What to make on a chilly fall’s morn? Why oatmeal of course! Though because I normally have some form of oatmeal throughout the week I wanted to make it extra special.
I’d recently made a version of Not Without Salt’s [Ashley Rodriguez’s] home-made chai recipe
and was blown away with how good it was. Much better than any chai I’d had from a tea bag. Even my boyfriend who’s had his share of good chai while hiking around Nepal [lucky dog] was impressed.
So when I lounged in bed this past Sunday morning thinking of what lay in my pantry and in my fridge I thought why not cook some old fashioned oats in some homemade chai and see what happens…so I shuffled downstairs in my shearling slippers and got cooking.
It takes a little more effort but I think it’s worth trying. I mean who doesn’t want the smell of simmering home-made chai filling their kitchen?
Sunday Morning Chai Oatmeal
[Prep: 5 / Cook: 30 TOTAL: 35]
- 2 cups of old fashioned oatmeal
- 3 ½ cups milk [I used 2%]
- ¼ cup sugar, I used granulated sugar and light brown sugar mixed equal parts
- 2 inch piece of ginger peel and sliced or about ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- 8 black pepper corns
- 1 cinnamon stick or about ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 8 whole cloves or about 1 teaspoon ground clove
- 8 whole cardamom pods crushed or about 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 tablespoon loose black tea
- ¼ teaspoon almond extract or vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon all spice
- pinch of nutmeg or a few grates
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds [optional]
- ½ cup whole pecans, roughly chopped, lightly salted and toasted
- ½ granny smith apple, washed, and finely chopped
- 4 dried figs [or any other fruit] chopped
Pour milk into a medium sized saucepan. Add sugar, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, whole cloves, cardamom pods, grated nutmeg, all spice, black tea leaves, and slices of peeled ginger. For this recipe I used a ¼ teaspoon of almond extract, mostly because I was out of vanilla extract [it still tasted good!]. Carefully bring mixture to a simmer over medium high heat. I say carefully because milk likes to boil over-quickly. It should take about 8 minutes for the mixture to come to a simmer; you should keep an eye on it and stir often so the milk doesn’t stick to the bottom. Once it has come to a simmer, remove the chai mixture from the heat and let sit 20 minutes to steep.
While the chai mixture is steeping prep the toppings for the granola. Wash and dice up the granny smith apple and chop the dried figs. Cut the pecans in halves or thirds. You don’t want the pieces to be too small because they will burn when toasted. Put the pecan pieces into a small cast iron skillet and lightly salt. Toast for 3-5 minutes on medium heat stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on them, once they start to toast – you’ll smell it – they will burn not long after. When they are ready remove them from the skillet or they will keep cooking and burn.
When the chai mixture is done steeping, strain it into a small mixing bowl. Discard the used spices and pour the strained chai back into the saucepan. Bring it back to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring often. Once it simmers, add the oatmeal, turn the heat down to medium and let sit for 2 minutes. Add chia seeds to the chai oatmeal and wait 2 more minutes stirring often. The oatmeal should be done after 4-5 minutes.
Serve in a warmed bowl and top with the apple, pecans and figs.
I apologize – I haven’t been posting recently, but I have been cooking and eating – a lot. You see that’s been the problem either I don’t stop to take photos for my blog, or I’m trying something out for the first time – either a random concoction of my own or someone else’s recipe that I just cant stop thinking about. I even tried my hand at home made pasta. Excuse # 3 is that my sister was visiting – just in time to catch the last weekend of the Texas State Fair and all the fried food you could dream up. Again, I was all set to take photos, but I quickly got distracted by said fried food, and my good intentions fell by the way side.
Therefore I’ve decided to dedicate this post to left overs based on some killer recipes I’ve tried out. The first is a smoothie, the Green Machine Smoothie
to be exact taken from Whole Living’s website, it yields about 3 cups worth of healthy goodness. It combines parsley, romaine, kale, pineapple and ginger perfectly – I know I’ve gone on about parsley before but who knew it could taste so good in a smoothie? The recipe also calls for mango, but I’ve subbed in apple juice and apricot juice, it’s just as good. Have coconut water hanging around, you could add a little of that too! So I’m getting off track and could very easily end up wandering into my kitchen and see what else I can throw into my blender. My point is that I have some romaine lettuce and purple kale in my fridge and whenever I have romaine I always want to make a creamy caesar salad.
This brings me to the next recipe that I was literally talking about for days - Melissa Clarks’, Green Goddess Roasted Chicken
from the New York Times. I don’t cook chicken often much less a whole chicken, but the photos from this NYTimes story where pretty ridiculous. All you had to do to was blend a few ingredients, Buttermilk, basil, chives, green onion, garlic, and a little salt and pepper, do a spatchcock number on that chicken [butterfly it] and let it marinate over night. Then roast in the oven for about 40 minutes at 500 degrees. You reserve a little of the marinade sauce at the beginning to drizzle on the finished bird and its pretty close to roasted chicken perfection. The only suggestion I would make is that if your bird is small enough after it’s been flattened, brown the underside in a cast iron skillet and then transfer it into the oven.
Basically what I am left with is, some leafy greens, left over roasted chicken, and a badass basil chive buttermilk sauce. So yes, in my mind this equals a rockstar version of the good old traditional chicken caesar salad.
Rockstar Chicken Caesar Salad
[Prep: 20 / TOTAL: 20]
[Serving size depends on home much chicken is left over]
- leftover roasted chicken, pulled off the bone and sliced.
- whatever greens you have in the fridge, in this case I have kale, romaine and arugula, wash and chop [shaved brussel sprouts work really well in this type of salad]
- handful of cherry tomatoes, washed and sliced in half
- avocado, pitted and cubed
- 4 tablespoons panko, toasted [you can also you plain breadcrumbs here]
- parmesan cheese to grate over the top
- pinch of cayenne pepper, salt and cracked fresh pepper
- ½ cup leftover buttermilk sauce
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 anchovy fillets
- 1 egg yolk [optional, I didn't have any eggs, but including one will make your dressing creamier]
- juice from one lemon or about 2 tablespoons
- cracked pepper to taste
[this marinade is already pretty salty, you probably wont need to add any extra]
For the basil and chive buttermilk dressing, whisk all of the ingredients together in small bowl except for the olive oil. The oil you should slowly incorporate a little at a time while whisking, so it can emulsify and the dressing can become thicker. This dressing won’t become as creamy as a traditional caesar salad because of the volume of buttermilk already in the sauce – it will still taste darn good.
