A study just released by Stanford University scientists has found that organic foods – produce, meat and dairy – are no more nutritious than non-organic or conventional foods. The study also reports that they are no less likely to be contaminated. They’re probably right. They examined more than 40 years worth of research on the topic; the study used no outside funding to avoid any “perception of bias”; and, well, they’re scientists.
The problem with their research, as I see it, is that they asked the wrong question. No one has really seriously claimed that organic foods are more nutritious. And earlier studies on this very subject have already stated what the Stanford researchers were “surprised” to discover. To me, they missed the point. Their central question was kind of like asking if LED light bulbs are any quieter than conventional ones, or if fuel-efficient vehicles are any shinier than gas guzzlers.
Because while organic foods may not be more nutritional than conventional foods, they are definitely healthier. First, there are the pesticides applied to conventional produce. The study recognized this, but said that pesticide levels were all within safety guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency. However, an impressive number of studies question whether the EPA’s levels are strict enough.
Organic foods are healthier for the people who grow them, too. Exposure to pesticides is a constant threat to the well-being of farm workers. Animals raised organically for food also generally lead healthier, happier lives. And finally, there’s the planet itself. Chemical run-off, waste production, and depletion of the soil from the monoculture approach of industrial farming all place a huge burden on the environment.
Here’s why this matters so much. In an age in which more and more of our information comes from sound bites, easy-to-digest nuggets like “organic foods are no more nutritious than conventional foods” have more weight than they deserve. I first saw this story in the elevator at my office this week, telling me nothing more than the above with “Stanford scientists report…” attached to it. Armed with one authoritative-sounding little slice of a bigger story, it’s easy to pass up the usually more expensive organic option at the grocery store, figuring it makes no difference. It’s also easy to skip the farmers market, to fail to support legislation aimed at helping local farmers or protecting farm workers.
Even The New York Times story on the study, a reasonably balanced piece that also quoted a senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group, did so under the overreaching headline “Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce.”
All this said, in our household we don’t buy strictly local or organic either. Our decisions are driven by convenience and cost just like everyone else’s. But we’re buying more organic these days, from local sources when possible. It all starts with asking the right questions.
Related post on Blue Kitchen: The corn-free challenge: My week without corn
I use the word flavorful a lot here, I know. Sometimes, I think I should reserve it for flank steak. Before going any further, let me share my own idea of what flavorful means. It’s not a one-note taste bud bomb, like a buffalo wing or a lemon wedge. To me, flavorful means engaging multiple corners of the palate at once, bringing layer after layer of tastes and combining them beautifully. If done right, flavorful means stopping conversation at the dinner table with the first bite. Which is what the flank steak pictured here did on Labor Day.
Flank steak makes such feats easy. Not only is it one of the meatiest tasting cuts of beef on its own – it takes well to marinating. It’s usually one of the more affordable cuts, too, which makes me wonder why it isn’t more popular.
Actually, I know why. Flank steak, cut from hardworking abdominal muscles with a pronounced grain of long muscle fibers, has a reputation for being tough. And it can be, if overcooked or carved improperly. But cooked to medium-rare or just barely medium and then sliced thin across the grain, it’s plenty tender. And, well, flavorful.
Still, a recent comment by a reader on an old post about tenderizing notoriously chewy (but also delicious) lamb shoulder chops with kosher salt had me wondering if the same technique would make flank steak even more tender. The technique is called dry brining. Essentially, you coat the meat with a generous layer of coarse kosher salt and let it sit for a while. Then you rinse the salt off. I hear alarm bells going off everywhere right now: “But that will suck all the juices out of the meat!” It does, at first. Then the juices are drawn back into the meat, along with the salt, changing the protein cell structure and tenderizing the steak (or lamb or pork or…).
It also flavors the meat, so don’t add any more salt before cooking – and don't use particularly salty ingredients in your marinade. Also, don’t use table salt for dry brining. It’s too fine, and too much will be absorbed by the meat. You certainly can make this recipe without the dry brining step. Just season the steak with a little salt before putting it on the grill. But it really did make the meat incredibly tender.
