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greetings and bean-ings!

Hi friends, I’ve missed you, too! Where have I been? I have an exciting life-project (which may involve me reading 22 books) that I can’t reveal for some time—sorry for the necessary suspense. How have you been?

Here’s the quick catch up on me since August…

Andrew and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary at our favorite B&B

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I chopped my hair off (my students love the fairy resemblance)

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My sweet sister-in-law got engaged (while I snapped, surprise!, 201 photos)

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For Andrew’s 27th birthday this month, we threw a wildly successful Mad Men party (where Andrew had this genius idea to have everyone else bring the food)

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I honored my Grammy’s memory with her kick-ass thanksgiving stuffing

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And, kind of personal, but it’s been nearly 300 days since my last sinus infection so I lovvvvvvve being chronically healthy now (thank you, Symbicort) and in the kitchen every day!

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I realize last time I dropped in to chat, we were discussing corn, but the weather demands we move on. I don’t know where you live, but Virginia had a sunny, 60 degree Thanksgiving day quickly turned blistery-cold weekend. Let’s warm-up and snuggle up with a hearty, healthy dish before the neighbors start delivering cookies…

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Fresh herbs are vital in this simple stew, trust me. And grab a big, fresh, cheesey loaf of bread to scoop up every last drop.  We serve this with Trader Joe’s Alpine Gruyere bread. Click on the highlighted words should you like a demonstration on technique. In this dish, don’t concern yourself with precise vegetable measurements; the more veggies the tastier.

Tuscan White Beans

Adapted from Ina Garten, serves 6… or amazing leftovers

1 pound dried white cannellini beans, cooked (or about 4 15 oz. cans; I have always used canned)

3 tbsp. olive oil

2 cups chopped carrots (4 carrots)

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves; note jarred minced garlic will be too potent in this dish)

1 to 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I love the rich flavor of Pacific Organic)

1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or aged cheese like parmesan)

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Rinse and drain the white beans. Heat the olive oil in a large pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the pepper and carrots, and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute more. Add the beans to the vegetables.

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Add 1 cup of the stock, rosemary, salt and pepper, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 12 to 15 minutes, until creamy.

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Stir in the Pecorino, season to taste, and serve hot with fresh bread. We’ve never used spoons.

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family dinner

Like my recent bean posts, today we’re talking about discovering new foods on my journey to be a Less Picky Eater. You say picky, I say vegetarian. Tomato, tomahto.

There are people who think they are not squash people. I did not grow up a squash person, only the occasional zucchini—which, I’m sorry, hardly counts. It was only three years ago I ventured into acorn squash (halved and roasted as cheesy basmati bowls), butternut, and mostly recently spaghetti squash.

I love that you can purchase butternut squash pre-cut in the grocer’s deli section (it makes this recipe a breeze). Despite my sharpest knife, I have nearly severed limbs attempting to break into that son-of-a-gourd. A few dollars more, this is true, but I find the cost of pre-cut butternut squash absolutely worth the 20 minutes, tears, and blood loss that accompanies the raw gargantuan gourd.

This is a spectacular, I mean truly remarkable soup worth adding to your repertoire. There are few dishes I make twice (too many new recipes bookmarked!), and this has already become one of them. It has two steps—roasting and blending—six ingredients, and can feed a grateful crowd without a drop of sweat on your end.

I recently served this for the entire family to accompany my favorite asparagus ravioli in brown butter sauce. Andrew does not consider himself a fan of squash or mushrooms, but he always gobbles this up with compliments to the chef (c’est moi). Pops, also not a known for a squash preference, took home the leftover soup! As Kramer would say: Oh mama.

Roasted Squash Shittake Soup

adapted slightly from Martha Stewart, serves 4 as an entrée, 8 as an appetizer

2 3/4 lb. butternut squash, pre-cut into 2-inch pieces

1 onion, peeled and quartered through the stem

4 shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps wiped clean with a paper towel

4 small garlic cloves, unpeeled

olive oil

5 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium vegetable stock (I love Pacific Organic)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine squash cubes, onion, mushrooms, and unpeeled garlic on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with enough olive oil just to coat (about 1/2 cup) and 2 teaspoons salt (sea salt or Kosher). Toss and spread in a single layer. Divide onto two baking sheets if needed; there should be space between all the vegetables or they will steam and not brown.

Roast until squash is tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 30 minutes, rotating pan and tossing vegetables halfway through. Let cool, then remove skins from the garlic by squeezing out the pulp.

Transfer vegetables to a medium saucepan; heat over medium. Pour in 2 cups stock; puree with an immersion blender until smooth (or you can do this in an upright blender, transferring the veggies straight from the oven to the blender).