To assemble the salad just wash and chop up the romaine, kale [stem it first] arugula and put into a large mixing bowl. Wash and halve the cherry tomatoes, pit and cube/slice the avocado and mix both in with the greens. Here you can pre-mix the salad with a few tablespoons of the dressing – just enough to coat everything.
In small skillet or saucier pan toast a 4 tablespoons of panko crumbs on medium-high heat. Add a dash of olive oil, a pinch of salt, a little cracked pepper and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Toast for 4 minutes, stirring a few times so it doesn't burn.
Pull the roasted chicken off the bones and slice it up. [You should save all the bones, skin and other inedible pieces from the whole roasted chicken, it will make killer stock. You can always save them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer until you are ready to make a homemade stock.]
Plate the mixed salad and top with the sliced chicken. Drizzle more of the dressing on top and finish off with the toasted panko, the shaved parmesan and a few grinds of cracked pepper.
[If you see something missing in this photo it's because I had to ditch the purple kale, it smelled pretty bad – it had gone funky. It’s always a bummer when food goes to waste...]
NOTE: If you have some leftover chicken but no buttermilk sauce (so sad) no worries, here’s a basic caesar dressing that’s easy to whip up:
Classic Caesar Dressing
[Should make enough for 2-4 salads, depending on serving size]
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 3-4 anchovy fillets, washed if packed in salt
- juice from one lemon or about 2 tablespoons
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Blend all the ingredients together in small food processor, except the olive oil, or mash anchovies and pressed garlic together in a mortar and pestle and incorporate all the ingredients – again, except the olive oil. Transfer to a small bowl or measuring cup and slowly drizzle the olive oil while whisking the mixture. The slow drizzle will help the dressing come together and become creamy. If it becomes too thick for your liking you can always add a little water or vinegar to thin it out to be more like a vinaigrette.
The varieties of potato salads are endless. Some are light and fresh, others tangy and vinegary with chunks of cornichon, some are heavy on the mustard seeds, other the mayo. Everyone has a favorite. I never turn down potato salad; I have to try them all.
This general understanding is what brought me to my latest creation. This past summer I was lucky enough to be invited to an out of this world, celebratory, indulgent, week long vacation in Normandy with cherished old friends. We stayed at a chateau…yes I am still pinching myself. There was an abundance of good food…it was one of those experiences where everything simple just tasted better. The bread, the brie, the saucisson, the wine…and apparently the potato salad. One of the nights we stayed in and cooked. Grilled meats, roasted veggies – charcuterie, olives and cheese were plentiful, as were fresh crusty baguettes. And then there was this simple potato salad with the tiniest potatoes I’d ever seen. It was lemony and chivy, a little creamy and gone way to quickly. I never got the recipe – perhaps there wasn’t even one, perhaps it was the creation of whim.
Though potato salads are a thing of the summer, I recently I saw these same potatoes in the grocery store and knew what I had to do with them.
Three Herb Aioli Teeny Tiny Potato Salad
[Prep: 10 / Cook: 15 / TOTAL: 25 minutes]
[makes about 1 cup aioli and 6 side servings of potato salad]
2 satchels Teeny Tiny Potatoes, about 2 lbs
1 tablespoon chopped Parsley
2 tablespoons chopped Chives
1 small shallot, peeled and quartered
3 tablespoons Tarragon Vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 lemons juiced
1 cup olive oil
1 egg yolk
salt and cracked pepper to taste
Start out by washing the teeny tiny potatoes thoroughly under cold water. We will wait to cut them until after they have been cooked. Place potatoes in a large saucepan and fill with cold water until just covered. Salt water generously [at least 1 teaspoon], put on high heat and cover. It should come to a boil after 4 minutes. As soon as this happens lower heat to medium and leave uncovered simmering for 10 minutes. You can check for doneness by piercing the potatoes with the point of a paring knife, it should slide in easily. If you think they are ready, it’s always a good idea to do a taste test first.
While the potatoes are coming to a boil, incorporate the peeled and quartered shallot, half of the chives, half of the parsley,1 cup olive oil, 1 egg yolk, 1 teaspoon of salt in a small food processor. Blend for 30 seconds.
Now add to the food processor, 2 tablespoons of tarragon vinegar, lemon juice [from one of the lemons], cracked pepper and mustard and blend for 30 seconds. This combination will make an aioli. The longer you blend the thicker it will become. You can always thin it out with some water. This step can also be done by hand. You would whisk together all of the ingredients except for the oil. Once the mixture is well combined, add the olive oil, dribbling it in slowly while whisking the egg yolk and vinegar mixture. The aioli should start to form as the yolk soaks up the oil.
When the potatoes are finished remove them from the heat and pour into a colander placed in the sink. Let the potatoes rest in the sink until they are cool enough to handle. If you’re tight on time, you can run cold water over them for 1 minute so they are cool enough to handle faster.
Cut the potatoes into ½ inch rounds. Pour juice from the second lemon, 1 tablespoon of tarragon vinegar, and 1 teaspoon salt over the potatoes, mix and let sit for a few minutes. Add the aioli and the chopped parsley and chives, toss well. Taste and season with sea salt or fresh cracked pepper – and enjoy!
Recently my boyfriend has been on a crepe craze. He’s been whipping them up for years, so I’m a lucky girl. I haven’t tried my hand at them in a while, but the other day I really really wanted some mushroom crepes…
My early memories of these thin, delicate pancakes revolve around them being stuffed with mushrooms and cream or baby shrimp and dill. My Swedish grandmother and great aunt would make them when I visited in the summer and fall. It’s not a very strong memory – other parts of my trips to Sweden remain closer to the surface…the cinnamon buns [kanelbullar], gummy candy [goodies], lingonsaft [lingonberry syrup and water] and of course the Äppelkaka
– I was young and sweets were always on my mind…Anyways these creamy mushroom crepes have been lingering in my thoughts recently and I had to have them. Unfortunately I don’t have either my grandmother’s or great aunt’s recipe, so with a little help from a Swedish cookbook I sort of come up with my own version.
