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Tuna & Olive Pasta, And Rachael Ray

Give me a chance to explain.

I know Ms Ray is generally vilified, what with her “EVOO” and “delish”, along with her annoying daytime television show. Many people have the right to be irritated by her. I am. Sometimes. But I have to admit, I used to watch the original ’30 Minute Meals’, and I own several of her cookbooks.

No, I usually cannot make those ’30 Minute Meals’ in 30 minutes, but I think Ms Ray was on to something. She makes real food. I mean, have you really looked at her recipes? Have you actually tried any of them? The ones I’ve tried have all been rather tasty. And every one of them calls for real food. Rarely they will ask for a a bit of tortilla chips, or a pre-packaged cornbread mix (Ray doesn’t bake), and the occasional pesto. She does choose ingredients for convenience and speed, such as chicken cutlets or frozen spinach, but it’s still good food…if you purchase the ones right for you. If you want to buy fresh, organic spinach and cook it down for a recipe, go for it. It’s a recipe, not a mathematical equation.

That’s what recipes are for…at least to me. They give you a guideline to follow, making adjustments or substitutions as you see fit. A recipe is a technique. Mix and match (or omit) ingredients depending on your mood or your market. Eat good food, and have fun.

The following isn’t a recipe by Rachael Ray, but it was inspired by her ‘Tuna Pasta Puttanesca’ in Just In Time.

Looks tasty to me

Looks tasty to me

Spicy Tuna & Olive Pasta

  • 1/2 lb spaghetti, cooked
  • 2 cans tuna in water, drained
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 c chopped mixed olives (I used a spicy mix from the olive bar at the market)
  • 14 oz. can diced tomatoes (I used a pint I had in the cupboard)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • scant 1/4 c vermouth

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and pepper flakes, and cook until garlic is fragrant. Add tuna and olives. Cook for about a minute, then stir in the vermouth. Cook down the vermouth about 5 min, then add tomatoes. Simmer on low for 5-10 minutes. Add pasta to skillet and toss to combine. (I simmered it for a few minutes to allow the pasta to absorb some of the sauce.)

Spring stew & sunny day blessings.

I sat down and wrote up this post a little over two weeks ago. All I wanted was some belly warming food because of the chilly Spring. I didn’t realize, just two weeks later, I would want comfort food for a decidedly different reason. On a sunny April day – Patriot’s Day here in Massachusetts – two bombs exploded at a marathon, some 15 miles north of my workplace. Thankfully, I wasn’t affected, nor was anyone I know. But almost 200 were. It’s still a bit jarring to have a terrorist attack so close to home. Then the explosion happened in West, Texas. Such a week of tragedy.

I’m not going to give a long winded response of how things like this put things into perspective, or anything like that. I just am thankful that my loved ones, friends and I are still able to move about our lives, blessed with more sunny days.

So, I’m still going to share this post. What is below is what I originally wrote (pics later…) I hope everyone can be blessed with sunny days and good food.

The calendar says Spring, but the weather can’t decide. I usually don’t mind, but I really want some warm days that allow me to drive with the windows down. I want to sit on the balcony and sip coffee. Or a beer. Ah, to dream…

But no. The days have been a bit chilly still, or wicked breezy (like today). The night lows are still tickling the upper 20s and low 30s. Days like this call for hearty, cold weather food. Spaghetti with meat sauce is often a go-to dish. But I want stew. I’ve been seeing recipes all winter for lovely stews, but I never got around to making any.

I finally said “to heck with it” and bought the stew meat. Most stew ingredients I usually have on hand-carrots, onions, flavorings. Then I went looking for inspiration. Sadly, I came across a recipe at FoodNetwork.com that was perfect. It was simple. I only changed one thing; I used marjoram instead of thyme. And the results were amazing.

