Category Archives: Start it up

Summer Strawberry Chopped Salad

Welcome to the steamy hot heart of summer! I was feeling like a slacker for being a solid month late in posting this strawberry salad. As with all the rhubarb recipes I meant to post, I thought I’d missed my window. BUT it seems fate and Mother Nature have conspired to make the timing downright perfect. Strawberry season is three weeks late here, thanks to all that June rain (that I missed in CA…#notsorry).

This recipe comes from the fabulous Bevin Wallace’s Real Life Delicious blog and is based on a salad at Vail’s Chophouse. If you can get away with a DIY version of anything in Vail you’re usually $100 ahead of a game, even when it comes to salad. Considering the other revelation that this year is serving up a bumper crop of strawberries, I’d highly encourage you to try this salad. The dressing alone is worth having on hand, and the whole shebang is a great addition to any gathering.

The only slightly labor intensive thing here are the candied pecans. You could of course use some fancy packaged pecans, or simply sub toasted pecans but, c’mon, live a little. It’s salad and it’s summer and as the strawberries will tell you, it’s been a gloomy spring. Time to celebrate!

Nothing says summahhhh like fresh strawberries

Summer Strawberry Chopped Salad

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb. pecan pieces (you won’t need a half pound of pecans for the salad, but nobody every complained about having too many candied pecans on hand)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 head butter lettuce
  • 1 pint strawberries, hulled and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 avocado, cubed
  • 4 oz. crumbled goat cheese

For the dressing

  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 tbs. dijon Mustard
  • 1/4 cup champagne vinegar
  • 2 tbs. fresh lemon juice (juice of 1/2 lemon)
  • 2 tbs. honey
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Method:

Make the candied pecans: Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Mix sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl. Whisk egg white and 1 tbs. water together in a separate bowl until frothy. Toss pecans into the egg white mixture. Mix sugar mixture into pecan mixture until pecans are evenly coated. Spread coated pecans onto a baking sheet. Bake, stirring every 5 minutes, until pecans are evenly browned, about 25 mins. Allow to cool. In the meantime…

Make the dressing: Whisk together the garlic, mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, honey, salt & pepper in a bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until the dressing is emulsified.

Make the salad: Tear the lettuce and place in a large (larger than you think you need) bowl. Add the strawberries, avocado, goat cheese, and about 4 oz. of the pecans. Drizzle on the dressing and toss gently.

Want more reason to get fresh berries? Check out these strawberry all stars.

 

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Roasted Squash, Kale and Cranberry Salad

To borrow a sentiment from Teen Angst, “what the world needs now is another kale salad like I need a hole in my head” And yet, here you have it. This came out of the Cooking Light archives—an actual print version that was hanging around my cluttered pantry of angst. It was the answer to my prayers when my garden of tomatoes died back enough to reveal a whole lot of kabocha (buttercup) and delicata squash. I’ve made this with both types of squash and it was fantastic. I suspect it’d be grand with butternut as well.

To make this meal-worthy salad you’re basically massaging up a bed of kale with a touch of olive oil. Now don’t be coy—we’re no strangers to massaging kale. Roasted squash goes on top of that, followed by thinly sliced red onion for sass and plumped up dried cranberries for a little sweet and same fall color.

It took all my will NOT add nuts to this bed of goodness, but I resisted and did not miss them a bit. Neither did my nut-weary family.

  • Bonus: This can be made ahead and hang out until dinner is served.
  • Double Bonus: It travels like a champ and is easily assembled on site.
  • Triple bonus: The leftovers are excellent, because we all know dressed kale can survive the apocalypse.

I hate to sounds bossy, but please make this now, so if you like it as much as I do you can sign up to bring it to Thanksgiving. I know…we’re not even at Halloween. But what can I say? Squash turns my crank. And now, on to pomegranates. Oh…yeah…baby! Happy Fall

Roasted Squash, Kale and Cranberry Salad

From Cooking Light

Ingredients

  • 1/2 large unpeeled green or orange kabocha squash (about 5 lb.), cut into 12 (1/2-in.-thick) wedges (or delicata squash, seeded and cut in 1/2″ rounds)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 teaspoons coarsely ground coriander seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 6 tablespoons dried cranberries (or dried cherries to be tart and fancy)
  • 6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly vertically sliced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 (7 1/2-oz.) bunch lacinato kale, stemmed and cut into 3/4-in.-wide strips (curly kale works fine too)

Method:

Preheat oven to 375°F

Combine squash, 1 tablespoon olive oil, coriander seeds, pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl, tossing gently with hands to coat. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Cover with foil. Bake at 375°F for 10 minutes. Remove foil; bake 15 more minutes or until pumpkin is tender and browned, turning once.