Traditionally the pannkakor med svampfyllning [Swedish pancakes with wild mushroom filling] has just that, wild, fresh picked mushrooms. I had good old white button mushrooms – champignons - on hand. Also the recipe calls for cream; I decided to use some ricotta as well. Add a little lemon, paprika, chives, and onions…and what I ended up with was remarkably close to what I remembered. It was a happy moment.
The most amazing thing about crepes is their versatility. You could throw the chives in the crepe batter, instead of the filling, the paprika too. Or save some of the crepes for dessert and make a sweet filling…
Swedish style crepes with Mushroom Ricotta filling
[Prep: 20 minutes / Cook: 25 minutes / TOTAL: 45]
[make about 10 crepes]
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup whole milk
- ½ cup water
- 1 cup flower
- ½ tablespoon sugar
- 3 tablespoons melted butter
Mushroom Ricotta filling:
- 2 1/2 cups white mushrooms, washed and sliced
- ½ medium onion, diced
- 1 small bunch chives, washed and chopped
- ½ cup cream
- ½ cup whole milk ricotta cheese
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice [about ½ lemon]
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- salt and pepper to taste
To make this crepe batter you’ll need a food processor or blender…then add all of the ingredients and blend! You have your fancy crepe batter ready to go – isn’t it awesome how easy this is. You can keep the batter in the blender and just pour it in to the pan when you are ready to make the crepes. First though, let’s compose part of the mushroom ricotta filling. Combine the ricotta cheese, cream, paprika, chives, lemon juice, salt and pepper – a few grinds of the pepper and a pinch of salt should do. Now whisk this all together and taste. It should have a balanced flavor, not too lemony or salty.
The actual making of the crepes can be a little intimidating. Put a sauté over medium heat and add a tablespoon of butter. Make sure to coat the bottom of the pan as well as the sides. Wait until the pan is hot [you can splash a few drops of water to test, it will sizzle when it’s ready] and have a spatula ready. Pour in about a ¼ cup of the batter, or just until the batter almost covers the bottom of the pan. Tilt and rotate the pan so that it is evenly coated with the batter. You will notice that small bubbles rise to the top of the crepe – this is good, it means it is almost ready to flip - depending on how hot the pan is, this could take 1 minute. Take the spatula and gently easy it under the edges of the crepe until you can slide it the whole way around and then ease it towards the center of the crepe. There are a few ways to flip it, you can lift the edge with a spatula and then grab it with your fingertips, or you can try flipping it with the spatula alone. It make take a few tries, but you’ll get the hang of it, and anyways, they don’t need to look perfect – they just need to taste that way. The crepes will need less time on the second side, they should be ready to come out after about 30 seconds. You will need to add a little more butter to the pan as your crepe making process moves along - maybe every third crepe or so. As they finish up you should have a plate nearby that you can transfer them to and cover with a paper towel. You don’t want to cover the crepes with foil, as it will make them soggy.
All that’s left to do is finish the mushroom ricotta sauce. Thinly slice up the mushrooms and dice the onions. You can use the same sauté pan; just add a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil. Once this is hot [again you can tell by splashing a few drops of water into the pan – if there’s a sizzle you are good to go] add the minced onion and sauté for 3 minutes. Then add the mushrooms and sauté for 5 minutes longer. At this point you can a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. After the 5 minutes is over add the ricotta and cream mix to the sauté pan. Cook this mixture for 2 minutes longer, stirring a few times.
To compose the crepe, just spoon a few tablespoons of the mushroom sauce into the crepe, roll it up and garnish with some chives.
Back when I lived in NYC about 2 ½ years ago…oh dear how time flies…I used to have Sunday night suppers with a close group of friends. One couple in particular would host, their place being the most appropriate, well at least bigger than the 475 square feet that I inhabited with my boyfriend. They also had a backyard, a sheer joy that most new Yorkers do not get to experience often. Anyways, we’d plan these yummy communal meals like pizza, roast pork loin, or Korean dumplings. We’d spend a few hours prepping, cooking and drinking wine…and eventually eating too – really, what else is there?
Recently a lot of the cooking for these posts have taken place on Sunday and it’s finally, f i n a l l y, starting to cool down here in Texas. I was thinking of what to make when I remembered my last Sunday night supper – two weeks ago on a trip home visiting my family. I spent a weekend with this couple in Brooklyn and we made a risotto with collard greens. The wife – my culinary cohort of sorts – and I looked at the collard greens she had gotten in a CSA share, both a bit dumbfounded. Was I, the resident “southerner” or at least the closest one to it, supposed to know what to do with it? Um…let’s make a risotto, I said. And my friend, being the wonderful cook she is, already had nearly everything on hand to do so. So we wung it. Winged it. Whatever. We came up with a rocking risotto recipe with collard greens and red peppers.
I decided to try it again, except this time I would beef it up with some bacon. While on my way to the grocery store I called my friend to let her know I was cooking a Sunday night supper of my own. She told me that she was as well; hers was to be spaghetti and meatballs. Oh yes, delicious, I said, thinking of the last time we had made it together, stuffing each meatball with a piece of mozzarella.
Food embraces, it reminds, it can make friends over 1,500 miles apart feel close – in each other's kitchen with a glass of wine and wrists deep in ground chuck.
Risotto with Collard Greens, Red Pepper and Bacon
[Prep: 30 minutes / Cook: 30 minutes / TOTAL: 60 minutes]
[Serves 4 as main course]
[A quick thank you to Alice Waters whose directions and explanations in
- 1 large bunch collard greens, washed, stemmed, roughly chopped and blanched
- 1 red pepper, washed, cored, seeded and chopped
- 4 slices thick cut bacon or pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch slices
- ½ medium white onion, peeled and chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 ½ cups Arborio rice
- ¾ cups dry white wine [I used Sauvignon Blanc]
- 5 cups low sodium vegetable or chicken broth [can substitute with a little water]
- ½ cup parmesan cheese, finely grated
- 1 bunch scallions, washed and chopped
- salt and cracked black pepper to taste
The Art of Simple Food were an inspiration in writing this post.]
