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.

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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)

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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)

French Bistro Carrot Salad {gluten-free, vegan}

French Bistro Carrot Salad {gluten-free, vegan}
I saw this on David Lebovitz’s blog and figured if a guy so wholly consumed with pastries, chocolate and sweets enjoys this particular carrot salad (not to mention all of France), then I would, too.  And you, and you, and you.

David has credentials: former pasty chef at Chez Pannise, cookbook writer extraordinaire, an American in Paris, etc, etc.

If you like food or just like a good chuckle (and who doesn’t) I highly recommend his book The Sweet Life in Paris. I found myself not just laughing out loud, but snorting out loud more times than I care to admit. His stories are witty and sharp, offering a nice dose of reality for all of us self-proclaimed Francophiles, not to mention a few good recipes, too.

This would accompany any meal quite well. I like the idea of it with a rich, creamy Tomato Soup and French Bread. I had it for lunch today, all by itself, and it was quite satisfying.

French Bistro Carrot Salad {gluten-free, vegan}

Salade de Carottes Râpées
Adapted from David Lebovitz

The star of this salad is the carrots, just be careful not to smother their natural sweetness and flavor with too much dressing. David says they should glisten with the light vinaigrette, not drown in it. Definitely taste as you go. My quantities are a little different than his, I’m sure due to carrot size and personal taste.

  • 7 large carrots, rinsed and peeled
  • 1/2 cup of ROUGHLY chopped flat leaf parsley
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (I believe I used a little less than 2)
  • a generous pinch of sugar (I used close to 1/2 teaspoon)
  • a few dashes of salt
  • a little fresh cracked pepper

Using the large holes of a box grater or a food pocessor grate the carrots and place in a bowl. Add the roughly chopped parsley. In a separate container whisk together lemon juice, olive oil and a pinch of sugar. Pour dressing over carrots and parsley, using your hands toss the salad.  Add a bit of salt and pepper and toss again. Taste and adjust as necessary. Serve immediately.

Stuffed, Roasted Peppers in the Piedmont Style {gluten-free, vegan}

Stuffed, Roasted Peppers in the Piedmont Style {gluten-free, vegan}

I have a new favorite blog. You should check it out.

www.racheleats.wordpress.com

Rachel combines British wit with the charming simplicity of traditional Italian food.  I love her unfussy approach. Who needs a fancy, staged backdrop when your broccoli looks like this? And your soups look like this? She has inspired quite a lot of cooking the past two weeks. Not to mention the time I’ve spent stalking her blog reading and re-reading every post.

I made her Piedmontese Peppers the other night and they were one of the single most amazing food pairings I’ve ever had, beautiful to the eye and rich for being so simple, a perfectly executed combination. I had to make them again to share.

Those Italians, they’ve been doing this food thing a long time.

Stuffed, Roasted Peppers in the Piedmont Style {gluten-free, vegan}

PIEDMONTESE PEPPERS
These would make a wonderful appetizer, especially served alongside good salami and olives!

4 bell peppers, a mix of red and yellow (about 1 per person)
1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved horizontally
4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Half the peppers top to bottom. Using a paring knife, remove the white pith and seeds, leaving the green stem in place.
  3. Sprinkle a few slices of garlic into each pepper half.
  4. Drizzle the inside of each pepper with a bit of olive oil and then top with a dash of salt and pepper.
  5. Place 3 – 5 cherry tomato halves cut side up in each pepper.
  6. Transfer stuffed peppers to baking sheet and roast at 425 for 30 minutes.
  7. Turn oven down and continue to roast at 350 for another hour until tender and slightly charred.

Early Fall Salad

Early Fall Salad {gluten-free, vegan}

Last night we brought salad to a pot-luck dinner with friends.  And don’t get me wrong, I like salads and all, but I wouldn’t say I typically sit around daydreaming about what raw veggies to mix up next. However, in the half hour I had to throw this together, I figured I could either bemoan that I didn’t get to bring dessert or go big and make a really damn good salad.

I was craving something with a hint of autumn in it: apples, roasted nuts, maple syrup, etc.

This is infinitely adaptable to one’s personal taste.  I think the caramelized nuts along with maple vinaigrette really make the dish.

EARLY FALL SALAD WITH MAPLE VINAIGRETTE
4-6 C. your preferred salad green (I used a mix of romaine, radicchio, and baby spinach)
1 medium, crisp, sweet apple like Gala or Fugi
1 small cucumber
1 C. chopped almonds or walnuts
1/3 – 1/2 C. granulated sugar
1/3 C. olive oil
4-5 T. pure maple syrup
3 T. apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar or distilled vinegar
1-2 t. dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper

  • Tear lettuce into bite size pieces.  Rinse and dry (a salad spinner is great here).  Mound in a large serving bowl.
  • Chop apple and cucumber into 1/2″ pieces and sprinkle atop the bed of lettuce.
  • Prepare caramelized nuts: Spread chopped nuts in a dry 8″-12″ skillet.  Sprinkle sugar on top.  Turn the stove top heat to between low and medium.  I use setting 3 or 4  on a 1-10 dial.  Take a fork and swirl the nuts in the sugar.  Don’t go anywhere.  Things can progress quickly here.  After 1-2 minutes the sugar will become wet, keep stirring.  Then the wet sugar will start turning light brown, keep stirring for just a few seconds until a nice brown color is achieved…not chocolate brown or black.  Err on the conservative side.  Quickly remove pan from heat and scrape your nuts into a glass bowl.  Let cool.  Then break up into pieces by stabbing with your fork (rather gothic sounding) and pile on top of your salad.
  • To make vinaigrette: Mix all remaining ingredients together in a small container with a lid.  Shake, shake, shake. Taste and adjust. If the flavor isn’t popping try adding a tiny squirt more of mustard and/or vinegar.  I always tend to add more maple syrup, too.
  • When ready to serve, drizzle each portion with vinaigrette.

Serves 12, approximately