Throw It All the Wall and See What Sticks

Throw It All the Wall and See What Sticks

Sometimes, that’s the method I take when writing a recipe or making dinner. Try stuff out, see what happens. Little bit of this, little bit of that, riff on one thing or another. Case in point, recently I had in mind the makings of a gratin. However, we have a family member who is not eating potatoes. No worries, we had parsnips – that would be a cool swap. Also, I am all about the one pot/pan full meal, so decided to use the ground beef and the kale I had in the refrigerator. Cream. Parmesan. Done. I put it together and honestly thought, “well, I have no idea how THAT is going to turn out to be.” Result? Deeeelicious. Obviously, I had some thought that it would be decent, or I wouldn’t have tried it (“oooh, that sounds horrible – let’s do it!”). I definitely had the sense, though, that it would be simply adequate. Wrong. I LOVE this thing. The cream is so good at taming the bite of the parsnip, leaving just the sweet to come through, and that sweet balances the beefiness so nicely. The kale just feels good. My least veggie eater in the house gobbled this. Give it a try, and also try your own hand at tossing things up and seeing how they land. More often than not, your will hit the target.

Beef Parsnip Kale Gratin

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 lb ground beef

2-3 cups (you decide!) baby kale

½ lb parsnips, peeled and cut about 1/4 inch thick on the bias

1 cup heavy cream

¾ cup grated parmesan

½ tsp salt

½ tsp cracked pepper

Method:

Heat the oven to 375.  Cook the beef in a skillet over medium heat for about 6-8 minutes, until no longer pink.  Stir in the kale, cream, ½ cup of the parmesan and the salt and pepper. Line the bottom of the baking dish with the parsnips.  Pour the beef mixture over them then top it all with the rest of the parmesan. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the parsnips are tender and the cream is bubbling and thickened.

Dinner Becomes Breakfast

Dinner Becomes Breakfast

Sometimes, dinner turns into breakfast. Sometimes this happens when the leftovers are so delicious, you don’t want to wait until lunch to have them. Sometimes, you get up early to enjoy your quiet kitchen and make dinner for later in the day, or test a recipe for your blog and take a picture. Then it might happen that you give the bowl to your husband and he decides to eat the whole thing for his breakfast because he loves it so much. Soon after, your friend stops by to pick up your son for the baseball carpool, sees the potful and says, “ooh, is that black bean soup?” “Yep, want some?” Vigorous nod. Small bowl offered. “Mmmmmmmmmm”, Saturday morning bliss. Oh, and, by the way, you might end up with this as your cooking snack.

All this is to say 1) dinner can be breakfast and 2) apparently, this soup is irresistible. So make it.

Cuban Black Bean Soup

Ingredients:

4 oz pancetta

2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

¼ cup chopped onion (1 small or ½ medium-large)

1 green pepper, diced small and divided

2 cans black beans, partially drained

1 cup broth*

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp salt

Splash of red wine vinegar

Sour cream

Chopped cilantro

Method:

Place a soup pot over medium high heat.  Cook the pancetta in this for about 6-7 minutes, until fat has rendered and the meat is crispy.  Scoop the meat out into a bowl, leaving the drippings. Pour in a bit of the broth to loosen the bits of flavor at the bottom of the pan.  Add the garlic, onion and about ⅔ of the pepper. Cook these until softened, about 5-6 minutes. Stir in the cumin, oregano and salt. Add the beans and broth.  Let this simmer for about 10 minutes. Using an immersion blender, puree about half the soup. Stir in the splash of vinegar. Serve the soup topped with some sour cream, the reserved green pepper, some cooked pancetta and chopped cilantro.

*I say broth because you can use any sort that you want or have around.  It is equally good with vegetable, beef or chicken. Each one will certainly give the soup a different flavor, but all are tasty options.

To Honey Or Not To Honey?

To Honey Or Not To Honey?

A while back I made a mistake in my meal plan (if you don’t know about the meal plan you can learn about it here).  Now, this did 2 things: 1) freaked me out because I hate mistakes – not because I rationally think they are a big deal but because my irrational anxiety brain freaks out.  It just does.  But 2) it made me think about how that mistake highlighted my whole goal of helping people confidently step away from always needing a recipe when they cook.