So here we go. If you’ve never made risotto do not fear, it’s really quite simple – it just takes a little looking after. It’s a common mistake to think that it takes a long time to make, actually once the prep is all done, it only takes 25-30 minutes!
Before you get started with any chopping, pour 5 cups of low sodium broth into a medium sized saucepan. [If you have homemade broth – even better!] I use low sodium because I like to add the salt myself, then I actually now how much is in there. It’s always a good idea to taste the broth and to get a sense of the flavor and saltiness you are working with. Set this to medium-high heat and leave covered. You’ll want this to come to a boil by the time you’re done prepping. This hot broth will be added to the risotto in batches. You’ll also want to grab a larger saucepan, or even a pasta pot, fill it half way with water, put the heat on high and cover it. This is for blanching the collard greens. Take out a large prep bowl and fill it half way with ice – this will become the ice bath for the greens.
Now you are all set to start with the chopping! There’s nothing fancy going on here – just try and have the onions and red peppers chopped to approximately the same size. A trick for chopping the onions [which can be used for the garlic as well] is to cut the onion lengthwise and then cut those pieces in half widthwise. Peel the outer layer of skin off; lay the onion down on its flat side so that the root end is on the cutting board, not sticking in the air. Then make long radial cuts all the way to the root leaving about a ¼ inch of the root intact. Then cut perpendicular to those slices all the way up the onion. Now you have perfect uniform chopped pieces. The scallions are easy too. After they’ve been washed, just trim about 2 inches of the greens off of the top and start chopping your way down to about ¼ inch from the white roots. Discard to the tops and roots. The collard greens are super easy to stem; you can use the same method that I’ve suggested for kale, slice the leaf along the stem nearly to the top on each side and pull it out. The collard green leaves are quite stiff and can even just be pulled off of the stem. I like to make a chiffonade of the greens by rolling all the leaves together lengthwise and chopping them cross wise into ribbons. I took this one step further by then making one long slice down the middle length of the roll. I don’t want the slivers of collard greens to be long and unruly in the risotto.
By now both of the liquids on the stove top should be boiling. You can turn off the broth and leave it covered; it will stay hot for a while. Toss the collards greens into the boiling water in the pasta pot and add a dash of salt. The greens need to be blanched for 4 minutes. Now is a good time to fill the bowl of ice with cold water. While you are waiting on the greens, take a pair of kitchen scissors or shears and cut the slices of bacon into ½ inch pieces and put the saucepan you’ll be using for the risotto on medium heat. [The ideal saucepan has a wide base about, 10 inches across, and 3-4 inch high sides – so it’s wider than it is high.] Once the greens are done you can either empty the pot over a colander in the sink or transfer the collard greens directly from the pot to the ice bath with a slotted spoon. Let the greens sit while you add the bacon to the saucepan, they should sizzle once they hit the surface of the pan. At this heat it should take about 2 minutes for them to crisp up. Mix them up a few times so both sides are crisp. During this time you should remove the collard greens and spread them out to dry a little on a paper towel. Once the bacon is finished [nice and crispy] transfer them with the slotted spoon to a small plate covered by a paper towel. The bacon fat will be quite hot by now so you should turn the heat down to low.
You are now ready to start the risotto! I would take this time to make sure that you have everything ready at hand. Are the wine and rice measured out? Do you have a ladle ready to use to transfer the broth? Is the cheese grated? After checking that all these steps have been taken the bacon fat should be cooled a little and ready to use. To it you should add 1 tablespoon of the butter, the chopped onion and a pinch of salt. Let this sauté, stirring a few times, for about 3 minutes. [I would re-adjust the heat to a medium-low temp.] Once the onions are slightly translucent add the garlic and let sauté for 1 minute, stirring a few times. Add the red pepper and let sauté 3 more minutes, again stirring a few times. [This base for the risotto should be quite fragrant and the kitchen should smell delicious.] Now it’s time to add the rice – mix it in well so that everything has a nice coat of the butter and bacon fat. Sauté the risotto for about 1 minute, stirring the whole time so the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Now add the wine and turn the heat to medium, give the ingredients a good stir and let sit for 1 minute. Ladle in 2 scoops of the broth, add the collard greens and another pinch of salt, and mix well. From this point the risotto shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes. You’ll want to add 2 more scoops of broth about every 3 minutes. Stir regularly. You’ll see when you aren’t stirring that the liquid rises to the top and bubbles. This is okay but you don’t want to let it sit for too long. You never want it to dry out or stick to the bottom. You’ll know it’s ready for more broth when you stir and pull the risotto mixture from the bottom of the pan and there’s no liquid. Over time you’ll recognize the signs. As the risotto cooks the Arborio rice start to plump up a little and the liquid will become creamy. After about 15 minutes you should taste the rice for salt and flavor. Careful – it will be very hot. It will still be al dente, which is to be expected, but how about salt? Even though the broth was low-sodium we did start out this risotto with bacon fat, so it may not need a lot of extra salt – also remember we will be adding some parmesan cheese, which adds it’s own unique salty flavor. It’s easier to add salt than take it out.
It’s nice to serve a dish like this on a warmed plate; you can heat the oven to 250 and put the plates in there for about 8 minutes.
Keep tasting the risotto for doneness. There should still be a slight bite to the rice, but it shouldn’t be chewy. It will be absorbing the liquid less quickly. At about 20 minutes it may be ready for the last step. You should be nearly done with the broth by this time, maybe 1-2 ladleful’s left – transfer this to the risotto, as well as 2/3rds of the bacon, the ½ cup of parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon of butter, and a few grinds of black pepper. Mix well; turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for 2 minutes. While you are waiting, finely chop up the rest of the bacon into small bits.