The marinade is a mash-up of a number of recipes I’ve seen, plus some of my own ideas. It’s an international mash-up, too, of ingredients that not only cross various Asian boundaries, but find their ways to other continents. One, the wildly (and deservedly) popular Sriracha hot sauce, is actually an American product created in the suburbs of Los Angeles by a Chinese-Vietnamese immigrant, David Tran. For as many big flavors as you’ll see on the ingredients list – and for as fragrant as the marinade is when you’ve mixed it together – the resulting flavor on the grilled steak is pleasantly restrained. It doesn’t overpower the rich meaty flavor of the steak; it just makes it – OK, last time for this post – more flavorful.
Grilled Asian Flank Steak
Serves 4 to 6
1 1/2-pound flank steak
kosher salt (do not use table salt)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions (about 1)
1 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped (see Kitchen Notes)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
zest of 1 lime
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce (available in Asian markets and many supermarkets)
2 teaspoons Sriracha (or other hot sauce)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pat steak dry with paper towels. Season generously on both sides with kosher salt and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Let it rest on counter for one hour.
Meanwhile, make marinade. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside. After steak has been coated with salt for one hour, unwrap it and rinse thoroughly under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels and place in a large zippered plastic bag. Add marinade to bag, being careful to coat steak on both sides. Seal bag, forcing out most of the air inside and, manipulating bag from the outside, work rub marinade against surfaces of the steak. Refrigerate at least six hours and preferably overnight.
Grill steak. About half an hour before the grill is ready for cooking, remove steak from fridge to bring it to room temperature. Prepare grill for direct grilling and medium-high heat. Remove steak from zippered bag and scrape off excess marinade (I used the back edge of a table knife). Discard marinade.
Brush grill grate with a little oil and place steak directly over coals (or gas heat source). Close grill and cook for about four minutes. Turn and cook other side for about four minutes, with grill lid closed. If first side isn’t sufficiently browned, flip and cook for maybe another minute. Steak should be medium-rare to medium at this point. Do not cook more than than 10 minutes; when flank steak is overcooked (aka well-done) it becomes tough.
Transfer to cutting board or platter and tent with foil. Let steak rest for five minutes, then slice into quarter- to half-inch thick slices – the thinner, the better –across the grain. Serve.
Don’t fear the heat. Yes, the recipe calls for an entire jalapeño pepper, seeds and all, and two teaspoons of hot sauce. But most of this gets scraped off after the steak is done marinating. The heat was barely noticeable.
Related post on Blue Kitchen: Cheap lamb chops made tender
I was too absorbed to take any photos of the blueberry fields last week, but it was summer personified. Warm, the soft "plop" of fat blueberries falling into buckets, Loretta stuffing her face under the shade of the bushes, and my Mom rattling off all the things she'd make when she got home – pies, crisps, galettes, and blueberry jalapeno corn muffins. (Clearly, the apple does not fall far from the tree. Or the blueberry from the bush. I come by this obsession honestly.)
Every summer, my gratitude for farmers reaches a fever pitch. I was telling the kids as we picked how hard it is for farmers to take vacations. And how they put everything into their crops, hoping the weather is right, the insects stay away, and the birds don't steal everything. Thank you, hardworking farmers, especially those of you doing it the hard way, without pesticides, insecticides, and other shortcuts. I owe you a lot.
RELATED: Are you a real foodie? Take our quiz!
We stocked the freezer with bags of berries. They'll make the winter more tolerable. Wyatt and Loretta love to eat frozen blueberries out-of-hand. I know the popular way to freeze berries these days is to lay them all out individually on a cookie sheet. That takes forever! And takes up so much space! I wash them, spread them out on towels and lightly pat them dry, then freeze them in large ziplocs in a shallow layer, stacking the bags on top of one another so the berries freeze not individually but almost. You'll use more bags this way, but it's much quicker. I figured out long ago that speed in the kitchen is much more important to me than perfection.
