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Creamy Mint Pesto Quinoa Noodles

It’s a weekend night. It has been a doozy of a week and I crash through the door with the intention of dinner in an hour. The catch is there is not a bone in my body really rendering its services for the task. Do we head out in what is the second storm to move through San Francisco in a week in search of hot food and a quick turn-around? Do we hail the almighty delivery person with their promise of pizza in under an hour that might leave us feeling not so great? I would like to say we never respond with either of the preceding responses, but let’s just admit that’s not the case. On this particular night, I got a hankering and as I am wont to do went in search of a way to scratch the itch. Pesto in the winter- it sounds now like a movie Nathan introduced “The Lion in Winter.” In this case, the lion was our stomachs and the winter was the rain lashing gashes into our windows. I scrounged. I coddled. I conquered.

Ah, pantry and refrigerator, how you spoil me with your conquests!

The key to making easy last minute ridiculously good food that gets you a smile, hug and a kiss is a properly stocked fridge and pantry. They are your allies when the going gets tough. If you’re interested, I can go through a pretty rudimentary list of our must-have’s, just leave me a comment and I will be sure to plan on covering the fun topic of the LBD in our fridge and pantry.

Tonight’s secret weapon: quinoa linguine. To go out of the ordinary from regular semolina linguine, you’ll find this gluten free pasta a winner with its combination of organic corn flour and organic quinoa flour. It’s a bit of a departure, but looks familiar.

Now for the Pesto in Winter (see how that rolls right off the tongue)? Pesto is comprised of several key ingredients: basil leaves, garlic, pignola, freshly grated parmesan, and olive oil. In the spirit of my kitchen, we work with what we have which this evening did not include the pine nuts, basil and I decided to forego the olive oil in place of grape seed oil. Instead, I began salivating over the idea of mint and pistachios, which are already salad mates, as picking up the ingredient slack. Then there was the addition of kefir. Let me just tell you, you might be seeing a lot of kefir in coming weeks so we will plan a more formal introduction later. The resulting creamy sauce clung to the al dente noodles. With freshly grated parmesan dusting the top of the dish, I found this too good to keep to myself.

Consider it my St. Paddy’s Day gift to you: a dinner that takes less than 30 minutes on a night where you need a bit of a boost.

VEGETARIAN RECIPES- Creamy Mint Pesto Quinoa Noodles

 

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CREAMY MINT PESTO QUINOA NOODLES 

YIELD: 4 servings

1/2 cup plain organic kefir

1 cup mint leaves

1/4  cup unsalted pistachio meat

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil

1 garlic clove

1/4 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese plus more as desired for garnish

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

kosher salt, to taste

 

1.  Remove mint leaves from stalk and rinse.

2. Add mint leaves, pistachios, oil, salt, pepper, Parmesan Reggiano, garlic and 1/4 cup kefir. Puree until smooth. Taste and add the other 1/4 cup kefir plus a bit more salt if you want. Puree until smooth. Set aside.

3. Bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Then add the quinoa linguine noodles, broken in half and added by dropping them into the pot. Cook for 6-9 minutes uncovered and make sure to stir frequently, as you do not want them to clump. I tend to stir with tongs to make sure the noodles are circulated enough. You want them cooked al dente, so around the 8-9 minute mark, you should be good to go.

4. Drain pasta and reserve 1-2 tablespoons of pasta water. Set aside.

5. You will combine the noodles and pesto in three batches, to ensure coverage. Start by adding 1/3 of the hot noodles to a large pan with 1/3 of the Mint Pesto sauce. Add in 1 tablespoon of pasta water and drag them around in the pesto until covered. Add in the next round of noodles and pesto and drag to combine. Do it one last time and add in the other tablespoon of pasta water if it feels too thick.

6. Serve with freshly grated parmesan Reggiano on top to taste.

 

SERVING SUGGESTION: This would actually go very well with a side salad, and perhaps a nice piece of poached salmon.

