncello Mint Sorbet) is slightly sweet, mostly tart, and should leave your mouth pleasantly surprised albeit a bit puckered.

Don't be deceived by the sorbet's seemingly humble appearance. 

This sorbet, actually, is Italian Summer all wrapped up in frozen freshness thanks in part to the reminder of mint, and easy enough to make so you feel fancy in the kitchen without doing much more than boiling some water and squeezing a lemon.  Pucker up, friends!  Things are getting good.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Forty Days

So for Lent this year I took it one step further and parted ways with meat (fishies are still allowed), but before I did that I had quite the encounter with a pork shoulder.
You see, it was high time I learned how to make a shredded pork dish.  One that’s from those far-off Mexican lands in the Yucatan I read so much about in my anthro class, and I also felt it was high time to make some homemade corn tortillas (Roni, meanwhile made a pimp mango slaw and asian guacamole).

Asian guac is so good
It was time for a lot of things, it seems.

All the citrus I juiced for the Cochinita. 
We had a few friends over for dinner and made a lot of food.  Too much food, it seemed, until it was clean up time and we realized there were almost no leftovers. How this is humanly possible I cannot tell you.  What I can tell you is that the food was fresh, colorful, and well-seasoned, and, coincidentally, was definitely the largest amount of meat ever cooked in our apartment ( and will be the last for the next forty days-ish).  But still, I am dreaming of it:  Cochinita Pibil. 

I went to my local Latino grocery (Best Way) and found a pork shoulder that I wrassled with a bit to trim and skim of fats and such.  Not my fave part, I can tell you, but I did emerge triumphant AND confident and that is a great mixture of things to feel in the kitchen.

I also dodged multiple dirty looks from Roni every time I tried to open the oven to take a peek while all the juices simmered and braised away.  And by juices I mean an Achiote paste mix with a great blend of grapefruit, orange, lime and lemon.  Our apartment was the epitome of heavenly smells, I promise you.  Hey-o! 
We whipped up some corn tortillas right quick (another tortilla that I've been condemned from ever buying in the store again.  Homemade only, from here on out, folks)  And, thanks to my handy dandy tortilla press (thanks Aunt Deb!) corn tortillas are ridiculously easy to make.  In fact, I made them on three separate occasions in the space of six days.  Yeah.  I'm like a tortilla factory up in here.

The night ended with an epic game of Up and Down The River, Taboo, and us shouting out random food facts from my sweet Foodie Fight game.  Our combined pride at having made an authentically awesome (Mexi-Asian? Aisiexican?) dinner party from scratch was a pretty sweet touch too, and made the segway into Lent a smooth one, paved with shredded pork and corn tortillas.  Cochinita:  I'm lookin' at you come May.    

Friday, March 18, 2011

Eastward Turning Thoughts

So news of Japan, it seems, continues to roll in and get worse by the day.  Honestly, I just haven't had it in me to write about food when there are much bigger issues at hand and suffering beyond my comprehension. 

Disaster Relief Fund

But I love finding words that bring some form of hope, some signal of things turning right, eventually. 

Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul
and sings the tune
without the words,
and never stops at all.

-Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wednesday Musings, and Bread

No matter where I call home anymore, feel like a boat under the trees. Living is strange. -C.D. Wright, from the poem "Living"

It is almost Thursday, and rather than studying feverishly for my test and paper tomorrow , trying to write my name in ancient Mayan, or preparing for my Final which is Friday which sounds somewhat cruel (FINALFRIDAY), I am instead thinking of poetry and lovely writings and how, sometimes, I just need to write a bit more creatively and not necessarily about food.

Does that ever happen to you? To strive to be a bit more than you currently just are, at least for a few minutes?

I also feel nostalgic for something I can't quite put my finger on, but I'm pretty sure it's somehow related to warmth and sunlight (got a lovely but brief glimpse today). Which brings me to contemplating the aromatic niceties of a loaf of bread and suddenly I am back to writing what I know and it seems like the poetry will have to wait for when I'm snuggled in my bed at night with my notebook.

At least I can linger over the words of a poet, spend the evening with them, mull them over between definitions on ancient civilizations of the Americas, and come to the final conclusion of "Well said, Miss Wright. Sometimes I do feel like a boat under the trees. Sometimes home is here or there, and yes. Living is strange," and that'll be that.

It doesn't hurt to have an extra encouraging thought comfort you along the way to finishing your first class in almost seven years (prehistoric ancient civilizations no less!), finishing this winter, and being proud of it all, in the end. A nice thought like baking Buttermilk Oatmeal Bread works well, and having the yeast beasties be pretty awesome at the start is always a good sign.

Seriously, this yeast was crazy and almost spilled over in about 5 minutes.