So I'm grateful for farmers, and sitting here writing is always an invitation to be grateful for lots of other things. Among them, I'm grateful for:
John Kabat-Zinn, my virtual meditation teacher. He's patient, authentic, and onto something. I am doing it very imperfectly, but I really needed his guidance in my life right now.
"On Being" podcasts, my spiritual director in the summer when I can't seem to darken a church door.
My husband Yancey who's been working tirelessly the last two months to get our house ready for painting in a week. New siding, framing in a garage and a front porch, making our house look less abandoned by the minute. We have a good laugh when I say, "Some people buy houses that look good right away!"
Making friends in Bellingham and a neighborhood BBQ. Gift after gift.
Many dear Seattle friends who descended on our house for Labor Day Weekend.
My sister Naomi, who inspired me by working all year to raise money for a trip to El Salvador where she helped dig a well for a village that had been waiting for years. When her team left, the villagers said, "Thank you for coming. We know now that God has not forgotten us."
I followed Saveur's recipe exactly. Almost. The first time I used my 8-inch cast iron skillet, and you can see from the photo that I had an avalanche of spillover. Good thing I put a cookie sheet underneath. The next time I actually read the directions and pulled out a 12-inch All Clad skillet, and it worked much better. As you're boiling the berries and sugar on the stove top, don't worry about it looking liquid-y. Blueberries have enough pectin to thicken up, and you'll get such a pure taste – no flour, cornstarch, fillers. And these biscuits are really dumplings – more milk than butter, which makes them wet and perfectly tender once cooked up. We had this for dessert the first time and breakfast the next.
Click here for a related post from In Praise of Leftovers: Blueberry Buttermilk Cakes for Recovery Cafe
RELATED: Are you a real foodie? Take our quiz!
From the Tibetian highlands to the lowlands of southwest Vietnam, the Mekong River and its thousands of tributaries meanders across 39,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) in Vietnam known as the Mekong Delta or miền tây (western region), encompassing the lands immediately west of Saigon to the country's southern most tip, Cà Mau.
Known as a biological treasure trove, the Mekong River sustains more than 17 million inhabitants along its banks in Vietnam's delta region. Its waters and rich soil help to produce half of the country's rice crop each year, as well as an abundance of fruits. The delta is also home to a large aquacultural industry raising catfish, shrimp, and basa – a fish native to the delta.
Life here revolves around the river – owning a boat is just as important as a scooter, if not more so, as it means you can ferry your crops to the river market to sell. The Cái Răng market in Cần Thơ, is one of the largest floating markets in the region. Mainly a wholesale market for fruits and vegetables, its daily bustle has become a must-see destination for anyone visiting this area.
Each morning at sunrise, the floating market teems with activity. Hundreds of large wholesale boats from all over the delta converge and drop anchor in the river, hanging their crops on bamboo poles to signal what’s in season and for sale. We’re not sure if there’s any order to it all – with bananas on one end and dragon fruit on the other – but the anchored larger boats create lanes, or market aisles if you will, for smaller retail boats (and tourists boats) to weave through. Instead of aisle numbers and shopping carts, simply look at the produce hanging from a bamboo pole at the end of a boat and navigate over to a vendor to place your order. Soon bundles of fruit and vegetables are tossed into your boat. It’s an extraordinary a way of doing business that you’ll rarely experience.
If you see household items on the boat, such as clothes, pots and pans, or even pets, it doesn’t mean these items are for sale. Some families actually call the boats home!
As with markets on land, there’s no shortage of food options to satisfy all the hungry vendors and visitors. You can flag down floating cafes to indulge your cà phê sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee with milk) morning fix as well as banh mi (baguette sandwiches) boats to satisfy your breakfast cravings.
Oh, but you’ll rather have a bowl of hủ tiếu (noodle soup) instead? No problem! There’s a boat for that, too. If you succeed in eating a bowl of noodles in a bobbing boat, after you are finished, the noodle lady will navigate around back to you and retrieve her bowl and chopsticks. The ingenuity and perseverance of the water vendors is simply amazing.