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Recipes

Blackberry Sage Glazed Meatballs

APPETIZER RECIPES- Blackberry Sage Glazed Meatballs

The lovely folks at Driscoll’s sent over some blackberries for me to play with in my kitchen. While their original invitation involved dessert and treats, I kept imagining the winsome combination of blackberry and sage having their way with meatballs. Cocktail meatballs are noted in the annals of party hors d’oeuvres and involve grape jam, so the idea wasn’t entirely farfetched. Rather than using commercial jam, I kept imagining rotund balls of beef or ground turkey slathered in a just-made glaze still kind of chunky from the slightly muddled blackberries mingling with tawny Port.

We eat with our eyes, don’t we? The first batch was a far cry from what I envisioned in my mind’s eye and resembled a practical joke. That first batch  ended up finding their ways into the mouths of some food friends who were being kind and tried my “purple meatballs.” All the while, I heeded a warning that they looked weird but tasted reminiscent of meatballs in a purple tomato sauce. The disquietingly purple hue left much to be desired.  Steph gave a thumbs up on the flavor but let’s be honest, no one outside of an alien planet in the outer reaches of the Milky Way would serve these at a party.

Back to the drawing board I went, tinkering with the ingredient proportions. This time, I struck gold. Purple gold. One down the hatch became four in a mere shadow of minutes for Beck.

Oh yes, shellacked purple gold.

NOTE: Driscoll’s sent me the blackberries for free and all opinions about the culinary dexterity of blackberries are mine.

blackberry sage glazed meatballs

 

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BLACKBERRY SAGE GLAZED MEATBALLS 

I didn’t use breadcrumbs in the meatballs. To be frank, I wanted to see if breadcrumbs are an imperative in meatballs. No, is a good short answer here. Then again, I know there are purists who chafe at the idea of a meatball not involving pork, beef and veal, but we don’t eat two of those meats. So I encourage you to experiment and use the meat combination that most appeals to your sensibilities and consider ground turkey as another alternative. Batch one didn’t have anything other than the egg and spices for a binder which turned out okay, but I prefer them as laid out below with the almond meal. I think of it as an extra touch of protein and a bit of textural intrigue, not to mention they’re gluten free.

YIELD: 20 meatballs
TIME: 45 minutes

  • 1-inch knob ginger root, minced and divided (1 tablespoon)
  • 1 shallot, minced and divided (4 tablespoons)
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup almond meal
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 sage leaves, minced
  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 1/8 teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ cup tawny Port
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup chicken stock
  • Pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Add ½ tablespoon of minced ginger, 1 tablespoon of minced shallots, egg and almond meal to ground beef. Mix with hands until well combined. Then form into small meatballs and place on lightly greased roasting pan. There should be 20 meatballs. Place in oven to cook for 25 minutes, turning meatballs halfway through their cooking time.
  3. Saute the remaining shallots, ginger and garlic in a pan with the olive oil until lightly brown. Then add the sage and cook for another minute. In a large glass with a muddler, slightly muddle blackberries not until they are mushy. Then add muddled blackberries and salt to the pan and add the Port. Stir in the sugar and lemon juice. Stir in chicken stock after about five minutes and let cook on low heat for about five minutes more or until thickened.
  4. Remove the meatballs gently with tongs. Place them into the large pan with blackberry sage glaze. Spoon the sauce over the meatballs and let simmer for five minutes, turning the meatballs gently.
  5. Serve hot and make sure to scoop any remaining sauce from the pan onto the meatballs in your serving dish or bowl.

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Categories
Recipes

Peppermint Chocolate Rochers

DESSERT RECIPES- peppermint-chocolate-rochers

Looking for reasons to bake in December is not difficult. Do you find yourself any other time of year looking for reasons to break out the eggs, sugar, butter and flour with the gusto that the holidays inspires? I didn’t think so.

We hosted our second annual Cookie Swap this past weekend with local food blogger friends. Among those RSVP’d, I knew of two food allergies to keep in mind. Two friends I knew for certain are gluten free. One is in the process of eliminating ingredients and is avoiding eggs. I made Buddhettes for my egg-free friend and baked up a batch of these gluten free Peppermint Chocolate Rochers.