While pumpkin roasts, combine cranberries, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard seeds, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Bring to a simmer; remove from heat. Steep 15 minutes or until almost all of the liquid is absorbed.

Place onion in a bowl of ice-cold water; let stand 10 minutes. Drain

Toss lemon juice, kale, remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt in a large bowl, massaging kale with hands to soften. Transfer kale to a large serving platter; top with pumpkin and onion. Sprinkle with cranberries.

Bringing it:  Roast the squash, prep onions and cranberries and massage the kale in the privacy of your own home. Bring them all separately and assemble on a platter when you get to your destination. It can hang out until you’re ready to eat.

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Tomato Overload

Guess what didn’t take Labor Day off? The tomatoes in your garden. It’s hard to keep up with the crop, though I’m trying my darndest, and probably headed for whatever toxic event occurs from too many tomatoes. I swear those suckers ripen by the hour. It’s all good though, except that there’s this one doctor out there on the interwebs who gets really bad on tomatoes. I just have to ignore his advice for the next couple of weeks. Same with the corn haters. Now is NOT the time.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, let’s just revisit some of our all-time tomato season favorites. Purists of course will go no further than the white bread and mayo tomato sandwich. Solid. But it uses exactly one tomato. Not helpful. When you’re looking for mass consumption of the bounty, I suggest a batch or two of sweet and spicy tomato jam. For the easiest dinner on the planet, totally appropriate for hands off entertaining, go for Best of Summer Simmer Chicken. If your job is to bring a side, embrace the heat with Summer Perfection Watermelon Tomato Feta Salad, or just go straight for Most Popular with THE Panzanella.

If those don’t use up your tomato backlog, here is an easy way to give your tomatoes (and the taste of summer) a little more staying power.

If nothing else you should go to Smitten Kitchen just to look at the picture of the pre-roasting tomato rainbow. Impressive. Mine do not look like that. BUT I assure you they taste darned good, and they are perfect to throw on a pizza, spoon on bruschetta, toss into a salad, smoosh on bread, mix in pasta, etc. You get the picture.

Slow roasted tomatoes, just hanging with the fresh crowd.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

From Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

  • Cherry, grape or small Roma tomatoes
  • Whole gloves of garlic, unpeeled
  • Olive oil
  • Herbs such as thyme or rosemary (optional)

Method

Preheat oven to 225°F. Halve each cherry or grape tomato crosswise, or Roma tomato lengthwise and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet along with the cloves of garlic. Drizzle with olive oil, just enough to make the tomatoes glisten. Sprinkle herbs on, if you are using them, and salt and pepper, though go easily on these because the finished product will be so flavorful you’ll need very little to help it along.

Bake the tomatoes in the oven for about 3 hours. You want the tomatoes to be shriveled and dry, but with a little juice left inside–this could take more or less time depending on the size of your tomatoes. When they are done, you can remove the cloves of garlic and save them for another use. They’re a delish side bennie.

Use the tomatoes right away or let them cool, cover them with some extra olive oil and keep them in the fridge for the best summer condiment, ever.

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The Aperol Spritz: Ciao Bella!

In case we missed the memo last week, summer has arrived, in all its sweaty glory. This does not bring out my A-Game, because I’m more St. Bernard than Whippet, more Clydesdale than Thoroughbred, more Thelma than Daphne. 

I also tend to gain weight in the summer, which—with all that necessarily exposed flesh—is just…plain…awesome. I’m ok with it, really, but that doesn’t make it any easier to bear the peak heat and humidity of an eastern summer.

So what do we do? We get out of the kitchen and onto the patio. And we help each other by sharing our favorite patio fare. Stay tuned this week for some simple easy classics to have on hand that will help you stay cool in every way.   

