June 30, 2020

Rhubarb Cosmopolitan

This is a dangerously delicious way to enjoy bright, tart rhubarb and celebrate spring...

Rhubarb Simple Syrup
adapted from kitchn

4 C chopped rhubarb*
1 C sugar
1 C water

*If you have less rhubarb than this, just measure how much you have once it's chopped and then measure sugar and water accordingly to stick with the 4 parts/1 part/1 part proportions.

Combine all three ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low, stirring occasionally, until fruit is soft, 15 minutes or less. Strain through a fine sieve over a bowl. (Willem eats the softened rhubarb from the sieve at this stage, which is still really flavorful and definitely not something to throw out. When we've had some leftover that he doesn't eat right away, we save it to stir into plain yogurt or have over vanilla ice cream.) The beautiful strained pink liquid in the bowl is the "syrup" used for the drink recipe below. I make the kids rhubarb spritzes with the syrup as well: sparkling water with just enough syrup stirred in to give it color.

Rhubarb Cosmopolitan 

1.5 oz. vodka
1 oz. triple sec
juice of half a lime
1 oz. rhubarb simple syrup

Shake all ingredients in an ice shaker, and pour into a glass!

June 29, 2020

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

Strawberry-rhubarb should be the name of a deep pinky-red crayon. We make a strawberry-rhubarb pie about once each year, combining rhubarb from our garden with the spoils of our annual trip to a local pick-your-own strawberry farm. The result is as beautiful as it is delicious.

We have several raised beds and our single rhubarb plant takes up about a third of one of them. It is a perennial and every spring it is one of the earliest things to show a sign of life out there. It begins compact and strange-looking sometime in March-- a red and green eyeball, flush with the soil. Its stalks reach up and out until by May it shades anything near it and has gigantic, exotic leaves. It can be harvested well into summer. Each year I find new things to make with it. Still, we don't eat a ton of rhubarb. But it's not something I feel guilty about not using because it is always there and so abundant.

Willem, age six, and a rhubarb stalk with a massive leaf

This year's trip to our favorite p-y-o strawberry place was a little different than usual, with masks required, signs telling us not to eat while picking (I really missed eating the berries sun-warmed but resisted), and long lines both to be directed to our picking spot and to pay. But it was still a glorious day and it was fun to be out in the field together, filling up our flat. Willem has always been an awesome berry picker. Margaret, at five years old, still stands around and does a lot of talking about picking, but she's good company at least.

This pie recipe uses my default ingredients to accompany fruit filling: one cup of sugar and one quarter cup of flour. Some pies like blueberry require a little something more to hold them together (I use tapioca), and some pies like apple I tend to heap with as much fruit as they can hold so I do a little more sugar and flour, as well as cinnamon, in that case. But here sticking with the basic amounts of just flour and sugar yields a gorgeous, delicious pie that holds together but allows just a little ruby red juice to ooze into the pie plate after a piece is cut.

Once the pie pastry is made, this pie comes together easily. This weekend when we made this, I decided to make a lattice top to show off the bright filling.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie 
adapted from a King Arthur Flour baking class I took a long time ago

1 recipe pie pastry, with both halves chilled and ready to roll out
2 C sliced rhubarb (halved lengthwise first if large)*
2 C sliced strawberries*
1 C sugar
1/4 C flour
egg white and 1 t water mixed together to brush over crust before baking
crystallized sugar for sprinkling

*This amount makes a level pie, which was nice for doing the lattice top. But if you prefer a fuller, more rounded-looking pie with a traditional top, you could increase the amount of fruit/sugar/flour, keeping the proportions the same.

Mix together rhubarb, berries, sugar, and flour in a bowl.

Roll out bottom crust to a couple of inches bigger than the diameter of pie plate. Roll it up on rolling pin and quickly transfer to pie plate. Press lightly all around to secure it in plate.

Pour filling into prepared crust.