Your risotto is finished! It should be creamy and even a little runny. Serve it on the warmed plate [not a bowl] so that it can spread out. Top it off with the chopped scallions, bacon bits, and some fresh ground pepper. Don’t forget the white wine…and enjoy.
This ain’t no side salad. If you’ve never had fennel before, then welcome. What about radishes?
My love affair with fennel began a few years back. My mother had roasted a whole chicken with carrots, onions, and this thing called fennel. When roasted in the oven it melts in your mouth and makes you feel good. It took me a while to try fennel raw. Why? Because it smelled just like licorice, which, despite my Swedish heritage, I cannot stand. Fennel raw is a whole other food than when its cooked. When raw it’s sweet and tough, it’s flavor a far off distant twice-removed cousin of licorice. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a strong flavor and I sometimes use it up a little at a time, like a topping…on pizza, or a burger…
Ok now onto anchovies. I promise that even though you say you don’t like ‘em, you’ve eaten something with anchovies and just had no idea. I bet you even said….hmm there’s some ingredient I just can’t place but this is delicious. Well if you’ve eaten at my house you have. Simply put, they are super awesome sea-saltiness in a can. So start using them!
Salads like this help you to remember how vegetables taste fresh. Radishes are peppery and bright, red bell peppers are sweet and happy. Bok choy has that mild cabbage flavor, but it’s packed with water like cucumbers – which has that super calming scent. Red onions are sharp, endives are bitter and kale is, well it just tastes so darn healthy. So all together it’s a pretty awesome medley.
A salad can be a meal. Here’s the proof.
Fennel salad with Garlic Anchovy dressing
[Prep: 30 minutes / TOTAL: 30 minutes]
- 1 large fennel bulb, washed, de-cored and roughly chopped
- ½ medium red onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 small bunch radishes, washed, greens removed and chopped
- ½ bunch kale, washed, de-stemmed and chopped
- 1 endive, washed, de-cored and chopped
- 1 large cucumber, peeled and cubed
- 1 head of bok choy [or 4 small heads of baby bok choy], washed, outer leaves discarded and chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, washed, de-seeded and chopped.
Dressing: [yields almost 1 cup]
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons canola oil or other oil
- 3 fillets of anchovy packed in oil
- 5 tablespoons lemon juice, or juice from 2 lemons
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and pressed
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper, or about 5 grinds
This is a hearty hearty salad. It holds up so well that I even think it’s better the next day. It goes well with a hunk of crusty bread [or with some left over mac and cheese] but is also pretty satisfying on its own.
There’s really not much to the prep for this salad. If you’ve never worked with fennel before, no worries, it’s very easy. Start by rinsing the whole root, making sure to get rid of any dirt or grit that likes to get stuck in the grooves. Then pull off any of the delicate leafy part that looks dark, mushy, or rotten. Take your knife and peel off any brown spots at the bulb and chop off any dried ends of the stalk. Now cut that sucker in half lengthwise and de-core it [the tough part in the center]. Do this by making two deep slices on either side of the core, like an upside down “V” and then pull the core out with your fingers. This part is tough and not fun to eat raw. De-core the endive the same way. The kale should be washed and de-stemmed – just slice the leaf along the stem nearly to the top on each side, discard and then chop up the rest. The outer leaves of the bok choy can look a little worse for the wear, you can throw those out, slice about 2 inches off the bottom and you are good to start chopping. If you are using baby bok choy, discard sparingly since there isn’t much to these little guys and only cut about a ½ inch off the bottom. The radishes need to have their leaves and roots removed and then they are ready to chop. The prep for the rest of the veggies is pretty straight forward. There will be so many textures to this salad so I like to chop everything roughly the same size. If you cut everything really small it becomes more of a slaw.
Now onto the dressing. I toss all of the ingredients into a small food processor, any kind will work. I like to press the garlic cloves into this mixture so that there are no chunks in the dressing. Now all it needs is about 15 second of blending. This dressing is very lemony and zesty; if it’s a little strong for you, add a little more olive oil.
What is the most appropriate dish to bring to any sort of gathering? Guacamole. What is great way to take out your adult aggression? Mashing up some guacamole. What reminds me of childhood summer birthdays? Strawberry shortcake, pool parties, rose bushes, oh and yes a huge bowl of guacamole. You see where I’m headed. It’s simple, it’s pure, it’s delicious. Add some salty tortilla chips and it’s heaven.
There’s really not much else to say except,
ready to be mashed into
[Prep: 15 minutes / TOTAL: 15 minutes]
[makes about 1 ½ - 2 cups depending on the size of the avocados]
- 4 ripe avocados, peeled and cubed
- 10-15 cherry or grape tomatoes, washed and quartered
- 1/4 of a medium red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
- 1 jalapeño, washed, mostly seeded and diced or 1 tablespoon of pickled jalapenos, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon lime juice or about ½ a lime
- 1/2 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper or about 5 grinds
- 1 bag of your favorite tortilla chips
For this recipe I am not using cilantro – if you think guac isn’t complete without any, throw it in! Personally I don’t think making guacamole is a hard science, everyone has his or her own version. The ingredients above and their measurements can be adapted. I think of it as a place to start. Depending on the ripeness of avocados or the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes you may need to add a dash more salt or more lime juice, but I wait to do this until the end so the guacamole doesn’t get over seasoned and the yummy flavor of the avocados still shine through.
To start cut the avocados in half lengthwise and twist the two halves apart. Take the side with the pit still attached and spoon it out. If you are feeling adventurous you could use a sharp knife and with a quick tap to the pit use the blade to spear it [with the length of the blade not the tip] and pop it out. Score the avocado flesh with the knife – be careful not to slice through the skin and cut your hand – then scoop it out with a spoon into a medium sized mixing bowl. Repeat with the remaining avocados and save a pit that we’ll use later.
