I think tomatillos are one of the coolest items in the produce aisle. They look just like baby green tomatoes, but their papery husks tell a different tale–they are not even related to tomatoes at all, but members of the gooseberry family. Acidic like their red lookalike, but not nearly as juicy, tomatillos can wake up the flavor of a dish with their vibrant personality. Since today is Cinco de Mayo, I am going to use these guys for the perfect accompaniment for my tacos and tortilla chips: tomatillo salsa.
Last year my aunt gifted me a recipe card, penned by my late grandmother. The slightly stained index card was beginning to show its age: once white, now yellowing, its blue ink now bleeding through to the other side. The exceptional penmanship on this card was a rarity; my Grandma was known for having practically illegible handwriting–a consequence of the Catholic nuns trying to “fix” her left-handedness by forcing her to write with her right hand. While I was well-schooled in deciphering her hieroglyphics, it was always a surprise to see something legible come from her hand. The recipe is for Merk’s Coffee Cake.
Pesto was never on my radar. I was always a red sauce kind of girl…until I found a recipe for lemon spaghetti. With those two in my life, my pasta didn’t need any other options. I wasn’t completely ignorant: I had tried pesto a couple of times before, but only at restaurants; and honestly, while I like basil, I didn’t really enjoy an entire meal of it.
The one time I did venture out to buy pesto from the grocery store, I was not expecting what I found. Inside the container was an unemulisified mingling of dark green–nearly black–basil suspended in a layer of oil. That hallmark intense, kelly green color of homemade pesto was missing—it did not look appetizing. Despite its questionable appearance, I had to taste it; not surprisingly, the flavor was lackluster at best and the oiliness was overwhelming—I can’t believe I actually ate it. This solidified the case that pesto need not be in my repertoire.
Once I started my blog, daily food research brought me to videos all over social media about making fresh pesto. Not only did it look super simple to make, but the classic basil/pine nut duo no longer seemed to be the default combination: kale, spinach, parsley, and various nuts and seeds were taking center stage. All of those options opened a creative door for me; it was time to break out the Cuisinart.
Fifteen years ago, my husband, Ed, and I toasted the start of our life together. Our glasses–and thirty others–were filled with Banfi’s Rosa Regale sparkling red; the color not only matched my wine-colored calla lilies, but also, as those glasses were raised, served to offset the stark white walls of the museum where we held our reception.
After putting dishes away the other day, I pulled down two of those infamous champagne glasses and gently clinked them together to reminisce. As I listened to the sound of the crystal reverberating, it made me think of my son, Everett, and what he would be drinking as Ed and I toasted our anniversary this week–he always feels left out when we have a grown-up drink. (Typically, as a consolation, we allow him to have something special and bubbly along with us: root beer and ginger beer are his favorites.) I set the glasses down and noticed that sitting right in front of me was the bowl full of Florida cranberries that I picked up at the market the day before. The cogs started turning…
My brain is always veering off from one tangent to the next: it’s pretty much how I function. So, follow me, won’t you, as I take you along my thought path from our wedding champagne memory through to my latest creation: hibiscus syrup.
Green rhubarb pies. It’s one of the fond food memories I have from living in Pittsburgh as a kid. My friend’s mom would pay a visit to her garden and later resurface with a sweet-tart pie that made me pucker with every bite. Since rhubarb was a foreign ingredient in my family’s kitchen, her green pies were all I knew. It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties before I discovered that rhubarb is most commonly red. About five years ago, I introduced that red rhubarb into my kitchen.
I noticed during today’s weekly grocery trip that the landscape of the produce section is changing. Squash and apples and citrus were more abundant than usual. Summer berries are in scant supply. Potato bins were filled to the gills with russet, red, yellow and sweet potatoes. Fall is approaching; I wish the Florida weather would follow suit.
Old habits die hard; therefore, my first dish of the fall season is always my butternut squash soup. I feel inclined to go a different direction this year. Don’t worry, you’ll still want to cozy up and eat it in a big bowl while on the couch. The only difference is that I’m reaching across the globe for this fall’s inspiration: African peanut stew.
Leftovers and I are not friends. I’ve given them multiple chances, but we just don’t click. Sure, the food is fun the first time around, but by the next day, they just become a nuisance. Besides hanging around–and stinking up–my fridge, leftovers take up precious space for other things like produce and all of the craft beer that we never seem to have enough room for. Despite my best attempts at being friendly, I typically end up showing them the door–of the trashcan. Every once in a while, I will come across a leftover that is extra special and feel the need to keep it around for one extra meal. I need to be more accommodating to my fridge-dwelling acquaintances; I want us to be friends. The only way that’s going to happen is if I disguise them as something else. Something new. Something different.
Slimy: the first word that always came to mind when I thought about okra. My relationship with that funky pod is a fairly new one. I used to think you could only eat okra fried or use it in gumbo. The fried are tasty–but often greasy–and after one bad gumbo experience, that slime memory was all that I needed to cross okra off my list. Except for the occasional piece of fried okra that my mom will put on my plate at Cracker Barrel, this stuff was never on my radar. It took one meal to change my mind…
Ok, so maybe a bunch of blueberries: maybe even a truckload. Since it pretty much feels like varying degrees of summer all year ’round in Florida, I rely on produce to tell me when summer has officially arrived: corn, cherries, melons, and stone fruit are in abundance. Best of all, it’s finally time when organic berries don’t cost an arm and a leg for a half-pint. Florida’s strawberry season comes sometime between December and February, but summer is when blackberries, raspberries and blueberries come into their own here. Last month, I found an entire pint of blueberries for $3.99…I bought two. I should have bought four. I went back to Publix a couple of weeks after and they were $3.00…I bought six. Six pints of blueberries; that’s about 14 cups! I laughed as they practically filled an entire shelf in my fridge. I was feeling so ambitious, I didn’t want to freeze a single one. And so the baking commenced!
Paleo, vegan, lactose-intolerant, allergies: whatever your reason for dumping dairy, it will inevitably leave a nagging void in the milk department. Although nut milks seem to reign as the “other” milk of choice, those with nut allergies can rejoice as there are hempseed, rice, soy, coconut, and oat milks all trying to make their mark. They each have their own unique flavor; choosing one is a matter of taste and nutritional restrictions. Of the lot, almond milk is the go-to staple in my house.
The first time I saw an article about homemade nut milks, it was in a Martha Stewart Living magazine. Of course she makes her own nut milks: it’s such a Martha thing to do. I filed that one under “someday” in my mental file–like sooo many other things. As time passed, I started seeing it more and more on blogs and Facebook posts. I would have never thought I had the time to make homemade milk, but it turns out that soaking time aside, it took less than 10 minutes…10 MINUTES! I only needed four things to make my first batch: almonds, water, a blender and a nut-milk bag. This was so simple; it made me wonder why I didn’t Martha it up sooner.