It's also rather lovely to have a ball of dough to knead your thoughts in and through and out of.

Then finally ending up this winter with a delicious bread that reminds me of my favorite maple bread, but instead this one is a bit like a toasty biscuit along the crust because of the buttermilk and honey nestled in the crumb, along with the heartiness of oatmeal. It is an ideal sandwich bread, an all-round good bread, and I'd like to share a nice and dense slice with you.

Please don't laugh too hard at the shape of my bread...I lost my bread pan and used a soup pot instead. 

To March being here, finally, and to your own almost-spring Wednesday night musings.  And of course, to Buttermilk Oatmeal Bread.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Sometimes You Just Gotta...

Make your own dang gnocchi.  For real.  

On the always-awesome Fresh 365 Online, I spotted this little recipe that originally came from GoodFood.  It was lovely and colorful:  with greens and more greens, this gorgeous gnocchi which can only described as rustic (a word that is music to my culinarily-leaning ears!) seemed already within my reach as soon as I laid eyes on it.

And, within a few days, this Ricotta, Spinach and Arugula Gnocchi was all mine.

It’s easy. Almost silly-easy, you know?  You boil some spinach so it’s soft. Grate up a bunch of Parmesan, chop up some garlic, and just mix it all with some flour and eggs and salt, pepper and arugula and Ka-Bow (Batman Style!) I had gnocchi mix.  Then you roll it into 1-inch balls, boil them, and suddenly said gnocchi mix is actual, real-life Italian dumplings (but somehow saying ‘gnocchi’ is just so much sexier than ‘dumplings’). They are dimply and light, especially when served upon a bed of arugula, simply dressed in lemon juice and olive oil and salt and pepper.  

They’re especially most-awesome when shared with your best friend while catching up on a Sunday night over a glass of wine and four episodes in a row of United States of Tara.  

My prior attempt at a sweet potato gnocchi this past fall (which culminated in utter FAIL) has already been forgotten and these gnocchi have kindly forgiven me my past mistakes.  Thanks guys!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Pita For One, Pita For All

In my hometown of AZ there’s a nifty chain of local restaurants called Pita Jungle.  I love me some Pita Jungle when I go home, mostly because I'm convinced some part of my mongrel self has some Mediterranean  or Middle Eastern soul up in here.  Also, it's just so good  I like to think that, somewhere out there, there’s a literal jungle full of pita trees, with pita vines, and awesome coconuts that break open to provide fresh tabbouleh, hummus, and baba ghanoush.  Oh, it would be my heaven, I can assure you.

So the other day I was thinkin:  you know, my G makes homemade parathas and rotis (Indian Pita!) and I've made tortillas (Mexican Pita!) but nothing, really, can compete with original, awesome, PITA when you want to serve it up with some hummus and other Mediterranean/Middle Eastern goodness.

It’s a flatbread! It’s a holder of delicious goodness!  It’s It’s It’s…awesome, and you need to see that it’s not hard or scary to make and quite lovely, actually.  It’s especially lovely after a long day and all you have is some veggies and maybe a smidge of balsamic white bean dip sitting around, and, suddenly, you have dinner.

Or breakfast in this case, where I whipped up some delicious basil and mozzarella eggs to accompany my new stack of pita.   
Dear Pita:  Thanks for being so versatile and awesome.  I love having you around for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Next time I promise to reunite you with your BFF, tabbouleh and maybe some hummus.  We'll have a party.  Love, Samantha. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Welcome to the Promised Land

So round these parts I’m known for my love of pie. Like here and here and here.

But on Monday night I ventured into new territory, so far ruled by the shepherds in the U.K….the land of Shepherd’s Pie.

Let me tell you about this land. It is delicious and cozy. It has little valleys made of mashed potatoes (with goat cheese!) over a sea of lentils and mushrooms, carrots and shallots and peas (with a splash of red wine, of course) and is quite the delicious February dinner. Also, it’s vegetarian, so all of my veggie friends out there will hopefully appreciate what I concocted. But it’s the kind of veggie dish that meat-loving friends would also appreciate. I like bridging the gap between these two worlds.

Mushroom and Lentil Shepherd’s Pie is like the promised land of food dishes (shared by only Thanksgiving Dinner and a few other select winners). Is that going too far?  I don't think so.  It's where you can eat dinner, linger over a glass of wine, catch up with your friends, and even enjoy a Monday night (of all nights! I hate Mondays!) and come out of it whistling a happy tune with a pledge to return, and soon.

If you can't tell, I really like mashed potatoes.

