Blue Bird Days

Four years ago we left the mountains and moved to my husband’s home state of Oklahoma. We were filled with hope and expectation and like so many romantic-types our dreams were slightly elusive. The vision of what life would be was a far cry from what life actually was.

We found ourselves suddenly, willingly, on a path that felt overwhelmingly “off”. What ensued were two years of stretching and growth in the midst of regret.

Despite our own personal (and perhaps petty) dissappointment there was an outpouring of light. We enjoyed the close proximity to our families. We delighted in our sweet son, Cecil. We welcomed our second beautiful son into the world, James. And so the dailyness of life helped us to hobble on.

Two years ago we moved back to the mountains, to the same town we’d left twice before. That old adage third times a charm comes to mind. Call it fate or providence. I call it God. We’ve come to the conclusion that we’re just supposed to be here and lucky for us there’s no where else we’d rather be.

img_2100

Commitments aren’t my forte. So I’m hesitant to put the cart before the horse here. But I’ve missed sharing recipes and for some inexplicable reason I feel like I’m supposed to do this, maybe just today, maybe next month. We’ll just see what happens 🙂

This is a little Early Spring menu. I always anticipate the change of seasons, and where I live March and April don’t typically feel very springy (although this year is quite the exception!). This is my remedy. Ostensibly springy foods just cozied up a bit.

SALMON WITH CRÈME FRAÎCHE AND HERBS
We make this year round. It’s incredibly fast and delicious for very little effort, perfect for a weeknight! I always serve it over brown rice to sop up the sauce. THAT SAUCE. It’s wonderful and I’m not typically comfortable boasting about things because I get all sweaty. As for sides, the asparagus recipe below would be nice for special occasions, but my favorite side is boiled (pronounced “bowled” if you’re from East Texas) frozen peas with a drizzle of olive oil and finely chopped fresh mint.

Also, not to be a pain… but you MUST (!) use crème fraîche! NOT sour cream!! It’s expensive and I’m sorry.  I think you’ll forgive me after you try it.

Lastly, if you’re feeling really decadent, you can double the sauce. That’s just an unspoken universal truth. In life, you can always double the sauce.

1 pound salmon filet (approx)
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper

1/2 cup creme fraiche
juice of 1 small lemon, approx 2 Tbs.
1 garlic clove, minced
2-3 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped fine
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped fine
1 tablespoon shallots or fresh chives, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried dill (fresh would probably be awesome, but I always just use dried)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch of black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375* F

2. In a large baking dish that will more than accommodate the fish, lay a piece of parchment paper about twice as large as the baking dish (let the extra paper drape over the side). On the section of parchment that is sitting in the dish, drizzle 1 tsp. of olive oil.  Lay fish skin-side down on oiled parchment.  Drizzle fish with remaining 1 tsp. olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Prepare the creme fraiche sauce.  In a medium sized bowl mix the remaining 8 ingredients: creme fraiche through the pinch of pepper.

4. Pour sauce mixture over entire fish.  Fold the unused side of the parchment over the fish.  Fold the edges three times to create a parcel and seal thoroughly.  You’re steaming the fish in the parchment so its important that the edges stay sealed.

5. Bake approximately 15-20 minutes**, until parchment envelope puffs up and fish begins to flake.  Remove from oven and allow to cool 5-10 mins before opening parchment at table.

(Serves 4)

** Depending on the thickness of your salmon filet, it might need more time in the oven. I’d start checking around the 18 minute mark. I’ve had 1 1/4″ – 1 1/2″ filets require closer to 25 minutes.

ROASTED ASPARAGUS BUNDLES
In the photo above I was tinkering around, testing different versions of this recipe. Asparagus and pork in any form were just made for each other.  Here is my spin on this old-world classic. I don’t like the other components to cover up the natural flavor of the asparagus, so I keep all the garnishes pretty light.

To make this dairy-free, simply omit the parmesan cheese shavings.  The other flavors are very pronounced and you won’t miss the cheese a bit.  The little touch of parsley and lemon zest on top add just enough flavor and color.