But the Mekong Delta isn’t known for hủ tiếu or even pho (another noodle soup) for that matter. It’s known for dishes that uses the abundant seafood and vegetables from the region such as hot pots called lẫu mắm made from salted fish as well as one of our favorite soups, canh chua. We adore canh chua because the contrasting flavors of sour, sweet, and savory and we also love the contrasting textures of all the different vegetables. Literally translated as "sour soup," canh chua combines all the wonderful abundance of this region, incorporating seafood (such catfish, snakehead, eel, shrimp among others) along with colorful medley of tamarind, pineapple, tomatoes, okra, elephant ears, bean sprouts, and a variety of herbs such as lemony ngo om. Enjoy canh chua with some steamed jasmine rice as part of a traditional Vietnamese meal or alone with some rice vermicelli noodles.
Every time we make this dish, we’ll always remember the floating fruit vendors and life on the Mekong. If you are planning a trip, hire a small private boat to visit the market early around sunrise, or slightly after, when it is the most busy.
We love using prawns for this dish but you can use your favorite seafood. Any firm white fish steaks would work well.
This recipe requires preparing tamarind pulp. It's best to use wet seedless tamarind typically sold in 14-ounce blocks instead of juice or concentrates, although you certainly could if pressed for time. For why and how to prepare the pulp, see this link by Leela of shesimmers.com.
Canh Chua Sour Tamarind Soup
6 cups of water or fish stock
1/2 pound large prawns, cleaned
1 cup tamarind pulp purée
1/2 sweet pineapple, peeled, sliced into bite-sized pieces
2 tomatoes, cut in wedges
2 tablespoons sugar, plus additional to taste
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus additonal to taste
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1-2 elephant ear stems, peeled and sliced on diagonal 1/2-inch thick
1 cup okra, sliced diagonal
2 red chilli, sliced (optional)
1/2 cup of bean sprouts
10 springs of rice paddy herb, roughly chopped
Combine the tamarind pulp in equal amounts (i.e., 14-ounce block, 14-fluid-ounces of water, roughly 1 cup) of hot water in a large bowl and soak for 15 minutes. Work the pulp with your hands until dissolved, squeezing out the purée and then tossing away the membranes. You're left with just the thick brown pulp purée. You can also strain the pulp through a fine sieve instead of using your hands.
In large pot bring water or fish stock to boil and then add prawns, tamarind pulp purée, tomatoes, pineapple, okra, fish sauce, salt, and sugar and bring back to boil.
When prawns are pink and tomatoes are just tender, add bean sprouts and elephant ear stems and season with additional salt or fish salt and sugar to taste. It should be sweet, sour, and savory.
Remove from heat and transfer to serving bowl. Finish with rice patty herb, fried garlic and optional chili.
Read the backstory on The Ravenous Couple's trip to Vietnam along with more beautiful photographs: Our Vietnam
You will not find me trying to recreate a recipe inspired by a fast food chain restaurant. But this is an exception. There is a fresh sandwich chain in England that makes a great breakfast sandwich, one that I almost always get in the airport before an early morning departure. It’s a long slice of baguette layered with crispy bacon and hard boiled eggs blended with mayonnaise and lots of black pepper. It’s a perfect portable breakfast, simple for an early morning but with just the right amount of punchy pepper.
Before sampling this sandwich, I was not much of an egg salad person. I always found it rubbery and full of things I don’t like. The idea of a simple salad of breakfast favorites appealed, and I whipped it up as my own personal treat for years. But recently, I gave a tea and made a selection of finger sandwiches. I couldn’t find an ingredient for one of my planned versions, so at the last minute I whipped up a batch of this filling. It was far and away the biggest hit on the sandwich tray. So I decided it was worth sharing.
This is a simple recipe, so the ingredients must be good. I find farm fresh eggs and good bacon are key. My local pork producer makes a wonderful peppered bacon and I love to use that, though I adjust the amount of pepper I add. But make no mistake, pepper is crucial to making this simple salad pop, so don’t be shy.