Quarter the cherry tomatoes and chop the onion, they should be roughly the same size, and add them to the mixing bowl. Peel and press the two cloves of garlic over the mixing bowl, add the salt, pepper and fresh lime juice. Now onto the jalapenos. I actually prefer to use the pickled jalapenos for their flavor and you won’t end up crying when you accidentally rub your eye after handling the fresh cut jalapeño’s seeds. But again either will work, I happened to have a fresh one on hand so that’s what I used. If you are using the pickled version take out about 1 tablespoon, finely chop it and add to the bowl. If you are using a the fresh version cut it lengthwise and remove about half of the seeds – though if you like things really spicy leave them all in – and finely chop the pepper and add to the rest of the ingredients.
All that’s left to do is mash it all together – the riper the avocado the easier this will be. It’s really up to you how smooth you want the guacamole to be.
And now we taste. You can adjust the flavors with a pinch of salt or even a dash of your favorite hot sauce if it needs more of a kick. When you are ready to serve it, transfer it to a smaller bowl and place the saved avocado pit in the middle on top of the guacamole. This will help prevent the dip from turning brown – or at least I’m told.
And now we eat!
Summer begins and ends with basil pesto.
Let me backtrack. I’ve headed north to the coast for a late summer visit home and it’s clear that summer is slowly wrapping itself up – I’m sorry I had to say it. I only just learned this myself when on the hunt for popsicle molds. I went into the local hardware store and was told “Summer is over, you won’t find those anywhere” and when I replied that no it wasn’t over, I was politely [if that’s possible] laughed at.
The nights are cooler but the ocean is warm. The sun isn’t as strong or up as late but the late blooms are abundant. Seasons aren’t a switch you can flip, they transition into each other and I say summer isn’t over – yet. Not until I make one last bunch of fresh basil pesto. That’s right ocimum basilicum pesto. The herb that finds it's name in roots of the Greek word βασιλεύς [basileus], meaning king. So yes, it is the King of Herbs pesto.
Basil pesto is actually something I’ve never ordered in a restaurant or bought from a store. There’s really no need. It’s just a few little ingredients blended together. And once you’ve mastered the holy grail of pesto sauces [this one] feel free to experiment. Switch basil for parsley or pine nuts for walnuts. The art of pesto, which is really just crushing or mashing, never gets boring.
[Prep: 20 minutes / Cooking: 10 / TOTAL: 30 minutes]
[Serves 4 dinner sized portions]
- 2 cups packed basil [washed and picked off the stem]
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons butter [softened and cubed]
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese [finely grated]
- 2 tablespoons Romano cheese [finely grated]
- 1lb package of pasta [I used Bucatini]
Grilled Summer Squash
[Prep: 3 minutes / Cooking: 6 / TOTAL: 9 minutes]
- 1-2 yellow summer squash [washed and sliced 1/3 inch thick]
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper or about 5 grinds in the mill
To start take out the butter so that it can soften and come to room temperature, it will get mixed into the pesto with the grated cheese at the end. If you are using long pasta, fill up a large pot with about 5 quarts of water - or until water is about 3 inches from the top. Why so much water?
Salt generously - at least 1 tablespoon - cover and set heat to high. This amount of water will take about 10 minutes to boil.
Now onto the star of this meal, Basil. So how do we prep this noble green? Simple, just pick it off its stem and wash it. Some basil is dirtier or sandier than others depending on how it's been packaged or grown. An easy way to wash it is to put the leaves in a cold water bath for a few minutes and let any grit settle on the bottom. Pay careful attention to the next few steps, you won’t want to miss them…pack the basil into a blender [or food processor] add the olive oil, garlic cloves, pine nuts and salt. Blend until incorporated – it should be a nice smooth texture but not a liquid – and…you’re done. [If you are using a blender you may need to stop and use a spoon to push the ingredients down off the sides once or twice.] If you are really adventurous you can use a mortar and pestle.
The water should be boiling by now and ready for the pasta. I chose to use bucatini because it’s fun, hearty and has a nice bite to it - it turns this dish into a meal. It looks like thick spaghetti but has a hole going down the center. In general I like to use long pasta when making pesto, but that’s really just a personal preference. Bucatini should boil for about 9 minutes, until al dente.
Transfer the pesto to a medium sized bowl and add the softened cubed butter. With a fork mush the butter in until mostly mixed. Grate the cheese, Parmesan and Pecorino Romano, and incorporate into the pesto sauce in batches. The Pecorino is saltier than Parmesan and is a nice addition to the sauce. The pesto will come out ok without it.
Before straining out the pasta, save some of the water. Toss the bucatini in a large bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil and mix in half of the pesto sauce with a little of the reserved water. This creates a nice base and all of the pasta should be coated in the sauce. The rest should be served on the table and your guests can add more as they please. I also leave out the block of Parmesan so everyone can top off their dishes with a fresh grate!
The last step to this meal was grilling up some summer squash and topping off the pasta with it. This took less then 5 minutes and could easily be done in the oven. However, this is not a necessity, I just had a yummy lone squash hanging out in the fridge. See this recipe
on how to grill it!
Tips: If you are having more than 4 guests and don’t have enough ingredients to double the recipe, this pasta goes well as a side dish with grilled sausage or shrimp.
Also if you have any leftover pesto it rocks on sandwiches or as a base on homemade pizza.
I like to make a big batch of basil pesto at the end of summer and freeze it. It will keep for months and is a nice treat to have in the winter – it tides me over until the summer. I don’t add the butter or cheese before I freeze the sauce; it tastes fresher to add that after defrosting the pesto. You can freeze it in an ice cube tray and then transfer to a zip lock bag or freeze it in a glass jar – it’s up to you – you won’t regret it!
It was a few years ago when I realized that I never seemed to have the right ingredients on hand for recipes like this. They can be hard to find and over priced in your average grocery store. I make it a habit now to go once a year to a Chinese supermarket and stock up on all the sauces, noodles, oils and pastes I can carry. So when I came across a tasty looking sesame-peanut recipe I was ready to play and make it my own. It was few months ago that I tried this dish for the first time and since then I’ve made it three times. It’s the sort of meal you can serve any time of the year and it’s definitely on my current [mental] list of go-to dinners. So what do I want to say about this noodle salad? It goes quickly. Who knew that peanuts went so well with so many contrasting ingredients? Ginger, lime, rice wine, soy sauce, tahini – they all come together to make a nutty-tangy sort of sweet and salty perfection. This is simple kitchen chemistry at its best. Since the sauce is a little decadent –the yummy peanut butter and tahini sauce are to blame - I like to play around with hearty power vegetables like kale and broccoli and bright refreshing ones like cucumber and red onion. The color combo ain’t to bad either, the greens and purples make a pretty palette.