Roll out top crust to a size a little larger than pie plate. Then either roll it onto rolling pin and place on top of pie, tucking it under bottom crust OR create a lattice top: use a pastry wheel to trim off one side to make it straight. Continue to roll long, 3/4-inch-thick or so pieces across the whole round of pastry. Then start by laying one strip horizontally across one side of the pie plate. Overlap with another going vertically along another side at 90 degrees to the first piece. Add a third piece parallel with the first piece. Add a fourth piece parallel to the second. This time, lift up the first piece and tuck it under that so that it looks woven. Keep in mind the over-under-over-under pattern. Continue putting one piece horizontal and one piece vertical at right angles to each other, working from bottom left of the pie plate to top right and lifting up the pieces necessary to keep the woven look as you go along. When you've covered the whole top, tuck the ends under the edge of the bottom crust and pinch to seal.

Lightly brush all over the crust with egg-white wash. Sprinkle generously with crystallized sugar. Bake at 350 for about an hour or a little less, rotating halfway through.

June 28, 2020

Delicious Couscous Salad

I can not get enough of this salad any time I make it. It's crunchy, it's sweet, it's tangy. It's great alongside meat or fish at dinner. It's great as an accompaniment to a cheese platter. I bet it would make a very popular potluck dish. It was one of the first recipes that helped me realize that parsley, whose fresh taste I love, can be used in a primary role in recipes and not just as a garnish. The recipe calls for "one bunch" of parsley. I have made this before with a lot of parsley, with the couscous and everything else along for the ride. But it is just as delicious when I've made it using whatever amount of parsley I had available in my garden at the time. I think, too, it would be a great recipe to remember for when you bought parsley for a specific recipe, and then have a lot of it leftover sitting in the fridge. Any amount of parsley works, and the rest is pantry staples (I didn't used to keep pearl couscous on hand but I do now because of this recipe). This salad would make-ahead very well, although that's not the kind of thing I manage to do very often around here!

Couscous-Parsley-Dried Cherry Salad
adapted from Budget Bytes

Salad Components:
1 C dry Israeli/Pearl/Middle Eastern Couscous, cooked according to package directions and cooled
1 bunch parsley, chopped (this is flexible whether you have a lot of parsley or a little)
1/2 C sliced almonds
1/2 C dried cherries (or apricots, chopped)

2 T olive oil
2 T vegetable oil
2 T apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 T Dijon mustard
1/2 t sugar
1/2 t dried basil
1/2 t salt
ground pepper to taste

Combine salad components in a medium bowl.

Whisk together dressing ingredients and then pour over the top of it all.

Potato and Blue Cheese Tart

While I was making this, Margaret asked me what was for dinner and I replied, "I know you are going to like it." She responded, "Does it have cheese?" It has cheese alright, and she was indeed a fan. This is a summer favorite, but it could be made any time of year. Made of potatoes and blue cheese and crust, and a sprinkling of mixed fresh herbs if you have them, it pairs beautifully with a green salad with vinaigrette.

When I made it recently, I paused to appreciate how easy and satisfying it is to make good tart dough in the food processor. (I tried once to make pie pastry in the food processor and the end result was such disappointing texture and appearance in the finished pie that it was not worth the convenience-- but not so for tart dough!) After a few dry ingredients go in the food processor, you add the slices of butter and blend until it is a coarse meal consistency. Then you add your liquid (water or egg) and blend until it comes together in a perfect ball that rolls up stray bits without any effort. Then you have a compact ball of buttery pastry. You don't have to flour a counter and roll it out, but can just press it out into a tart pan and fill. I don't make a lot of savory tarts (or tarts in general) but this and a rich tomato-mozzarella one are my favorite to date. I have tried the Smitten Kitchen tart shell recipe but I think I like my go-to tart recipe here a little better (simpler ingredients, richer flavor, and it makes a little bit more so it doesn't need to be stretched quite so much to fill the tart pan). Either way this makes a delicious cheesy, earthy, meatless meal.

