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The long hot summer and Tabbouleh

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I’ve been away for a short while and I have the weather to blame for my absence.   Although we’re  just going into the third week of summer, its been hot for the majority of those days.  I’ve been cooking up a storm as usual but somehow the act of cooking, taking photographs of the food I cook and then blogging about it in this extreme heat is making me that much hotter.  Most days after I’ve finished cooking I just want to eat and then lean back with an ice-cold drink. 

There are other days in between the cooking up a storm days when I’m happy with just a simple salad.  And by simple I don’t mean a boring mix of the usual salad greens with slices of tomatoes and other vegetables thrown in.  I prefer something that not only looks fresh but tastes fresh as well.  A salad where in each mouthful you taste the individual components that make up the whole dish.  A tangy burst of sun ripened tomato, the crunch of cool cucumbers, the grassy taste of fresh herbs.  And just to keep things interesting  nuttiness from a favorite grain.  In this case the grain is quinoa and the salad I’ve been munching on for most of these hot summer days is tabbouleh.

I fell in love with tabbouleh in culinary school.  Once I tasted it I could not get it out of my head.  Tabbouleh is a middle eastern dish of chopped vegetables and herbs.  Traditionally, tomatoes, green onions, cucumbers, parsley, mint and bulgur wheat all tossed together with a lemony vinaigrette.  It is about the most refreshing salad you will ever put into your mouth. 

 Instead of bulgur wheat I use quinoa.  Only because I am more likely to have a tub of quinoa on hand and bulgur wheat isn’t something I use everyday.  I was told that tabbouleh is all about the parsley and I have seen many a recipe that supports this.  Some have as much as 3 cups of parsley to one cup of cooked grains.  I”ve never put that much parsley in and my tabbouleh is always well-balanced. 

This recipe makes a good amount and I store leftovers in small chinese soup containers so that when I’m going out I can grab a tub as a healthy alternative to eating fast food on the run.  It’s perfect alone or for a heartier version add strips of cooked chicken breast.  If you’re going meatless tuck a few spoonfuls inside of a  pita for a quick sandwich.  Either way you decide I promise you won’t be disappointed by this cool herby salad.

Recipe: quinoa tabbouleh , adapted from Epicurious.com

1 cup quinoa, rinsed well

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt plus more if needed

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 garlic clove minced

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

1 large English cucumber cut into 1/4 inch pieces

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

2/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup chopped fresh mint

2 scallions thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)

Directions:

Cook quinoa: Bring quinoa, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 1/4 cups of water to a boil in a  medium saucepan over high heat.  Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until quinoa is tender, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and let stand, covered for 5 minutes.  Fluff with a fork.

Meanwhile, whisk lemon juice and garlic in a small bowl.  Gradually whisk in olive oil.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spread out quinoa on a large rimmed baking sheet; let cool.  Transfer to a large bowl; mix in 1/4 cup of dressing.  Add cucumber, tomatoes, herbs and scallions to bowl with quinoa; toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Drizzle remaining dressing over.  Serve or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

 

pesto

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arugula pesto

It isn’t difficult for me to go on and on about the food I grew up eating. It’s as familiar to me as the back of my hand. I could write forever about Thanksgiving meals and explain in detail what appeared on plates from Christmas to Easter. I can write about chit’lins,black-eyed peas,collard greens and cornbread stuffed with cracklings, that never failed to appear at every New Years dinner table. I can write about huge Sunday breakfasts that were  precursors to Sunday dinners. I can describe in detail the meal my mother cooked and had waiting for me, when I returned home from the hospital with my newborn son, after I’d complained about having to eat hospital food for seven days.

They are foods that are steeped in family tradition. Passed from one generation to the next. I know because I have had the privilege of eating these foods at the tables of cousins and aunts and great aunts. Food that I have cooked again and again for my own family. I could write about this food with little or no effort and tell great stories to go along with it.

Writing about the food I love to cook now is a different story all together. Only because the food I like to cook now was never a part of my family tradition but hopefully it will be a part of my children’s along with older family traditions.

 I begged my mother to make macaroni and cheese. My daughter begs me to make cheesy pasta,don’t be fooled by the humble name, it’s a dish rich with butter,cream and real parmesan cheese.

My sons beg me to make an even richer shrimp dish that is referred to as New Orleans barbecue shrimp and begins by making an enriched seafood stock.

My family is willing guinea pigs. I make something,they try it and if it meets their approval it becomes a part of our family meals.

Had I ever mentioned pesto to my mom or dad they would have both looked at me and questioned what it was. In my house we like pesto. It appears at least once every summer. I think of it as the quintessential summer sauce, it’s quick to make,the ingredients are easy to get and it doesn’t have to be cooked. Pesto is also extremely versatile. I usually make a big batch,freeze some and leave the rest in a container in the refrigerator to be added to other things.