1 pound asparagus
6 slices prosciutto
1-2 T. olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper
parmesan cheese shavings, using a vegetable peeler
2-3 T. parsley, coarsely chopped
1 t. lemon zest

  1. Preheat oven to 375* F.
  2. Cut off the bottom third of each asparagus stalk.  Divide the stalks into 6 little piles (approx. 4 or 5 stalks per pile, depending on the size of your asparagus).  Wrap each pile of asparagus in 1 slice of prosciutto and place bundles with the prosciutto seam-side down on a baking sheet or sheet pan.  Repeat with remaining piles, leaving a little room between each bundle.
  3. Drizzle the bundles with olive oil, fresh ground pepper, and the tiniest pinch of salt (prosciutto and parmesan together are quite salty, so you need very little). Roast approximately 20-25 minutes, until the asparagus is tender and just beginning to brown.
  4. Before serving, lightly scatter with chopped parsley, a couple of parmesan shavings and a pinch of lemon zest over each bundle.

(Serves 6)

CITRUS INFUSED STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKES
This is a great way to serve those first strawberries of the season that may not be the most ripe and flavorful, but they’re red and pretty and you just want some. Also, I’m more of a cupcake-shortcake-gal as opposed to a biscuit-shortcake-gal, just my personal preference.

Strawberries:
1 lb. strawberries, hulled, sliced
1-2 tsp. orange zest (preferably organic)
juice of 1 orange
3-4 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium-sized bowl mix together all ingredients. Taste & adjust. Macerate at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until shortcakes are ready.  Or prepare ahead of time and store in the fridge, but bring to room temp 30 minutes before serving.

Shortcakes:
1 1/2 cups flour (for GF use: 1 c. rice flour, 1/3 c. potato starch, 1/4 c. tapioca flour, 3/4 tsp. xanthan gum)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, at room temp (for dairy-free use coconut oil)
3 tablespoons canola oil (or other neutral flavor cooking oil)
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg (or 2 for more of a denser sponge-cake)
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sparkling water, like Perrier

barely-whipped cream, to serve (2 cups heavy whipping cream, 1-2 T. sugar, 1/2 tsp. vanilla, whisk until soft peaks form)

confectioner’s sugar, to serve

  1. Preheat oven to 350* F. Generously butter a 12 cup muffin pan.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. In the bowl of your mixer, beat together the butter, oil and sugar until light and fluffy, approx. 2 minutes.  Add the egg and then the vanilla.
  4. Alternately, and on low-speed, beat in the flour mix and sparkling water, until just blended. Divide batter between muffin cups. Bake 15 – 18 minutes, until tops are brown and cakes have set.  Test with a toothpick. Allow to cool a few minutes before removing from pan.
  5. To serve, slice each cake in half, horizontally. Spoon macerated strawberries and their juice over the bottom cake half, top with a big dollop of barely whipped cream, place the cake’s “hat” on top.  Dust with confectioner’s sugar.

(Makes 12 shortcakes)

Advertisements

Thai Curry with Cauliflower “Rice” {gluten-free, vegan}

Thai Jungle Curry + Cauliflower

Adam made me this cutting board. There is something so much more intrinsically beautiful in a gift that is made versus bought. He’s a little protective of it, though, re-sanding the surface every now and then. I’ve even been gently reproached for allowing strawberry hulls to sit too long on its surface.

There is symbolism in this cutting board, too. In the early years of our marriage my husband was a full-time carpenter, a surprisingly lucrative job for a twenty-something in a ski-town. “Building America,” he would say with a wink. He loved the work. The life-style. However, with the arrival our first child he felt it was time to move up the ranks, to trade in the hammer and tool belt for collared shirts and client meetings. Management. He had arrived.

Life is full of irony. As it turns out, he quite liked that old hammer and tool belt. So much so that he’s decided its time to take a leap, to set aside the nine-to-five for a while and test out furniture making full-time. I’ll be sure to share more of his work going forward. It’s beautiful stuff.