Bacon and Egg Salad
6 strips of bacon
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
Cook the bacon strips until very crispy. Drain on paper towels, patting off as much grease as possible. Leave to cool, then chop into small pieces.
Place the eggs in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil, then cook the eggs for 7 minutes. Fill a bowl with ice cubes and water, and when the 7 minutes is up, remove the eggs to the ice water and leave until cool. Peel the eggs, rinse off any shell bits and pat dry with paper towels. Slice two eggs in half and scoop the yolks into a bowl. Add the mustard, mayonnaise, salt and pepper and mash until smooth. Add the chopped bacon. Dice the whites and remaining whole eggs and add to the bowl. Gently stir until the mayonnaise has coated the eggs and bacon. Add more pepper or salt to taste.
Refrigerate, covered, for at least an hour or until ready to serve. The salad will keep in the fridge for 3 days.
Makes about 3 cups, enough for 4 well-stuffed sandwiches. Easily doubles.
Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Mustard Bacon Potato Salad
This salad is one of my loves. We met through our mutual friend, Polly, who brought it to a holiday party. I have to admit, though, that it was not love at first sight.
My initial impression was "that there's a whole lotta roughage" but before the first bite had even made it all the way to my tummy, we were as thick as thieves.
Polly's husband, Wayne, affectionately refers to this salad as "nature's barbed wire" and while I can't deny that you'll fulfill your daily fiber requirements within about three mouthfuls, I assure you that you'll be going back for seconds. And probably thirds. If there's any left at that point, that is.
Although it took me 30 years to learn to like some vegetables (beets), I've always loved Brussels sprouts so I was delighted to find yet another way to prepare these delicious petits choux.
And there's probably not a local foods enthusiast alive who is not happy to find another good way to use up some kale. Am I right or am I right?
The kale I picked from our mini hoop house was not Tuscan but it tasted good, nonetheless. Maybe this salad is even better with the Tuscan variety – feel free to experiment and let me know what you find.
The first step is to make the dressing. You want to give it a chance to let the flavors meld and develop a bit – probably best to make it half or even a full day in advance if you can.
With that in mind, I made a double batch of dressing. I like to make dressing in glass jam jars and love that you can buy these cute, little, red Luminarc lid to make it easy to store things in them.
Once, the dressing is ready, you can get down to business with the rest of the ingredients. I used my handy dandy Kyocera mandolin to shave the Brussels sprouts up nice and thin – as usual, it worked like a charm.
Don't skimp on the nuts, cheese or dressing. They provide important rich, nutty, crunchy complements to all the hearty greens and the acidity and bite of the dressing.
The recipe is lightly adapted from the Bon Appetit original.
Brussels Sprouts & Kale Salad with Toasted Almonds & Parmesan
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 small clove garlic, finely grated
Sea salt and pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1 bunch Tuscan kale, center stem discarded, leaves sliced thinly
12 oz. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and shredded
1/3 cup almonds with skins, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup grated Pecorino, Parmesan or Romano cheese
Combine lemon juice, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper in a small bowl. Stir to blend; set aside to let flavors meld. Mix the thinly sliced kale and shredded Brussels sprouts in a large bowl.
Slowly whisk remaining olive oil in cup into lemon-juice mixture. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. Add the dressing, cheese and almonds to the Brussels sprouts and kale mixture and toss to coat. Season lightly with salt and pepper and serve.
Related post on The Garden of Eating: 14 Unbeatable Kale Recipes
The value of a good cookbook can be recognized in a couple of ways. First, there is the immediate temptation to sit down and read it cover-to-cover like a good novel. Second, is the number of pages you dog-ear before you even shop for ingredients. Planning for the review of Jacob Kenedy’s Bocca cookbook (Bloomsbury, 2011, $45), I started to thumb through the book, realizing only after 20 minutes of absorbed page turning that I had marked nearly two-dozen recipes to test.
