Category Archives: techniques

we can do this

There are things only some of us can do. Things that require unique talent and skills few possess (unless you’re my friend Mark, who has one of these rings at home).

Homemade ravioli is not among these feats.

A Pear to Remember is the place, after all, for deliciously do-able cooking. Homemade ravioli is impressive, elegant, divine in every way, but not impossible. Not even hard. Not even hours of work.

Pasta from scratch?? Not today. Won ton wrappers are these magical pre-cut pasta sheets Giant stores carry adjacent to the bagged salads. They are ever more common at grocery retailers, and Asian specialty stores would surely carry them, too. You can also make this without a food processor so it’s not such a fussy equipment endeavor. There are several steps, but few take more than a minute and a half. With a friend, these could easily be ready to go in 40 minutes. (Trader Joes, where speciality cheeses are not overpriced, also makes this an affordable meal).

This marks our most special meal to date. And, in my book, the most delicious by far. Here’s to memory-making on Monday nights!

Asparagus Ravioli with Brown Butter Sauce

Fine Cooking (April/May 2011), serves 4

1 lb. thick asparagus, trimmed, spears cut into 1-inch pieces, tips reserved

6 tablespoon marscarpone

1/3 cup whole milk ricotta

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano; more for serving

1 tsp. anchovy paste (optional)

cut the tips at an angle for topping at the end

1/2 tsp. minced garlic (must be fresh, the jarred stuff is too harsh)

Pinch cayenne pepper

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

36 wonton wrappers

4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

1/2 cup blanched almonds, chopped

finely grated lemon zest to taste

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat (using this same water for the pasta later maintains nutrients!). Have ready a medium bowl of ice water (if you have a colander to rest inside, this is one less draining step). Boil the asparagus tips until tender but still bright green, about 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon (thanks, Kathy!), transfer to the ice water. When cool, transfer with the slotted spoon to a small bowl and set aside. Cook and cool the asparagus spears in the same manner; dry them on paper towels.

In a food processor (or by hand), chop 1-1/2 cups of the spears very finely and transfer to a medium bowl. Add the remaining spears to the tips.

Add the marscarpone, ricotta, Parmigiano, anchovy paste, garlic, and cayenne to the chopped asparagus; mix well. Season to taste with coarse salt and fresh pepper.

Let’s stop for a sec to talk minced garlic.

I knew nothing about fresh garlic growing up; if this is your first encounter with it: welcome!

To mince garlic well, whack a single clove with the side of a wide knife—makes peeling a snap. To chop the garlic very, very fine, slice the clove a few times, sprinkle with a big pinch of coarse salt, and chop away. Just keep running over the clove with your knife; the salt will help mash it into a paste to blend beautifully into your dish.

You can also rub your garlic clove on a microplane for the same, quicker, effect! (Use the same zester for the lemon at the end; no need to clean between).

Arrange 18 wonton wrappers on a work surface (a cookie sheet is perfect for both prepping and post-boiling) . Put 1 level Tbs. of the asparagus filling in the center of each wrapper (don’t get too caught up in measuring).

Using a pastry brush, moisten the edges of each with water. Top each with another wrapper and press the edges firmly to seal, expelling any air bubbles as you seal. If you don’t plan to cook the ravioli immediately, cover them with a damp cloth.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a rolling boil over high heat (ideally, the same pot with the blanched asparagus water).

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat and add the almonds, shaking the pan. Cook until the butter turns light brown, about 6 minutes, and then immediately transfer to a small bowl.

Add the ravioli, about 5 at a time, to the boiling water (I lowered the boil so the pockets would not explode; it worked). When they rise to the surface, after about 1 minute, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to warm plates or pasta bowls. Spoon the brown butter mixture over the ravioli. Top with the reserved asparagus pieces, a grinding of pepper, a sprinkle of Parmigiano, and a little lemon zest, and serve.

Thanks to the Bitten Word for inspiring me to try (and conquer) this recipe!