Thai Jungle Curry + Cauliflower

This change coincides with another, perhaps even more important. In the last year-and-a-half since Cecil was born we have become increasingly aware of the distance that separates us from our kinfolk, the sweet people who love us and our son the most. As we’ve talked, and talked, and talked some more about this decision, it has become abundantly clear that the time is now. Everything all at once.

At the end of July, with quiet enthusiasm and measured certainty, we will move back to the Oklahoma hills where Adam was born.

THAI CURRY WITH CAULIFLOWER “RICE”
Adapted from Whole Living

This is one of my favorite vegetarian/vegan dinners.  It just feels good to get full on a bunch of colorful vegetables. You could easily substitute any number of different veggies: asparagus, green beans, a handful of spinach, etc. If cauliflower “rice” sounds too fringe/new-age-hippie I completely understand, sometimes I’m not feeling it either, so I just substitute brown rice. Or serve both for more bulk and a little grain.

Cauliflower “Rice”
2 cups cauliflower, florets only
1 tablespoons unrefined coconut oil  (olive oil works, too)
1/2 red onion, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, minced
sea salt
1/4 cup vegetable broth

Thai Curry
1 tablespoon coconut oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste (more or less to suit your spice level)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 cup coconut milk (I prefer full fat, but “lite” would be fine)
1/2 red onion, sliced
2 cups broccoli florets
2 carrots, julienned
1/2 red bell pepper, julienned

Garnish
3 tablespoons shelled and toasted pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or peanuts
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
fresh sprouts (optional)
fresh lime slices for garnish
Sriracha sauce, to serve

  1. Pulse cauliflower florets in food processor until they resemble the texture of rice (see pic above).
  2. Heat coconut oil in a medium sized skillet over medium-low heat, add onion and garlic and saute until softened, approximately 3-5 minutes.  Stir in the cauliflower “rice”, a pinch of salt and veggie broth.  Partially cover the pan and simmer/steam 5 minutes until broth has evaporated and the cauliflower is tender but still toothsome.  Keep warm.
  3. While the “rice” cooks, make the curry.  In a large skillet or wok, heat the remaining coconut oil over medium to medium-high heat.  Add the garlic, ginger, curry paste and brown sugar and cook for 1 minute, stirring to incorporate the ingredients.  Add the veggie slices: onion, carrot, broccoli and red bell pepper.  Stir-fry 2-4 minutes until tender-crisp and just beginning to brown on the edges.  Decrease the heat to low and add the coconut milk, stirring to loosen any browned bits.  Allow curry to simmer gently and thicken for 2 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
  4. To serve, spoon veggies and sauce over cauliflower “rice”.  Top with pumpkin seeds, cilantro, fresh sprouts, and a lime wedge.

Serves 2

Meatballs in Chipotle Sauce {gluten-free}

Meatballs in Chipotle Sauce {gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free}

I’m afraid I’m asking you to endure an untimely braise of meatballs.  My sincerest apologies.  Spring and Summer have both been a little coy.  Hopefully you’re eating gazpacho on the deck or something.  If so, just bookmark this recipe for those first cool nights of September.

MEATBALLS IN CHIPOTLE SAUCE
Adapted from Williams Sonoma Mexican cookbook

We’ve been making these meatballs since we were first married.  Naturally, the recipe has evolved quite a bit over that eight year span.  When I get in a dinner rut, this is one of my favorite back-pocket meals.  They’re spicy and unctuous and comforting.

If you’re avoiding gluten, do carefully read the ingredients on the can of chipotle chiles.  Some are gluten-free and some are most certainly not.

This recipe is the perfect divide-and-conquer sort.  One person can make the sauce while the other person prepares the meatballs.  Then just simmer it all together for 20 minutes.  Serve over rice.

Sauce:
2 (14 1/2 oz.) cans diced tomatoes, with juice
1 – 2 chipotle chiles in adobo from a can, plus 1 teaspoon of sauce (adjust to your spice preference)
4 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
3/4 – 1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups beef or chicken stock
1 tablespoon oil

Meatballs:
1 1/2 pounds ground beef (1 pound ground beef & 1/2 pound ground pork is also good)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 -2  garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
1 cup gluten-free bread crumbs
1 tablespoon milk of choice (cow, soy, rice, etc.)