Unfortunately, I had to winnow down the list to a reasonable number to share with friends who would be joining us to cook together, lending us their kitchen in Boston’s North End neighborhood. I have a perfectly good kitchen of my own, but diving into Kenedy’s rich Italian cuisine seemed much more appropriate in the city’s best-known Italian neighborhood.
We selected the Ricotta Tortelloni with Burnt Walnut Pesto, a dish that Kenedy – the noted chef of the acclaimed London restaurant Bocca – identifies with the Puglia region of Italy. The book divides recipes into 12 different chapters, ranging from 32 pages devoted to raw dishes (vegetables, meats, seafood), all the way to nearly two-dozen pages devoted to drinks and the rules of the card game Posso. Each recipe includes the region where the dish hails from, as Kenedy addresses the broad selection of Italian food varieties that make it hard to “pin down” exactly what defines Italian cuisine.
Most of the recipes boast few ingredients – Kenedy considers Italian food to be “intrinsically simple” – all of which are relatively easy to find. The focus of each recipe is on the flavor combinations and not a litany of instructions. However, fewer instructions does not mean less time in the kitchen, but rather the ability to take your time to do it right. With a team of three amateur cooks and one photographer, we managed to produce the tortelloni and pesto from scratch in a little over two hours. And the final product was entirely worth it.
Kenedy also doesn't hold your hand while you prepare the recipe, but instead offers descriptions of the intended result of the steps. For instance, describing the fried walnuts for the pesto as taking on a color similar to “very tan Mediterranean skin” led to some debate among the group. For some, a lack of guidance can be daunting, but in the in the case of our test dish, I found it freeing. Kenedy leaves you with room for interpretation and a sense of preparing a dish the same way as a native Italian might, using the guidance of past generations and less of a recipe to shape the final result.
"Bocca" is beautifully illustrated with images of the regions featured through the recipes. You aren’t looking at final dishes in a kitchen; instead you are placed in the middle of a local market in the center of a piazza or at the edge of the waterfront as the daily catch arrives at the dock. It's a beautiful food narrative.
Kenedy's cookbook is seafood and fish heavy and dives into the art of charcuterie as well for those with the patience and means to preserve their own meats. As for pasta dishes most often associated with Italian cuisine, there are in fact relatively few within the 464 pages of the book.
The book is not an everyday cookbook for fans of American-style Italian cuisine. It a celebration, perfect for those who want to embrace and cherish the flavors of Italy, who see the preparation of food as well as its enjoyment as inseparable. There are little to no quick recipes, there are no diet ingredients, just rich flavor and substance.
Every summer, it’s the same thing with our tomato plants. Nothing, nothing, nothing and then wham – tomatoes by the boatload. This summer, the timing coincided with having a leftover fennel bulb from last week’s caramelized fennel cooking adventures that wasn’t getting any younger.
Tomato Fennel Soup seemed like the obvious answer – except just about every version we found involved canned tomatoes; and most of them involved puréeing. I wanted something quick and easy, something a little on the rustic side. And I wanted to see the ingredients I was eating. So I improvised.
Not that I’m totally against puréed soups. More than a few have been featured on these pages, from Julia’s Potage Parmentier to Marion’s Cold Cucumber Avocado Soup with Radish Garnish and Strawberry Gazpacho and two different vichyssoises, one with watercress, the other with green garlic. But as I said, I wanted to see what I was eating this time.
And this was how the soup I saw in my head would come together: I would sauté the fennel bulb, an onion, some cherry tomatoes and garlic together, add some thyme, broth and water and a little salt and pepper, then throw in some broken spaghetti noodles. When it was done cooking and ladled out into bowls, I would top it with snipped fennel fronds.
As with many kitchen improvisations – at least mine – it sounded delicious on paper. It smelled aromatic and promising at first, as the fennel and onion cooked together. But as the soup progressed, I wasn’t sure if it was going to “be” anything, other than an acceptable lunch. As it simmered, I was already trying to think of something else to cook as a back-up post.
