Food


Strawberry basil lemonade

Tasty on a hot summer day

Our neighbors left us a big bag of lemons from their tree. What’s a girl to do with an abundance of citrus?

Obviously, lemonade is the answer. But I didn’t want to make boring normal lemonade. And I have an abiding love for sweet and savory flavors mixing together, so I decided to make some strawberry basil lemonade.

It’s very simple and delicious. These ingredients are not exact. I like my lemonade fairly tart and strong. I recommend mixing to taste.

Ingredients: (makes about gallon of lemonade)

Strawberry Basil Simple Syrup:

1.5 cups of fresh water
1.5 cups of sugar
1.5 pounds of strawberries, chopped
.75 cups of fresh basil, sliced into very small pieces

In a small saucepan, add the sugar and water. Heat over medium heat until the sugar is melted. Then add the strawberries and basil. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let it steep until completely cool.

Strain out the strawberries and basil using a fine mesh strainer. (You can save these solids. They are delicious on vanilla ice cream or in strawberry shortcake).

Making simple syrup

Lemonade:
3.5 cups of lemon juice
10 cups of fresh water (or more if you find it too strong).
1 recipe of strawberry-basil simple syrup

Mix the water, lemon juice, and simple syrup in large container and shake well. I recommend adding about 3/4 of all of the ingredients, tasting, and mixing in what is necessary to get the taste you like. And then drink up!

Some of the makings of a good breakfast

As absolutely boring as this sounds, I love oatmeal. It’s actually my favorite breakfast food (yes, that means it beats out bacon). And while I can make do with instant, I really, really love steel cut oatmeal. Of course, if you’ve ever made steel cut oatmeal, you know that it is not the most weekday morning friendly meal–it takes about a half hour to cook. Yes, it’s relatively unattended cooking time, but still, I am not really a morning person, so the less I have to do before I get out the door for work in the morning, the better.

Which is why my favorite thing to do lately is make oatmeal in my crockpot.

I use this Alton Brown recipe as a base, but I have quite a few adaptations.

First off, Brown’s recipe does not call for salt. Which…just no. I have always added a bit of salt to the oatmeal I’m cooking, because it just gives it a little flavor kick. So usually add a bit less liquid than he calls for (generally I take away about 3/4 a cup of water) and a dash of salt. I usually don’t add figs, instead, I toss in two Granny Smith apples (peeled, cored, and diced). I also add a hefty dose of cinnamon and ginger.

If I do a recipe and a half worth, I get enough oatmeal for the three of us (Ron, me, and our roommate) for three mornings. The lovely things is, it refrigerates and re-heats beautifully. I refrigerate the leftovers on the first morning and they can be reheated for about 2 minutes in the microwave and taste pretty much just like fresh.

I don’t have kids or anything, but mornings are really hard for me to get going, so anything that makes the day easier helps so much. And, it’s part of my ever, on-going, sometimes unsuccessful quest to be healthier. It’s a lot easier to say no to a doughnut if I have something I already like.

Super Veggie Shakshuka

The finished product. It was so good.

One of the classes I took at Craftcation was a cooking class with Aida Mollenkamp. It was a great class, and not just because she made us cocktails at the end of it. I love taking cooking classes. I know how to cook a lot of things, but I find myself often falling into a rut of what I know how to do the quickest and what is the most familiar. Cooking classes open me up to new ideas and flavor profiles.

One of the recipes we made in the class was her Tunisian Harissa Shakshuka. It was so, so good and a really neat twist on traditional Shakshuka. But her recipe is a little bit spicy and since all three of us in my house suffer from acid reflux on some level, spicy food is a once-in-a-while occasion for us. So I went searching for a more traditional variation on her recipe that I could make.

I ended up using this recipe from Food and Wine as a jumping off point, but since I’m me, I still made some changes. I made it vegetarian, simply because the store didn’t have any good pancetta when I was shopping. In fact, since I’m always looking to add more vegetables to what I cook, I added both carrots and asparagus to the recipe. I cut up the carrots into small discs and tossed them in when I added the onion, garlic, and chard stems. And I cut the asparagus into relatively small pieces and added it to the pan about a minute before I added the tomatoes.

I really don’t like pre-made tomato sauce. I much prefer to make my own and it’s not difficult (in fact, I’ve shared a really simple marinara recipe of my own in the past) so used a 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes, and 14 oz can of diced tomatoes, and about two tablespoons of tomato paste to approximate the prepared tomato sauce. I also added Italian parsley to the recipe at the end, right before putting in the chard, just because I thought it would add a little freshness. And I used Romano cheese instead of Parmesan, simply because it’s what I had on hand.

I loved this recipe. It’s not bland (the crushed red pepper gives it a little kick without being so spicy that I end up miserable with acid reflux) and it cooks up pretty quickly. I had rehearsal tonight for a show I’m doing and I was able to start this when I got home from work and be done with plenty of time to eat. As an added plus, the time it was in the oven let me clean up the kitchen before I ate, which is something I always appreciate when I’m on a tight schedule.

