Category: herbs

Garden’s last hurrah: nectarine basil preserves (+ a salsa).

It’s September, and the weather is changing. My little herb garden is still growing, but it’s struggling. I know it’s short-lived: the temperatures are dipping down into the 50′s at night, and they’re starting to show the signs that it’s too cold for them. So I’m using every last bit that I can. Making sauces & throwing in extra basil, making cilantro rice, and making rosemary-herbed chicken. Because before I know it, I’ll be drying them all for use over the winter.

When I was a kid, this time of year used to depress me. Back at school for weeks already, time in the pool getting cut drastically short (or disappearing altogether), the weather changing, etc. As an adult I find it doesn’t anymore… sure, I miss the summer. But after long, swelteringly hot days where my face feels like it’s melting off, I look forward to the coolness of the fall. The quietness. The changing leaves. The awesome fall TV lineup. The ability to bake a cake & not have it be too hot to breathe or have the frosting form nothing but a sad, pathetic puddle of sugary mush.

I definitely always miss my garden once the fall weather moves in. Using dried herbs just isn’t the same. And I miss all the fresh produce, too.

But right now… it’s still just warm enough, and it’s all still fresh.

Beautiful, fresh Washington State nectarines.I mean, come on… really now… they’re insanely beautiful!

I made the following recipes after receiving a second massive box from the Washington State Stone Fruit Commission. You might remember that the last time it was a huge box of beautiful peaches. This time, it was half ‘Sweet Dream’ peaches, half ‘Honey Royale’ nectarines (shown above); grown in an orchard right outside Yakima, Washington. They were so stunningly picture perfect, I couldn’t help but snap some photos before they were gobbled up. The nectarines were so big & perfect they almost looked like apples! Just gorgeous. I swear, I have never seen such beautiful fruit before. Not even at farmer’s markets, or gourmet food stores. The fruits I’ve received from them have been some of the best produce I’ve ever had.

So of course, after I took photos… a few of them got eaten fresh. And my parents took some. Gave a few to lucky neighbors.

And the piles of fruit that were left were all for me to play around with!

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A fairy tale of eggplant proportions.

Magical trees.

Funny thing, memories are. When I was a wee little tot, there was a tulip tree on my property that had a hole in the bottom. It was one of the original trees from when the house was built, so by the time I was a kid it was already not only over 30-something years old, but massive. Right where the trunk met the grass, the roots grew in such a way that made it look like there was a doorway leading into the tree. A little cave, or “fairy house.” It intrigued me so much, that little door. I used to imagine that little creatures lived in there, and had a whole little tree house with furniture made of twigs & carpets made of woven grass. Maybe fairies, maybe gnomes, maybe even mice or squirrels. Preferably the kind that wear little vests & glasses.

Sadly, I grew up… & the tree was removed because it got too big.

Keeping that in mind, think of what went through my mind when I saw this recipe for “Pickled fairy tale eggplant” over at Food in Jars. It immediately conjured up images of fairies & that little door in the tree. It brought back memories that had absolutely nothing to do with eggplant. So of course, I had to make it. However- I do not like eggplant. In the past, I’ve made things like melanzane sott’olio & passed ‘em along to my mother. So I figured why not do that again… who could turn down a pretty pinkish jar of something called fairy tale eggplant?

(I know, I’ve been stalking Food in Jars lately. I can’t help it)

Sicilian eggplant. Close enough to "fairy tale" eggplant for a jar of pickles, right?

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Freshly minted.

Fresh mint! Turn it into jelly in less than 15 minutes!

One of the best parts of having a garden in the summer is the fresh herbs. I use my cilantro in tacos, salsa, guacamole & jasmine rice while the green coriander seeds go into pickles, I use the basil & oregano on fresh pizza, Caprese salad or in tomato sauce as well as drying some, the dill goes into pickles & gets dried for winter soups & sauces, the tarragon goes into flavored vinegar & gets dried, same goes for the sage, etc. Everything gets used, ultimately, whether it gets used fresh… or dried.

Mint is excellent when used fresh. It’s awesome in water or lemonade, or as a garnish on ice creams/sorbets. But if you’re growing mint & not making homemade mint jelly, you’re seriously missing out. Even if you don’t like it you probably know someone who loves to smear it on lamb chops or a leg of lamb, so gift it to them.

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Scenes from the garden, 2013.

My grandpa's 60+ year old rose.

Typically, I update about my little container “Victory garden” a few times during the summer. But because I’ve been so busy this year, I really had to pare down. I didn’t grow anything other than the usual herbs; a few of mine come back every year (chives, oregano, mint) and I bought a few more, like dill, tarragon, rosemary, etc. You all saw my garlic already. So I was going to stick to just herbs, my little garlic shoots & my flowers, but then I bought a cherry tomato plant at the last minute because it felt kinda naked without any veggies. But I swear, I’m stopping at that!  I have way too much going on this summer to have a massive garden.