As it turned out, though, it was something, a delicate but flavorful soup, with everything in balance. During the sautéing and simmering, the tomatoes burst, releasing their juices into the broth and giving it a tomatoey tang without taking over. The tomatoes themselves were wonderful summery bites. The fennel bulb had a nice cooked celery crunch, and the fronds added a hint of anise. Even the broken spaghetti contributed, its starch slightly thickening the broth.
You can make this soup as is and you’ll be happy with it, I think. But I encourage you to improvise with your own leftovers and sudden bounty. Some roast chicken torn up and added might be nice. That zucchini threatening to go bad in the produce bin would be good. Even swapping the broth for some miso to make it vegetarian could be delicious. If you come up with something good, let us know.
Tomato Fennel Soup
Serves 2 to 3
1 whole fennel bulb (about 1 pound before trimming)
1 medium onion, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes (or chopped tomatoes – see Kitchen Notes)
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 generous teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
2 cups unsalted or reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
4 ounces dry uncooked spaghetti
Using a sharp knife, slice off the root end of the bulb and the stalks with the fronds. Reserve the stalks and fronds. Slice the bulb in half lengthwise and peel off the tough outer layer. Cut out the inner core and slice the bulb halves in half lengthwise, then slice crosswise.
Heat olive oil over medium flame in a large, heavy stockpot or Dutch oven. Add fennel and onion, season lightly with salt, generously with pepper and sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. If using whole cherry or grape tomatoes, add to pot and sauté, stirring frequently, until they begin to split open, about 3 minutes (if using chopped large tomatoes, don’t add them yet). Add garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds.
Add broth and water. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. If using large chopped tomatoes, add now, along with their juices. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook for about 5 minutes. Break spaghetti noodles into fourths and add to pot. Cook until pasta is cooked through, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasonings. Ladle into individual soup bowls and using scissors, snip some of the reserved fennel fronds over each bowl. Serve.
You say tomato, I say use what you have on hand. After years of doing battle with squirrels over our tomatoes, Marion has learned that they don’t seem to recognize small, yellowish Sun Gold Hybrid Cherry Tomatoes as something to eat. And fortunately for us, these little tomatoes are quite delicious. But use whatever tomatoes you can get – from your garden, from your farmers market, even the supermarket. Small ones are great because you can cook them whole, but big tomatoes chopped up and added to the simmering broth will work, too.
Related post on Blue Kitchen: Cold Cucumber Avocado Soup
This is another brownie I made for my fellow Relay for Life walkers. This is from the oldest brownie book in my collection, going on 24 years or more.
I decided to dress it up a bit and in addition to the cream cheese swirl, I marbled in salted caramel on top of the cream cheese mixture. This didn't have the dark chocolate flavor you'd get from using unsweetened chocolate or cocoa so it's more of a semisweet brownie sweetened further with the cream cheese and caramel.
It was moist, both due to underbaking (must always underbake brownies) and the caramel. I always forget though that the Trader Joe's salted caramel has a tendency to incorporate itself into the brownie batter so rather than distinct ribbons of caramel running through the cream cheese and fudge brownie, it bakes into the brownie itself so it's somewhat indistinct. Still good though, but rich so you might want to cut these into small pieces.
3 tablespoons butter
4 ounces semisweet chocolate or 2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 3-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/3 cup caramel, optional
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch square pan.
2. Melt together 3 tablespoons butter and chocolate over low heat; set aside to cool. Using electric mixer, cream 2 tablespoons soft butter with cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in 1/4 cup sugar, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon flour, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. In a separate bowl, with wire whisk, beat 2 eggs until foamy. Add 3/4 cup sugar, beating until well-blended. Stir in 1/2 cup flour, baking powder, and salt until combined. Blend in melted chocolate mixture, vanilla, chopped almonds and almond extract. Spread 1/2 of chocolate batter evenly in pan. Spread cream cheese mixture over top. Drizzle caramel over cream cheese, if using. Drop spoonfuls of remaining chocolate batter on top of cheese layer, swirling top layers gently with a knife to marbleize.
3. Bake about 45 minutes, or until top is golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
4. Cool completely in pan before cutting into bars. Store in refrigerator.
Recipe adapted from The Brownie Experience by Lisa Tanner.