This is a feel good, comfort food dish and since it makes really good leftovers, you might find that you’re feeling good the next day or two. Its quite filling so I serve it in a small bowl, oh and I eat it with chopsticks – so it feels a little like take out, but healthier.
Chilled Sesame-Ginger Peanut Noodle Salad
[Prep: 25 minutes / Cooking: 5 minutes / TOTAL: 30 minutes]
[Serves 4 small dinner sized portions]
- small bunch of broccoli, washed and slivered
- 4 purple kale leaves, washed, stems removed and shredded
- ½ large cucumber, washed, peeled, deseeded and sliced
- ¼ medium red onion, peeled and slivered
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes [I have a thai kind that I like to use called Dragonfly Dried Chilli Crush]
- small piece of fresh ginger, about 1.5” cube, peeled and grated with a zester
- juice from ½ lime
- ½ package soba noodles
[This recipe was inspired by Andrew Zimmerman’s version as seen in Food and Wine
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and pressed
- 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 2/5 tablespoons mirin or rice wine
- 3 tablespoons peanut oil
- 3 tablespoons peanut butter – try for sugar free or low salt kind
- 3 tablespoons tahini paste
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/3 cup boiled noodle water reserved
This noodle salad recipe is super easy and there’s literally no cooking involved. Start out with the veggies. The broccoli should be washed and cut into bite sized pieces, the cucumber peeled, de-seeded and cut into little half moon slices. Likewise with the red onion, it should be peeled and slivered – here you could use scallions instead if you like. The kale should be washed and de-stemmed – just slice the leave along the stem nearly to the top on each side. The stem can be tough and bitter, especially if uncooked. I should point out here that the kale doesn’t have to be purple – it just creates a nice color contrast with the rest of the greens, any other leafy green can be substituted. Put all of the veggies in a large bowl – large enough to accommodate the noodles that will be mixed in at the end. These last three steps should be done over the large bowl: squeeze the ½ lime, press the peeled garlic clove and grate the peeled ginger with a zester/micro grater. Mix all the ingredients together. The acidity in the lime will help to break down the tougher veggies a little – think of it as a marinade.
There are many types of noodles that will work for this dish. I had half a packet of soba noodles in my pantry, but you could even use linguine – though I would break the pasta in half before boiling. I was happy to only have half a packet because I wanted this to be more of a noodle salad than noodle heavy dish. Fill your pot with 8 cups of water, cover and turn the heat on high. It should take about 5 minutes to come to a boil. [You should have enough time to prepare the sauce while waiting for the water to heat up – see the directions below]. Once it’s boiling, add the soba noodles and leave uncovered. Wait for the water to come back to a boil and then add 1 cup cold water and wait for the water to boil one last time. [These directions are specifically for those using soba noodles]. Before straining the noodles in a colander over the sink, reserve about a 1/3 cup of the noodle water.
Now onto the sauce. I use a small bullet blender for the next step but a mini food processor will also work. As for the peanut butter I tried to find one with no sugar and low salt, but all I could find was a low sugar and salt variety – because of this I used 1 tablespoon of sugar and no extra salt. Add the peanut oil, peanut butter, tahini paste, sugar, mirin, rice vinegar and soy sauce to the blender and mix until all the ingredients are well incorporated. The consistency should be thick - it will be thinned out with the reserved noodle water later.
All that’s really left to do is mix everything together. First toss the noodles with the veggies, add the sesame seeds and red pepper flakes and then alternate incorporating the Sesame-Ginger Peanut sauce and the reserved water a little at a time. Mix well each time. Everything should be coated well with the sauce. If you have time to wait to eat, put the noodle salad in the fridge for about 15 minutes so it gets chilled. If not, eat it warm tonight and then cold tomorrow!
It’s the end of August and hot and will be hot for probably another month. Have I told you yet that I live in Texas? Oh, well I do and it’s pretty much hot hot hot from late June though late September. The temperature slowing climbs each week, until it’s been 100° or more for a few days straight and you begin to long for those balmy days of 90°. You sit inside in the cold cold cold air conditioning at work, look out the window and see the sun shining through the fluffy white clouds in the big Texas sky – the trees swaying a little in the wind – and you say, screw it, I’m going outside, it looks so nice! Only when you do, you are confronted by a gust of hot air not much different from the rush of heat you’re hit with when opening a hot oven. You think, Ok, it’ll be Ok, I’ll just go to the pool. It will be lovely and refreshing. Only it’s not. Going in a pool in the middle of the summer in Texas is like going to the public baths. The water and air temperature are not far off from each other. I’ll stop here because you get the idea. Summers in Texas Do. Not. Make. Sense. But the weirdest thing is that you start to get used to it. It’s not natural, but then again how natural are the sub zero winter temperatures in the Adirondacks in upstate New York? It’s all relative. You start to notice that 75° is when you throw on a sweater and that wearing jeans when its 88° is totally normal. You realize that the tank tops and flip flops that you packed for your trip home to Long Island in late September was a mistake and you find yourself thinking why does fall start so early up north, it’s not natural…
You either know what I’m talking about because you’ve lived in a place like this, or you don’t and you think I’m crazy - either way, its time to talk about food. You’d think a place as hot as this would shun heavy food in the summer. That fruit and salads would reign supreme. But people love their meat down here – year round. They love it pulled, bbq’d, smoked, slow roasted, deep fried and jerkied. They love it pretty much anyway you could imagine and it all tastes pretty much amazing.