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Kitchen Gadgets

“Stuff White People Like” is one of the first blogs I ever read, and I read it regularly for laughter-therapy. There is nothing better than satire (though cheese and chocolate come close).

I’m in the You-Only-Need-a-Knife-and-Microplane Club when it comes to good cooking. It’s all about little techniques and a smidgen of know-how. Much of which you can, of course, learn here on A Pear to Remember.

The following is an article I could not resist sharing with you this evening…

#54 Kitchen Gadgets White people are under a lot of pressure to like cooking. Everything in their culture tells them that they need to have a nice kitchen and that they need to cook with organic, fresh ingredients to make delicious, complicated food. Though any great chef can prepare fantastic meals with a knife and a few pots, white people believe that they need a full cadre of appliances and gadgets in their kitchen in order to live up to the pressure. If you go i … Read More

via Stuff White People Like

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we all need some veggie to love

Yes, the Jefferson Airplane song popped right into my head this Sunday afternoon as I took my first bite of An Artichoke. Ever. A truly psychedelic experience. The lyrics ask the ultimate question (about terrifying, hypothetical circumstances): When the garden flowers, baby, are dead and your mind is so full of red, don’t you want some veggie to love? Don’t you need some veggie to love?

You see, Andrew and I were on our regular Sunday afternoon Trader Joes trip, already in the checkout line and this basket of nestled artichokes (where one might find magazines or candy at a lesser grocery store) made me want to dance like the hippies in the video above.

Mom and Dad always wanted me to try new things, though I believe they had steak in mind. I felt very adventurous with my little green friend and wanted to do this right. I think if foods are prepared with care and proper technique, anyone can make any food fabulous. I feel like there are few occasions where high heat can do a food wrong, precisely why I turn to roasting and grilling most often. Though I hadn’t a clue what to do with an artichoke (thank you, internet videos), I figured it would surely enjoy sitting a spell on my favorite blue grill.

A special thanks to The Killer Griller for the confidence to grill my artichokes. I’m also sending you once again to my Harris Teeter friend to learn how to prepare an artichoke for steaming through his brief instructional video.

Lindsey’s Garlic Grilled Artichokes

serves one as a main course, easily adapted to serve more

an artichoke

olive oil

four garlic cloves

half a lemon

coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

you will also need:

a pastry or silicone brush and aluminum foil

for optional Let’s-Pretend-This-is-Aioli dipping sauce

1/4 cup mayonnaise

Prep the artichoke

Preheat your grill to medium heat. Cut an inch off the top of the artichoke, cut the outer tips, and use a vegetable peeler on the stem (more visual instructions here). Immediately rub the exposed parts with a cut lemon to prevent browning. Reserve the lemon.

Steam the artichoke

Place the artichoke on a large sheet of aluminum foil and drizzle with olive oil (or melted butter if you’re feeling naughty). Wrap the foil around the ‘choke and seal well. (Make individual packets if you’re preparing more than one artichoke). Place on the grill for about 40 minutes, or until a paring knife slides easily into the middle—you can test right when it’s on the grill.

Make the marinade

While the artichokes are steaming on the grill, crush the garlic cloves with a firm whack of your wide chef’s knife. (If you only have a narrow knife, you can smash it with the bottom of a pan, a meat pounder, etc. Get creative). Stir the smashed garlic pieces into 1/2 cup of olive oil, and season very well with coarse salt and fresh pepper.

When the artichoke is tender, remove the bundled ‘choke to your cutting board and carefully open. Cut the globe in half and scrape out the fuzzy middle—click here to watch The Killer Griller demonstrate. Brush both sides generously with your garlic marinade.

Grill that baby

Place the artichoke halves cute cut side up on the hot grill, the garlic cloves snuggled in the middle of the heart (sigh). Grill for about four minutes and turn gently with tongs, setting the garlic aside. Turn again if you like, until the vegetable has gorgeous char marks. Put on a serving plate.

Chop the softened garlic very fine and stir into the mayo along with a big squeeze of lemon. Add coarse salt and lots of pepper. Get out a big napkin, rip and dip away. Don’t bother with a fork.