Sauce Preparation:

  1. In a blender, combine the sauce ingredients except oil (diced tomatoes through stock).  Process until smooth.  Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking.  Pour in sauce and bring to a lively simmer, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to gently simmer, uncovered, until sauce has thickened almost reduced by half, about 5-10 minutes.

Meatball Preparation:

  1. While the sauce simmers, in a large bowl, add the beef, pork, cumin, garlic, and salt and pepper.  Mix gently but thoroughly with your hands or a fork until the ingredients are evenly distributed.  Stir in the breadcrumbs and 1 tablespoon of milk.
  2. Gingerly roll meat mixture into golf ball-sized balls, being careful not to overwork the meat mixture.  Drop each meatball as it is made into the gently simmering sauce.  The sauce should at least come half-way up the meatballs and possibly almost cover them.  Cover pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, remove one meatball to a plate and cut in half to check for doneness. If the meatballs begin to stick, stir in a tablespoon or two of water.  Remove one meatball to a plate and cut in half to check for doneness.  Serve directly from pot, ladled over rice.

Serves 4-6

Pomodori col Riso {gluten-free, vegan}


I was the happy recipient of two grocery bags full of homegrown tomatoes last weekend (thanks Erika!).  Talk about the perfect gift. Admittedly giddy, I went through and delicately handled each shapely orb, dividing them into little groups according to ripeness and day-dreaming about all the ways I could use them up.  There was one beautiful heirloom with dark burgundy and black stripes that begged to be eaten, so I sliced that one thick and ate it on the spot.

The four biggest, buxom beauties were set aside with this dish in mind.  I’ve been ogling the recipe at Rachel Eats for over a month, hoping to get my hands on a few particularly good tomatoes.
Rice-Stuffed Tomatoes {gluten-free, vegan}

Pomodori col Riso translated is literally Tomatoes with Rice.  No bells and whistles here.  Much like the name, the ingredient list is a minimalist’s dream: tomatoes, rice, olive oil, salt and pepper, and a few leaves of fresh basil. I t should come as no surprise that the preparation is equally straightforward.  Basically, empty the tomatoes of their pulp and juices, mix said pulp and juices with everything else, and then refill the tomatoes with the mix.  Indeed, a perfect example of Italian culinary brilliance and thrift. Nothing goes to waste.

I am over-simplifying the process a bit, because it is necessary to heed two other very important steps. We’ll call them “The Wait” and then “THE LONG WAIT”.  You see, once you’ve got your bowl of tomato pulp, rice, oil, and seasonings – a primordial soup if I’ve ever seen one – you must allow it to sit.  The rice will swell and soften, absorbing the flavors of each component.  Rachel recommends at least 45 minutes.  It is after this little wait that you stuff the tomatoes and then roast them in the oven.

Now comes the torturous final step, or “THE LONG WAIT”, whereby you allow those hot, intoxicating and shriveled mounds to rest…for hours…at least 2-3, or even over night.

In an effort to escape the aroma and avoid temptation until dinner, Cecil and I went for a long walk.

The Pomodori are traditionally served at room temperature, which we noted allows all that flavor to really sing. The rice was exceptionally creamy, so much so that Adam asked in a puzzled tone what cheese I had used. The answer was, of course, none in the least.

POMODORI COL RISO
Adapted from Rachel Eats

Now, I must confess, I went a little rogue in my choice of fresh herbs. I had a nice bunch of fresh thyme but no basil on hand and it seemed frivolous to run out for just basil. I reasoned that an Italian would more likely frown down upon wastefulness than swapping herbs. Besides, it is mid-September and where I live the leaves are already turning, Fall is in the air, and thyme just seemed more appropriate.

We served our stuffed tomatoes along side perfectly fried, runny-yolk eggs, fondly named Nick’s Eggs in our house, after our brother-in-law. I will have to post that recipe sometime.