Yes, neither of these would “technically” constitute as cookies, but I tend to be a spirit of the law kind of gal. And Anita brought some cupcakes so clearly this could be construed a Baked Good Swap? Her alphabet Linzer cookies became our party entertainment. Mike, Anita’s husband suggested a rule early on that you could only eat a cookie if you could spell something with the other cookies.

What started as “happy holidays” became everything from “play shop” and “Als Pho” later to be followed by “Laos.”

happy holidays cookie tilesplay shopcookie tiles

Faith brought vegan Peppermint Candy Crisps. Susie baked up Drunken Almond Macaroons. Charissa and Patrick arrived with Coconut Peanut Butter Chocolate Gluten Free cookies.

peppermint candy cookiesDrunken almond macaroonsgluten free coconut peanut butter chocolate cookie

Steph brought Blackberry Rosemary Shortbread Bars. Sabrina made a batch of Lemon Rosemary Cookies with Black Pepper.

blackberry rosemary shortbread barslemon rosemary black pepper cookies

Irvin brought two batches of cookies: chocolate raspberry striped cookies and cinnamon bun swirl cookies.

chocolate raspberry cookiescinnamon bun cookies

It was a rollicking good time. Somehow baking up a baker’s dozen always allows everyone to try the different cookies and leave plenty for the hostess. I’ve got a plan for those extra cookies and cupcakes and it involves another favored reason for the holidays- gifts that keep on giving.

peppermint chocolate rochers

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PEPPERMINT CHOCOLATE ROCHERS
I’ve been a fan of the blog Orangette since 2006 when I originally started la vie en route. I can safely say this is my favorite recipe of hers. She nails dead on the rochers from local bakery Tartine. They make a version with toasted almonds and another one with cacao nibs.  I baked a batch of Rochers for Thanksgiving after finding myself the proud recipient of extra egg whites left over from making a Maple Custard Pie. I played around with the recipe for a Christmas-infused adaptation and it resulted in something special. The chocolate chips melt in your mouth and the peppermint is subtle- think of this as a sophisticated York peppermint pattie.

Adapted from this Cocoa Nib Pavlova recipe from Orangette

  • 4 egg whites, at room temperature
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup cacao nibs
  • 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract

Set oven to 275. Prep two pans with parchment paper or silpat.

Place egg whites, cream of tartar and salt in a heavy duty mixer and mix on low for a few minutes and then increase to medium speed until soft peaks begin to form.

In a small bowl, mix together the sugar and cornstarch.

Set the mixer on medium high and slowly pour in the sugar mixture. Continue mixing for about 5 minutes. Toward the end, add the peppermint oil. The mixture should be very thick.

Mix in the chocolate chips and cacao nibs. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto each pan with several inches in between. I like to swirl the spoon on the top to give it a swirled look. Once all the mixture has been doled out onto the pans, place them into the oven on the top rack and lower rack.

Drop the temperature down to 250. Bake for 30 minutes, switching racks halfway through baking period. Once done, the rochers will be firm to the touch. Let cool on a rack.

NOTE: If you notice your rochers are still gummy underneath when you lift them up with your spatula, place them back in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes and that should do the trick.

Makes about a dozen large rochers, best enjoyed up to a few days after baking. Store in a sealed container.

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Recipes

Spiced Oatmeal Pumpkin Pecan Cookies

DESSERT RECIPES- Spiced Oatmeal Pumpkin Pecan Cookies

A certain Mister has a fondness for oatmeal cookies. He and I talked ad nauseum about the variations on Oatmeal Raisin and we agree, there’s something extra special about a basic oatmeal raisin cookie. How do you take something delightful and basic and make it better? Easy.