Three minutes later, the marvelous massacre:

What is your vegetable/cooking Everest?

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earning your [favorite dessert here]

A family friend recently asked (regarding my veggie-loving, meat-free diet), “Lindsey, I just don’t understand what you order when you go out for fast food” to which I could only respond, “Well, I don’t eat fast food.” I realize this is a lifestyle choice, and the next few thoughts explore why it’s mine.

Now I think dinner in 20 minutes does count as (pretty-darn) fast food, but, yes, it requires planning ahead—precisely why I write this handy blog for you! The following grilled treat is healthy and creamy-wonderful; I simply do not believe there has to be a trade-off between enjoying food and treating your body well. Lately I’ve been considering whether this perspective is an adoptee thing?

It feels like people around me are always yapping about their genes, “A strong heart runs in the family, I just eat what I want…” Or persistent co-worker: “We’ve always had good cholesterol on Dad’s side, I don’t need to worry about sodium”. Maybe two decades of checking the not applicable box on those medical history forms has led me to the silly assumption I’ve got take things into my own hands mouth and eat foods that will best provide my body with nutritious fuel. Adoptees often don’t know of historical health on which they can rely, not that this makes all of us vegetarians…

I love to eat, I live for cheese; I cook at home so my food can be delicious and controlled in salt and fat (motive: so I can live a long time traveling the world with Andrew, who has enviable genes). Call me nuts for considering this concoction a complete meal, but it was divine and followed by a well-earned a gelato date with the hubs. Andrew my Chicken-Loving Man loved this, called it restaurant material. Gene-ius 😉

Grilled Corn and Feta Bruschetta

based on a June 2011 recipe from Bon Appetit

2 ears corn, shucked

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

1/2 loaf fresh ciabatta bread

1/2 garlic clove

1/4 cup sour cream (or crema mexicana)

3 tbsp. crumbled feta

1 large tomato, chopped

1 lime

fresh herbs (cilantro, basil, or chives)

chili powder

kosher salt

fresh black pepper

Grill the corn

If you want to speed along the corn cooking (and avoid charred, raw kernels), consider partially cooking the cobs in the microwave. When ready to grill, rub the corn with vegetable oil and season with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grill over medium heat until lightly charred and tender. Slice corn off the cob in wide strips.

Season the Bread

Cut the loaf into one-inch slices; stack the slices and cut them in half (I found grilling smaller pieces the second night—not pictured—made for easier eating). Lightly brush the bread slices with olive oil and grill on each side until slightly charred (just 3 or so minutes on each side, keep on eye on ’em). Immediately rub the top of each slice with the cut side of the garlic—a rustic Italian technique you will love.

Assemble the bruschetta

Mix the sour cream with feta (I used fat-free sour cream).

Smear the toasts with the cheese mixture and top with the grilled corn and chopped tomatoes. Squeeze a generous amount of lime juice over each and garnish with your favorite herb (a must). Top with chili powder (also essential; I use a completely mild chili powder and it adds lovely smokey flavor to the corn and lime).

Without a Grill?

If you find this recipe as alluring as I did on paper, you can replicate it without a grill by cooking the corn (either in the oven with this fabulous method, or cutting off the cob and then sautéing in olive oil until tender). Brush the bread slices with olive oil and toast on a baking sheet in a 400F oven until lightly brown, rubbing the garlic on the bread as soon as it’s out of the oven.

Pepita and Spinach Salad

inspired by an April 2011 taco recipe from Epicurious

1 large tomato, chopped

1/4 cup roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

1/3 cup canned chickpeas

1/2 lime

3/4 cup packed spinach leaves, stacked, rolled, and thinly sliced

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 avocado, peeled, seeded, cut into chunks

1 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

olive oil

If the pumpkin seeds are raw, toast them until fragrant in a dry, medium-hot skillet. Toast the chickpeas in a large skillet with a drizzle of olive oil and stir until brown and crisp.

