53. No Thyme to Waste’s Braided Challah

A few days back, I was having a nostalgic day and decided to bake a loaf of challah. I have no claim to challah’s long history, but in college it was a bread I learned to make in my parents’ bread machine and so whenever I was about to head back to school, I’d make two loaves: one to eat with my family, pulling sections of the braid off with our hands while it was still warm, and the other to slice cool in my college town, accompanied by my roommates or nearby dorm neighbors. The bread seems built for community building: soft, pliable, woven together, and always slightly sweet and eggy.

I found No Thyme to Waste’s recipe for braided challah and was also somewhat enchanted by her blog – it uses the same WordPress theme that I do, but to much greater effect! I’m inspired to include recipe cards with any recipes I make from friends or from a handwritten card – obviously will keep linking to recipes that come from other blogs. I was impressed that it used so much whole wheat flour, and this recipe didn’t disappoint: Husband does not like super whole-grain bread and he thought this was the best loaf I’ve made yet! We ate on it for days, letting it replace store-bought bagels in the morning, toasted with a layer of cream cheese all over it. I didn’t have the seeds to put on top, but otherwise I pretty much stuck with the recipe; I’m learning that it pays to follow the directions with bread.

While I didn’t get to bring any on this road trip with me, I’m hoping to be able to at least prepare a few meals while I’m here visiting with my sister – she’s a much healthier eater than me, but if she let’s me, a loaf of homemade bread might be just what her kitchen needs.

 

52. Jen’s Parmesan Meatballs

In my search for meatball recipes (Linda from Scribbles and Grits got me thinking meatballs with a sweet-and-sour recipe she gave me, as did my friend N when she came up with the idea of a meatball-themed dinner party), I came across the blog Carlsbad Cravings.

It is a beautiful blog and has so much wonderful food, including the meatball recipe I eventually decided to try, Parmesan Meatballs. I was also making curry that day, so these were a separate, stand-alone dish, eaten with flatbread on the side.

Following her directions was very easy, and I was stunned by how well the skillet works for this – I tend to leave cast-iron cooking to Husband, worried that I’ll ruin it somehow, but the meatballs crisped up perfectly on the stovetop and browned fully in the oven. The spicing was perfect and the amount of cheese was substantial without detracting from the rest of the meatball. This is a serious contender for my next meatball-themed dinner party, which looks like it will be soon! It will also be my first meatball-themed dinner party so wish me luck on that venture.

Enough dawdling for me. Back to work. 🙂

51. J’s Hot Chicken Casserole

Lately, I’ve been interspersing a lot of blog-found recipes with the last few RSVP-card recipes, but this one has been on my mind since I got it. I was worried that Husband would not eat it, for his dislike of mayonnaise in general and chicken salad in particular, but when he glanced at the recipes I had left a few days ago, I decided to go with it.

This recipe is so classic midwestern, and it was the recipe given to me by my Husband’s grandmother J. She is perhaps the person I’m closest to in his family, because when we were dating he spent about 8 months living with her, so all my visits to him also involved visiting her. We would occasionally go out just him and I, but the majority of our time during those visits were spent with J, baking cookies or watching silly television or lighting a fire in the back porch chiminea and staying up late. She’s one of the most enthusiastic people I’ve ever met, and when she moved away, I really missed her a lot. We still see her a few times a year, but I am amused by how much I would be happy just hanging out at her house most weekends. Recently, she gave me some hand-me-downs from her years as a teacher, and it is a nice feeling to put on her professional clothes and feel reminded of her presence. I get compliments on them all the time – so grandmother-in-law hand-me-downs must be pretty stylish!

I was skeptical because this recipe didn’t have any chicken in it, and now that I’ve made it I would definitely add some shredded chicken breast to it, but I wanted to try it exactly the way that J made it (for once!) and it was still pretty delicious. The water chestnuts make it a really interesting texture, crunchy without being super crispy, and the mayo and cheese really meld well together to me (even Husband didn’t mind the background taste of mayo). We’ve been using it as a side dish for a few days now because it made quite a big dish, and just like the hand-me-downs, it reminds me of J and makes me want to go visit her all the time. I hope to see her again soon.

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50. T’s Chicken Salad

Things don’t always go the way I expect them to. This morning, I expected yet another day of sunny skies and instead, a soggy day rolled in. When we were 17 and  T and I played on rival sides of an ultimate frisbee game, I expected she wouldn’t even want to talk to me because I’d been such an obnoxious guard. When T and I became each other’s long-distance friends for the next 10 years, I couldn’t have predicted that either.