So in honor of Texas and meat and the hot summers here, I decided to have a little dinner party the other day. I was really going for it – everything cooked on the grill…outside. I was hankering for some Flank steak and grilled vegetables. I know by now that it doesn’t really cool down at night here and that the mosquitos come out to play at dusk, but I wanted to grill. So I bombed my back yard with [organic] mosquito repellent, covered myself in bug spray and went for it. It was great. I was hot of course, but amazingly my dear friends joined me outside as I grilled and we all stayed cool with homemade grapefruit cocktails and icy beer. So I may have dropped a few slices of squash into the grill or charred a few potatoes but the meat was perfect.
Dry Rubbed Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce
[Prep: 20 minutes / Grilling: 10-12 / TOTAL: about 30 minutes active, try to season meat up to 1 hour before]
[Serves 6 dinner sized portions]
Dry Rub Seasoning
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon cayenne
- ½ tablespoon salt
- ½ tablespoon dried oregano
- ½ tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 bunch or about 1 cup packed parsley, leaves picked off stem, washed and finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons capers, drained and finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper or about 3 grinds in the mill
- ½ teaspoon Italian red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 table spoon fresh lemon juice or juice from ½ lemon
- ½ cup olive oil
Grilled Summer Vegetables
[Prep: 10 minutes / Grilling: about 15/ TOTAL: about 25 minutes]
[You can pick any sort of summer vegetables that you like to go with the meat. In Texas the yellow summer squash is super sweet and fresh and russet potatoes work great on a grill – so these were two easy choices for me and just a suggestion for you.]
- 2-3 yellow summer squash, washed and sliced about ½ inch thick
- 2 russet potatoes, rinsed and sliced lengthwise about 1/3 inch thick
- extra virgin olive oil
- cracked black pepper
- Mexican chili powder
Flank comes as a long wide strip of meat, because of its length it usually packed folded or rolled. Since it is a tougher cut of meat I like to either marinade it first or put a dry rub on it and serve it with a sauce. The marinade would help break down the meat a little and the dry rub would help lock in some of the juices. Either way you can’t go wrong. This dry rub with chimichurri sauce is one of my favorites and it has always been a crowd pleaser. For this recipe I used two smaller steaks about 1.3 pounds each, when cooked the steaks will shrink up significantly.
Ideally about an hour before you’re ready to start grilling you should prep the meat with the dry rub [its ok if you only really have a half hour]. Start by mixing the garlic powder, cayenne, salt, dried oregano, ground cumin and sugar together – I like to measure the ingredients out before and put them into a small bowl since I will be handling raw meat and wont want to be touching a lot of things in the kitchen. To get the meat ready lay it out on a large platter and pat it dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle half of the seasoning over the steaks and massage it in with your fingers, there should be enough to create a thin layer. Flip them over and repeat with the rest of the seasoning. [Make sure to wash your hands!] Meat tenderizes – breaks down – more quickly at room temperature can leave it out until you’re ready to grill it. The meat should never be cold when you put it on the grill.
Now you can forget about the meat for a little and start making the chimichurri sauce! The way this sauce comes together is pretty amazing and always delicious. It really is the proverbial icing on the cake. Start by chopping up the washed and de-stemmed parsley. When I’m cutting up a large quantity of parsley like this recipe calls for I like to pack it into a tall water glass, take a pair of kitchen scissors, angle them into the glass and start cutting! Its speeds up the process and keeps the parsley contained. Take the drained capers and chop them finely and mince the peeled garlic. This is really the extent of the prep. Now you can combine the parsley, capers, garlic, salt, cracked black pepper, red pepper flakes, red wine vinegar and lemon juice in a medium sized bowl. I like to squeeze the lemon over my fingers – the juice slips through and I can catch any seeds in my hands – it’s a little messy but its quick and makes less clean up. Mix it all together and drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil while stirring. Feel free to taste it now – it should taste very bright – tart, garlicky and a little briny from the capers. The flavor will get better the longer it sits. You can leave it out until you are ready to serve it. The sauce will keep up to one week in the fridge, but it probably won’t last that long...
We should get started on the veggies. You’ll see in the ingredients above that I didn’t specify any measurement for the oil or seasoning. Basically you’ll just want to toss the veggies each in a separate bowl, coat with olive oil, about 1-2 table spoons for each, a few grinds of black pepper for each and about 1 teaspoon of salt for each, and a dash of the chili powder on the potatoes. Now get your hands in there and mix until all the veggies are coated. That’s it. It’s not an exact science; you’re just lightly seasoning because you still want the flavors of the squash and potatoes to come through.
Ok so now you’re ready to get grillin, before you turn it on make sure to clean it off a little with the grill brush. I have a small gas grill that takes about 5 minutes to heat up, so put it on high and cover it. I do the potatoes first because they can sit in the oven on 175 and stay warm once you take them off. Right before you put the potatoes on turn down the grill to medium – you don’t want the flames to be too high and burn them. Put the cover down and check them in about 3 minutes. Depending on the way the heat is dispersed around the grill some may be ready to flip before others so keep an eye on them. They should need about another 3 minutes after they’ve been flipped. Have an ovenproof plate ready to too them onto as they are ready. The meat comes next.
The meat should only take about 5 minutes each side – the thickest part will be medium-rare. Throw on the steaks and cover. Flip it and leave for another 5 minutes. You really don’t want to poke or prod the meat, you can peak at the underside before you flip it and make sure there’s a nice brown crust. After about 5-6 minutes per side take it off and cut into the thickest part a little to see how it’s cooked. If you like it medium-rare there should still be red in the middle. Remember once the meat is taken off it will keep cooking for a little. Also it’s easy to reheat the grill and cook it a little more – but you can’t fix overcooked meat!
One of my steaks was done early. I left this one a little longer and started cooking the squash at the same time.
Cover the meat with foil and leave to sit for a few minutes so the juices can settle. The squash really only needs about 4-5 minutes on the grill, that is about 2 minutes per side. I painstakingly placed each one the grill they looked great, but it is easier if you just popped them onto a metal skewer before putting them on the grill.
Pull those potatoes out of the oven, toss the squash onto the same plate and slice up the meat – against the grain – into ½ inch slices and top off with the chimichurri sauce.
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It was getting dark and the food was plated, all my guests were ready to dig in. I quickly snapped this shot before toasting to good friends, health and food.