Combine the sliced spinach and tomatoes with a generous squeeze of fresh lime and small drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. Add the feta, avocado, chickpeas, and seeds just before serving.

More about my most adored indoor grill here. And have you checked out the updated About Lindsey tab??

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butter soup

Yes, now I’ve got your attention. You see, I arrived home from work yesterday and landed happily in my resting place: the kitchen. For those of you who have alternative preferences for lounging, you will so appreciate this three ingredient soup. Summer has emerged from a rainy spring this week with hot, hot days here on the east coast. It’s just that kind of weather for such a pleasant color pallate: corn and lime.

Peeling corn may not sound like a post-workday activity for some. For me, it brought back memories of sitting on the deck with Mom, tearing husks over newspaper. Even with the peeling, this entire soup is on the table in 20 minutes. Guiltless budget-friendly creamy creamless soup with a flavorful low-fat side in 20 minutes?! Well, let’s get right to it.

Creamy Corn Soup

gently adapted from Fresh Food Fast, serves 8

16 ears yellow corn

4 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

coarse salt

suggested garnishes:

tortilla chips

lime wedges

sliced scallions or chives

Remove the husks and silks from the corn. My kernel method: using a large, sharp chef’s knife, slice the bottom of the cob so it is flat. Hold the corn upright on the flat end and use a gentle sawing motion to slice the kernels onto your chopping board.

Add the kernels to a large bowl, and be sure to add the cob’s milk to the kernels. I used the dull end of the knife to scrape all of the milk into the bowl, but found wringing the cob with my hands—in a twisting motion—released the most milk.

In a food processor (or blender), puree the kernels and accumulated juices with about 1 cup of water until chunky. If you are making the full recipe, you may need to puree in two batches.

(Though these are Martha’s recommendations, I found this previous step a little pointless if you’ve got an immersion blender—my most beloved used appliance).

In a large pot over medium-high heat, cook the pureed corn, butter, 3 cups water, and 1 tbsp. coarse salt until the butter is melted and the soup is heated through, 5 minutes. (I blended 1/2 cup chicken stock with the corn). Taste for seasonings—essential in every cooking endeavor. I found the soup surprisingly rich and added a little more water. The original recipe called for too much water, I liked the soup a little thicker.

Serve hot with generous squeezes of lime for a fabulous starter to my grilled quesadillas with salsa verde, coming up the next post!

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fit for family: part two (or getting your frico on)

As I was writing in the last post, it’s simple to make an elegant meal with few, fresh ingredients. When you’re lucky enough to access fresh veggies and cheeses from the farmer’s market, there is something extra special about your meal. Of course, the best part, whether a mother’s day meal or Friday night with friends, is your own presentation. I can’t say hard work and sweat because this is really a basics kind of meal (though you will call me a phony when you see the Strawberry Chips below…)

To accompany my original Springtime Casareccia with Basil & Fresh Ricotta, a basic but thrilling little salad:

Leaf-Lettuce Salad with Parmesan Crisps

from Great Food Fast, serves 6

1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (2 ounces)

3/4 lb. red or green leaf lettuce

1 fresh lemon, zested and juiced

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1/2 small garlic clove

1/4 cup fresh herbs (basil, parsley, chives, or a mix)

3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

coarse salt and fresh ground pepper

You will need parchment paper, or a silicone baking mat

Bake the Frico

Frico (freek-o) is a delicate parmesan wafer that adds a spectacular dash of Unexpected to a very simple salad. Even if you overbake the batch by a minute or two—points to self—they remain impressively cheesey and elegant.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Divide the cheese into four mounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet, at least four-inches apart. With the back of a spoon, spread each mound into an even 4-inch round.

Frico stores well as room temperature for a few days. I stacked the wafers between parchment paper for safe travel.

Bake until melted and golden brown, about 10 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through. With a thin metal spatula, transfer the crisps to a wire rack and let cool.

Tear the lettuce leaves into bite-size pieces.