I was a little worried that Ron wouldn’t like it; he’s a little picky about the consistency of his eggs, but he loved it too. And since I made such a big pan, we had a lot of the stuff uneaten, so I made some pasta to to eat with the leftovers for lunch today. I love it when I get two meals for the work of one.

I actually have a lot of ideas for variations on this theme. If I made it with roasted red peppers and soyrizo and served it with beans and tortillas it would make a really tasty breakfast. Or I could add chickpeas, sprinkle on some Feta, and eat it with pita for a Greek flavor. But definitely two thumbs up for this quick, tasty, easy, and filling recipe.

I eat a lot of vegetables. I live in a land of perpetual summer (okay, not really, but the weather is such here that it’s the growing season for something all year round), which means that I’m very lucky in that I can pretty much always get fresh produce. Our farmer’s market goes year round.

A few years ago, I was part of a CSA, but I stopped because the pickup was unfortunately too far from my house. So now I just hit the farmer’s market. But the cool part of being in the CSA is that I got a lot of different vegetables that I hadn’t really been exposed to. Or that I thought I didn’t like.

One thing you get a lot of in CSA boxes are greens. Kale, chard, spinach, beets with greens attached. I never really thought I liked greens, except for spinach. But I didn’t want them to go to waste, so I learned how to cook greens and make them tasty. (And healthy. This is not the southern method of cooking greens that uses bacon fat!)

This is less a recipe and more some guidelines. I often use this to whip up a side dish to whatever else we are having, and to use up vegetables that I need to eat before they go bad. It’s very versatile

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Some chopped rainbow chard. Don’t be intimidated.

Ingredients

1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced (you can substitute or add onion if you want)
Any other vegetables you want to cook, chopped into smallish pieces, as if you’re going to saute or stir-fry them. (I find carrots, red peppers, mushrooms, and summer squashes work really well, but you can use pretty much whatever you want).
1/8 cup of water or broth
Your greens, washed and chopped into ribbons (I’ve done this with kale, chard, and, collards, and beet greens, it works with them all. Here is good tutorial on how to cut kale, and it works for any green with a stem you don’t want to eat.)
Salt and pepper
Herbs and spices (Go wild here. I’m biased toward Italian flavors because that’s what I grew up cooking, so I usually use thyme, basil, and oregano. But really, you can use whatever you want that will complement your main dish).

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If the oil is too hot, this will burn.

Heat the oil on low/medium heat. Add the garlic and/or onion and a little salt. Cook until they are translucent. You don’t really want to brown them.

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All I had today were some orange and yellow carrots. I sort of need to go grocery shopping.

Add your other vegetables. Add what needs to cook longest first, let it cook for a bit, then add the next ingredient after a minute or two. I usually add carrots first, then mushrooms, then bell peppers. Summer squash goes in last, because I happen to like it close to raw and really don’t like it overcooked. Add more salt, some pepper, and whatever other herbs and spices you are using.

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This looks like a lot, but it will shrink.

After these have cooked a bit, but aren’t totally done, pour your water or broth into the pan and add the greens. Put a little more salt and some herbs.

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Your tasty, healthy side dish for the night.

Cover and let steam until the greens are wilted and tender. This takes about five to ten minutes, depending on which greens you are cooking, how tough they happen to be, and how much you have. I just take a peek every few minutes and try a bit until they are not too bitter or crunchy. Serve with the rest of your meal.

Congratulations, you’re eating your greens! I know this isn’t super gourmet, but it’s honestly one of my favorite ways to add some veggies to my diet, no matter what else I’m eating. It’s great as a side to chicken, steak, or fish; I’ve also tossed it with pasta or served it over polenta. And it’s super easy.

What are your favorite things to do with greens? Let me know in the comments and give me some ideas!

Shave Ice

Perfect Stress Relief

It has been a ridiculously difficult week at work. Like, stupidly hard and frustrating. I’ve been trying really hard to not let it get me down. But today…oh today, it was really difficult to just not give up. My boss and everyone in my department is really feeling the strain of this busy time.

It’s also a kind of employee appreciation week this week and so each day there has been something fun and special going on. One day we got breakfast, one day there was a health fair, one day they got the Kogi Truck to come for lunch. These things have been the one bright spot of each day this week. And today, we got Hawaiian Shave Ice. I don’t know if you’ve ever had it, but it’s amazing.

It’s kind of like a snow cone, but better, because the ice is fluffier and smaller. Plus, they have way better syrup flavors than when I used to get snow cones as a kid. There is guava and mango and orange-pineapple syrup. It’s topped with condensed coconut milk, which is really, really good. But my favorite part is that beneath the fluffy, snowy goodness, there is a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It is amazing.

So, as I sat outside in the gorgeous spring weather, with a breeze blowing on me and the flowers blooming (it is such a pretty day today), eating my cherry and coconut shave ice, I thought to myself that today wasn’t so bad. It’s beautiful out. I have ice cream and sugar and fluffy ice. Things could be a lot worse.

My good mood was ruined ten minutes later when I realized that there was no way I was getting out of here on time today, and I get to work on the weekend (yay!). But for ten sweet minutes, I felt very relaxed and at peace.