Anyway, I was inspired by my visit to the Queens County Farm Museum & I thought I’d share some photos with you of my garden, & what I’m growing this year. Even if it’s not a lot of stuff, it’s still beautiful, because nature is always beautiful & interesting. That rose pictured above is from a plant that’s over 60 years old. It was one of the first ones my grandpa planted when he moved out to Long Island from the Bronx, and it’s still the most beautiful rose I have.

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Here today, tarragon tomorrow.

Homemade tarragon vinegar.

Some recipes aren’t really even recipes. I mean, if something has two ingredients & requires little more than bruising some herb leaves, heating up some vinegar & then just combining the two… how can that even be a recipe? It’s more like an instructional, or a how-to, or a guideline. Not really a recipe, though. For blogging purposes we’ll call it a recipe, but between the two of us it really isn’t, now is it?

Either way- it’s worth reading this. You’ll get something out of it, I promise. Plus, I’ve been bombarding you with berries & baked goods, so let’s switch gears.

See, I have this lovely mortar & pestle. And I rarely use it; most of the time I crumble dried herbs in my fingers or tear fresh ones if needed. But every now & then something comes along that calls for this pretty little old fashioned bowl & club grinder. When that happens I must use it, even if it’s for just a few tarragon leaves.

Le Creuset mortar & pestle used for bruising tarragon leaves for use in an easy homemade tarragon vinegar.

It’s really quite simple. I had some fresh tarragon here, looking sad & lonely. Left over from those pickles. It had to be put to use before it was no longer good (oh fresh-cut herbs, you & your tiny little lifespan). After making two quarts of pickles I wasn’t sure what else I could do with the tarragon before it wilted completely. Hence the title of this post. Get it? GET IT?

Using a mortar & pestle always makes me feel very witchy, or Harry Potter-ish.

How to make homemade tarragon vinegar.

And I always forget about infusing olive oil or vinegar with herbs. Why? No clue. It’s a fantastic idea. So I made some. I mean, Heinz sells bottles of this stuff. SELLS IT. For money. I can make it for nothing! Or close to it, seeing as how the tarragon costs nothing if you grow it, and I always have white wine vinegar on hand. I decided to do some research on it and I found the following little snippet. Turns out, tarragon is a bit more valuable than I had thought:

These days, tarragon is more commonly used as a kitchen herb, but it actually has a long history as a medicinal plant, and that tradition has a good scientific basis. For starters, tarragon can improve digestion by increasing the secretion of bile and acids into the stomach. It also helps to whet the appetite. Further, research has shown that tarragon extract may help in managing diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity, and it may also kill ulcer-causing bacteria. Finally, the herb contains a chemical called caffeic acid, which works as an antiviral agent and also helps rid the body of damaging free radicals that can lead to cancer.

-source

All that & tasty too? Awesome. Now I really can’t let any go to waste, so herb-infused vinegar it is. And it’s a very, very easy process:

  1. I bruised some tarragon sprigs that were washed & patted dry: leaves, stems & all, in my mortar & pestle. Just lightly, to release some of the essence & aromatic oils, not to totally decimate it.
  2. I scooped it out and put it into a glass bottle. A glass bottle that once housed illy Italian iced coffee, by the way, so SAVE ALL YOUR GLASS JARS & BOTTLES- you never know when they might come in handy.
  3. I heated up about a cup/cup & a half of white wine vinegar just until warm and poured it over the tarragon into the bottle. I closed the lid once it cooled to room temperature, and set it aside.

Homemade tarragon vinegar.

Easy peasy.

And then… I let it sit for two weeks before using (which actually I haven’t gotten around to yet) in a cool, dark & dry place. That’s it. It’s ready for use in béarnaise sauce, salad dressings, to toss steamed veggies or potatoes in or for use in potato salad, or to have with chicken or broiled fish (those particular recipes are favorites with the fam). All that from one little bottle.

Oh, I forgot to mention I labeled it, too.

How to make homemade tarragon vinegar for salad dressings, etc.Label from Sur la Table

Now, the amount of tarragon you use will vary from person to person. If you want a stronger vinegar, then add the amount that I added, which you can see is quite a bit. If you want a more delicate flavor, add less. You can use dried tarragon as well- roughly 1/4 teaspoon per cup of vinegar. White wine vinegar, that is, not regular. Regular vinegar could be used, but the flavor of wine vinegars are better suited for dressings. However last summer I did make chive blossom vinegar using plain ol’ regular white vinegar. I’m sure also that a very strong herb such as basil could be used to infuse red wine vinegar, but I can’t say for sure. Try it… what’s the worst that can happen? You waste a 1/2 cup or a cup of it on a not-so-great-tasting experiment?

I assume this can be done with any and all herbs, so if you dislike this choice of herb, try another. And of course you can infuse oils as well. Rosemary is a great choice for olive oil, so is oregano. Use your imagination.

How to make your own tarragon vinegar (or any herb-infused vinegar).

Blueberry cream pie for Dad, plus a bonus jam.

This is my dad. Well, it’s him in the 1970′s, anyway.

Mein papa, 1970's.

My dad likes food.