Beef Stew with Caramelized Onions and Amber Ale

  • 1/4 cup  vegetable oil
  • 2 1/2  beef stew meat,  cut into 1-inch  chunks
  • 1 1/2 pound  yellow onions, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon  butter
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose (plain) flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 3 carrots, sliced
  • 1 bottle good-quality amber lager or pale ale*
  • 1 cup  beef or chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • Salt and ground pepper

In a large, heavy pot, warm the oil over high heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches, brown the meat well on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the meat from scorching. Transfer the browned meat to a plate and repeat until all the meat is browned.

Add the onions and butter to the pot and stir over high heat until the onions start to soften, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and sprinkle in the sugar. Continue to cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Add the flour, thyme and carrots and raise the heat to high. Stir for 1 minute, then pour in the lager or ale, letting it come to a vigorous boil. Stir in the broth and tomato paste and return to a boil.

Return the meat and any accumulated juices on the plate to the pot, let the liquid come just to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the meat is tender when pierced and the sauce is slightly thickened, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
*I used Wachusetts Brewery’s Amber Ale
Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/beef-stew-with-caramelized-onions-and-amber-lager-recipe/index.html?oc=linkback

Dreary days and spicy tomato soup.

Since I’ve been in Massachusetts there has been 4 snow storms. I’ve been here 2 months. Welcome to New England, right? I usually love snow, but this year I’m waiting for Spring. I’m craving brightness. I want the freshness of Spring. I guess I’m looking the rebirth that comes with the season to coincide with my new beginning. I’m waiting for the crocuses to emerge, the asparagus to appear in the market, the sun to warm my bones.

Bright flowers for a dreary day

Bright flowers for a dreary day

But right now it’s snowing.

The (financial) demands of moving have kept my cupboards lean. Thankfully I preserved a lot last summer, both in jars and frozen. (Yes, I packed up all my frozen produce and moved it from Ohio to Massachusetts.) Fortunately/unfortunately, you have to get creative sometimes during lean times. Sure, I have some preserved things, some beans (uncooked), rice, pasta…. But what to do when you don’t want to wait for beans to cook, and you’re tired of pasta with tomato sauce? Flipping through my cookbook collection just made me more frustrated as I kept finding recipes I wanted to make only to find I was missing a major ingredient. Normally, I substitute. Sometimes when I’m tired and hungry, I don’t want to think about flavor combinations and what could fill the giant void of ‘X’ main ingredient. Too technical. Blah.

So, I stared at my cupboard. Tomatoes. Chicken stock. Cumin. Onions. Tomato soup! Wait! I have squash in the freezer. Southwest-style tomato soup!

Warms from within

Warms from within

And here ya go…

Spicy Tomato & Squash Soup

  • 1 qt, or 1-28oz cans- chopped tomatoes
  • 1-2 c chopped zucchini, cooked
  • 1/2 med onion, diced
  • 1-2 jalapenos, minced (or any spicy pepper, such as chipotles)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 c chicken stock
  • 1/4 c chopped cilantro
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • juice of 1 lime (optional)

In a large pot, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, jalapeno and garlic, and cook until onion is translucent. Add tomato paste, cumin, salt & pepper, thoroughly combining. Cook until tomato paste just takes on a brown color. Add tomatoes and zucchini; cook for 5 min. Finally, add chicken stock. Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for 30 min, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasonings as needed. Right before serving, stir in cilantro and lime juice.

Notes:

*I used yellow squash, but any summer squash will work. *Adding shredded rotisserie chicken will make a heartier soup. *Adding crisp tortilla strips and avocado will make this like a tortilla soup. *Switch up the cumin for other spices to take this soup around the world. *make this vegetarian by using vegetable stock or water.

Election Day soup. A quick post

It’s that day again, the culmination of the long campaign season. We’ve had to endure ads, speeches and rallies. Now it’s the day to do your civic duty and vote. I don’t care who you vote for, as long as you do. And that’s as political as I’m going to get.