Mix the dressing

In a blender (or small food processor), combine 2 tbsp. lemon juice, zest, mustard, garlic, and herbs (I used chives and basil). With the motor running, add the olive oil in a steady stream.

(This can also be whisked together by hand; chop the herbs and garlic fine). Salt and pepper the dressing, taste to balance the acid adding more oil if necessary.

Just before serving, add the dressing to the lettuce along with salt and pepper. Serve the salad with frico atop.

Speaking of the unexpected, strawberry chips are one of those Special Occasion accessories for a simple dessert. My sister-in-law (doing her part, and also saving my can’t-bake-worth-squat butt) provided homemade brownies and vanilla ice cream. This little garnish was so intriguing on paper, I was thrilled to have a holiday to try them out.

Strawberry Chips

scribbled down from my working days at Azafran

1/4 lb. strawberries

3/4 cup sugar

you will also need: pastry brush, parchment paper

Preheat the oven to 225F (or 200 for a convection oven).

Boil the sugar syrup

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and 3/4 cup water and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Slice the strawberries

Slice the stems off the strawberries so that the berries have a flat end. Slice the strawberries on a mandolin or line up the berries and thinly slice with a sharp knife.

Bake the strawberry slices

help from the hubs!

Lay out the strawberry slices on the baking pans (lined with parchment baking or silicone mats). With a pastry brush, paint a thin layer of sugar syrup over each strawberry. Bake (convection: 30 to 45 minutes; regular oven: 40 to 50 minutes), rotating the pans halfway through baking.

To test if the chips are done, remove one from the oven and allow it to cool on the counter.  If it is crispy once it has cooled, then it’s done. If the slices are browning, take them out of the oven. Remove the slices from the pan while they are hot, and cool on a clean, dry countertop.

These chips are a crunchy note on any creamy dessert, or a remarkable sweet snack. The original recipe calls for 1 lb. of strawberries for 60 strawberry chips; they keep well in a sealed container for 2 weeks. Keep them in a cool place. Or impress your mother-in-law 🙂

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fit for family: part one

Though we got to see my parents last weekend, we spent Mother’s Day with Andrew parents (meaning Sneaky Lindsey Insists on An Excuse to Cook). On the menu for my Alice-in-law and the rest of the family:

Springtime Casareccia with Basil & Fresh Ricotta

Lemon Salad with Frico

Grilled Chicken Breasts

Maggie’s Brownies with Vanilla Ice Cream and Strawberry Chips

Easy Grilled Chicken

I rarely buy premade salad dressings as personal preferences—sometimes for sodium and preservative content, often because they just never compare to lemon and olive oil. But I tell you, I love using quality bottled dressings for last-minute meat marinades. Italian is versatile, especially for chicken that may be sliced over pasta.

for 4 servings

1 bottle Italian dressing

4 large chicken breasts

Marinate the chicken in a large freezer bag, pouring the entire bottle of dressing over the meat. I added empty lemon halves and a clove of extra garlic—any additional onion slices or fresh citrus you may have on hand only enhances your marinade. Seal and refrigerate at least an hour, and keep at room temperature about 40 minutes before grilling.

Remove your chicken from the marinade, pat dry very well and place over a medium-high grill for about 10-12 minutes until cooked through.

I certainly did not invent the notion of tossing vegetables with pasta, but I did create some fun combinations for maximum flavor in this dish. Can one ever go wrong with caramelized onions??

Springtime Casareccia with Basil & Fresh Ricotta

serves 8 as a main course

1 lb. casareccia pasta

1 shallot, sliced into rings

1 bunch petite asparagus, cut on a bias into 1-inch pieces

3 zucchini, diced (click here to see how)

1 small container ricotta (about 12 oz., fresh if you can get it)

1/2 tbsp. butter

2 tbsp. olive oil

a few large basil leaves

grated parmesan cheese, optional

Shallots are easy to find these days, though the challenge can be finding a fresh one. Like any other onion, feel for firm texture and avoid discoloration. Shallots are often near the fresh garlic at the grocery store, but mild onion cousins. Peel and slice into thin rings.