My grandpa Butch liked food too, but he was my maternal grandpa, so there was no blood relation between them. However, between the two of them, I think that’s where I inherited my love of eating, my ability to eat more food in one sitting than a truck driver twice my height & weight, and also… my ability to inhale food as if it was the last meal on earth. Honestly, I eat faster than anyone on the planet. Everyone yells at me, tells me not to rush, to enjoy it. AND I’M NOT RUSHING. I DO ENJOY EVERY DAMN BITE. I JUST EAT FAST. Get over it. I once had someone ask me if my parents were in the military, because they knew someone who grew up in a strict military house where meals were timed. No. My parents were not insane drill sergeants, and neither of them were in the military. I just friggin’ fast, okay? Sheesh.

Anyway…

Other things I get from my dad: my height (I’m 5’9″ or 5’10″, somewhere in there), my stubbornness, and I’m sure my mother could tell you many more.

My dad also likes blueberry pie (I did not inherit this).

Pie prep!

Blueberry cream pie for Father's Day! The only baking involved is the crust.

For Christmas, a guy Jay works with went and picked up a bunch of pies from this place out on Long Island called Briermere Farms. They’re known for their pies, and they’re pretty incredible I have to say. Even though the only one I’ve had so far is the chocolate cream, I’ve seen how they look & visually they look… well… they look like pies you want to dive into headfirst, basically. And the fact that they’re all natural, homemade & don’t contain nasty preservatives or fake stuff? Even better. From the website:

All of our pies, bread, muffins, cookies, cakes, jam, and jelly are made right here on our farm from scratch. There are no pre-prepared ingredients or fillings bought for use. Most of the fresh fruit used in our bakery is grown right here on our farm.

But anyway, this guy drove all the way out there with a list of pies that other guys ordered, and picked them all up, just because the pies are that good. I’m talking like 30-something pies. They’re that big of a deal. So Jay ordered us a chocolate cream pie for dessert, as well as blueberry cream pie just for my dad, since he’s such a big blueberry pie fan.

And it definitely lived up to the hype. Even Jay liked it- and he hates berries more than I do. So I thought, gee, when Father’s Day comes around next spring, I should try & duplicate that pie.

Blueberry cream pie!

And so Father’s Day is here. And who better to look to when recreating a fantastic, cream-filled pie than Paula Deen? I mean, really.

So I found Paula’s version of the blueberry cream tart, and I decided it seemed pretty damn good. Now I’m not sure if it tastes anything like the one from Briermere Farms, but my dad sure likes it. I adapted it slightly from Paula’s original recipe. And looking at this pie, I take back what I said about not being a pie person. I make a pretty awesome looking pie!

And I guess we won’t have to order this particular pie from Briermere Farms anymore.

Easy & delicious blueberry cream pie. Perfect for Father's Day or a summertime barbecue.

BLUEBERRY CREAM PIE (adapted from Paula Deen’s Blueberry Tart recipe)

Ingredients:

  • 1 9-inch deep-dish pie crust
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 pint (8 oz. or roughly one cup) fresh blueberries (I used Driscoll’s*)
  • One 21-ounce can blueberry pie filling (or equivalent amount of homemade blueberry pie filling)

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350° F.
  2. Make your pie crust, and press it into your pie dish, poking holes in the bottom and sides with a fork. Bake for 10-12 minutes (or as directed on the package if using frozen) until golden, then remove and let cool completely.
  3. Beat the cream cheese with the confectioners sugar. Beat the heavy cream with the granulated sugar until it forms soft peaks, then fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture. Add the vanilla. Fold in the fresh blueberries gently.
  4. Spoon the cream mixture into the cooled pie shell and top with blueberry pie filling. Refrigerate until well chilled.
  5. Serve to your dad & tell him to enjoy!
 *I used Driscoll’s berries because I really liked what I read about them over at Food in Jars.

Easy & delicious blueberry cream pie.

I’m sure you could probably use a cookie crust, like graham cracker, and there wouldn’t be any baking at all! You can totally make your own blueberry pie filling, and on the same note you can use a frozen pie crust if you prefer.

Yes, there are people who will tell you not to, yes there are people who’ll rip you a new one for not making your own everything… but do what’s best for you. If it’s your first pie, then take baby steps. Pie crust can be rough for a beginner (it took me a long time to get a handle on it and I still suck at fancy crusts!). Of course, this is an easy pie to start with if you’re new to pie-making: there’s relatively little to do, not a lot of baking involved, and not too much prep.

And not for nothing, I think this idea would work really well with cherries, too, and probably even raspberries.

Fresh blueberries for blueberry cream pie (and blueberry basil jam!)

And if you’re like me and you buy more fresh blueberries than you need, you can make a simple little jam, too.

I decided to create something a bit more unique than your average blueberry jam, however. An added Father’s Day bonus for dad, if you will. My friend Chrisie made blueberry basil preserves last year & ever since then I’ve been dying to do that myself. It sounded so different, like it wouldn’t work. But yet the smell of the blueberries cooking with the basil totally made sense. It’s a genius idea, really, even more so than my raspberry-jalapeño-cilantro jam.