Most people will have to squeeze in voting between their lives, and then wake up tomorrow to find out who the next president will be. I would love to throw a returns watching party. I’m a bit of a geek that way. But I’m one of those that has to vote, then go to work. It will be late when I get home, so I’m just going to grab a bowl of soup and watch the returns.

Your civic duty

Since this is a food blog, I will share the recipe for my soup. It’s truly one of the easiest soups I’ve ever made. A great soup for busy people. And it’s great for chilly days.

French Onion Beef Barley Soup

  • 1/2 lb stew beef, cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 medium onion, sliced thin
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 4 c beef broth or stock
  • 2 c water
  • 3/4 c pearl barley
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • salt & pepper to taste

In a stock pot,  heat oil over med heat.Season beef. Brown beef in batches; set aside. Turn down heat to med-low.

In the same pot, melt butter. Add onion and cook slowly until caramelized, about 20 minutes. Return beef to stock pot. Add thyme, broth, water and barley. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until barley is cooked, about 60 minutes.

Note: feel free to add diced carrots when you add the beef back to the pot.

Vive la France!

If Mexico is a postcard of memories for me, then France is the stuff of dreams.

I’ve already professed my love of Mexico and it’s food, but it’s France that I turn to most. Not specifically all things French, but the ways of France. I’m not a true Francophile in that sense. I don’t need a house in Provence or an apartment in Paris. I follow the rhythms and flows. Hard to explain. Nothing is that much of a crisis that a well-timed shrug or a glass of wine can’t solve. Fresh food, in season, is the way to eat. Butter is OK. Cheese makes an amazing finish to a meal. Looking put together, even if just running into the quickie-mart, is a sign of respect (for yourself, mostly). Choose your passions, and stick to your guns, even if it is for a certain sporting team or a way to cook chicken.

I follow the Tour de France, and honor Bastille Day (both, I usually keep to myself). I like French food, but mostly the country or bistro style of cooking. I like French wines. Who doesn’t? I enjoy the vintage fashions of Dior and Givenchy. French cinema, however, is…meh. France is my dream vacation. Too bad the closest I’ll get is probably Quebec.

The more I write on this little ol’ blog, the more I want to share my memories. I’ve been lucky enough to experience a lot of things. A lot of those experiences are recalled by food. It’s the best scrapbook, making a meal and being able to share. Even if those memories are watching a bunch of cyclists race around France while drinking rose and eating pan bagnat.

Pan bagnat & Le Village blood orange-ade

So, in keeping with the last few posts (about memories and experiences), I’ve decided to share some French goodies. Memories in the making for me, new experiences for you.

Pan Bagnat

adapted from Susan Spungen’s Recipes

Vinaigrette

  • 1 large clove garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp anchovy paste
  • 3 oil-cured olives, pitted
  • pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 6 Tbsp olive oil

Sandwich

  • 1 crusty French baguette
  • 1-2 roasted peppers
  • 1/2 c halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 can (6oz) light tuna, drained
  • 1/2 c oil-cured black olives, pitted and torn in half
  • 2 hard-cooked eggs, sliced
  • freshly ground black pepper

Make the vinaigrette by combining all the ingredients in a mini food processor or blender. Blend well, about 30 seconds, and set aside. This can be made several days in advance, and refrigerated.

Slice baguette lengthwise, toward the bottom third of the loaf and hollow out the top half. Spoon about two thirds of the vinaigrette on both side of the baguette. Layer the ingredients on the open baguette starting with the roasted pepper, followed by the tomatoes, onion, tuna, olives, then eggs. Drizzle remaining vinaigrette over the top. Sprinkle with pepper.

Close the baguette and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Place in under a heavy cutting board and weigh it down with heavy pots for 1 hour. Slice and serve.

note: feel free to add greens or basil to the sandwich. This is the way I like it.