With the blender running, slowly add remaining 3 cups stock, and puree until smooth. (If serving later, refrigerate in the pot at this point). Bring soup just to a simmer. Remove from heat, and season with salt and pepper. Cover to keep warm.

A brief bit about broth: I used vegetable broth upon the first trial of this soup, and while I usually do not prefer the flavor it did work well here. I used chicken broth on the most recent batch, and while the different was subtle, I preferred the vegetable broth. Moral of the story, use either.

For what soup was your grandmother best known?

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Filed under dinners, health, techniques, the basics

food of the gods

There are things in life for which Americans offer incessant apologies: sneezing, asking questions, arriving early, arriving late, and the worst offender: apologizing for apologizing. This is why I am not sorry to  make—yet again—a fuss over feta.

Andrew and I ventured into Whole Foods last weekend to recycle wine corks from our wedding (three years is not too late to consider Mother Earth). At the entrance, a young woman offered eight locally-made dips. One particular feta dip was so phenomenal, we talked about it the whole way home. It was a life-changing cheese moment for us both. Though still not worth the $10 for  4 measly ounces.

A single glance at the ingredient list made this simple to re-create at home. Imported feta—essential here—is a creamy experience that shames all fetas you’ve known before. For $6, this high-end tub of feta was still far less than the gourmet dip, and made a generous batch.

jalapeno feta dip

1/2 large red onion

1/2 jalapeno

about 1 lb. imported feta block, in brine (sheep & goat milk blend)

2 tablespoons olive oil

On the large holes of a box grater, grate the red onion. With a paring knife (and gloves on), slice the jalapeno in half, scraping out the white ribs and seeds. Dice the jalapeno and wash your hands well—do not touch your eyes or nostrils… even an hour later!

In a large skillet, heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and soften for about five minutes. Add the jalapeno and soften two minutes more. The onions should be translucent, not brown.

Break the feta into a large bowl, and pour the hot contents of the skillet directly over the feta. With a wooden spoon, gently break the feta to incorporate the pepper and onion.

Spoon onto toasted pita (I love whole wheat pita, torn and baked at 250F until crisp). This appetizer is even more phenomenal paired with my slow-roasted tomatoes. This can be made, along with pita chips, within 20 minutes… just in time to take to a friend’s house to share!

 

A note on spice: I can handle only mild heat, and this dip barely approaches medium. The creamy feta balances the pepper well so it’s not too hot. If you want a little more kick, consider using the entire jalapeno.

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Filed under lickety-quick, small bites

the perfect party dish

I cannot describe how grateful I am for the women with whom I share a classroom. Besides that we get along splendidly, we linger daily—after the students have been bussed away—to talk and talk and talk food. Yesterday, Brennan and I shared an intense conversation about feta that left us both breathless… and running to the grocery store. And then calling each other from the feta aisle. I’m serious. My week is building towards a feta-jalepeno puree.

While I was planning my birthday bash menu, I wanted a budget buffet of unique, memorable food. I knew this would involve feta. Affordable proteins (shrimp, chickpeas), a three-course dinner with simple hors d’oeuvre, and filling starch allowed me to

feed 17 people

for less than $100

with enough leftovers to act as party favors.

My sister-in-law brought cake, guests contributed their favorite beverages. Entertaining demystified. We don’t have a microwave, so I needed a dish without need for reheating and attention during the party. We’ll talk about the rest of the menu another time. My absolute favorite dish of the night without further adieu:

Roasted Shrimp and Orzo

from Ina Garten, serves 6

Kosher salt

Good olive oil

3/4 pound orzo pasta (rice-shaped pasta)

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (3 lemons)

Freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds (16 to 18 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 cup minced scallions, white and green parts

1 cup chopped fresh dill (I used generous pinches of dried dill)

1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (fresh is crucial here)

1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and medium-diced

1/2 cup small-diced red onion

3/4 pound good feta cheese, large diced (I used Dodoni; definitely use imported)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Fill a large pot with water, add the orzo and simmer for 9 to 11 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it’s cooked al dente. Drain and pour into a very large bowl (or ceramic casserole, whatever you will use for serving). Whisk together the lemon juice, 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Pour over the hot pasta and stir well.

Meanwhile, place the shrimp on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to combine and spread out in a single layer. Roast for 5 to 6 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked through. Don’t overcook!

To avoid watery cucumbers: slice the cucumbers in half both directions. Drag a small spoon through the seeds and discard. Slice the hollowed halves lengthwise, and dice.