It’s great slathered onto leftover  grilled chicken,excellent on pasta,mixed into vinaigrettes for salads,put onto grilled bread for a snack-the possibilities are endless. As long as I have a container of homemade pesto in the refrigerator, I know I won’t be wondering what to eat.I made a quick-lunch by sauteing shrimp and putting it on top of linguine with arugula pesto. Traditionally pesto is made with basil but can be made with herbs and other types of greens. I’ve even seen a recipe for fennel frond pesto which I would like to try. I used arugula because I had some leftover from a salad. Arugula has a peppery bite so it makes a much different pesto than one made with grassy-aromatic basil. I also used pecans instead of pine nuts because they are a good match with the biting bitterness of arugula. That’s another thing I like about pesto-it can be made using different combinations of nuts, greens,herbs and cheeses.

I promise you this will be the easiest sauce you will ever make. A few ingredients and a couple of rounds in a blender or food processor and you’ve got pesto.

It’s funny, I have never made pesto for other family members and only because when we get together we all want food that we grew up with that are familiar to us all. I’ve been thinking it’s time to add to family traditions and the next time we are all together I will definitely be making a batch of pesto.

Recipe: arugula pesto

4 cups(packed) arugula leaves

1 fat garlic clove

1/4 cup pecans,toasted in a pan and chopped

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1/4 good olive oil

Directions:

Put all ingredients into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Eat and enjoy.

easy,one pot,creamy macaroni and cheese

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creamy macaroni and cheese

Everyone has a favorite food from childhood.  The meal I most looked forward to was my moms famous spaghetti and meatballs.  She cooked her sauce(painfully)slow on the stove top. She never used a prepared jarred sauce. It was always crushed tomatoes and tomato puree mixed together, laced heavily with oregano,and simmered for what seemed like hours on the stove top filling the house with incredible aromas. My brother, sister and I would fumble around trying to keep ourselves busy, but always with our eyes on the kitchen, anxiously waiting for dinner to be ready.

And those meatballs-moist tender juicy balls of meat. They were so good that I always saved them for last, mashing them up with my fork and mixing them with a little red sauce. To this day I don’t know what she put in those meatballs. I have never been able to duplicate them.

The dish I really wanted to love, as all kids do, was  macaroni and cheese.  But I couldn’t only because my mom was constantly changing the way she made it.  Just as I was getting used to one kind she would switch things around. So I never had the chance to have a favorite. My mom was raised in the south so to say she was a good cook was an understatement.  But for some reason she always made different versions of her macaroni and cheese.  All very good but different in some way. It seemed she was trying to recapture a macaroni and cheese that she had,maybe growing up, and she just hadn’t quite gotten it to her liking.

Well it seems I have picked up where my mother left off . But for different reasons. When I have stray pieces of cheese and cheese ends in the refrigerator I just shred them up and make macaroni and cheese. It doesn’t matter what kind of cheese it is as long as its sharp and pungent.

 I do have one perfect macaroni and cheese that I make for holidays and special occasions. I don’t tinkle with this recipe. It’s the perfect combination of cheeses baked to bubbly perfection.However, with up to seven different cheeses and a thick creamy sauce its best left for special occasions.

 Sometimes I just have a taste for pasta with a cheesy sauce without having to go through the whole process of melting flour and butter to make a roux that will turn into a bechamel that will eventually turn into a cheese sauce. And because my kids love macaroni and cheese and would eat it every day it’s always good to have an easy one pot version in my repertoire.

This is truly a one pot, creamy macaroni and cheese that is very good. The reason why it can be made in one pot is because I don’t drain all of the pasta water from the macaroni.  I just carefully dump out the water leaving about a cup in with the cooked macaroni. To this I add a beurre manié.  A beurre manié is a fancy french term for softened butter and flour mixed together that can be used to thicken sauces and gravy.

 

Once the beurre manié is mixed into the macaroni with the starchy water it will start to thicken. You can then add a little milk for richness and dump in any kind of cheese you wish and you’ve got creamy macaroni and cheese within minutes. Because I like cheese I always have a variety in the house. I’ve had this macaroni and cheese with blue cheese, Gruyère, Monterey Jack and any combinations of sharp cheddar cheese .  Use anything you have. Just make its good flavored melting cheese.

 

 

 

 One pot,creamy macaroni and cheese

 

Ingredients:

Beurre manié

3 tablespoons softened unsalted butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

 

1-2 tablespoons coarse salt

1 pound elbow pasta

1 cup of 2% or whole milk

8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

4 ounces Monterey jack cheese, shredded

fresh ground black pepper

 

Directions:

To make the beurre manié,using a fork, mash the softened butter and flour together in a small bowl until they are fully combined and you have one smooth lump. Set aside.

Add the coarse salt to a large pot of water and cook the pasta until al dente according to the directions on the box.

When the pasta is cooked, carefully pour out most of the water leaving about one cup of pasta water in with the pasta.

Put the pot with the pasta and one cup of pasta water back on the stove.

Add the lump of beurre manié and using a spoon mix together until you can see it start to thicken.

Add the milk, slowly, and mix as you continue to stir.

Add all your shredded cheese and continue to mix until everything has melted and become creamy. Serve immediately.

 

 

 

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