Potato and Blue Cheese Tart 
from Smitten Kitchen

1 lb. small red potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 C heavy cream
1 egg yolk
4 oz. blue cheese, crumbled (or about 3/4 C)
1 T finely chopped herbs of choice (we used thyme, oregano, and chives from the garden)
savory tart shell from this recipe, pressed into tart pan and ready to fill

Preheat oven to 350.

In medium saucepan, cover potato slices with water and bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes or until tender. Drain, cool slightly.

Arrange potatoes, overlapping slightly, in concentric circles in tart shell. Sprinkle with cheese. Whisk together heavy cream and egg and pour over the top. Sprinkle with herbs and salt.

Bake on a baking sheet until bubbling and golden brown, about 45 minutes.

June 17, 2020

Macaroni and Cheese with Leek, Tomato, and Bacon

I feel like I am always stirring into my mac and cheese some chopped tomato or peas or other things to give it color and texture so this recipe is perfect for those of us who want a little more in our mac and cheese. I also love that this is a one-pot meal; everything goes in in the beginning and then gets simmered a while together-- no roux, only one pot to clean, and you can just walk by every few minutes and give it a stir. This came from The Pampered Chef's 29 Minutes to Dinner book that I once bought at a Pampered Chef party. That book actually holds several now-loved go-to recipes (I'm thinking of this tortellini supper, and these gyros)-- though the recipes are often written in a more complicated manner than they need to be, either because of unnecessary steps/dishes or because of the sheer distraction of reading multiple, bolded product names within each section of instructions. So I am happy to have a translated version here of what is actually a very easy recipe, so I will maybe use it even more.

Macaroni and Cheese with Leek, Tomato, and Bacon
adapted slightly from The Pampered Chef's 29 Minutes to Dinner

8 slices bacon
1 lb. cellentani or other medium pasta
5 C water
4 oz./1 C grated cheddar cheese
1 oz./1/3 C Parmesan cheese
4 oz./1/2 C cream cheese
1 t salt (or less)
1/2 t ground pepper (or less)
1 large leek, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise then into 1/2-in. slices
3 large plum tomatoes, diced

Slice bacon into thin strips and cook; set aside.

In large stockpot, place ALL other ingredients. Bring to a boil. Then reduce heat, and simmer for 10 - 12 minutes or until pasta is cooked and sauce is thickened, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and stir in bacon, or serve bacon as a garnish at the table.

June 14, 2020

Homemade Hamburger Helper

Hamburger Helper will always have a soft spot in my heart. When my husband and I first lived together before we were married we were pretty economical and not terribly creative when it came to food. One summer during a grocery-store run we bought several boxes of Hamburger Helper mix at something unbelievably cheap like three boxes for a dollar. I might have gotten a little sick of it, eating it at least once a week after that thrifty purchase. But I felt surprisingly grown-up, making it and eating it together after finishing what felt like the never-ending mowing required at our summer rental.

One Sunday afternoon last winter when the contents of the fridge were getting sparse and I was trying to figure out what we could eat that night, I was craving something warm and filling and found myself googling "homemade hamburger helper." I was so glad I found this. One-pan pastas are so easy and good in general and we've come to rely on this one when we are out of fresh produce and down to pantry staples-- pasta, meat from the freezer, spices, and cheese (we always have cheese). Unsurprisingly, it's a big hit with the kids. It's guilty-pleasure comfort food at its best. Sometimes if I'm feeling a little inspired, as in the photo at the end of this post, I toss in a can of diced tomatoes or a chopped-up carrot or onion to increase the vegetable intake and it still goes down very easily.

One-Pan Homemade Hamburger Helper
slightly adapted from The Salty Marshmallow

1 lb. ground beef
1 T ketchup
1 t Dijon mustard
1 t hot sauce
1 t garlic powder
1 t onion powder
1/2 t seasoned salt
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
12 oz. pasta
4 1/2 C broth or water
optional: can of diced tomatoes, chopped onion and/or carrot
 1/2 C sour cream
2 C shredded cheddar cheese

Cook the ground beef in a large skillet over medium heat until no longer pink. Drain grease from pan if needed.