So what I did was I took Love and Olive Oil’s recipe for blueberry basil preserves and used Food in Jar’s recipe for small-batch blueberry ginger jam and kind of made a Frankenstein monster of blueberry recipe jamminess.

Blueberry basil preserves.

SMALL-BATCH BLUEBERRY BASIL PRESERVES

Makes about 12 ounces; either one half- pint (8 oz.) + one 4 oz jar or three 4 oz. jars

Ingredients:

  • 1 dry pint fresh blueberries, washed & dried (again, I used Driscoll’s)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4-5 large basil leaves, washed & torn

Directions:

  1. Smash your blueberries a bit and place them in a bowl with the sugar. In a mortar & pestle, bruise the torn basil leaves slightly and add to the blueberries & sugar. Toss together & let sit for one hour.
  2. Meanwhile, sterilize two 8 oz. jars or one pint jar, and put the lids in hot water to soften the seal.
  3. When ready, put the fruit mixture into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook for 15-25 minutes or until it passes the plate test/reaches 220° F. This might take longer or maybe even less time; it will depend on the weather, how much liquid is in the berries, the ripeness, your stove, the type of pan you use, etc.
  4. Pour into warm prepared jar(s). Wipe rims, place lids & bands, and process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.

If you’re umfamiliar with term “the plate test“, you have no idea what I mean when I say “sterilize your jars“, then click those links, and if you’re totally new to the canning thing but you desperately wanna start… then go read my post Canning for Dummies.

Blueberries are like little bombs of pectin, so I’m not sure why people always want to add more pectin to blueberry jams. They don’t need it! Let them cook down on their own. Oh, and wear a dark-colored apron when you make this. Blueberries like to attack sometimes.

Blueberry basil preserves.

4-ingredient blueberry basil preserves.

I can’t speak on the taste, but it sure looked pretty. And that pool of clear blueberry “liquid” is actually gelled, & wrinkles when pushed, so the preserves aren’t as loose-set as they appear. I tried to show in the photos that there are indeed basil leaves in there, but those suckers were hard to find. You’ll have to trust me.

Happy Father’s Day to all the awesome dad’s out there. Enjoy your day!

 Sources & credits: Longaberger black 11″ pie plate, Sur La Table marble rolling pin, vintage silverware, Ball® 8-ounce jars can be purchased at freshpreserving.com.

Tart & tangy lemon garlic tarragon pickles.

Happy Friday, folks. You might notice things look different around here; new images, etc. I’m in the (very slow) process of doing a full redesign- so if things look odd, for example if font sizes aren’t looking right, or images look bizarre, just bear with me. I like doing these things at 3:30 in the morning so there’s a chance things aren’t quite as they should be. In the meantime… any issues that may pop up are purely cosmetic. Everything is working, the recipe index is totally functional, as are the archives, categories & search features. And the recipes continue!

Finding new blogs to read that capture and actually hold my interest is something else I like doing at 2 or 3 in the morning. Jay gets home at around 2:30-3:00 a.m. and I usually wait up for him, so while I’m waiting if there’s nothing else to do, i.e. no movies/TV shows to watch, laundry to fold, blog posts to write/blog maintenance to take care of, e-mails to read or return, design work to be done, etc. If there’s none of that, I tuck into bed on the ol’ Macbook, maybe with some tunes, & look up new blogs. Sometimes, there are awful blogs. Really awful. Either they’re just poorly written, bad grammatically, uninteresting or they have such bad design I can’t even figure out what I’m looking at. As a matter of fact, I truly don’t even think most people know how many horrible blogs there are on the internet. I’d estimate the number at, oh… A LOT.

But other times I find a real diamond in the rough. Hidden internet gems that I’ve never seen or heard of before, just waiting there for me to find them. And I do. If you’re out there, & you’ve got a killer blog… I’ll find you. *cue this song* And when I find you, I spend what seems like hours scrolling through & going back through the archives like a web stalker. Is that creepy? Or is that totally normal?

Anyway.. how I find most of them are via links on other blogs, on Facebook, sometimes on Twitter, but most often via Pinterest photos, which is where I found the blog I’m ripping off this pickle recipe from.

Lemon garlic tarragon pickles. No canning required!

I first saw the photo for these pickles on Pinterest, and when I clicked through I saw the blog’s name was Pork n Whisk(e)y. How could I NOT love a blog with that name?! Come on now. Not to mention I clicked around & saw things like preserved oranges, ale mustard, bourbon sour cherry dark chocolate brownies, etc. I was hooked. I just love me a good blog, especially a good food blog.

When it comes to a food blog, the recipes are what pulls me in. But add some good photography & a clever name? I’m sold.

So then I make something from said blog, because you know something else I like to do at 2 a.m.? Make food. Since I had originally stumbled upon the lemon garlic tarragon pickles, that’s what I decided on making. It sounded different and it just so happens that in my jar stash, I had TWO quart jars left…

Tarragon is one of the four fines herbes of French cooking, and is particularly suitable for chicken, fish and egg dishes. Tarragon is the main flavoring component ofBéarnaise sauce. Fresh, lightly bruised sprigs of tarragon are steeped in vinegar to produce tarragon vinegar.

