Hearty Fall Tabbouleh

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Hi, hi, HI!

We are back from Italy and Greece and have begun the slooow recovery process of acclimating back into life as SF residents, rather than residents of Pyrgos, the charming Greek village we’ve been living in for the past week. Um, I mean visiting. We certainly didn’t pretend that we were Greeks who lived in a luxe wine villa with a hot tub, but who also had no noticeable way of making income other than going to the beach every day, nosiree nope not us.

Travel is so restorative, and being in Greece was especially amazing. It was my first time there and Santorini is for inspiration and dreams, I tell you. It was the most magic place I’d ever been, and among the most magical of things: FOOOOOOD.

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As everyone knows, we at this house love to cook and eat. And yet, one of the perks of vacation is that you can pay someone else to do half of that equation for you for a few weeks and not feel even a little bit badly about it.

One of my staples last week was Greek salad, either as plain Greek salad OR tabbouleh! Tabbouleh = Greek salad + bulgar + a boat load of parsley – feta cheese. That there is called “salad math.”

Just because we’re back does not mean I plan on quitting my regime of Greek salad any time soon. I just had to San Francisicify it a bit, give it a little more protein and warmth for the chillier weather we’re having here. This may make the Lebanese shudder at the sacrilege of it all (sorry, Joya!) but it’s so delicious, let’s just hope they’ll make it and forgive us.

This tabbouleh calls for faro instead of bulgar, for extra heartiness, and cooked lentils for protein and to complement the nuttier flavor of the faro. The result is a hefty little salad that will fill you up without weighing you down, while also whisking you back to the best of Greece.

That last part might just be me…

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HEARTY FALL TABBOULEH

Ingredients:

. 1/2 cup cooked faro

. 1 heaping cup of chopping tomatoes (your preference as to what kind)

. 3 persian cucumbers

. 1 cup chopping parsley

. 2 lemons

. 1/2 small red onion

. 3/4 cup pre-cooked lentils

. EVOO, salt and pepper

Instructions:

  1. Cook the faro according to instructions.
  2. Chop the tomatoes, parsley, onion, cucumbers. Put it all into a big bowl, add the lentils, and mix mix.
  3. Once the faro is cooked, add it into the big bowl and top with the juice of two lemons and a very generous glug or two of EVOO, salt and pepper.

*Please note – you can play with all these measurements! This is how I happen to like my tabbouleh, but if you want more lemon or fewer tomatoes, or whatever – go for it!

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Cutting Board Pesto

Pesto on a crackerHey! Did you know you can make pesto without the food processor? Are you like, “Um, duh, of course you can!” Yeah, that’s what I thought, too! But then you think about it for just one second, and then you’re like, “WAIT. How DO you make pesto without a food processor?” EXACTLY. This, this right here, is how the jarred pesto people get you.

I could go on, and on, and on, about my mini food processor. And then I can think about how my pioneer ancestors would be so, so disappointed in me. At least, they would be if they knew what pesto was. Being Irish immigrants (or ex-pats, as it is apparently more PC  to say?) my guess is that they weren’t exactly one with the pesto. Or with the bathing. Or with the food in general, what with the famine and all. Aaaaand this just took a turn for the super depressing.

Either way, these were badass women who cooked with little more than two potatoes, a cauldron and a stick. Or so I tell myself while I whirred things away in the mini-chop. I simply should not be so attached to my food processor.

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Then, we took a professional knife skills class a few months ago and at the end of the class, our instructor taught us how to make a gorgeous pesto with just the ingredients + a kitchen knife. No food processor in sight. And I was prepared to be skeptical, until I tasted it.

And after that, I just feel bad for my immigrant ancestors, who WISH they could’ve gotten down with some cutting board pesto. They probably also wish they hadn’t gotten cholera and died while fording the rivers, but we can’t have it all.

What I’m really saying is, life’s short. Make this pesto immediately.

CUTTING BOARD PESTO

Ingredients:

. Healthy bunch of basil, aka, large

. 2-3 large garlic cloves.

. Sea salt

. Nuts – walnuts or pine nuts are a great choice

. Wedge of hard parmesan, to be hand grated into your pesto (the processed Kraft kind simply will not do. Also, it’s 2015, so I’m guessing the Kraft train has left the station, Godspeed and good luck to it.)

. Bottle of EVOO. You won’t use the whole thing, but the amount you use is an individual preference. Don’t limit yourself!

Instructions:

1. Wash and spin dry the basil, set it aside to air dry for a few minutes. Once dry, remove the stems.

2. Smash the garlic cloves with the side of your knife, and add a healthy pinch of salt. Continue to mash and combine until you have a little dollop of garlic paste. Scrape it to the center of your board using the top of the knife (in other words, don’t scrape the bottom of your knife or it will dull faster.)