Bake it with fall spices, a bit o’ pumpkin and play with different flours. Those of you reading this who are gluten free- so is this cookie. Adding teff flour boosts the iron, protein and calcium and pairs well with the brown rice flour. The smell of mesquite flour hearkens back somehow to a Texas sunset and makes your kitchen smell warm and inviting. I decided to experiment with using half refined sugar and half maple sugar, which is less sweet than refined as I really wanted the sugars to accent the natural sweetness of the raisins. Cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and pumpkin kick it up a notch. You’ll find the texture to be hearty as the toothsome flours play to that of the oats. My taste-testers all gobbled up the cookies- everyone from the Mister to the artist friend, the retired soccer player and the amiable bus driver. And I have a hunch you might like them too.

 

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Spiced Oatmeal Pumpkin Pecan Cookies

YIELD: 2 dozen cookies
TIME: 15 minutes – overnight – 30 minutes

  • ¼ cup teff flour
  • ¼ cup mesquite flour
  • 1 cup brown rice flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • ½ cup maple sugar
  • ½ cup refined sugar
  • ¼ cup pureed pumpkin
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ¼ cup rolled GF oats
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ cup chopped pecans

Combine teff flour, mesquite flour, brown rice flour, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom and baking soda in a large bowl. Whisk until combined.

In a separate bowl, mix butter, pumpkin puree, maple sugar and refined sugar until completely combined. Then whisk in the eggs and vanilla.

Add ½ flour mixture into the sugared butter bowl and mix until combined. Then add the rest of flour mixture and mix until completely combined.

Mix in oats with a spatula. Then mix in raisins and chopped pecans with spatula until combined. Cover bowl tightly and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 375.

Place sheet of parchment paper or silpat on your cookie sheet. Use a tablespoon and scoop out medium sized portions of dough onto cookie sheet. With your hand, press down on dough without pressing cookie flat.

Cook for 16 minutes. Let cookies cool on wire rack.

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Recipes

Minestrone Soup

SOUP RECIPES- Minestrone Soup

It’s not often that I find myself hankering for soup at an Italian restaurant, but a no-name hole in the wall in North Beach gets me hankering for their Minestrone. What I like about it is that it’s lemony and bright and the secret to their sauce- fennel! It holds up against the tomato base of the soup adding its lemony brightness. Nathan likes to grate parmesan into his soup and I’m keen on it just like it is. Soup is comfort in a bowl and Minestrone is a great way to get your vegetables. You might think it’s anathema to not add cannelini beans to Minestrone, but this cook is not partial to them in this soup.

 

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Minestrone Soup

TIME: 1 hour and 20 minutes
YIELD: 8-10 bowls 

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, chopped into 1 inch slices
  • 2 cups celery ribs, chopped into 1 inch slices
  • 4 large carrots, halved and chopped
  • 4 yukon gold potatoes, quartered and chopped
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 3 cups chopped tomatoes and any juices
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 T thyme, chopped
  • 2 tsp. parsley, chopped
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 T lemon juice

Pour olive oil in large heavy pot set on medium high heat. Add onion slices and garlic to pot. Saute and stir until almost translucent.

Add celery, carrots, fennel, potatoes and green beans to pot. Cook for 10 minutes and stir occasionally. Add the tomato sauce, chopped tomatoes, water, thyme, salt, pepper and lemon juice to pot. Turn heat down to low, cover pot and simmer for an hour or until potatoes are soft.

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Recipes

Lentil Croquettes & Spinach Salad with Dill Mustard Sauce

SALAD RECIPES- Lentil Croquette Spinach Salad

I don’t know about you, but in our household we sure love a quick and easy, tasty and healthy dinner for Monday nights. Did that descriptor leave you a bit winded too?

how to make vegetarian burgers with no grains

Well, that’s about how it feels to race home after racing all day at work catching up on weekend communications. Monday is the day to just barrel through, chin up, smile fixed.  Monday nights are meant for quick and easy.

vegetarian burger how to

Did you know there is also a whole movement of people who participate in “Meatless Mondays“? It’s kind of fabulous really. Our household is meat-friendly, but incorporating more vegetables and legumes into our everyday eating is something we take into account.

how to make vegetarian burgers

I give you these lentil croquettes. Take note, these croquettes are not meant to be sandwiched between bread slices or a bun. Fork tender and served on a bed of spinach leaves with grilled onions, they make the salad! In fact, I really was playing against the idea of having breadcrumbs or grains as a binder. They are chock full of veggies and protein. I bet they would be delicious served atop couscous or steamed barley for a whole grain option.