Today’s feature: The Aperol Spritz. These first caught my eye on a recent trip to Europe, where every sidewalk café featured what appeared to be glasses of orange wine, complete with little floating orange slices. For a moment, I thought Europe was a few years late on the orange wine trend 2015, the one that never breached the NH border.  But then I remembered where I was: European sidewalk cafes don’t do trends. They do classics.

Rigorous research enlightened me to the Aperol Spritz. Aperol is an Italian aperitif (that’s fancy talk for dry not sweet) made of oranges, roots, herbs and—let’s be honest here—some serious food coloring.

All you need for a classic, refreshing, “I’m- for-sure-as-cool-as-any-of-you” summer drink is to fill a glass with ice and layer in three parts prosecco, two parts Aperol and one part seltzer…in that order.  Toss in your little slice of orange and…Salute! Cin cin! Oooh baby!

For a no heat dinner, enjoy your spritz California style like Sister A and Cousin D did with this fine feast. Fully- loaded watermelon poke bowls? Alfresco dining? Avocados, pickled ginger, chopped peanuts? Check, check, check, check, check!

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Bring It Summer All Stars

Summer is here my friends. Just in time, the good people of the webhosting universe have fixed my site so subscribers will actually get posts. What a great idea? Thank you Bring It loyals for your patience. And now, on to the weekend!

Before you head out for the Memorial Day shop with the rest of humanity, I picked out some all star classics that will help you slay this weekend. With a little prep you can head into summer looking like the master entertainer you are at heart.

First and foremost…

Bring on The Slaw:
If you have never made Hero Slaw, just trust me on this. It will make you famous. Go ahead and claim it as your own if it helps. Prep it, bag it, put it in the fridge and you can take on any invite that comes your way. Or just enjoy it yourself for a few days. If nothing else, make up the dressing to have on hand and turn kale into something the family might actually eat.

Have Some Balls:
Buffalo chicken meatballs are back on my regular rotation (thank you Neely for reminding me!) until I master the perfect veggie balls. Stay tuned for that. Until then, make up a lot of these (ahead if needed) and know they will disappear fast.

Brush up on Your Bruschetta Fixin’s:
You will never be sorry to have a Funitella bruschetta stashed in the fridge. With the miracle that is petite diced canned tomatoes it take all of about 5 minutes. If you want to get more ideas, take a gander at bruschetta deconstructed, and the consider toppings like pickled fig, creamy cheese and crunchy nut crostini, strawberries and goat cheese, and Sicilian caponata.

Get Your Guac On:
You’ve got to have it, and it hardly requires a recipe. BUT if you want to go the extra distance this crazy one with apples and tequila is my new fave. Mango jicama guacamole is another solid contender. Both add crunch and assert that this is not your first guac fiesta.

Think (of drinking) Ahead:
You know you’re a pro when…You’ve got your Frosé and Sandy’s daquiris in the freezer, and fixins for some fancy lemonades. You bridge into genius status when you also have watermelon juice at the ready to whip up watermelonade, spicy watermelon margaritas and watermelon sangria.

Watermelon Sangria. Summer in a glass.

Watermelon Up:
While we’re on the topic of watermelon, cut up some watermelon and prep it for watermelon poke bowls and you are set for fresh weekend lunches for Vegans and non Vegans alike. If you double up on the feta you get for Funitella Bruschetta, and make summer perfection watermelon feta salad, I promise you won’t be sorry.

Sweet Endings:
Oh where do we begin on these? Well, summery Lemon Beach Pie, a whole mess of Rubble or Loosey Brucey Rhubarb crisp are a good place to start. As Bruce would say, nobody ever complained about to many good recipe ideas.

New recipes next time, but of now let’s go with what we know and get this summer party started.

Must…eat…more…pie. Sweet, salty, sweet, salty, and oh yeah—creamy, crunchy, cool and tart.

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Double Down Derby Day Guacamole

Some days we have difficult choices. Saturday will be one such day. Do you wear a fine hat and celebrate the first Saturday in May according to Kentucky tradition, or do you scarf down some tacos and join the Cinco de Mayo party?

Or, do you do the sensible thing and celebrate both? Well duh! I do not normally do this, but I am posting two untried recipes. Whyyyyyy? Because it’s important! Because it’s Kentucky Derby Day and Cinco de Mayo AND its almost summer. That means it’s high time to get your guac on.