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3. Place the basil and nuts in the center of the board, grate a healthy dose of park over the top, and start chopping! While I absolutely am not qualified to give anyone pro knife skills tips (heh, see what I did there?) what I can tell you is that you want the sharpest knife possible, and to cut into the smallest pieces you can. Just. Keep. Chopping. Until it looks about like this:

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4. Scrape everything into a bowl and add as much EVOO as you’d like. The consistency will range from a thick paste to a swirly sauce, pending how much you add. We like it right in the middle.

5. Try really hard not to eat it with a spoon, but it’s okay if you do. Bonus points if you can put it on a little cracker action before shoving it in your mouth. It also tastes amazing swirled into minestrone soup, on top of pasta, or as the shining star of your charcuterie platter.

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ENJOY, MY LITTLE EX-PATS

Scotch Cocktails

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{The Selkirk Sparkler}

Some say that a Scotsman is only a good as his whiskey. Being a Scottish lady, there are some things I still can’t get behind, and drinking Scotch neat is one of them. It must be the intermingled Irish, but I’d rather a glass of champagne or a Guinness any day!

As part of our Burns Night celebration, we wanted to appeal to all tastebuds. Ergo, two cocktails in celebration of all things Scotchy.

The Bobby Burns is a strong, medicinal drink. As the boys said, it’s a drink to put hair on your chest. For those who’d rather a fizz in the mouth than hair on the chests (like we lassies), the Selkirk Sparkler proved to be the perfect party drink. My goal was to take a classic whiskey sour and liven it up a little bit, and boy did we! Though for a lively night of any variety, either of these drinks will do just dandily.

The Bobby Burns

2 ounces Scotch

1 ounce sweet vermouth

1 dash Angostura bitters

2 dashes Benedictine or brandy

 

The Selkirk Sparkler

2 ounces whiskey

3 ounces sour mix

Ice

Champagne

 

 

Peanut Sauce + Soba Noodle Stir Fry

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This dish bears more than a passing resemblance to this. In fact, if I were to give this post a subtitle, it would be called, The Pad Thai That Isn’t Even Pad Thai But I Don’t Know What To Call It, Take 2.

But since we revisit this dish ALLLLLL the time, I thought it would be nice to pop in and write about some of the ways we’ve tweaked this dish to make it even more delicious:

Start with the same creamy sauce, with all the peanutty goodness you can handle, but with a fun new twist – cashews. I ran out of peanuts one day and happened to have chili lime cashews on hand, so into the food processor they went and wowza. Mind. Blown. I also started using half almond butter, half peanut butter as the base of the sauce and it hits the spot always.

Next upgrade: be gone rice noodles that stick together and constantly misbehave! Don’t let the door hit you on your way back to the paddy. Now, we use buckwheat soba noodles and they add a heartiness that, frankly, rocks.

In addition to (or sometimes instead of) julienne carrots, add some lightly sautéed julienne bell peppers. I also mandolin slice a zucchini and it gives the whole dish another texture, but can be slurped and twirled just like the noodles. Finish it off with a really healthy handful of cilantro and you have a gorgeous, colorful dish that is reliably tasty, impresses guests, and will make you want to lick the bowl because it’s so good.

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PEANUT SAUCE + SOBA NOODLE STIR FRY

Ingredients:

For the peanut Sauce 

. 1/2 cup of almond butter OR 1/4 cup each almond butter and peanut butter. Up to you. The almond butter only makes this dish a little sweeter, while the peanut butter adds back in a little balance.

. 1/2 cup of soy sauce

. 4 cloves of garlic

. 1/4 cup of honey

. 1.5 tablespoons of rice vinegar

. 1 tablespoon of red chile powder

. 1/2 tablespoon of chopped fresh ginger

. The juice of 1 lime

. Small handful of Trader Joe’s chili lime cashews

Stir Fry

. 1 large zucchini

. 2 bell peppers, any color you like (I like orange, red or yellow)

. 8 oz buckwheat soba noodles

. 1/2 lb. protein of your choice

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Instructions:

1. In a large, pre-heated cast iron skillet, lightly pan fry your chicken, shrimp, or whatever protein you’ve chosen. Sometimes we make this with chicken for a big dinner, other times we go veg and keep things on the lighter side.

2. As your protein cooks, put the water on to boil; then julienne bell peppers, mandolin slice zucchini, peel garlic. If you have time, start measuring sauce ingredients and putting them into a food processor. The hardest part of this recipe is that sauce assembly takes awhile because of measuring.

3. Put the noodles into the pot; finish up the sauce assembly and press go!

4. Once your protein is cooked, set it aside (or put it into the oven to keep it warm) and place the peppers into the skillet. Cook to the desired doneness (I like them mostly cooked, but with a tiny bit of bite left, so about five minutes of sauté) and then add the zucchini ‘noodles’ for about a minute.