Set a very large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. Salt the water well, since the ricotta is very mild.

Caramelize the shallots

Over medium-low heat, add the shallot slices to half a tablespoon of butter in a large skillet. Add a pinch of coarse salt and stir occasionally until the shallots are caramelized.

Sear the veggies

Set the shallots aside, and add a tablespoon of olive oil into the skillet. Raise the heat to medium-high. Add the diced zucchini (in batches, if necessary) so it is not crowded in the skillet. Add a pinch of coarse salt and stir occasionally until the pieces are tender and brown, about 4 minutes. Add the sautéed zucchini to a very large serving bowl, along with the onions.

Into the hot skillet, add the asparagus (in batches, if needed) so it is not crowded in the pan. Add a large pinch of coarse salt and stir occasionally until the asparagus is golden brown and slightly tender. Add the asparagus to the other veggies in the serving bowl.

Toss it together (and even impress grandma-in-law)

Boil the pasta for the time al dente indicated on the box, and reserve about a cup of pasta water when draining. To the bowl of veggies, add the entire container of ricotta along with a pinch of salt and a generous grind of fresh black pepper. Toss the hot pasta into the bowl and top with basil, chopped just before serving. Stir in pasta water by the tablespoon to help melt the ricotta and smooth out the sauce—you will not need to add much, but it makes a big difference. Serve with parmesan on the side, if you like.

Mmmm, so creamy. I love simple, light dishes with fabulous finds at the farmer’s market. My heart just leaps at the abundant asparagus out there right now! Stay tuned for part two with some adventurous additions: frico and strawberry chips.

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charleston chickpeas

No, these garbanzos are not native to our vacation locale. My Alice-in-law asked what we might bring for kitchen basics, and I couldn’t help but grab several cans of chickpeas from our well-stocked cabinet.

For a week of cooking at the beach, I needed to pack my essentials: kitchen scissors, citrus zester, mini food processor, chef’s knife, mini whisk. Three spices: cinnamon, red chile pepper, and my new favorite smoked paprika. Along with olive oil, salt and pepper, these really cover the bases!

I’m a funny little vegetarian (in more ways than you can imagine); I really don’t like beans—and wouldn’t it be helpful if I did? Like my distaste for meat, it’s all a texture thing. My one exception is chickpeas, and preferably when they’re crunchy. What a fabulous, fiber-filled snack. It’s like healthy bar food.

Paprika is a subtle, mild spice of dried, ground sweet peppers. While it is often used for color alone, smoked paprika adds such a smokey essence it almost has a bacon flavor. Far from my vegetarian tastebuds, but so fabulous I’m in love.

Crunchy Paprika Chickpeas

makes 2 cups, adapted from Fresh Flavors Fast

2 cans (15.5 ounces each) chickpeas

3 tbsp. olive oil

1.5 tsp. coarse salt

1.5 tsp. smoked paprika

Be wary of extra-virgin olive oil here. It has such a low burning point, it will smoke and pop under the high heat. I nearly set our oven on fire and scarcely avoided spattering oil burns. Pure olive oil, or another oil with a high smoking point (grapeseed or canola) is safest when crisping these beans in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 450F. Drain and rinse chickpeas, patting dry with a paper towel. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet, and drizzle with oil; toss to coat evenly. Spread in a single layer and roast until deep brown and crispy, tossing occasionally, 35-40 minutes.

Remove from the oven, sprinkle with salt and paprika; roast until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and let cool completed. Chickpeas can be stored up to 2 days at room temperature in an airtight container.

A faster, stovetop method I use most days after work:

Add the drained chickpeas to a very large skillet (I prefer a 12″ nonstick) with olive oil over medium heat. Stir occasionally until crisp, then stir in smoked paprika. This is a great time for a splatter screen if you’ve got one; my itty IKEA investment has been well worth it—far less oil on our stove!

Upside to the stovetop method: the chickpeas crisp in about 10 minutes… and you can snack while you cook.