Can't decide if you're craving something salty or sweet? These seven cookie recipes will satisfy all your taste buds with their unique flavor combinations.
The Food Channel reports that savory cookie crackers are a new emerging food trend. While they may never catch on the way food trucks, cupcakes, or "froyo" (frozen yogurt) have, who could complain about ham and Gruyère or potato chips baked into a cookie?
1. Ham and Gruyère thumbprints from Martha Stewart
Though the recipe is a bit complicated (it requires a pastry bag) these cookies will be worth the trouble. Finely shredded ham and cheese are mixed into the dough, and a bonus cube of cheese is melted right on top.
2. Apricot, cornmeal, and sage cookies from Epicurious
Sage may not be your usual go-to cookie ingredient, but the combination of savory and sweet gives these crowd-pleasing cookies an amazing and unique flavor.
3. Olive oil cookies from The New York Times
Olive oil cookies have a cakey interior and a crispy surface. Olive oil has a powerful flavor when baked.
4. Italian cheese cookies from Kayotic Kitchen
Made with the simplest of ingredients, Parmesan, rosemary, sundried tomatoes, and a dash of cayenne pepper, this is a unique example of ingenious Italian cooking.
5. Seaweed cookies from David Lebovitz
Seaweed might sound a little weird...OK really weird, but the "seaweed" aspect of the recipe is actually seaweed salt (and regular sea salt can be substituted). Add a handful of finely chopped olives or nuts to the dough for a terrific pre-dinner bite.
6. Potato chip cookies from Smitten Kitchen
These cookies have to be good; they have potato chip right in the name. With a crisp texture and buttery flavor full of vanilla, pecan, and salt, there’s nothing like them.
7. Pimento Cheese Crisps from Stir It Up! contributor The Runaway Spoon
"You’ve had pimento cheese on a cracker, now you can have pimento cheese in your cracker. In my on-going quest to eat as much pimento cheese as possible, I arrive at these little gems. They are a hybrid of two Southern party classics – pimento cheese, the pate of the South, and the classic cheese straw. Crumbly and cheesy, with the tang of pimentos and the crunch of pecans, these are the perfect nibble with tall glass of ice tea. They are wonderful packed up in your heirloom Tupperware for a weekend at the lake or displayed on your heirloom silver for shower or a cocktail party. They are a marvelous standby, as you can keep the rolls in the freezer for emergencies and they make a lovely gift, wrapped up with a ribbon.
And yes, to answer the obvious question, I would serve pimento cheese crisps and pimento cheese sandwiches at the same time."
1 (4-ounce) jar diced pimentos
8 ounces sharp cheddar
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter
1-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
Dash of cayenne pepper
A generous pinch of salt
A few grinds black pepper
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Rinse and drain the pimentos and place them on paper towels. Pat them dry and then leave them for 10 – 15 minutes to air dry.
Grate the cheese and the cold butter together in a food processor. Switch from the grating blade to the metal blade, then add the flour, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne salt and pepper. Process until the dough just begins to come together and looks moist and grainy. Add the pecans and process until the dough begins to pull away from the sides and form a ball. Add the pimentos and pulse a few times until the dough is a ball.
Dump the dough onto a piece of waxed paper, scrapping out all the pimento pieces. Knead the dough a few times just to incorporate and distribute the pimento pieces. Cut two more lengths of waxed paper, divide the dough into two portions and place each portion on one waxed paper length. Form each onto a log and roll tightly, pressing in to form a nice solid log. Twist the ends like a candy wrapper. Refrigerate the logs for at least an hour before baking, but you can refrigerate them for two days or freeze them for 3 months.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F., and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove the rolls from the fridge and slice into medium-thick wafers, about 1/4 inch each. Place on the baking sheet with a little room to spread and bake until golden around the edges and firm on the top, about 10 – 12 minutes. Cool on the pans for a few minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool.
(Makes about 3 dozen)
Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Pimento Cheese Stuffed Eggs