Tarragon is used to flavor a popular carbonated soft drink in the countries of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and, by extension, Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. The drink, named Tarhun (Armenian pronunciation: [tɑɾˈxun] Тархун), is made out of sugary tarragon concentrate and colored bright green.

In Slovenia, tarragon is used as a spice for a traditional sweet cake called potica. In Hungary a popular kind of chicken soup is flavored with tarragon.

cis-Pellitorin, an isobutyramide eliciting a pungent taste, has been isolated from Tarragon plant.[5]

-Wikipedia

Tarragon is one of those herbs that isn’t for everyone. It has a faint licorice or anise-y flavor, but it’s also vaguely peppery. Very French, very summery, very fresh, very unique. Which means this is definitely not your every day ordinary dill pickle. But then again, when do I ever make those? I make pickles with beer & whiskey for crying out loud.

Quick & easy lemon garlic tarragon pickles. No canning required.Wow.. I cut some of those bad boys a bit unevenly didn’t I?

LEMON GARLIC TARRAGON PICKLES (from Pork n Whisk(e)y)

Ingredients:

  • 8-10 Kirby or other pickling cucumbers
  • 4 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 5-6 tarragon sprigs
  • 1 1/2 cup distilled 5% white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup water
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt

Directions:

  1. Wash & cut the cucumbers into quarters, lengthwise, trimming off the blossom end (if kept on, it makes for mushy pickles). Place the cucumbers, lemon zest and tarragon into a quart jar that’s been sterilized.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat the lemon juice, water, garlic and vinegar over medium-high heat to a simmer. Then add salt, peppercorns and sugar. Stir to dissolve.
  3. Pour lemon juice mixture over cucumbers and tarragon in the jar. Let cool loosely covered until near room temperature.
  4. Seal and place in refrigerator. Keeps for at least 3 weeks, however they’ll probably be okay far longer.

Quick, simple, refreshing & easy. Still tart & sour, but in a very different way than your average, everyday pickle. My mother says they’re great with cream cheese (!). Seriously. I don’t know about that but she swears by it. And the best part (for most of you)… no canning required! Although if you wanted to, you could certainly make these shelf-stable; it seems to me that there’s plenty of vinegar in the recipe to do so. And if I’m wrong (because I’m no Master Preserver), it shouldn’t be too hard to tweak it.

If you’re looking for other pickle recipes to create this summer, I have a ton. Take a look at the pickling/pickles categories & take your pick (pun intended). Happy June.

Lemon garlic tarragon pickles.

And in case you’re wondering, some other recent blog discoveries of mine (that have become instant favorites) include Skunkboy, Headed Out West, The Militant Baker, Farmette, Spoon Fork Bacon, {local milk}, Cook Republic & Tartlet Sweets.

Deep dish “pizza in a cake pan.”

Deep dish cake pan pizza! So easy!

If there’s one thing you take away from this post, it’s this: pizza is good.

There are people who will tell you it isn’t. There are folks who demonize it, bitch about the cheese or the amount of carbs. There are people who claim it’s greasy & unhealthy or who say things like “Wow, look, a heart attack on a plate.” Those people aren’t your friend. Sure, they disguise themselves as “friends.” But really, anyone who tries to tell you that pizza is bad is a horrible person.

Pizza isn’t bad. Pizza isn’t at fault.

People who eat pizza four times a day, every day, and eat themselves obese? They’re at fault. Those people who don’t get any exercise, eat crappy diets & then get sick & blame cheeseburgers or pizza? It still doesn’t make pizza- or burgers- the bad guy. Pizza isn’t an every day, all day meal. Neither are cupcakes. Or ice cream. Or cheeseburgers. And if you can’t understand that, and you’re blaming food, then honestly you need to sit down & re-examine your life. STOP BLAMING FOOD. STOP LABELING THINGS LIKE BREAD AS “BAD.” BREAD IS NOT BAD. You are bad for food shaming people. YOU are the asshole. By telling people to stop eating carbs or fats or sugar altogether you aren’t educating them in a good diet, you’re making them feel bad. Not to mention spreading false nutritional information, because since when has one or two slices of pizza- or even a whole pie, really- made anyone fat? Never, that’s when.

And let me just say this: one of the things that totally drive me nuts/insane/bananas/bonkers/pick a word about having a food blog that isn’t loaded down with quinoa or gluten-free fad diet stuff are the questions. Ohhh, the questions. Such as…

“Oh mah gah, like how do you NOT weigh 1,000 pounds!?”

“Holy crap if I ate like this I’d be a freakin’ WHALE! How do you stay so skinny?”

“Where do you put all this food??? You’re so thin!”

“Marilla, seriously, how are you able to eat all of this?”

“No really… how is it possible your house is full of delicious treats and you don’t eat them all?”