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5. Add 1/4 cup sauce, protein, noodles, and stir! Add more peanut sauce on top if you’d like, and a nice handful of cilantro on top.

EAT IT REAL GOOD.

All photos for this post by Nathan!

Grilled Cheese for Grown-ups

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When I was a little kid, there was nothing better than lunch at my grandma’s house: grilled cheese, tomato soup and a dill pickle. To this day, her sandwiches are the gold standard for what makes a grilled cheese great. First, you start with whole wheat bread, always. Grandma was a nurse and my parents are adorable, PBS-loving suburban hippies – white bread is akin to cocaine in my family. Probably worse. They’d probably rather you live the Bohemian life and try cocaine than eat the evil known as Wonder Bread. There will also be an extra circle in hell reserved for you if you bought that white bread at a Wal-Mart.

Grandma always cut thick slabs of sharp cheddar, and then, being the good student of Julia that she was, buttered the heck out of both sides. It sizzled in a nonstick pan for what seemed like an unreasonably long amount of time to a small child (i.e., about 10 minutes). Once it achieved a crunch to rival “that scene” from Chef, it was sliced on the diagonal and served with Campbell’s tomato soup and a giant spear of dill pickle on the side. If we’d been especially well behaved, we would get to wash it all down with a very small mug of root beer. My grandma is no drill sergeant, but she also isn’t the warm and cuddly type of grandma who just doles out the root beer for funsies. NAY, you had to earn that root beer by not pinching your brother. Some days I was more successful with this than others.

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Yesterday was a foggy day in SF (is there any other kind?) and I’ve been fighting off the same dang cold for four days in a row. A classic grilled cheese lunch seemed to be exactly what the nurse ordered, but with a slightly grown-up twist:

First, whole wheat bread, always. We like Dave’s Killer Bread, but any sprouted wheat will do. Then, instead of classic cheddar, I spread a medium layer of La Delice de Bourgogne on one side. It’s a rich triple cream French cheese that spreads like buttah, I tell you. Atop the La Delice, I layered very thin slices of Dubliner (a cheese so good I could eat it by the pound), parmesan gouda (a hybrid cheese from Trader Joe’s that is both confusing and confusingly delicious), and topped the whole thing off with a thin deli slice of pepper jack. Because I’m just crazy like that. And also because we’ve been entertaining a lot lately, and we have a lot of leftover cheese nubbins congregating in the back of the fridge. If we’re not careful, they’re going to unionize and start making demands.

Good student of Julia that I am, I buttered the heck out of both sides. And then it went into a pre-heated cast iron on medium-low for approximately 10 minutes, until the middle was melty and the outside had that perfect crunch.

We ate it with a steaming bowl of roasted red pepper and tomato bisque, and a side of pickles.

My grandma isn’t quite strong enough to wield a skillet and whip up a grilled cheese anymore. In fact, I’m not sure that she remembers our lunches or teaching me to cook innumerable things, a thought that makes me sad.

But I know if she were able to transport herself to my kitchen in San Francisco, she’d have eaten that lunch with a big smile on her face. Because as Julia once said, “I think careful cooking is love, don’t you? The loveliest thing you can cook for someone who’s close to you is about as nice a valentine as you can give.”

And cooking something my grandma taught me makes a simple grilled cheese sandwich one of the loveliest things I know how to cook.

GRILLED CHEESE FOR GROWN UPS

Ingredients:

. Two slices of whole wheat bread

. 2 ounces each of La Delice, Dubliner, Parmesan Gouda

. 1 slice of pepper jack cheese

. A few pats of butter

(This makes one sandwich)

Instructions:

1. Pre-heat a cast iron skillet on low. The trick is to get the skillet to a nice temp so it’s not still heating while you’re cooking.

2. Spread La Delice on one side, then layer up the other cheeses however you like.

3. Lay the pepper jack on top, then close the sandwich.

4. Butter one side well, then place the sandwich butter-side down in the pan. It should meet the skillet with a nice sizzle. While it’s cooking, butter the other side.

5. After about three minutes, flip it.

6. Keep checking to assess for meltiness in the middle and crispness on the outsides. If the sides are browning before the cheese is melting, turn down the skillet. You should see the cheese start to ooze out the sides when it’s done.

7. Cut on the diagonal and serve with a soup and salty garnish of your choosing. A classy glass of lunch wine wouldn’t be totally out of order either. After all, Grandma loves a nice chardonnay almost as much as she likes a good grilled cheese.

Enjoy!

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All photos in this post by Nathan!