Reduce heat to low and add all remaining ingredients except sour cream and cheese. Stir well to combine. Cover and simmer 12 - 15 minutes.

Turn off heat and stir in sour cream and cheddar cheese.

June 11, 2020

Sheet Pan Chicken, Potatoes, and Leeks with Arugula, Yogurt Sauce, and Lemon

This is one of my favorite spring meals. I always love a truly all-in-one dinner where I don't need to think about separate side dishes. But this has so much more going for it than easy planning. It's such a lively celebration of flavors all at once-- just enough hot sauce in the marinade for flavor, not heat; lemon zest adds bright zing in the pan, as does fresh lemon juice squeezed on the whole thing just before eating; the chicken and potatoes are simple and satisfying and the arugula and yogurt round it out without being too filling.

My whole family loves this meal, even though my kids still aren't big leaf eaters in general. When they were younger and we had a dinner salad, I would serve it to them deconstructed, with piles of each component separate on their plates. It made it more approachable to them than a big scary mix of foods touching one another and they tended to eat better that way. This became a habit for me and an expectation of theirs. It certainly trained them to be able to see a new or less favored food on their plate without stress, and often be willing to try a bit of it. But as they've gotten older, I felt we needed to help them move on to the next frontier in adventurous eating: trying foods in mature combinations, or, as the meal was intended. Now, at five and almost-ten, I serve them their own dinner salad piled up in the grown-up way just like ours (except very light on the lettuce (or here, arugula) and made up mostly of the other components). I hope they'll begin to notice the deliciousness of the whole, complete thing-- how the lemon squeezed over the top improves it all, and how good a blob of garlicky yogurt is right on their coveted crispy bites of potato. They can pick things apart to eat the chicken separate from the potatoes and ask for extra yogurt on the side if they want to, but sometimes they don't and we can celebrate "combination bites"-- trying two or more things all together on your fork at once.

In any case, this is a meal for those of us who love tasty combination bites. You need to start it about an hour or more ahead just because of the cooking time, but preparation time is simple and pretty quick. This just barely serves four of us with rarely a little bit left over for some lucky person's lunch the next day.

Leeks and lemon zest-- I used to skip lemon zest in recipes but it brightens up flavors so much and is worth grating

Sheet Pan Chicken, Potatoes, and Leeks with Arugula, Yogurt Sauce, and Lemon 
adapted slightly from The New York Times 
serves 4

For Sheet Pan:
1 1/2 lbs. chicken, cut in 2-in. pieces
1 1/4 lbs. small Yukon Gold potatoes, halved and cut into 1/2-in. slices
2 t salt, or less
1/2 t ground pepper
2 T hot sauce, such as Cholula
1/2 t ground cumin
4 1/2 T olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1/2 t lemon zest (from 1/2 a lemon)

For Yogurt Sauce:
2/3 C plain yogurt (not Greek)
2 small garlic cloves, minced or grated
s & p to taste

To Serve:
Lemon wedges for squeezing
Olive oil to drizzle

Combine chicken, potatoes, salt, pepper, hot sauce, cumin, and 3 tablespoons oil in a large bowl. Let stand for 30 minutes or for hours in refrigerator.

In medium bowl, combine leeks, lemon zest, pinch of salt, and remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil.

Heat oven to 425. Arrange chicken and potato mixture on large rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Roast 15 minutes. Then, toss lightly. Scatter leeks over the pan. Roast another 25 minutes, or until chicken and potatoes are cooked through and everything is golden and slightly crisped.

For yogurt sauce: combine garlic, yogurt, and salt and pepper to taste.

At the table, serve chicken and vegetables over a bed of arugula. Drizzle with olive oil, lemon juice, and yogurt sauce.