Onion tart & spinach salad with bacon

 

Free-Form Onion Tarts

adapted from foodandwine.com

Dough

  • 3/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 c whole wheat flour
  • 6 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 5 Tbsp ice water

Filling

  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 lb sweet onions, thinly sliced
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 Tbsp creme fraiche (I used Greek yogurt and it worked just fine)
  • Salt & freshly ground pepper
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp milk
  • blue cheese, crumbled (optional)

In a bowl, whisk the flour with the salt. Using your fingers, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Drizzle the water over the flour and stir gently just until incorporated; gently press to form a dough. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

In a skillet, melt the butter. Add the onions and thyme and cook over moderately high heat, until softened, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to moderately low and cook, until the onions are golden, 20 minutes longer. Remove from the heat and discard the thyme. Stir in the crème fraîche (or yogurt) and season with salt and pepper. Let cool.

Set a pizza stone on the bottom of the oven or position a rack on the lowest rung and preheat the oven to 375°. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide dough into quarters. On a floured work surface, roll out each quarter into a 6-inch round and transfer to the baking sheet. Spread the onions on the round, leaving a 1 -inch border. Fold the edge of the dough up and over the filling and brush the edge with the egg wash.

Free-form Onion Tart

Bake the tart on the stone or on the bottom shelf for about 20 minutes, until the  of the crust is browned. Transfer the tarts to a rack and let cool slightly. Top tarts with blue cheese crumbles (if using).

Serve with a a simple salad of greens topped with a simple vinaigrette.

Highlights from a vacation

I recently returned from a well-deserved vacation to Rhode Island. Now, most people don’t immediately think of Rhode Island when making vacation plans. I didn’t either…until I visited the state some years back. My first trip there was meeting up with my (now ex) husband on a business trip. It was late October, and so conveniently coincided with that year’s late color. Of course, being out of season, all the touristy places were closed. No matter. It was beautiful-both the trees and the coast. And we ate well.

The next time I visited was during the summer season. Understandable, it was packed. Newport is where people go “to summer.” Again, I ate well. And it was still beautiful…even though I practically had to park in Massachusetts.

Fast forward a few more years. Vacation time was needed. Rhode Island was the first thing that came to mind. I have a friend there who graciously put me up for a few days. So, with no further plans than to find a few beers and some sailboats to watch, I set out for R.I.

The weather mostly cooperated and we (my friend and I) took advantage where we could. The first day, we wandered into Newport. I wanted to visit my favorite pub for lunch. The Brick Alley Pub has been in Newport for many years. And while it’s not a pub in the traditional English or Irish way, it’s still a great little bar and restaurant with some amazing food. The last time I was there I had a lobster and scallop pasta with cream sauce that I thought was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Ever. Sadly, it’s no longer on the menu, but I still found a winner. Called the Lobstacado, it’s an open-faced sandwich consisting of a toasted English muffin, mashed avocado, a healthy dose of lobster meat, topped with melted Muenster cheese. With this lovely creation I drank a Magner’s Irish cider. New to me, it was dry and crisp, just the way I like cider.

Side trip: a stop at Coddington Brew Company to sample their Blueberry Blonde Ale, which they serve up with fresh blueberries. Gotta love New England.

Dinner, however was a disappointment. Flo’s Clam Shack offers an all-you-can-eat crab dinner on Thursdays. Flo’s is an institution in Middletown/Newport, having been there since 1936 and surviving multiple hurricanes. We should’ve stuck to the clams. The crab was so waterlogged….blah. The view of Second Beach was amazing, though.

Cliffwalk and the mansions across the water.

Day two: Anthony’s Seafood was up. Originally a wholesale market, Anthony’s now has a small seating area. If you want fresh seafood, this is the place. Lobster, clams, oysters, shrimp, crab…they have it all. After pouring over their menu, I finally gave up and got a lobster roll. How can you go wrong? A traditional New England-style split top bun jam-packed with lobster meat? A squeeze of lemon juice and a side of Newport Storm Rhode Island Blueberry Ale. Smooth and fruity…. While we were there, we picked up some steamers, crab legs and a couple stuffies. Stuffies are a Rhode Island stuffed clam using big quahogs, bread crumbs, chourico and seasoning baked right in the shell. Pass the hot sauce and lemon juice!