I am a wing it kind of guac maker. As a Californian that is my birthright. That said, you can always improve. These two new takes on guac are both from Mexican food jefe Roberto Santibañez by way of Food52.  The first is unique in approach but features totally classic ingredients. It hits all the must haves and nothing more: lime, cilantro, jalapeño, onion are all pulverized FIRST then added to avocados. As Santibañez says, “There is a very important textural thing to guacamole — we never really mush up the avocado.” I knew I liked this guy. I really felt the love though when I read about his second creation, which is totally wacky. It involves a splash of tequila (he had me there), apples (hello New England) and pecans (a nod to the America south and more weirdness). My awesome neighbor just came back from Georgia bearing two bags of pecans that she harvested and shelled herself. Fate. Kismet. Weird guacamole.

Anyway, here are the recipes. I will be making and testing them both on Saturday, celebrating both occasions of course.  If you do the same please tell me what you think and we can discuss. Whatever you choose to celebrate, have a fantabulous weekend!

P.S. Post time is 6:12. For the worst odds and the best name I’m taking Patrona Margarita, with 50-1.

Numero Uno:

Roberto Santibañez Classic Guacamole

Adapted slightly from Truly Mexican (Wiley, 2011)

Makes: about 1 3/4 cups

  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh serrano or jalapeno chile, including seeds, or more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or 1/4 teaspoon fine salt (or to taste)
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, divided
  • 1 large or 2 small ripe Mexican Hass avocados, halved and pitted
  • A squeeze of lime, if desired
  1. Mash the onion, chile, salt (the coarseness of kosher salt helps you make the paste), and half of the cilantro to a paste in a molcajete or other mortar. You can also mince and mash the ingredients together on a cutting board with a large knife or a fork, and then transfer the paste to a bowl.
  2. Score the flesh in the avocado halves in a crosshatch pattern (not through the skin) with a knife and then scoop it with a spoon into the mortar or bowl. Toss well (it should be like salad properly dressed in vinaigrette), then add the rest of the cilantro and mash very coarsely with a pestle or a fork. Season to taste with lime juice (if you’d like) and additional chile and salt.
  3. Guac Uno, as made beautiful on Food52

Numero Dos:

Roberto Santibañez’ Guacamole with Tequila & Apples

Author Notes: Roberto says:” The apple needs to be sweet and crunchy (not Granny Smith-tart) and diced not too fine, to contrast just vocally enough with the guac’s salty heat and richness. The pecans should be tossed in butter after toasting, not before, so you get fresh, unbrowned butter flavor, too. Adapted slightly from Truly Mexican (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011).

Makes: 2 cups
For the apples & pecans

  • 1 large crisp, sweet apple, such as Gala or Macintosh, peeled, cored, and finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon silver (blanco) tequila
  • 1 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/4 cup pecan halves, sliced crosswise or coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine salt, or 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)

For the guacamole

  • 1 fresh serrano or jalapeño chile, stemmed
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt, or 1/2 teaspoon fine salt (or to taste)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro, divided
  • 1 large or 2 small ripe Mexican Hass avocados, halved and pitted
  1. Toss the apple with the tequila and lime juice in a bowl and let the mixture stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  2. Heat the oven or toaster oven to 350° F. Spread the pecans on a small baking pan and bake until golden and fragrant, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the butter to the pan and toss to melt the butter and coat the pecans. Sprinkle with salt, tossing to coat.
  3. Heat a comal, griddle, or heavy skillet over medium-low heat and roast the chile, turning it over with tongs once or twice, until tender, blistered all over, and blackened in spots, 10 to 15 minutes. Once cool enough to handle, remove the skin from the chile (you might have to use a paring knife).
  4. Mash the chile, onion, salt (the coarseness of the kosher salt will help you make the paste), and 2 tablespoons of the cilantro to a paste in a molcajete or other mortar. You can also mince and mash the ingredients together on a cutting board with a large knife, and then transfer the paste to a bowl.
  5. Score the flesh in the avocado halves in a crosshatch pattern (not through the skin) with a knife and then scoop it with the spoon into the mortar or bowl. Toss well, mashing the avocado coarsely with a pestle or fork, taking care to keep the avocado chunky.
  6. Gently stir in the apple mixture and most of the pecans just until it holds together. Garnish with the remaining pecans and cilantro. Serve right away with tortilla chips.