Have you ever heard of self-control? Moderation? COMMON SENSE? Do you HONESTLY think I eat nothing but cupcakes & pizza four times a day every single day? What planet do you come from? I eat a shit-ton of salads & vegetables, but who the hell wants to read about that? I certainly don’t. Salads are boring. Delicious, yes, but not interesting. Trained monkeys can figure out how to make a good salad, let’s face it, it’s not that hard. Also… these people asking these questions are clearly not food bloggers. Because if they were they’d realize that by the time the food is prepared, cooked & done, the photos are set-up & taken & every one else has eaten, we’re too damn tired to eat or to do anything but nap.

Deep dish cake pan pizza: how to make deep dish pizza the easy way, from the dough up. NO MIXER REQUIRED!Side note: isn’t it funny I posted ice cream and pizza within a few days of one another? I think so. Junk food done right!

Okay now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into the good, positive pizza talk. ‘Cause everybody loves pizza! Well, unless you’re one of those buzzkills I mentioned above, anyway… but who cares about them? 

Being from New York, I especially love pizza. I’m partial to New York pizza, of course, but I do love me some deep dish. Thick, oiled crust, gooey cheese. Oh man. It’s some good stuff. I could live on pizza, really. Although like I said- that’s not exactly feasible… either way, I love it. I also love making my own pizza, as is evidenced by the four or five different recipes I have posted on this blog alone! Making your own dough is not as hard as you think it is, even if you don’t have a stand mixer with a dough hook you can make your own awesome pizza dough.

EASY PIZZA DOUGH RECIPE

Makes two 8″ deep dish cake pan pizzas, one 9″x13″ pizza or 3-4 free form thin crust pizzas

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons active dry yeast (not instant)
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 cups lukewarm water

Directions:

  1. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the yeast, then make a well in the center.
  2. Add the olive oil and the 2 cups lukewarm water.
  3. Mix until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for 5 minutes.
  4. Set aside in an oiled bowl and cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel.

 Deep dish cake pan pizza with easy homemade dough.

How good does that look? Drool-worthy. And EASY. I promise you, it’s very, very easy.

DEEP DISH CAKE PAN PIZZA

Ingredients:

  • 1 batch homemade pizza dough (if using frozen or refrigerated, thaw & let it come to room temp)
  • 2 cups marinara sauce or sauce of your liking, homemade or store-bought (this sauce works well), or, two large tomatoes sliced & patted dry
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, grated or sliced
  • shredded or finely grated parmesan cheese (I used a combination of both)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • sliced pepperoni, crumbled ground beef, or any toppings of your choice

To make the pizza:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425° F and get two 8″ cake pans ready.
  2. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons minced garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon each of dried basil & oregano in a small saucepan. Heat gently until it smells like it’s ready. Turn off the heat & brush the cake pans with it fairly liberally.
  3. Divide the dough in half. Press each ball into it’s own cake pan. If it springs back too much, let it rest for 5 minutes and try again. Punch & press it into the pan, pushing & pulling the “crust” over the top of the pans by roughly 1/2″.
  4. Brush the crust part with the olive oil mixture and sprinkled a handful of shredded parmesan and a 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese over the bottom of each of the pizza crusts. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes.
  5. Remove the pizzas and add the sauce or sliced tomatoes and then the remaining mozzarella cheese, as well as any toppings you might want to add. Sprinkle with more parmesan (I used grated for the tops), add a basil leaf (if desired) and put back into the oven for 15-20 minutes or until sauce is bubbly & crust is golden.
  6. Remove from the oven and set aside for 10 minutes before cutting. This dough also works when made in a single 9″ x 12″ baking dish or pan for a “Sicilian”-styled pizza. Cooking directions for that pan size can be found here.

I’d avoid using fresh mozzarella for this as it can be too watery and make your pizza too soupy. If you do use it, make sure it’s drained thoroughly & patted dry as much as possible. Also, if you make your own sauce for it, try using fire-roasted tomatoes. I guarantee you you’ll never want to use a regular can of tomatoes again. And be sure to use fresh tomatoes that have been patted dry of all liquid as well, if you aren’t using sauce & you’re taking the fresh tomato option.

Serve with more cheese, preferably while singing “That’s Amore.” Red gingham tablecloth & bottle of chianti with the straw bottom optional.

Deep dish cake pan pizza!

P.S. the tiki mug giveaway ends TONIGHT at 11:59 p.m. EST! Don’t miss out!

Bell pepper salad & warm(er) weather!

The weather here is finally getting warmer. FINALLY. Last year at this time, it was already warm. As a matter of fact, my herbs began growing in March of last year when we had a streak of 70° degree weather. I think it even hit 80° a few times. And by mid-April, my chives were huge. So huge, in fact, I was using chives on every dish… and I had chive blossoms everywhere: I was making egg salad with them & chive blossom vinegar with them, and I had jars of them on my counters like they were flowers until late June. This year? They’re tiny little green shoots still, no sign of blooms. So I’ve been waiting patiently for things to get a bit warmer, or at least for the snow & sleet to finally stop… and the fact that it’s been in the 50′s lately (except for a few days) and relatively nice out, save for some rain & very cold nights, makes me really happy. And tomorrow it’s going to be around 66°!

Hey, it’s the little things. Like the weather getting warmer, or the flavor of a bright red pepper that means summer is coming.