Upside to the oven method: you can leave the chickpeas alone for 40 minutes, and they develop the deep crunch of an almond under such heat.

I made these smoked paprika chickpeas for a party recently, and thought it would be a fun beach snack for our vacation. Such a hit among the in-laws!

Nonetheless, I don’t know if even these crunchy delights can compare with my super super favorite snack of the trip: this fresh-grilled Everything pretzel from the Charleston farmer’s market. Accompanied, sweetly, by luscious lemonade squeezed just moments earlier…

Gets me so darn excited for summer! Which summer treat excites you most??

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eastern essentials

For readers already infatuated with Indian cuisine, skip ahead. Once you discover the sensation that is Indian food, you’ll see how silly for me to go about explaining things. Whatever misconceptions you might have about “curry”, “spicy food”, and other notions about unfamiliar combinations, you leave them right here in this opening paragraph and we’ll move on together. No looking back.

In your mental skillet, imagine olive oil glistening over the heat. Smell the garlic, onion, and ginger crackling and golden. Toss in some seeds and colorful spices–mild in every way but flavor.  Stir in tomatoes, chicken, eggplant, spinach—whatever your favorite entrée. Simmer into a sauce to pour over fluffy, fragrant basmati and scoop up with rich buttery Indian flatbread.

Basic ingredients, new combinations. Not spicy, but well-spiced.  Vibrant, unforgettable food that redefines flavor. Not so scary, eh?

Because we’re starting simple, I’m going to divide yesterday’s Indian feast into two posts. Let’s begin with Palak Paneer: creamy (though creamless) spinach and onion sauce with cubes of fried cheese. Tell me that appeals to abundant cultural palettes?

Though Indian cuisine embraces rich sauces and flavor more complex than any other, the ingredients are often in your freezer and pantry. This traditional recipe for Palak Paneer is phenomenal, and a new jar of Garam Masala in the spice cabinet might be the only ingredient unique to your dinner. Garam Masala is a spice blend with ground coriander, cumin, cloves, and cinnamon—most grocery stores now carry it with everyday spices.

Paneer is Indian cheese, whole milk that has simply been strained. It has little flavor (since it’s just cow’s milk) and does not melt, making it perfect for frying in olive oil and simmering in sauces. You can purchase it at Whole Foods, at some Trader Joes, and ethnic markets. If you can’t find paneer, you can use chicken or another protein, though the sauce alone is perfect with a side starch. I have not tried substituting Haloumi cheese (with very similar properties), and I bet it would be wonderful.

a fast method to chop cilantro: just scrape your knife along the stems in a downward motion

The nice thing about preparing Palak Paneer—at least the way I learned it in my Indian cuisine cooking class—is you blend all the sautéed ingredients, meaning you don’t have to spend your time on such precise chopping.Traditional Indian food is rarely finicky about technique or measurement, delightfully simple to make. One of many reasons to add it to your repertoire.

Palak Paneer (Spinach with Cheese)

loosely based on Rosy’s recipe from AllRecipes.com, and what I remembered from my Indian cooking class

2 tbsp. olive oil (or 1 tbsp. oil, 1 tbsp. butter)

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced (on your microplane)

1/2 teaspoon toasted cumin seed

1 (3 inch) piece ginger, peeled and minced (on your microplane)

2 teaspoons garam masala

1 teaspoon salt

1 large onion, chopped

1 cup water, or as needed

10 to 16 oz. (give or take) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained

1 pound paneer, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (Finnish Frying Cheese or Halloumi are great substitutes)

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

juice of half a lemon 

Before you start on the Palak Paneer, start cooking your rice so they’ll finish at the same time. Click here for my recipe on authentic basmati.

the sauce

Heat oil/butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in garlic and cumin seed; cook until the garlic softens, about 3 minutes. Add the ginger, 1 teaspoon garam masala, salt, onion, and water. Increase heat to medium and simmer until the water reduces a bit. Don’t hesitate to add more water to keep a sauce-like consistency.