how to make lentil croquettes

We found that our quick and easy dinner option became the ideal grab and go leftover the next day too…

how to make lentil croquettes

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Lentil Croquettes & Spinach Salad with Dill Mustard Sauce

YIELD: 6 lentil croquettes

  • 1 carrot, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 zucchini, minced
  • 3 sweet peppers, seeded and minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 package cooked lentils from Trader Joe’s
  • 1 large egg
  • cayenne, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound organic spinach leaves, rinsed
Mash lentils with hands or you could use a food processor. Add spices and taste. Addegg to the lentil mixture and then fold in the minced vegetables. Mix.

Heat a medium sized saute pan for croquettes over medium high heat and add oil. Once the pan is hot, add two croquettes and saute for 2 minutes. Then flip and saute on the other side for 2 minutes. They should have a nice slightly charred crust on each side after being cooked.

Place fully cooked lentil croquettes on a paper towel covered plate, to help sop up some of the oil and dab the top with paper towel.

photo of onion

NATHAN’S CARAMELIZED ONIONS

  • 1 garlic clove, sliced
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 1 T Braggs apple cider vinegar

Heat saute pan for onions, over medium high heat. Add oil. Then add onion slices and garlic.

caramelizing onions

Saute low and slow until the onions are almost translucent, about 4 minutes. Then add the apple cider vinegar to finish off the onions.

caramelizing onions

Saute for 2 more minutes. Turn off heat and set aside.

 

dill mustard finishing sauce

DILL MUSTARD SAUCE

  • 3 oz. plain sheep’s milk yogurt
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. whole grain mustard
  • 1/8 kosher salt
  • 2 T freshly chopped dill

sauce for vegetarian burgers

Whisk together sauce ingredients and set aside. Once lentil croquettes are ready, place croquette over bed of spinach, add caramelized onions and drizzle sauce.

 

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Recipes

Leek Goat Cheese Quiche

BRUNCH RECIPES- Leek and Goat Cheese Quiche

Sometimes you need a quickie brunch recipe. (or easy lunch // dinner // snack… recipe.)

As a child I never understood brunch. Why condense two meals into one? In my mind, it seemed to be something only adults really could appreciate like Nick at Night.

The three women in my life growing up sure know how to entertain and this carries over to their quick breakfast interpretations. Tia Berta is the gourmande, whereas my mama makes simple food delicioso. And then Tia Maruca is a bit of both.

I come from a long line of women with a passion for flavor in the blood. We memorize and assign value to pairings like other people might with place. Reading through their recipe books is taking a peek through history, notes of the who’s and whens, the revisions and raves.

I look at my cousin Erika, now in her thirties and realize we have both followed in their footsteps. She takes after her mama and I’m a bit of a blend. Regardless in our homes, food is love or more appropriately nourishing the people we love is our gift.

They have taught me how to live and in so doing have shown me what love looks like firsthand, whether it’s making a multi-course meal for my parents first meeting of my soon-to-be in-laws, whether it’s giving up the master bedroom when guests stay at the house so they’ll be most comfortable or lying with my uncle in his hospital bed, holding his hand and talking to him when he couldn’t open his eyes- come to think of it, all the women are steel-clad strong. I appreciate their nuances and continued presence. When my dad died, each of them pitched in to make sense of what felt very senseless to me. Before I knew the question to ask, they provided the answers by giving me space, by not giving me too much space, by letting me ask the hard questions.

A few weeks ago, I got a call that my favorite uncle, Tio Bibi had been taken into the hospital. As the texts continued coming my way, I prayed and sent virtual hugs until the day I hopped on a red-eye to Texas and could give physical ones. Upon entering the hospital room, I watched and listened. I told Tio Bibi I had come to visit him and asked, “Can I hold your hand?” He offered it. Jacqueline and I talked to him and sat with him. Later his son brought music to the room: Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, and of course, Little Richard. Though he couldn’t open his eyes most of the time, his legs and arms gesticulated as if dancing. His younger brother stood at the side of the hospital bed and started singing “Ree-kee-kee-kee-kee…” and they told jokes with Tio Bibi sometimes finishing them.