Side trip: Greenvale Winery for a tasting. They make some lovely, crisp whites. Perfect for summer. Of course I bought two, a Vidal Blanc and their Skipping stone. Both are crisp, floraly wines but the Skipping Stone is a bit sweeter.

The rest of the afternoon was spent on a little beach, Island Park, down the road from my friend’s house. It was here that I had my first beer and sailboat experience. Newport Storm Amber Ale. An ocean breeze. A good friend.

We then met some of my friend’s friends at the nearby Beach House bar. Laughs over beers.

Sharon & John

Day three: the rain moved in. Lunch consisted of Anthony’s stuffies. Just one is big enough to be filling.

That afternoon I took a side trip to Bristol. It’s a waterfront town between Newport and Providence. It has all the historic charm of Newport without the summer crowd. I tucked into a little pub on the water, Aiden’s, and ordered up some Magner’s. I grazed on their appetizer menu and enjoyed the view of the rainy harbor.

Last day: picture day! The sun was out and there was a slight breeze. Perfect. I had failed to get many pictures the first few days mostly because I let the opportunities pass. This day would be different. We got in the car and did a tour of Aquidneck Island. I got some great harbor shots at Melville Grille, located at New England Boatworks, next to Newport’s Naval base. Here we sat on their patio, me sipping Magner’s Pear cider (awesome! Better than the regular) and enjoying the view. Too bad we ate the rest of our Anthony’s seafood, because the Melville smelled amazing! Next time…

We then meandered a bit longer, ending up at Anthony’s. We split a shrimp cocktail, almost enjoying the cocktail sauce more than the fresh, juicy shrimp. It’s definitely not Heinz. I cannot even describe the taste other than it was tangy, sharp and I think it had cilantro.

Newport Winery was right up the road, so we decided to stop and have a tasting. Newport Winery has a whole range of wines, from sweet dessert whites to big peppery reds. I tasted three whites and two reds before settling on two to purchase. I picked their velvety Merlot, and their Rising Tide a slightly dry white.

After a good long rest, it was time for my last meal in Rhode Island. We picked Scampi’s, a seafood restaurant with an Italian lean located near Island Park beach. I feasted. Appetizer was a bacon-wrapped bay scallops. Following that, I enjoyed a simple green salad topped with Saratoga Blue Cheese dressing. I want to find this cheese. The main course was lobster ravioli topped with a lobster bisque-style sauce and garnished with chopped tail meat. The pasta was fresh, as was the lobster. There was just enough sauce so the raviolis weren’t swimming. I didn’t need dessert after that. That meal was amazing. As we were eating, a storm rolled in. Luckily, we had a great view of the water. Such a beautiful sight.

Another Rhode Island vacation has come to a close. I can’t wait to go back… (I might actually take pictures of the food next time!)

Want a free book? Tell me a story.

A few weeks ago, my fella and I were in a store and came across some Gooseberry Patch books. I happen to have quite the collection of them, I think because I’m a country girl at heart. Anyway, my fella said he would buy one for me, just let him know which one. After browsing a bit, I settled on Autumn with Family & Friends, certain I didn’t already have it. Then I got home. Whoops. There it was, right in the middle of my shelf.

The book

So, I’m going to do want any sane person would do: give it away via a food blog. If you want a shot at this, all you have to do is leave a comment telling me what’s your favorite thing about fall. Simple. It doesn’t have to be about food; it can be anything at all. Oh, and you have to do it by 11:59 EST Wednesday 9 November. I’ll randomly pick a comment and contact the winner via email.

One sample recipe

Sound like something you want to do?

Another recipe