(This photo is from last summer)

And at least in 50°-60° weather you can start to garden, or go for long walks and get some fresh air. And- even though it might be too cold to eat outdoors- you can maybe cook outdoors! Which is where today’s recipe comes in. It’s a fresh & easy side dish (or burger topping, or salad topping, or hell- even a hot dog topping) that takes no time at all to make. It’s great on sandwiches or with sandwiches.

When choosing your peppers, choose ones that feel heavy for their size. Avoid ones with wrinkles, cracks or blemishes; pick ones with taut, firm skin.

TANGY FOUR-COLOR BELL PEPPER SALAD

Makes about 3 pints

Ingredients:

  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 large green bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 large orange bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 large yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 2/3 cup white-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 teaspoons fresh basil (or 2 teaspoons dried)
  • 4 teaspoons fresh oregano (or 2 teaspoons dried)

Directions:

  1. Place peppers and tomatoes in a large glass jar with lid, or mix them together in a large mixing bowl. Shake or stir to combine; set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, basil, and oregano, whisking well. If using a jar to mix, pour mixture over peppers, then close lid and shake well to coat. If using a bowl, scoop the pepper mix into the jar(s) and then pour the liquid over them, equally if using more than one jar. Add more vinegar & oil in equal parts if desired (to fill jars with more liquid, if needed). The liquid should be at least halfway up the jar.
  3. Serve slaw from jar if desired, immediately, or store covered in the refrigerator. Salad is best when made a day before serving, so all the flavors can meld together.


The dressing itself is awesome, and once the peppers are gone I recommend keeping it to use as a salad dressing. The peppers impart their flavor into it after sitting in it for a while, so it makes a great peppery Italian-like salad dressing.

I served it a little over 24 hours after making it alongside & on top of big ol’ fresh green salads that included romaine, iceberg, red cabbage, carrots and baby arugula.

But like I said- it’s excellent with just about anything. Here are some other serving ideas:

  • Just like that open-face tomato & feta sandwich I made last year with my garden fixin’s, this is a great dish to make on a really hot day. And, also like that sandwich, it’d be fantastic eaten just as it is as a light summer picnic meal, maybe with a little feta crumbled on top.
  • This would be really good with the Southern pickled shrimp I posted last year, too, maybe on a bed of greens. (Those pickled shrimp aren’t what you think, by the way. They’re like ceviche de camarones- just shrimp in an herby seasoned olive oil/lemon juice mixture. No vinegar. Don’t be afraid!)
  • Speaking of greens, like I said above, it’s awesome on top of a regular ol’ lettuce salad, too. The peppers are perfect additions to any salad, and the vinagrette that’s already in the jar is an amazing salad dressing in and of itself.
  • Oh, wait- here’s another GENIUS idea: mix it with some cold pasta & fresh grated parmesan as a pasta salad- with or without a 1/4 cup of mayo.
  • As a hamburger topping. The tang of the vinegary peppers with a thick, juicy burger is perfect!
  • Alternatively, this would be delicious as the filling of a wrap. Maybe with some grilled chicken, or shrimp, or even with avocado, sliced portobello mushrooms or black beans if you’re a vegetarian.

Mmm. Oh man- now I’m getting hungry.

And it takes literally, like, five minutes to pull together. Store it in pint jars in the fridge for a quick fix- just pull one out an hour or so before you want to use it to let the oil come back to it’s normal consistency and you’re good to go. I actually made one quart jar (above) and a pint jar… I mean, if you really want to, make 6 half-pint jars. It doesn’t matter. Whatever.

For an even more colorful salad, you can use small different colored heirloom tomatoes such as Black Cherry, Blondkopfchen, Snow White, Hartman’s Yellow Gooseberry or Sun Gold. And if you can find a purple Bell pepper, or a chocolate Bell pepper, then add them too! Last but not least: you can also add a head of cabbage, thinly sliced, to this. Then it would become a kind of “slaw” I suppose… but boy would that give it some heft. Not to mention make a massive portion! You can also add a chopped red onion to it, or celery. Experiment! Try adding cilantro instead of basil & oregano for a different flavor. Use rice vinegar instead of white wine vinegar & sesame oil instead of olive oil for an Asian spin. Shake things up.

Literally. I mean, shake the jar to mix it up.

Chai concentrating.

Pinterest has taken over everyone’s life lately. It seems as if everyone is either making something they found on Pinterest or talking about something they found on Pinterest. And I’m no different. My Pinterest page is filled with amazing things; some of which I’ve made, some of which I’ll never make, and most of which I just gush about. I even wrote about it at textdrivebys.com twice…

This chai concentrate from Tasty Yummies is one of the ones I’ve actually both pinned and made.