Also, this week I noticed the sky isn’t pitch-black when I leave work at 6pm, which made my heart soar. I can almost…almost…feel spring out there. Which means lots more produce and lots more food posts and lots more opportunities to eat good food with dear ones.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Risotto, My Friend

Hello everyone.  My name is Samantha, and I have a Risotto Weakness (or should it be addiction? Undying love for? Inclination to always seek out…? BFF-hood with?)
I confess: I have made risotto many-a-times and have yet (yet!) to put any of them upon the pages of this little blog here.  I am ashamed.

I have pondered life over a bowl of Risotto al Barolo with crumbled brown sausage (it was gasp-worthy, I promise) as well as a classic risotto with white wine and butter.   My mother’s risotto with roast lamb is, truly, swoon-worthy, but finally, FINALLY, I am here to provide you with a solidly good risotto recipe.  One that I’ve tweaked a bit and will continue to tweak due to this weakness/addiction/undying love for issue of mine when it comes to risotto.  But, I promise, it is a good recipe.
I borrowed this from Fresh 365 Online which is a lovely, sunshine-y, seasonal-inspired site of delicious vegetarian-inclined dishes (the authors of which, of course, got it from Gourmet).  And while this Leek and Cauliflower Risotto was very, very good, I propose replacing a half-cup stock with ½ cup white wine in addition to a smattering of more veggies…asparagus? Mushrooms?  The options are endless, but that’s what’s so great about this little gem.  It's not only good as-is, but would be good with whatever tweaks fit your fancy.  It is quite the platform to jump off into adventurous risotto journeys with.

January 2011 has already been an awesome the kick-start for the rest of the year, and I hope your month has been the same.  If not, at the very least, this risotto could edge things along a bit.
(Side note:  for those who might be confused, this is not a pasta dish, so my promise not to post more pasta is still valid.  End note.)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A (Re)Introduction to Pesto

So most people know pesto as the standard basil, pine nuts, olive oil and parm, right?  But there’s this mythical area called Trapani on the island of Sicily that has a different kind of pesto:  Trapanese.
I want to go here.  Now.
(Courtesy of
Not to be confused with those whimsical acrobats, trapeze swingers, Pesto Trapanese is delish.  I first read an article about it two winters ago in Gourmet and it sounded divine, especially since it reminds you a bit of the fresh taste of summer.  Basil, toasted almonds, parmesan cheese and tomatoes?  Love at first read, I tell you.

I’ve made Pesto Trapanese off and on for dear ones the past few years, and every time it’s met with rave reviews from vegetarians and non-veggies alike.  I usually bust out some whole wheat pasta (goes well with the nuttiness of the pesto.  And the nuttiness of me), and have found that a whole box of spaghetti or linguine is just a bit too much… boil it all up if you like but add the pasta a bit at a time and toss everything together to make sure you get all the pesto you want and it doesn’t dry out. 
Don’t forget:  Too much pasta + not enough pesto = a sad, sad moment for all.

Obviously I’m still on a pasta kick, as it is January and all, and we all know how I feel about carbs, but I promise this will be the last pasta recipe for a while.  I foresee some delicious stews and desserts on the horizon.  I’ve also been rocking out to this album by Rick James on my new record player (thanks for the awesome Christmas present, fam!) while putzin’ around in the kitchen and it’s been quite the culinary-musical adventure.  Hey-o!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New Year, New Brunch

So here’s an interesting observation.

Winter = cold = fill your belly up with pasta.

Am I the only one that carb-overloads during dark and cold months? Seriously. It’s easy, warm, and there’s always, always leftovers of a bit of plain ole’ boiled pasta to sit in your fridge. They seem like such sad little things, really, that have nowhere to go and nothing to dress up for.

Usually that leftover Tupperware of penne pasta gets tossed out after a week or so…because, seriously. What can you actually do with it? But no longer.

I introduce to you…the weird-sounding but good-tasting Penne Frittata with Ricotta and Basil!

I spotted this originally on Cup of Jo when she had a brunch with the folks over at Sunday Suppers… who in turn borrowed the recipe from a one Ms. Martha Stewart. Quite the route this frittata took to get to me, but it has, indeed, arrived.

I’m a big bruncher. I think I’ve mentioned this before…like here, and here, and here. I’m also a huge fan of frittatas, and am always looking for new ways to approach this favorite of mine. And while pasta in a baked egg dish might sound weird, it doesn’t actually taste weird. Instead, it tastes like cheese and basil and is quite a stunning little dish in its rustic simplicity.

With some crusty bread and salad, this is your new lunch. Or dinner. With some coffee and fresh fruit, it's your new breakfast.  The versatility of frittatas is pretty endless, and I’m excited to put to good use those little pasta leftovers that no one seems to want.

So this weekend, when you’re schemin’ for something good for a Saturday late-morning breakfast, and have nothing but some cheese, basil, eggs and a few sad pasta noodles, throw this little doozy together and call it a day. Which is what Martha did, and things seem to be working out pretty well for her.