Here is how it went down.  A subscriber wrote and pointed out that in the method portion of the recipe I mention adding the honey but there was no honey listed in the ingredients.  Oops.  I fixed it asap, but also thought back to why it happened and how it could be a helpful thing on which to shine a light.  I knew immediately the reason: I was undecided about the honey.  I made a carrot salad and had tried it both with and without honey, and liked it both ways.  I hadn’t decided right down to the wire, so even changed my mind mid recipe writing – decided no while listing out ingredients, but apparently yes while writing up the method.  Because, guess what – they were both good!  Long story short, a recipe is more often that not a guide rather than a rule.  Try things out.  Mix things up.  Follow your own path.  Here is the recipe.  Try it both ways and see what you think.

Shredded Carrot and Radish Salad

Ingredients:

4 medium/large carrots, grated

4 medium/large radishes, grated

1 tbsp chopped chives

2 tsp honey

2 tbsp lemon juice

¼ cup olive oil

Salt

Pepper

Method:

Mix juice, oil and honey until the honey has dissolved into the liquid.  Toss the carrots, radishes and chives together with the dressing. Add salt and pepper to your liking.

The Girl Needs Her Nut Milk But Waste Makes Me Nuts

The Girl Needs Her Nut Milk But Waste Makes Me Nuts

I have a kid who has developed a smallish obsession with iced coffee and alterna-milk.  If she goes to the fridge on any particular morning and finds that there is only milk from a cow, she questions me, in a way that only a 14 year old can, “why do you hate me?”  And, honestly, I am mostly happy to make it for her, because I am a mom, and caring for my people with food is what I do.  The thing that gets me, though, is I really hate waste.  I am a big fan of nose to tail, leaf to root, bark to pulp, and whatever other neat phrase you can think of to convey “use it all”.  As such, I am sometimes reluctant to make the nut milk, because I know I will need a second plan to utilize the left over meat.  Sometimes this is easy to do but sometimes, well, I just don’t feel like it.

Faced with a morning where we had run out of the last batch and neither of us thought ahead to soak some almonds the night before, I turned to our good friend, Cashew.  Cashews don’t need the big soak that almonds do so they are great for the last minute whirr through the Ninja.  She went running, I got to milking.  A couple of cups of nuts (or, I guess, technically, seeds) went into the blender along with two dates, a splash of vanilla and then water about double the amount of cashews.  Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  At this point, you seasoned nut milk makers and drinkers might be thinking, “but you can totally drink un-strained cashew milk.”  Sure, you can.  We don’t.  Too, um, cashew-y?  So I got this kind of thing going on.

Milk went into the fridge next to the cold brew and I was left staring at this.

That spoon, by the way is the one that comes with our Ice Cream Sundae Delivery service.  You heard that right: ice cream sundae.  Delivered to your door.  With cute reusable spoon.  We live in a magical place.

But, back to the task at hand, staring at this soggy cashew meat, I decided  to turn it into some little chocolate snacks, so I squeezed it through some cheese cloth, mixed in cocoa powder, honey, a bit of nut butter and oats that I toasted (just takes a few minutes).

 

On the first go it didn’t quite have the right consistency so I added a bit more nut butter to go from this

 

to this

And yes, that is a lego man in the background, because small people.

Roll’em up. pop ’em in the fridge for a few minutes and then this one, in from her run

could sit down to this

Want to try these for yourself?  As you could see, I didn’t have a recipe and you can do the same.  I believe in you!  My rough amounts were 2 cups of cashew paste, 2 tbsp honey, 2-3 tbsp nut butter, 1/4 cup cocoa powder and half-ish cup oats.  But just mix and try, taste and squeeze.  When it tastes and feels right, it’s right.   I wish you a very good day of running and rolling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I First Met: Cold Sesame Noodles (hint: it was the ’80’s)

When I First Met: Cold Sesame Noodles (hint: it was the ’80’s)

For a year after high school and before I trucked off to college, I had a glorious break hanging with family and their new little dude.  It was the late eighties and the food trends were things like California rolls, blooming onions, 7 layer dip, dips in bread bowls (haha this is still a staple of our Thanksgiving weekend), and blackened anything.  And there were also yuppies.  And yuppies who ate things like cold sesame noodles.  And so this is where I first knew of this dish’s existence – in a yuppie house (said with love) in NJ with a baby after high school.  Sounds vaguely like a twisted children’s book – but I digress.