The next time I visited the hospital room, the mood had changed. I wore a mask, as I had begun to sense a cold seeping its way through my body and I wanted to spend a little more time with him before returning to San Francisco. His son and I sat with him in the room, quietly. We wanted to bring him company and comfort. At one point, we moved him up on his bed to a more comfortable position. I would be lying if I didn’t say it was hard to see him like this. And I wanted to love him, to let him know I was there, to let them know I was there. So through the mask, I breathed and sat until the time approached for us to go to the airport. As I left, I told him I would see him later. And even now as I write this, two days after he has passed away, he is with me. See, Saturday night, I dreamed my Tio Bibi, Erika and I were dancing at my wedding. He was smiling his broad smile and laughing- he shared that joy and zest for living with all of us. It gave me such a bittersweet tug to know my Dad and Erika’s dad are together. It makes me wonder if they remember each other…

Quiche is so forgiving. This savory pie is a snap to put together, makes your house smell warm and inviting (the alchemy aroma of butter and flour together alone could conjure up a bakery and the glass case beaming its egg-shellacked offerings) and sometimes you need something that’s good-old fashioned comfort in a crust.

leeks

chopped leeks

leek and goat cheese quiche

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Leek Goat Cheese Quiche

Note: This quiche to me tastes better cold and can be made into mini quiches for easier transport.

YIELD: 8 servings

  • Gluten Free Pastry dough (see recipe below)
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ cup half and half
  • 1 ½ leeks, halved, rinsed and sliced (white & tender greens)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 ounce goat cheese
  • ¼ teaspoons cracks of black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoons nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Pour the oil in a saucepan and add the leeks. Saute the leeks over medium heat until almost translucent. Set aside.

Beat eggs and then add in all remaining ingredients. Blend until just mixed together. Fill pie crust. Bake for 45 minutes and let cool for 10.

 

GLUTEN-FREE SAVORY PASTRY DOUGH
Adapted from Joy of Cooking

For a 9-inch single-crust pie, sift together:

  • 1 ¼ cup gluten free AP flour (I used Cup4Cup)
  • ¾ teaspoon salt

Add:

  • 6 tablespoons chilled lard or vegetable shortening
  • 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

Work half of the shortening into the flour mixture lightly using the tips of your fingers until it has become the consistency of cornmeal. Add the remaining half of the shortening into the dough until it is pea-sized. Sprinkle the dough with

  • 6 tablespoons ice water

Blend the water gently into the dough until it just holds together; you may lift the ingredients with a fork, allowing the moisture to spread. If necessary to hold the ingredients together, add:

  • 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon ice water

Place dough in pie tin or pie pan, and work dough into the corners with your fingers. I also beat an egg yolk and brushed the crust with this. Place in refrigerator for 15 minutes to 30 minutes before using.

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Open-Faced Stuffed Poblano Peppers

Goodbye. See you later.

The difference is infintesimile but huge. One infers a finality, a wish that in Spanish conveys the person to God, adios. The other is more casual, connotes opportunity and potential for future meetings.

If 2010 seemed to be the year of big changes, then 2011 is merely riding out the coat tails. After almost eight years living in the Bay Area, my best friend Olga is moving home to be closer to her family.

Her mom suffered a heart attack two days after she stood next to me as maid-of-honor last year. I read the texts on my phone as Nathan and I drove down to Southern California on our honeymoon. The pneumonia that came later didn’t help erase the thought that these symptoms, this story had been written before and too recently in the demise of my dad.

When we returned from honeymooning, Olga and I met up. Large gaps of silence doing the talking ensued; all the kid fears dreaded and for me, realized, found sympathetic voice in the absence of sound. We walked as the words found their way: “she’s in the ICU still.” “I’m scared.”