 

 

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Holiday Favorites: Stay Sane, Go Nuts, Be Happy!

Fluff up your marmots and break out all things sparkly, the holidays are here. This is the season for many things: fake fur, sequins, fizzy drinks, warm everything. This is not the season for experimentation. We’re keeping our heads above water here, which means sticking with what we know. tried and true meals that make us happy, and treats to give that make others happy.

Maple oat breakfast bread

With that in mind, in my own kitchen I’m revisiting whole lot of Bring It tried and trues. That means soups like Thai Coconut Corn Soup, or Sugar and Spice Squash Soup. And yep, that means a crock pot full of Chicken Taco Chili that feeds a crowd with about 6 minutes of prep. All of the above, of course, beg for People’s Choice Cornbread or No Knead Challah or a honkin’ slice of Maple Oat Breakfast Bread to dunk in there. That is, UNLESS dirt bread is your thing…you know who you are, you little hemp seed eating chia pets. I’m with you there.

You might be needing some holiday entertaining staples like pomegranate everything (along with a genius pomegranate wrangling technique). What’s winter without fondue, and the easiest in the world Guinness Fondue at that? And what’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” without snacks? I highly recommend a batch of Nootch Popcorn or a bowl of Hail Mary Coconut.

As far as gifting and hostess offerings, you will never go wrong with crackle and its intriguing, slightly sophisticated dark cousin, pretzel and beer Crackle 2.0. And cookies? Yeah we’ve got those, basics like my faves—champion chip cookies—as well as totally slacker kiss my crust cookies, made from refrigerated pie crust and whatever chocolates you have around. If you need to scare up a snowstorm, or a reason to start a sweet family tradition make up a snow ghost pie.

Snow Ghost pie ad

And lest this be a pure re-hash of deliciousness we have an actual new recipe. I realize this blog has a somewhat extensive nut treatment, including honey thyme walnuts, spicy rosemary maple walnuts and an entire holiday nut anthology. But it turns out you really do need one more way to make roasted almonds. These are very similar to ginger glazed almonds (see anthology above), but without the ginger and with a coating of sesame seeds. You can choose a mix of sweeteners for your preferred flavor dimension (honey and sesame were pretty much born for each other), but for the best texture and glaze use at least some brown sugar.  

We’re talking nuts here, not rocket science, so be bold and mess around with flavorings, spices, herbs, types of nuts etc. Above all, enjoy the madness of the season and, like James says, remember “Shower the people you love with love.”

Sesame Almonds

Makes 3 1/2 cups almonds

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar (or sub out up to 2 tablespoons with honey or maple syrup)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil (or your healthy oil of choice)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1 pound raw almonds (a scant 3 ½ cups)
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) white sesame seeds

Method:

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet and 2 wire cooling racks with parchment paper and set aside.

Pour the almonds into a mixing bowl. (If you keep your nuts in the freezer, warm them up in the oven for a few minutes first). In the microwave or on the stovetop stir together the brown sugar/honey/syrup, oil, salt, paprika, and vinegar over low heat. Pour mixture over the almonds and toss until the almonds are thoroughly coated. Transfer the almonds to the prepared baking sheet and spread into an even layer.

Bake, stirring every 5 minutes, until the almonds are brown and fragrant, 12 to 15 minutes total. They should be a rich brown color and just start to smell toasted as you open the oven door.

Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the hot almonds and stir to evenly distribute the seeds. This is where I go a little overboard, and try to get as many sesame seeds as possible to coat the almonds. Divide the nuts between the 2 prepared cooling racks and use a spatula to spread the nuts out so they do not touch. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Break apart any nut clusters that are stuck together if needed.

Bringing It:

Pour these babies into a treat bag, jar, tin or a cardboard takeout container lined with festive tissue paper, and store them in the fridge until you are ready to give them or devour them.

 

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Bringing It With Heart: Peacemaking Pepitas

Bringing on the love, and healthy debate.

You can’t please all the people all the time. This is true when it comes to food, and especially when it comes to what people consider “healthy” food. For various reasons, I’ve been flirting lately with both Vegan and Whole 30 ways of eating.