Add the shrimp to the orzo and then add the scallions, dill, parsley, cucumber, onion, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Toss well. Add the feta and stir carefully. Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour to allow the flavors to blend, or refrigerate overnight. If refrigerated, taste again for seasonings and bring back to room temperature before serving.

The second day, I tossed in a little more olive oil and freshly ground pepper before serving. Taste first! This is just as lovely without the shrimp, for finicky vegetarians like me.
 j
Yes, this is an affordable, easy and guaranteed dish for entertaining, but just as lovely weeknight with a platter of pita and olives. Enjoy them, as we did, with homemade foolproof-falafel!The leftovers are even better.

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Filed under budget, dinners, health, lickety-quick

best of 2011

Drumroll please… the most delicious, memorable, must-make dish from our kitchen in 2011…

Asparagus Ravioli with Brown Butter Sauce

 

In case you didn’t catch it the first time around, here is the post again. Here’s to a healthy and delicious 2012!

 

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 actually 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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better to give (than to eat all the cookies)

The holidays storm in each winter just moments before we get around to our pocketfuls of good intentions. Like the grand notion of baking for every family on our new street. We had a day in mind, and Andrew swore he would stand by my side and not allow yet another baking disaster. But we found endless errands to run on Baking Day, and Christmas week was upon us.

In the end, we attempted a less complicated recipe. Naturally—as December tasks go—at the last minute.  On my only previous attempt, I had produced a succesful batch meringues. And. They. Are. So. Dang. Simple. While I don’t know if they really count as cookies, they were well-appreciated and enjoyed by our neighbors. Fewer neighbors than we planned, as only one-third baked as pretty enough to give as gifts. The remainder resembled teeny toadstools, and were utterly delicious.

Note: we doubled this recipe, and they lasted well for four days in an airtight container on the counter. Maybe they last longer, but they all were eaten by then. Also, if you do not want to purchase superfine sugar, you can pulse regular cane sugar in a food processor. I used Ghirardelli 60% dark chocolate chips; you could also use a dark chocolate bar.

Dark Chocolate Chip Meringue Cookies

adapted from Emeril’s recipe, yields four dozen small cookies

2 large egg whites, at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

2/3 cup superfine granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until fluffy but not at all dry. (Be careful not to over beat.) Add the sugar gradually, about 3 tablespoons at a time. When 1/2 of the sugar has been added, add the vanilla extract. Continue beating and adding remaining sugar in batches, until all of the sugar is dissolved and the meringue is very shiny and tight. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in the chopped chocolate.

Working one teaspoon at a time, push a teaspoonful of meringue from the tip of 1 teaspoon with the back of another teaspoon onto the lined baking sheets, leaving 1-inch of space between cookies. Or, quickly spoon mixture into a plastic gallon zip-bag with the tip cut and dollop onto the parchment. Place baking sheets in the preheated oven and turn the oven off. Leave the cookies (undisturbed) in the oven for at least 2 hours and up to overnight, or until cookies are crisp and dry. I like to leave them overnight, but only when I have another dessert in the house to hold me over.

In case the neighbors want to know…

Per Cookie: (48); Calories: 44; Total Fat: 2.5 grams; Saturated Fat:0.5 grams; Protein: 1 gram; Total carbohydrates: 5 grams; Sugar: 5 grams; Fiber: 0 grams; Cholesterol: 0 milligrams; Sodium: 3 milligrams

Now I did not create this blog as a venue for profanities, but I had to chuckle when one meringue recipient stated, “These are fucking unbelievable.”

Some other gifts I whipped up last week:

This pillow for Mom’s birthday I stitched over an insert. It was the sweater I wore in my high school senior portrait.

And a few handmade scarves I presented in these darling World Market take-out boxes to my co-workers. Andrew called them Lindsey’s Scarf LoMein.

What’s your favorite gift you gave away this year?

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Filed under budget, dessert, 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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weeknight fiesta

Last time we were talking about fabulous (and freeze-able!) creamy corn soup, which definitely requires an accompaniment—don’t ‘cha think? Let’s go for something quick, foolproof, and not too messy. I spent three-too-many years putting the salsa inside the tortillas and am thrilled to share my leak-proof quesadillas with you.

To make this an exceptionally budget-friendly meal, grab a container of pre-cut mixed onions/peppers in the produce section, or a small melange of your favorites from the salad bar. Either runs around $2, far less than purchasing a variety of whole bell peppers.

You’ll find a variety of quesadillas here on A Pear to Remember, and they are a fabulous go-to for last-minute inexpensive dining. Simple grilled healthy goodness.