Do pop over to Rachel’s post for her spirited and altogether charming description of the preparation process; it is a delightful read.

Ingredients:
8 fist-size ripe and flavorful tomatoes (I had 4 extra-large tomatoes)
salt
2 cloves of garlic, minced
10 or so tablespoons of arborio rice (or any risotto rice, I should think)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus a glug
black pepper
2 sprigs of fresh thyme (or fresh basil), chopped

  • Using a paring knife, slice off tops of tomatoes and set aside.
  • Scrape out tomato pulp, seeds and juices into a medium-sized bowl, leaving enough flesh intact to provide structure. Sprinkle interior of each scraped tomato with a little salt and then place top down over a few folded paper towels to drain.
  • Break down the tomato pulp via a food mill, an immersion blender, or a pulse or two in the food processor.  You don’t need a smooth texture; you just need to smoosh any large chunks.
  • To the bowl of tomato pulp add the minced garlic, rice, olive oil, about 4 pinches of salt, a few generous grinds of fresh black pepper and thyme. Stir the mix, cover with a tea towel and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 45 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Oil a baking dish that will accommodate all of the tomatoes without being either too roomy or too snug.
  • Before stuffing the tomatoes, stir the mix one more time and taste, avoiding any of the still-crunchy rice. Adjust seasoning if necessary.
  • Fill tomato shells 3/4 full with tomato pulp and rice mixture and replace tomato tops. Place tomatoes in the oiled baking dish. Dollop any leftover stuffing around the tomatoes in the bottom of the dish.
  • Roast for 45 minutes, until the rice is tender.
  • Allow to cool 2-3 hours, at least.  Serve at room temp.

(Serves 4)

Low and Slow Pulled Pork {gluten-free}

I am almost ashamed at how often I make this.

It is a fact. You can’t beat fall-off-the-bone pulled pork. Not only does it taste mighty fine, and can effortlessly feed a crowd, but the preparation is borderline slothful. You take a dirt-cheap hunk of sinewy meat, slather it in a blend of spices, and then plop it in a pot with a splash of liquid. The oven does all the tedious work while you go drink Rosé on the deck, or something very important like that.

Your unmerited reward: unctuous, tender chunks of meat, moistened in a subtly spiced pool of pan juices.

A few words on fat: while a thick layer of adipose tissue isn’t probably desired on your bottom, I assure it is mandatory on a pork butt. Whatever you do, don’t go diet mode and start cutting it off to save calories. You’ll end up with a tough and bone-dry slab of meat.

One last note, this is truly the meal that keeps on feeding. Once cooked, I divvy up my bounty into several zip-top bags, toss them into the freezer and then have any number of easy dinners available on a whim. Here are a few ideas: fajitas, barbecue, tamales, pozole, zuppa di fagioli, etc.

SLOW ROASTED PORK
Adapted from this recipe, originally published in the late and great magazine, Cottage Living (R.I.P.)

1  tablespoon chili powder
1  tablespoon ground paprika
1  tablespoon sea salt
1  tablespoon freshly ground pepper
1  tablespoon brown sugar
1  (6-pound) or 2 (3-pound) pieces Boston butt or pork shoulder
1  cup apple juice or orange juice
1/2  cup water

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  • Combine first five ingredients in a small bowl; rub spice mixture all over pork.
  • Place pork fatty side up in a large Dutch oven. Pour juice and water around meat. Cover with oven safe lid or aluminum foil; roast for 5 hours or until meat is fork-tender. Uncover and cook an additional 30 minutes until skin is crispy and cracks.
  • Remove from oven and let rest 15 minutes before shredding with two forks. Once pan juices have cooled the fat will begin to pool, skim off some of this fat. Serve and store meat with some of the cooking liquid to keep things moist.

*** Slow Cooker Alternative ***
I passed this recipe on to my friend Susan ages ago and she likes to make it in her crock-pot, as follows: place spice-rubbed pork shoulder fat-side up in crock-pot, pour juice and water around meat, cook 10 hours on LOW.