For those of you oblivious to food trends, Vegans avoid all food that comes from something with a face—meat, fish and all dairy, including eggs. The most vigilant Vegans also avoid honey, to protest the enslavement of bees. Whole 30 basically lines up with the Paleos, who embrace “high quality” protein, and especially animal protein. They make the sign of the cross to all grains, beans, processed foods and soy, which means tofu, tempeh, seitan and the like. Paleos blame life’s ills on inflammation, which come from the body trying to deal with sugar, a whole lot of which comes from grains. Vegans embrace grains and beans because without all that Verboten animal protein they get darned hungry.

Vegans are among the most creative eaters, making cheese from nuts, milk from hemp and mayo from chickpeas. The paleos get crafty points too, making pancakes without flour, oatmeal without oats and pizza crust from cauliflower. Martha points for all! Vegans get smug when the topics of obesity and high cholesterol come up; Paleos get smug when the Vegans look wan and tired; and the topic of bacon will polarize a mixed crowd faster than you can say Trump. All of this explains the popularity of the Mediterranean diet, which cuts right down the middle. Mediterranean eaters sit back and watch the show, enjoying a little bit of everything. They snack on olives, guiltlessly savor their dark chocolate and red wine and think, “Ah, yes. Life is moderately good!”

We had a recent health scare in our house, which prompted a close look at nutrition. People showed up bearing delicious, heart-healthy meals, as well as plenty of dark chocolate. It reminded me of how much I love our community and inspired me to tweak Bring It towards the healthier end of the spectrum. Like many of our friends, we lead pretty healthy lives, but there’s always room for improvement.

As discussed above, “healthy” means different things to different people; but, we’ve all got to try to get along in this world, especially at the table, and especially while we striving towards our own healthy, realistic, sustainable way of eating. Most of us just want good, healthy food that won’t break the bank, or take all day and an advance culinary degree to prepare. Fortunately, there are a few things on which all zealots agree, and I like to picture them as overlapping areas of a Venn diagram. The overlapping area of foods to avoid or seriously limit includes sugar, processed foods and, sadly, cheese. The overlapping area of acceptable foods includes greens, colorful veggies and roots, nuts, avocados, fruit (more or less) and coconut in its many forms. So we’ve got a starting point for common ground.

Of course, there will be many things that are beyond the universal overlap of all “healthy” diets. There are also times when you just have to go off the reservation. I’ll point you to those recipes with gusto, even if I’m not making them myself for a while. Case in point are these bronzies that a friend brought over recently. They totally raise the dessert bar, and WILL make you MVG (Most Valuable Guest).

For today, we’re keeping it simple and healthy: Pepitas roasted with sweet/salty coconut aminos. Coconut aminos are soy- and wheat-free, and while they are still a form of sodium, it’s less than straight up salt (a Tablespoon of coconut aminos has 300 mg sodium, the same as in 1/8 tsp salt). Even better, the Paleos turn a blind eye to the main ingredient, coconut sap, which sure sounds like a form of sugar to me. Shhhh! Let’s just enjoy this.

These pepitas are great sprinkled on salad, soup (like this one!) or roasted vegetables or as a snack any time of day.

Peacemaking Pepitas

Tweak the amounts up and down, but for best results don’t crowd your baking sheet. 1½ cups of nuts at a time per sheet is about the max.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raw pepitas
  • 1 Tbsp coconut aminos (or more if you’re feeling it)
  • ½ -1 tsp chili powder (optional)

Method:

Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Pour pepitas on the parchment lined sheet, drizzle with aminos and stir them around to coat. Sprinkle with chili powder if using.

Bake for 10 minutes. Stir and check them for doneness. Return to over for 5 more minutes.

Let cool on baking sheet. Store in an airtight container (they get soggy otherwise).

Bringing it:

Warp ’em up! These make an excellent hostess gift or contribution to any feast.

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Drunken Fig Jam: Where fresh figs go to party

Fig Jamming New England style, with cheddar of course

How did I make it through life this far without ever canning? Why did I start now? Two fine questions. My two fine answers are fresh figs and fresh corn. They’re only around for a bit and they are so darned good.

Let’s start with figs. This recipe come from Treas, out in Cali, head chef at Granite Chief Command Central. Her recipe, which she shared with me after two years of my passive yet unremitting coersion, says that fig season is only in August. This handy guide to all things fig, gives us a larger window. According to google, there is a short season in early summer and then a longer season in late summer/fall. Either way, fresh figs are not around forever, and once you buy them you’ve got to use them fast. We should have a few more weeks at least, and cognac is always in season, so we’re good there. 