Your Favorite Grilled Quesadillas

whole-wheat quesadillas (love Trader Joe’s handmade Whole Grain)

your favorite cheese, shredded or cut in small pieces (cheddar, goat cheese, etc.)

mixed vegetables (only your favorites: onions, peppers, mushrooms, squash, whatever)

shredded, cooked meat (if that’s your thing)

olive oil

herbs (optional) like chives, cilantro, or basil

your favorite salsa (red, green, or fruity)

you will also need:

a grill or large nonstick skillet

Heat the pan to medium-high heat. Toss your vegetables (cut into even pieces) with just enough olive oil to glisten—adding a pinch of coarse salt if you desire.

When the pan is very hot, spread the vegetables evenly over the heat and leave the vegetables to brown for a few minutes. Using tongs or a large spatula, turn the vegetables a few times until they are browned and tender. Remove from the grill and set aside.

Place a tortilla open on the grill. On one half, sprinkle cheese, a thin layer of vegetables and meat (if using), followed by another sprinkling of cheese—the quesadilla should not be overflowing. Fill another quesadilla the same way so you have two quesadillas in the pan, their folded sides touching.

Use tongs to gently turn the quesadillas after about three minutes, or when the first side is browning. When the second side is brown, transfer to a cutting board and let cool for a minute. Using a large chef’s knife (or pizza wheel), cut each half into four wedges.

Serve with salsa for dipping, sour cream (if you’re feeling indulgent), and herbs (if you read my recent windowsill post). Perfect alongside this corn soup, appetizers, or maybe my favorite cilantro rice. Do let me know your favorite variations, the possibilities are easy and endless.

Exciting news for Facebook users: you can now find (and Like!) A Pear to Remember on Facebook right here!

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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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a little chick[pea] told me…

…that you must try Indian food. When I brought my homemade Indian leftovers to work and opened the container to release cumin and tomato-scented steam throughout the teacher’s lounge, there were two, predictable, reactions:

reaction no. 1

“Oh my gosh, is that homemade Indian food? Oh I love chana masala, one of my favorites! That smells so good!”

reaction no. 2

[initially nonverbal; glances down the nose towards my reddish-brown pile of garbanzos, followed by:] “I’ve never liked curry. My mother never liked curry, either. I simply can’t stand the flavor of curry.”

the curry myth

I cannot count how many times I have been told “I don’t like Indian because I don’t like curry” everywhere I go. Interestingly, this remark always comes from the same demographic. I imagine post-WWII mothers in the kitchen, their daughters eyeing the cake in the oven while they learn important Lady Life Lessons: keeping one’s knees together in a skirt, crossing at the ankles, and lastly, “You might hear of a thing called ‘curry’, dear. Avoid it, it’s rather unpleasant.”

Curry is a meat, vegetable, or fish dish with spiced sauce and rice or bread. In Britain, where chicken tikka masala is the national dish, “curry” is often a generic descriptor for all Indian food. However, the word curry describes more of a soup or stew, it is not a particular ingredient. Curry powder is a spice mixture developed by the British to make Indian food at home. Curry powder can range from 5 to 20 ingredients, and you will not see it in today’s recipe. Think of seasoned salt or dried Italian seasoning: convenient? yes. traditional? no.

the yellow spice tumeric will stain, watch out!

Like the most recent post on my very favorite Indian dish, Palak Paneer, or spinach with fried cheese, this is a very mild dish you could make spicy if you like. I’m a wimp.

Chana masala is a Northern Indian chickpea stew with tomatoes; masala refers to spices in a thick sauce for rice or flatbread.

Unpretentious, economical (canned chickpeas, canned tomatoes, dried spices!) and even better the next few days.

Chana Masala

(slightly adapted) from Smitten Kitchen

1 tablespoon vegetable/olive oil
2 medium onions, minced
1 clove garlic, minced (on your microplane)
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (on your microplane)
1 fresh, hot green chili pepper, minced (optional; I use half a can of TJ’s mild fire-roasted green chili)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (I use a quarter of this because cayenne is extremely hot)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 15-ounce can of whole tomatoes with their juices, chopped small
2/3 cup water
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 lemon (juiced)

fresh cilantro (optional)

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion, garlic, ginger and peppers and sauté over medium heat until browned, about 5 minutes.

Turn heat down to medium-low and add the coriander, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, cumin seeds, paprika and garam masala. Cook onion mixture with spices for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes with juices, scraping up any bits that have stuck to the pan. Add the water and chickpeas. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, then stir in salt and lemon juice. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro, if you’ve got it.

Serve over basmati rice (click here for a flawless recipe) and buttery flatbread (click here for our top freezer-section pick). And do write back about your culinary experimentations!

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