Refrigerator Pickles

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It’s New Year’s Eve! Either the dumbest or most festive occasion of the year depending on who you ask. I, myself, am torn betwixt the two. If I have something fun planned, then I am all aboard the New Year’s Eve train. If I have nothing fun planned and am pouting, then this holiday barely justifies as such and it’s free to leave the station while I cry on the platform and the smoke swirls around me in a way that is deeply wistful and Dr. Zhivago-esque.

Thankfully for everyone around me, this New Year’s Eve is going to be a fun and fancy dinner party with friends, cards, games, topped off with a champagne toast at our neighborhood pub! In honor of dinner parties any time of year, I thought it would be fun to share my go-to hostess gift and party must-have: pickles. I know, I know, here we go with the pickling again. But this recipe couldn’t be easier and if you need a quick addition to a charcuterie platter, or just something sweet and homemade to bring to the host, this recipe is for you. If you have five minutes then you can have pickles.

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REFRIGERATOR PICKLES

Ingredients:

. 1/4 cup white vinegar

. 8-10 persian cucumbers, depending on size

. 2 cloves of garlic, minced or whole. Minced gives a stronger garlic flavor, while whole cloves are more subtle.

. 2 t. dill, fresh or dried (I find dried to be simplest, though purists might be annoyed with the shortcut)

. 1/2 t. salt

. Optional: 1 t. minced jalapeño, to make those pickles spice-aayyy!

Instructions:

1. Thinly slice your cucumbers and stack them in a jar.

2. Pour the vinegar over the top. It will seem like not nearly enough, but somehow, it is. Trust, my child.

3. Add garlic, salt, dill, then close the jar and shake it up! Leave in the fridge for at least four hours, but up to overnight before serving. If you can remember, flip the jar a few times, to make sure the brine is evenly distributed.

These will keep for about a week and they are beyond. Make them now.

PS – these make an excellent addition to dirty martinis. Call me crazy if you must, but there is something about a homemade pickle slice that compliments a cocktail onion in a gin martini in a way that if I’m wrong I don’t wanna be right, right? Right.

Festive Dipped Pretzels

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I need to be honest with you – this post feels like a bit of a sham. It’s like when a popular blogger advises using cake mix to make “the perfect birthday treat!”, or “reveals” that frozen french fries are how she makes her frites so very photo-worthy. Look at me, I’m Sandra Lee. There’s nothing wrong with either of those things – because who doesn’t enjoy a festive Funfetti cake from time to time? (or yearly, no matter how old you get, ahem) – but let’s not get on a high horse about it cowboy!

So please note, I am on a very low horse about all this. It’s like one of those tiny ponies you can’t believe exist, but which totally do. (Nathan, are you reading this? If we can’t have a dog, I want a miniature horse!)

Do you want to make the perfect Christmas treat NO COOKING REQUIRED?! Do you want to create something gorgeous that takes very little skill or effort? Do you want to impress your friends and feel secretly smug? Then have I got a recipe for you!

FESTIVE DIPPED PRETZELS

Ingredients:

. 12 ounces of whatever type of dipping flavor you like! This year, we used semi-sweet chocolate chips, white baking chocolate, and peanut butter chips.

. Large bag of pretzel rods, wherever you can find them! I find that sourcing pretzel rods is one of the hardest parts of this recipe because dang these bad boys are difficult to find. We used Snyder’s of Hanover and they weren’t even broken when we bought them. Kudos to you, neighborhood grocery store!

. Holiday-themed sprinkles and toppings of your choice! We like sprinkles and colored sugar, but mini-M’n’Ms, tiny chocolate chips and mini marshmallows would also be fun!

gold swirl pretzels

Instructions:

1. Assemble all the ingredients and lay out a workspace: we cover the table and countertops in waxed paper so we have plenty of room for drying.

2. Coarsely chop the chocolate into small chunks. No chopping needed if you’re just using chocolate chips.

3. Lay either your white or dark chocolate in the top of a double boiler and turn the heat to medium-low. The water should never boil, or touch the bottom of the pan on top. This is especially true for white chocolate (which is not actually chocolate) and peanut butter. They have a much lower heat point, so just stay on low and be patient.

You can also melt your chips in the microwave, but I’ve found that method to be faster in the short term and more cumbersome in the long term. Chocolate on a double boiler will keep it’s consistency for however long this project takes.

4. Once the chocolate is liquid, you can start dipping! Depending on the depth of your pot, you can physically dip the pretzel or you may end up spooning it on and smoothing out with a spatula. Either way works.

5. Roll in toppings or sprinkle them on before the chocolate sets. This year, we also did a lot of striping and swirling, which, now that I type it, makes it sound like we were at an old timey church hall dance instead of just hanging in the kitchen. Decorate however works for you. My favorites are the chocolate peanut butter swirl with gold sprinkles. Like Reba says, FANCY.

6. Lay them out on the waxed paper to dry. Let them set overnight, just to make sure they’re good to go.

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