A little heads up to you non-canners out there. You need a big pot, you need to know that when you fill it too full with water and then put your jars in, your stove may have a hazardous overflow situation. You can only use canning lids once, which is why that whole mysterious section of parts in the grocery store exists. I guess that’s about it. I was going to get into racks for the bottom of your pot, but this recipe doesn’t call for one, so let’s run with the “ignorance is bliss” theory.

Another small cautionary note: When you are heading out to book group for three hours it’s best to turn the burner under your boiling fig jam OFF.  Next up? Corn relish to give Stonewall Kitchen a run for their money…and a new stockpot.

Fancying up a fall salad

Drunken Fig Jam

Recipe and action shots from Treas Manning
Makes 6 1/2 pint jars

Ingredients

• 2 lemons
• 4 pounds ripe fresh figs (preferably black), stemmed,
cut into 1/2-inch pieces (use food scale for accuracy)
• 4 cups sugar
• 3/4 cup brandy or Cognac
• 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

Method:

Using a vegetable peeler, slice peel from lemons (try to avoid as much as the white part as possible) in long strips. Cut peel into matchstick-size strips. Combine lemon peel, figs, sugar, brandy, and 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt in heavy large deep saucepan; let stand at room temperature 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Bring fig mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium; continue to boil until jam thickens (30 to 35 minutes), and is reduced to 6 cups, stirring frequently and occasionally use a hand blender to puree the mixture. It’s fine if there are small bits of lemon peel and fig, but I do like the bits to be minimal. Remove from heat.

Ladle mixture into 6 hot clean 1/2-pint glass canning jars, leaving 1/4-inch space at top of jars. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe jar threads and rims with clean damp cloth. Cover with hot lids; apply screw bands. Process jars in pot of boiling water 10 minutes. Cool jars completely. Store in cool dark place up to 1 year.

Notes: At high altitude over 5500 feet, process the jars for 15 minutes.

Drunken Fig Jam is yummy:

  • on a toasted baguette with a slice of melted Irish Cheddar, and a walnut on top.
  • on crusty bread with fresh burratta or mozzarella
  • on a grilled bone in pork chop, or on slices of pork tenderloin
  • on whole wheat toast topped with a strip of bacon for breakfast.
  • with cheese, sliced pears and walnuts on a groovy pizza

Bringing It and Giving It:

Makes a darned nice Christmas gift, especially canned in a Ball and Mason squatty wide mouth jar

 

 

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Okey Poke: Watermelon Poke Bowls

All the Fixin’s for a Poke Feast

At about this time, in the height of summer, we might as well throw up our hands and say, “It’s all about watermelon!” Seriously, between watermelon rosemary lemonade, watermelon salad, watermelon gazpacho and the soon-to-be shared watermelon jalapeño margaritas, I am hard pressed to get really excited about any other ingredient. But, like mama said, you must eat your veggies. And your protein. And your condiments (summer is condiment season after all).

This brings me to the poke bowl (say po-kay unless you want to horrify foodies and make Californians smirk). Poke originated as a thing in Hawaii, where fisherman needed a tasty way to use the trimmed scraps of freshly caught tuna. Bonus points for being able to serve it all out of a cooler. They did this by marinating it, putting it over sticky rice and then dressing it up with whatever condiments felt right. Intrigued by the sheer magnitude of food combining possibilities in one dish, I set out in search of my perfect poke match. I’m a huge fan of fresh raw tuna, as long as it is procured, prepared and paid for by someone else. When I saw watermelon poke taking over the Internet, I knew I’d met my destiny.

Watermelon poke, where watermelon stands in for tuna, is often made with raw watermelon which is quickly marinated. It is fine but bears little resemblance in taste or texture to tuna, and the perkiness drains right out of the watermelon after serving time. This version, adapted from Bon Appetit—in which the watermelon is marinated, cooked, then chilled until ready to be used—produces watermelon that is strangely similar in taste, texture and appearance to tuna. This not only gives you an easy, storable for days, cheap alternative to tuna, but it also makes the Vegans (not to mention the tuna) happy. Ba-da-bing! We have a winner!