And seriously, shave ice is delicious. Go get some if they have it anywhere around you.

So I’m a member of two yarn clubs. I love yarn clubs. I get surprise yarn presents in the mail periodically, which just makes me really happy. Plus, in both I’m getting cool extras, like patterns and recipes. I already showed you my first shipment from the Cookie A Yarn Club. But I got my second shipment in the mail this week.

Dream in Color Everlasting Sock in Violet Hour

Dream in Color Everlasting Sock in Violet Hour. Cookie A picks some great yarn!

This time it’s Dream in Color Everlasting Sock in the colorway Violet Hour (which is exclusive to Cookie’s sock club). It’s a lovely purple color. The yarn is really soft; it’s 100% superwash merino. It’s an 8-ply too, which I think means it will wear really, really well as socks. The patterns that come with it (Tulip and Pirouette are both totally gorgeous. Plus the recipes this time around are for chocolate cookies and lavender shortbread, which both look crazy delicious!

Unique Sheep Yarn Club Shipment

Unique Sheep Yarn Club Shipment

I’m also a member of the Unique Sheep’s Gourmet Yarn Club. I got some lovely worsted weight yarn in some pretty spring/sage green and lemon yellow. I also got recipes for cookies (almond shortbread cookies and peanut butter cookies), a pattern for a potholder (which I likely won’t knit because I don’t need a potholder, but it’s really cute), and some adorable cookie cutters (a sheep and a chick). The yarns go great together. They aren’t terribly soft, so I’m not sure what I’ll make with it. Any suggestions?

I also really can’t wait for my life to calm down so I have to some time to bake some of these cookies and play with this yarn. But right now I’m consumed with a lot of other projects (some knitting, some not.) But I just love yarn clubs. Even though I pay for them, it feels like getting a gift every month, because I never know what to expect, but I always know it’ll be good.

I love cooking and eating homemade food, but sometimes I’m so busy, it’s really hard to carve out the time. I’m not big on processed foods, so I’ve added some recipes to my repertoire that are quick and easy. This, for me, often involves pasta (or sometimes spaghetti squash, which is my favorite pasta substitute and which freezes beautifully). But I’m not a huge fan of sauces out of jars. Now, I can make really elaborate pasta sauce from scratch that takes all day, but that doesn’t really help me if I’m hungry after at 6:30 in the evening, so I’ve developed a really easy pasta sauce recipe that takes only about 30 minutes.

All you need is some tomatoes (canned or fresh), a little bit of oil, garlic and/or onion, salt and pepper, and whatever spices you want to add. (You can use dried or fresh herbs. Since this is my go-to for when I’m in a hurry, I tend to use dried herbs, because I always have them in my pantry.) It involves minimal chopping and the amounts of the ingredients to use is really loose–you can adjust pretty much all of it to taste.

So here is Jen’s Easy Pasta Sauce Recipe for you. Try it and let me know what you think!

Ingredients for Easy Pasta Sauce

Ingredients

Ingredients

1 to 2 tablespoons of cooking oil (I prefer olive, but you can use whatever you like)
3 cloves of garlic, minced and/or one half of a yellow or white onion, diced
1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes or several fresh ripe tomatoes, diced (I often use canned unless tomatoes are in season)
Salt and pepper to taste
Dried Herbs to taste (I use basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, marjoram, and parsley)
Optional: To thicken the sauce, you can use 2 tablespoons of tomato paste (I do this if I have it on hand, but if I don’t the sauce turns out fine regardless.)

Onions and garlic for easy pasta sauce

Cooking the onions and garlic

Heat the oil on medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and a little bit of salt. Cook until they are limp and translucent, but not browned.

(At this point, if you want, you can add some ground beef or ground turkey and brown it for meat sauce. I usually don’t do this, simply because this is my go to for nights when I have nothing to cook, which usually means I don’t have meat on hand. But if you want to, brown some meat and drain the excess fat before proceeding to the next step. Another option is to saute some portobello mushrooms and then proceed.)

Pasta Sauce

Pasta Sauce. Looks yummy!

Dump in your tomatoes and dried herbs and salt and pepper. You can add red wine if you want to be fancy. I use a lot of herbs, because I like a lot of flavor. You can also add tomato paste at this point. Cook uncovered on low to medium heat for about a half-hour, until the sauce thickens. (Yes, it will splatter. That’s okay. That’s why stoves wipe up easily. Just, you know, don’t cook in your white work shirt maybe.)

Dinner is served.  Pasta sauce, sauteed veggies, and rotini

Yum!

Serve over pasta, meat, veggies, polenta, or whatever you want. If you want to be really fancy, you can stir in some hard cheese like Romano cheese. But shaking some of the Parmesan out of the green can over the top works just fine too. Tonight I served it over some sauteed mushrooms, zucchini, and yellow peppers and some rotini. This is one my favorite dinners for those busy nights when I just am too tired to do something elaborate.

What about you? What is your favorite easy dinner for a busy night? Let me know in the comments.

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