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November is doing it’s best to get fully settled in. It’s been very, very cold, and as a matter of fact in addition to hurricane Sandy hammering us last week, tomorrow we’re getting a Nor’easter! Gusty winds, heavy rains and even snow in some places. So it’s time for warm drinks & spicy flavors. Hot cider, hot chocolate, hot tea. One chilly Sunday I was browsing Pinterest, looking at things I had been pinning for something interesting to create, and I noticed this chai concentrate that I had pinned way back in August. As soon as I saw the stunning photo of it in a Mason jar (how could I turn away!?) I pinned it. I’m not a massive chai person, but I do enjoy it every now & then. And it’s worth it to me to try a homemade version because I really never buy it when I’m out. I usually prefer a coffee. So when I do have chai, it’s at home. And I love some pre-made brands, and some tea companies versions of it. But sometimes it’s just not the same.

The history of chai is quite a rich one, despite most people only knowing it from it’s existence in lattes at Starbucks.

Masala chai (literally “mixed-spice tea”) is a beverage from India made by brewing tea with a mixture of aromatic Indian spices and herbs.

Plain chai

By itself, chai or cha is merely the generic word for “tea” in many European and Asian languages. The widespread form chai comes from Persian چای chay. Street vendors called “chai wallahs” (sometimes spelled “chaiwalas”) are a common sight, although coffee is a more popular beverage in some southern parts of India. Chai is also a popular item in restaurants known as Irani cafés or the genre of South Asian restaurants known as Chai Khanas or Ghahve Khane.

Spiced tea

For many English speakers, the term “chai” is synonymous with masala chai, as further described below. The redundant chai tea is sometimes used to indicate spiced milk tea as distinct from other types of tea. Numerous coffee houses use the term chai latte for their version to indicate that the steamed milk of a normal latte is being flavored with a spiced tea concentrate instead of with espresso, without necessarily implying the addition of coffee. Some coffeehouses and brand names refer to their product as chai tea latte.

The beverage is locally known as Chai karak in the Middle East.

And might I add… DELICIOUS. And this homemade concentrate is also easy. Cheap, too. But at the same time it’s quick- it takes no time at all, and it makes your house smell absolutely amazing. The smell alone is worth it! Just like the homemade pumpkin spice latte mix I posted about last month, if you’re a chai lover who buys a lot of chai lattes, this could totally save you some money.

HOMEMADE CHAI CONCENTRATE (adapted minimally from Tasty Yummies)

Yields: 1 batch of concentrate, approximately 4 cups

Ingredients:

  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 8 bags black tea – I used PG tips
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 1 1/3 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2 whole star anise pods
  • 1/2 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Directions:

  1. Add the water and sugar to a medium sized saucepan and bring to a boil over a medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and put in the tea bags, cheesecloth pouch and cinnamon sticks. Simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat strain the concentrate through a sieve, separating the large pieces (tea begs/cinnamon sticks/cardamom pods/anise/cloves/etc) from the mix. At this point, add your vanilla extract & honey. Stir to combine.
  3. Allow the mixture to cool before pouring it into an airtight jar or container. This amount fits perfectly into a 1-quart mason jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

To use it, mix one part concentrate with one part milk or milk-like product of your choice. Heat the concentrate for a hot version, pour over ice for a cold version.

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I used ground cardamom & ground ginger, I had fresh ginger but it was frozen & I didn’t feel like defrosting it so I could cut it (it’s a pretty large hunk, and yes I freeze my extra ginger). I didn’t have any cardamom pods but I had a large jar of it ground, so I opted to substitute that. Also, the original recipe called for a whole vanilla bean, coconut sugar & raw honey- I only had regular sugar, brown sugar, a small amount of German rock sugar (for my tea) & sugar cubes myself, so I made an executive decision. If you want to use another kind of sugar, go right ahead, but you might want to read what she says her results were first. My honey wasn’t raw either, but I don’t think that makes much of a difference taste-wise. All of my vanilla beans were being made into homemade vanilla extract at the time, so I had to use some vanilla extract instead. If you like a spicier chai, add more peppercorns. If you like a sweeter chai, add more sugar. Likewise… if you prefer a less sweet chai then just use less sugar/honey. What you use in it is totally up to you. And as a matter of fact, this mix makes a nice hostess gift, too. Tie some raffia around the top with some cinnamon sticks & handwritten instructions, and you’re good to go. And if you know someone who was in the path of Hurricane Sandy who has no power but still has a gas stove to heat it up with, maybe bring them some, along with some food.

As for me? I’ll be drinking some later tonight watching the 2012 Presidential election returns. Make sure you registered U.S. voters get out there today & do your duty! It’s a privilege to be able to push that little lever or fill in that circle on paper, so get your lazy, apathetic asses out there. And to everyone who already voted; good for you. It’s not even 8 a.m. & you’ve already made more of a difference than most people will all day. And if you’re one of those people affected by Sandy, you can still vote. Download a mail-in ballot or call your local elected officials to find out where to go to vote in New Jersey, or if you’re in NY you can click here & find out where to go (and in turn pass it on!). I know you’re all dealing with so many other things, but voting is going to continue; no matter what election day will not be suspended. And it’s so important to get your vote in. So please, try and get as many folks as you can to the polls today.

And if you remain unaffected, if you’re safe, warm & dry today, and you know where you’ll be voting & that you’ll be coming home afterwards… then especially be thankful for that.

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