As with any new type of food, the process can seem daunting at first. I promise, however, that it is low skill and effort/ high return. Here is what you’re doing:

  • Dicing the watermelon, and putting it in a simple marinade, ideally overnight.
  • Cooking that entire mixture down for 30 minutes then chilling it. At this point, or after the next step, it can chill in the fridge for up to a few days.
  • Tossing the cooked, cooled watermelon with sliced sweet and green onions, sesame seeds and soy sauce. Chill until needed (see above)
  • Cooking up a batch of sushi rice with some honey and vinegar. This can be served hot or made ahead and served cold.
  • Assembling your universe of your favorite fresh toppings, sauces and condiments.

Poke bowls are built around the upside of prep. Set up your basic elements and you can throw them together anytime, anywhere. They use what you have, what you love and what is fresh and available. They are the perfect cultural marriage of all your favorite things and a fully customizable feast.

With so many topping choices it is hard to decide what actual recipes to include here in your watermelon poke primer. For me, and for my very satisfied (and patient) extended family, the key components are the watermelon, the sushi rice and a few key condiments. The toppings are where you make this your own, and change it up based on mood, dietary constraints, availability, etc. My must haves among these are: pickled ginger for zing, avocado for creaminess, toasted peanuts or sesame seeds for crunch; scallions, chives or some such representative from the onion family to keep your taste buds honest.  

Sauces? Homemade are awesome, but sometimes enough is enough. Store bought faves can be as good or better.

And now, for the main event. Make a batch of the watermelon poke and store it in the fridge for poke bowls as needed. Bring it chilled, along with your cooked rice and an array of condiments to make a poke bowl bar for a party or picnic. This right here, my friends, will rocket you straight to the Bring It All Star Zone.

Watermelon Poke Bowl with a creamy sesame sriracha sauce.

Watermelon Poke Bowls

Mostly from justthefood.com 

  • Watermelon Poke (recipe below)
  • Sweet sushi rice (recipe below)
  • Diced cubed fresh vegetables
  • Savory sauces, crunchy toppings and condiments

The Watermelon Poke

Don’t fear cooking the watermelon. It will not disintegrate, but will assume the look and texture of raw tuna. Trust the process that will transform your watermelon from sweet to savory and into a weirdly awesome, Vegan-friendly science project.

For the marinated watermelon

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons Tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 pounds cubed red seedless watermelon (about 6 cups), cut it into small cubes no larger than ½-inch. The consistent, smallish dice is key.

Method:

Mix together marinade in a shallow dish with a lid, or a re-sealable plastic bag.
Add watermelon and refrigerate for at least one hour, but it’s even better if you can do it overnight. Transfer marinated watermelon to a pan with a lid.
Cook covered on medium high heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove the lid and continue cooking for about 10 minutes more, or until deep red and translucent and most of the liquid has been absorbed. If you have a really juicy watermelon, you can drain off any excess liquid.
 Chill until ready to serve.

For the Poke

  • 1 recipe marinated watermelon
  • 1 cup julienne cut Maui Onions
  • 1 cup chopped green onion
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce

Add all ingredients to a bowl and toss to coat. Keep chilled until ready to serve.

The Sweet Sticky Rice

This sweet rice makes a perfect base to serve under your Poke. Use an Ice Cream Scoop for perfectly shaped balls of rice.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups short grain arborio or sushi rice, rinsed
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons honey or agave
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Method:

Mix all ingredients together in the bowl of your rice cooker and follow the directions on your rice cooker. If you do not have a rice cooker, bring salt and water to a boil in a pot with a tight fitting lid. Stir in remaining ingredients. Return to a low simmer, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until water has been absorbed. 

The Condiments

Here’s a list of options to get you started:

  • Pickled ginger
  • Cubed avocado
  • Cubed mango
  • Cubed cucumber
  • Thinly sliced radishes
  • Thinly sliced scallions
  • Chopped chives
  • Fried shallots
  • Dry roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • Toasted sesame seeds
  • sprouts and/or seeds
  • Cilantro or mint
  • Ponzu or shoyu sauce
  • Furikake (now that you’ve got it from your popcorn adventure)

Assembling the Poke Bowls

Mound a scoop of rice in a bowl (not on an plate—that’s just the way it’s got to be).

Top with a scoop of watermelon poke. Top it off with your favorite condiments, then add a drizzle of your favorite sauce(s). You know what to do!

 

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