Cold sesame noodles, sometimes called cold peanut noodles, sometimes with sesame paste (aka tahini), sometimes peanut butter, sometimes both.  Often with cucumber, sometimes carrots, sometimes spicy, sometimes not, now just as likely with zoodles or squoodles or sprouted things.  Sometimes udon, sometimes, soba, sometimes regular old linguini.  No matter, though, because it is all about the sauce.  Unctious, umami-rich, a little salt, a little tang, a lotta yum, the sauce is the dish.  That makes it expansively adaptable, as long as you’ve got that tasty sauce.  I actually hadn’t had or thought of these cold noodles in quite a while and I am not sure what brought them back to me these last weeks – perhaps the recent visit from that baby who is now (yikes, what?!) 30, a stellar chef and star creator of all things smoked, or perhaps the constant search for non-hot things to serve in these dog days – but I am sure glad to have gotten reacquainted.  What follows is my current version.  Enjoy with or without neon jellies and a Tab.

Ingredients:

8 oz package of udon noodles (can sub any other long pasta)

8 oz vegetable noodles – zucchini, carrot, squash, etc

½ cup peanut butter

2 tbsps tahini (ok to omit)

4 tbsps soy sauce

2 tbsps rice vinegar

2 tbsps sesame oil

2 tbsps brown sugar

5-6 tbsps hot water

1 tsp sriracha or hot sauce of choice

1 tbsp sesame seeds

Method:

Boil water for the noodles.  While the pasta noodles cook (don’t put the veg noodles in the water yet), prepare the sauce by placing the peanut butter, tahini, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, brown sugar, water, and hot sauce in a blender.  Blend on high until well incorporated. If it seems too thick add more water. When the noodles are close to done, after 8-10 minutes, depending on your noodles, add the vegetable noodles to the same boiling water.  Cook these for 1-2 minutes, until they just soften a bit but don’t get mushy. Drain all into a colander. In a large bowl, toss the noodles and sauce together until all the noodles are well covered with sauce. Top with sesame seeds before serving.

70’s Sunburn Cake

70’s Sunburn Cake

What is it that etches some memories in the brain more deeply than others?  I would think it would be largely a matter of impact or importance, big moments vs mundane days, but in my experience, and I am guessing yours, that isn’t necessarily the case.  Every summer with the first really steamy day – the sun is intense, even through the haze, the air is damp and not a hint of coolness is to be found, not even in the breeze, if there is one – I am vividly transported back to mid to late 70’s upstate NY.  It’s flip-flops and cut off shorts. It’s hoses washing wood panelled station wagons, Steve Miller Band on fm, nights of neighborhood-wide games of kick the can, and my friend’s pool. It is also, and here we get to the point, the Worst Sunburn Of My Life.  Maybe it’s Severe Pain that is the strongest etching tool, haha, because, boy, do I remember that day. I had been at this friend’s yard, at the pool but also helping with…something. That part hasn’t stuck around. What has stuck with me is the aftermath, sitting on the couch, watching The Hobbit, my mother plying me with grape Kool-Aid and salty chips (from the metal tin that came from the chip delivery man – WTH was that?  The 70’s were weird – and wonderful). So that flavor memory, for whatever mysterious reason, has strongly stuck with me. Years ago my husband and I spent way too much money on one meal, a fancy tasting menu by a fancy city chef and I barely remember one or two courses. Chips and kool-aid? With me forever. Go figure. In any case, it has been so persistent an impression that I figured that I needed to do something with it.  The first thought to come to mind was to try a cake.  I made a cake that had the kool aid mixed into it with crushed chps in the frosting, and one with finely ground chips added to the cake with a kool aid frosting. 

Served them both to the fam.  The consensus?  Decidedly MEH.  Boo.  Ok, that’s fine.  Back to the drawing board, because I am determined to work this hounding devil of a flavor monkey out.  Stay tuned, but if you want to try the cakes out yourself, have at it.  (Basically, add 1/4 cup powdered kool-aid to your favorite yellow cake or 1/2 cup frinely crushed potato chips.  Or whip it into a butter cream.  I am not going to bother with a recipe since I wasn’t satisfied with the outcome).  Better yet, if you come up with a tasty version, please share!  Hmmm…maybe a cocktail for my next attempt…

 

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