It felt too soon to be reckoning with this foe again. I wanted a break from sickness, from death, wanting there to be a neutral time and space for Nathan and I to get our bearings.

But this is not the way life was supposed to work. This is the way it works now. Overlap of bitter and sweet. I’m learning to love the sweet even if the bitter is what’s leaving the taste in my mouth.

Her mom is in dire straights, it’s not a huge stretch. She didn’t have to tell me she was moving home. I knew it intuitively.

We didn’t talk about life with the dry socket void of each other that is to come. Instead, we discussed the final days for her at work, the going-away shindigs. I offered to throw a send-off soiree at our house and began contriving gluten free eats she would feel good enjoying as well as how to make it a fond bon voyage rather than one that’s bleak or sad.

And then I found myself buying a plane ticket home the weekend intended for the going-away party. My own family emergency surfacing, the call-to-action was clear and sure: “Go home. Be with the ones you love. Cherish the sweet even in the wake of the bitter.”

And this is a story for another time, as it’s a bit too fresh right now for the re-telling.

Two weeks ago, I didn’t know it would be her last time at my house. What you know at the end of things is to suck the marrow that remains until it’s dry. What you know is there are goodbyes and there are see you laters. What I knew is that I wanted to cook for this person who is more sister than friend, who had been my plus one for the pre-Beck years.

The call was simple: gin rummy and dinner.

Gin rummy is the game we played for several hours sailing the Mediterranean en route to Greece several years ago and what we played wiling away the hours in the Frankfurt airport. It has a history with us and still conjures up this dream of mine of us old and happy, living next to each other in a fishing village in the South of France. In it, she would bring the deck of cards from her neighboring flat; I would make the food. And Nathan, well, he’s a part of that picture now and forever- he would bring the music.

This particular evening, she kept interjecting, wanting to help. And the thing is I wanted her to sit and be the guest of honor. I wanted to serve her. We made a simple dinner of roasted honeyed turnips, salad with mixed greens, apple and a simple mustard vinaigrette and open-faced stuffed Poblano peppers. I found the Poblanos a bit on the firy side- their flames licking the outer orifice of my nostrils as I chopped them. While cooking, I asked her, “Do you trust me?” with a glint of that characteristic mischief she knows so well and she said, “Yes.”

Dinner. Conversation. Gin rummy. Friendship. If you pick one up, you might find the others follow. And the best part is that even what’s new gets grafted into the old.

Into the see you laters.

VEGETARIAN RECIPES- Open-Faced Stuffed Poblano Peppers

 

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Open-Faced Stuffed Poblano Peppers

These are the equivalent of open-faced sandwich stuffed peppers. More of the good stuff! I’ve made this for different audiences and it works really well as a vegetarian entree paired with a salad.  Go gluten free and use brown rice or barley works well too if gluten isn’t a problem.

YIELD: 4 servings

  • 2 Poblano chilies, halved and seeded
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice with daikon radish seeds* (or barley)
  • ½ cup cooked lentils, green or brown (as they’re sturdier than red)
  • 1/4 cup Crema Casera (found in Mexican markets or a mixture of crème fraiche & plain yogurt)
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt or sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pecans
  • 1 tablespoon chopped dried cherries
  • ½ teaspoon curry powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 ounce grated sharp cheddar cheese & monterey jack cheese

Preheat oven to 450.

In a small bowl, combine the brown rice, lentils, crema, pecans, cherries and curry powder with a pinch of cracked black pepper and salt. Mix with a spoon until combined.

Set your peppers inside-up in a pan lined with foil. (This helps clean-up move right along at the end and the foil can double as container to any leftovers.) With a Tablespoon fill the insides of the peppers with the lentil barley mixture. Once you’ve filled each pepper, sprinkle both cheeses on top of each pepper.

Place in the oven for 15 minutes. You’ll find the pepper to still have a bit of crunch with the cheese melted and oozy atop. Serve with a bowl of soup or salad for a quick and easy meal.

 

*NOTE: Brown rice mix available  at Trader Joe’s. Regular brown rice can be used instead.

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