Stir in spinach and cook until hot, about 5 minutes. Transfer to an immersion or upright blender and blend with the lemon juice, adding more water if needed.

the cheese

In the same pan (if nonstick), add the cubes of paneer to one tablespoon of hot vegetable oil. Using tongs, turn them as they develop a flavorful crispy crust.

how easy is that?

Add paneer to the sauce, heating an additional 5 minutes, or until hot. Pour into a serving dish and sprinkle with cilantro and remaining garam masala. Taste and add a pinch of salt, if needed. Serve over rice (here’s how I make it every time), or scoop up with Naan—traditional Indian flatbread. Pita, though not authentic, would work wonderfully. Andrew and I have not been impressed with any of the plastic-packaged Naan near the grocery store bakeries—uck, save your money. Trader Joes has the best Naan in their freezer section.

Next time: Chana Masala, chickpeas with tomatoes. Please, please share your questions and successes in the comment section. I know plenty of you out there excited for an excuse to try something completely new. Welcome.

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loving your leftovers: is it fry day yet?

Thank you, thank you readers!In its brief existence, A Pear to Remember reached over 6,000 viewers. 6,201 today! How do I express my gratitude? How about something interesting for the goods in your fridge?

in our fridge/freezer:

4 chicken tenderloins (from this meal)

romaine hearts

half a medium eggplant (from this meal)

3/4 jar tomato sauce

a hunk of fresh mozzarella

3 eggs

Don’t feel too bad for us, we’ve got orange juice and yogurt and sandwich makings, but these were most promising for a last-minute dinner. A really scrumptious undertaking for any night of the week…

tomato sauce has a short fridge life. andrew made us a special whole-wheat pizza on Monday night, but what to do with leftover sauce? read on.

 

 

Eggplant Medallions Over Grilled Romaine Hearts

a Thursday night Linvention

Finally, finally—do-able frying! I used to really complicate the batter and bread process, make a mess all over the place, and take a good 40 minutes from slicing to frying. Forget that.

It’s all about a line up—not far off from mise en place, which is about having all your ingredients measured and in place before beginning your recipe. This is a dip-n-drip station where tongs are your best friend. I used to do this by hand and the caked mixture all over your fingernails really slows you down.

Grab your slices (1/4 inch thin) with the tongs, dip in egg (2 eggs with a wee bit of salt and pepper beaten in) followed by breadcrumbs (this time from a can, lots of Italian seasoning sprinkled in). Then right into the skillet with hot oil—not too hot, it will burn right up and spatter all over the place. And not too deep, my slices were a breadcrumb away from submersion and cooked perfectly. About 2-3 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of your pieces—just keep the width uniform. I made good use of my cheap-o mandolin here.

Set your golden goodies on a plate packed with paper towels and chug right along until you’ve fried all of your ingredients (zucchini, anyone?).

Now I had heard of grilling romaine lettuce, I thought it was as bizarre as you are thinking now; I had never seen it done. But darn it all, I want any excuse to grill.

I spritzed whole romaine leaves with a healthy sheen of olive oil, followed by a generous sprinkle of coarse salt and pepper—this made all the difference. After grilling both sides over medium-high heat, about 2 minutes, you’ve got a new lettuce experience. As in, lettuce forget about that side of pasta, okay? A rare mood to reject pasta, but this proved the perfect bedding for my fried friends. With a little tomato sauce drizzled over the entire thing and cold, cold mozzarella torn in big pieces alongside… yes! yes! 

If loving warm lettuce is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.

The romaine is salty and flavor-packed in a way some rarely know lettuce to be. Serve it warm and enjoy the smokey flavor with the eggplant. I love homemade breaded eggplant because it makes this luscious aubergine into a filling meal I know you’ll love, too.

How did Andrew use his chicken? Check out his chicken parmesan technique here.

Also a good day all around—sometimes haircuts are as refreshing as new flavors.

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Filed under budget, dinners, lickety-quick, techniques, the basics