So when, this week, months after the wedding, an email from T revealed a recipe for chicken salad, I had to give it a shot. I’ll start out by saying: I don’t like chicken salad. I always find it cloying and full of flavors that don’t mesh. Granted, I’ve never made it myself, and I’m sure that making it myself would allow for a lower input of mayonnaise, which would make me far happier with it, but it’s exactly the possible serendipity, the chance that it could be delicious, that made me give it a chance. With T, you really never know.

T’s recipe reads more like a poem than a recipe, but I promise it’s worth at least considering her style before you return to your old standard, because let me say, I ate myself silly on this stuff, smeared on cracked pepper crackers while looking out at the rain. It’s worth your trouble. This is the same T who once made biscuits for me purely from feel, with no measuring, so I encourage you to unleash your “inner T” when it comes to measurements, and try to feel the right chicken salad out.

Roast (or let the crockpot do the work) a couple of bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts with your favorite marinade and whatever chicken-lovin’ herbs you have in the garden. I used rosemary, parsley, oregano.  Let it cool down, and take the meat off the bone, handshredded is best to make sure you don’t have any bones or other skin or fat that you wouldn’t want to eat.  Add a stalk of celery, chopped (I like more, but good to start with just one and keep adding); half of a red delicious or some other sweet crunchy apple chopped; more poppy seeds and black pepper than you would think you need; toasted pecans chopped; and a slice or two of red onion chopped very fine.  Stir in enough Duke’s mayonnaise with some pan drippings, if you dare, to hold it together.  This is Mom’s voice: “”If you like chicken salad, It will make you do the happy dance.”  Duke’s mayo is a must.  Freshly ground pepper is best.  Let it sit in the fridge overnight so the flavors marinade.  
Serve with anything: make a sandwich on wheat with spinach, croissant if you are feeling fancy, any crackers you like, celery stalks, the rest of the apple, romaine lettuce leaf and roll it up.  Yum.  Make a little bit at a time and make it often.  Pairs great with fresh tomatoes out of the garden cut up with pepper on them.
The main counsel I completely ignored was letting it marinade overnight, but there is some left, so tomorrow I’ll get that glorious aspect. Whatever happens, it will probably be different from your expectations, and it might be worth reveling in that for a little while.

48. J’s Brie-Basil Pasta

J and I went to an academic summer camp when we were both 17; I think it was the first time I felt surrounded by so many intelligent and interesting people in the same small place. J and I remained friends over the years, seeing each other when we happened to be in the same city. He came to my wedding and gave me a recipe card RSVP that only said “let’s talk about this one in person…” – eventually, he sent me the following recipe, but cautioned me to wait through the winter months before I attempted it, because fresh tomatoes and fresh basil were key to the meal.

1. 4 large ripe tomatoes cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2. I pound Brie, rind removed, broken into irregular smallish pieces

3. 1 cup fresh basil leaves rinsed, patted dry and cut into strips

4. 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced

5. 1 cup best quality olive oil

6. 1/2 teaspoon salt

7. 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

8. 1 1/2 pound linguine 9or other pasta)

9. Fresh grated parmigiana-Reggiano

At least 2 hours before serving combine 1-7 in large serving bowl. I usually cover and let sit at room temperature to blend flavors. Also, I put the Brie in the freezer for about 10 minutes before trying to remove the rind. Putting in the freezer helps make it firmer and easier to remove. Otherwise you tend to lose a lot of the Brie as the rind does not come off very well.

Boil the linguine. When done, toss with the tomato mixture. Add grated cheese as desired.

I chose to make this recipe on a day when Husband and I were going to an outdoor festival and I knew we’d be hungry and ready for something savory and fresh when we got home – it helped us resist the funnel cake and fried chicken at the festival, which can’t hurt, right? After a truly spectacular breezy Sunday afternoon, we returned to the bowl of spicings and cheese and tomatoes: I’d frozen the brie for too long, so instead of breaking it into pieces I’d shaved the rind off with a knife and grated the whole thing into the bowl. We made fettuccine and the whole house filled with the pungent Brie scent and the snap of garlic. We twirled the pasta noodles and our lips got coated in cheesy sauce. I used all the fresh basil we had in our garden, which was good timing because the little bucket we’ve been growing herbs in is now swamped with water from recent rains. Hopefully it will dry out and grow back, because this might be my favorite dish yet. I didn’t get quite as much brie as he suggested (I did 8 ounces, plus a spare ounce of goat cheese I had lying around, for one pound of pasta) but I bet it would have been delightful if I had.

What is the quintessential dish of summer for you? I cannot imagine a flavor more summery than basil and tomato, cheese and garlic all rolled together and eaten with the window open and the twilight breeze blowing through the house.

47. Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler

A comforting repost from summer. 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been wanting to try a recipe for strawberry cobbler given to me in a comment by the author of Pigtails and Mudpies, and I also saw that someone on the GoSun page made fruit crisp in her GoSun, so yesterday I put together a pretty wonderful concoction. Pigtails and Mudpies says she likes picking her own strawberries to make this cobbler, so I am pretty happy with the combination of garden and farmer’s market that went into it:

All the strawberries I’ve been collecting and freezing from our plants (about 25 in total! Not bad for leftover plants from the former owners of our house.)

4 of the stalks of rhubarb that I bought at the farmer’s market yesterday morning.

A mixture of flour, milk, and sugar (1/2 cup of each) and lots of butter-flavored veggie oil spray to keep the cooking tray slick. Finish with cinnamon!

Unfortunately, a sunny day turned stormy by the time I was putting the GoSun out, so after an hour and a half, the hot but not cooked tube was removed in favor of cooking in a conventional oven. Note to self: aim for sunny day cooking.

It came out delicious! Both fruits are tart, so they were well supplemented by the sugary dough, but the juices from each fruit gave the whole thing a soft, pudding-ish texture; not the crisp I expected but still wonderfully flavorful. Thanks to Pigtails and Mudpies for the tip about cobbler and I will try it again in the GoSun on a sunny day!

46. Summer Squash with onions and tomatoes

(a repost from the delightful days of summer. sigh.)

 

So, the GoSun, that magical looking tube with the shiny sides, makes food. I have proof now.

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To ease into all the hubbub, I cut up a yellow squash, green onions, and cherry tomatoes, enough to fill the long tube but not over fill it. I spritzed it with veggie oil spray and put a generous shaking of italian seasoning on it, and in the tube it went!

I’m quite pleased with the result, which was more like steamed than roasted after a little over an hour in medium sunshine. Next time, I will angle the dish toward the sun better, as well as add a bit more on the salt-and-pepper side of spices, but overall, a rousing success.

In other news, my friend N is thinking of holding a meatball competition, to have us all make and try different kinds of meatballs (meatless and meat-ful)… any favorite meatball recipes? I have one from a previous commenter but more are always welcome, the weirder the better!

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45. G’s Sourdough Bread

I know, I’ve made seventy gajillion kinds of bread lately. Call it a brief infatuation with the ol’ stand mixer… and a long-standing love affair with bread.

Recently, a student where I work gave me some sourdough starter that he and his mother have had since they lived in California years ago. He told me how to use it, how to keep it happy or let it go dormant in the fridge, and I was incredibly excited to try it out. I had a recipe from a blogger (thanks, Roast Smoke and Malt!) and a container of back-up store-bought yeast just in case, and I had a looooooong summer day to let it all rise and get perfectly puffy.

For the most part, I’d say it worked! I put a little bit of butter on top that I expected would melt in and become indistinguishable but instead it made for that weird discoloration, so maybe don’t do that, but the bread itself was wonderful – I ended up using back up yeast and adding enough flour to get me back to the same consistency after I added the activated yeast-in-water, but I still gave it an insane few hours of rising, probably close to 6 all told, and the final product had that sour tang to it that makes sourdough distinctive. I want to give it a chance to rise overnight next time, but for a first attempt, this certainly isn’t bad.

Dough hooks are your friend with this bread, as with so many – I would love to hear if people have a great success with handmade, not mixer-made, doughs, but I feel like having the mixer is my game changer.

Sourdough is such a cool food because it’s a bit like also having a pet (a pet you kill in the oven… perhaps not the best analogy after all) because you have to keep the starter alive, feed it, put it in the fridge to go dormant, etc. I like that I met G, who I hadn’t run into at work until that day, and got to share his life story by taking some of this starter. I hope to someday figure out a preferred recipe and grow the starter enough to give it to others myself!

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The second loaf, which rose beautifully.

44. Potluck Tomato Zucchini Dip

This recipe didn’t come from anything, though it did go to a potluck, and it was part of my ongoing efforts to clean out my cupboards. Unfortunately, these sorts of things don’t always go perfectly… So a girl has to improvise.

I expected I was making something like these, a zucchini dish that would be more like a side or a hot veggie dish. I started with a big can of diced tomatoes with oregano, garlic, and basil in them, two large zucchini, and half a small log of garlic herb goat cheese. I imagined pinterest-worthy food. What I got was surely delicious but not fancy… which I guess is what to aim for!

I roasted the zucchini and didn’t count on how small it would be after that! Mixed with the cheese and the cooked tomato, it looked like a cheesy dip but not at all like a fresh, zesty hot side. I think I needed more veggie volume to make that work. Still! When I put it onto a cracked-pepper triscuit, I realized it still had great potential as a party dip.

At N’s house, I foregrounded that I might have made a disaster food, but people liked it! So… this might not be the thing to aim for when you are trying to make a fancy dish, but if you just want something delicious and veggie-ful, try it out!

Zucchini Tomato Surprise Dip

 

  1. Cook 1 can of herbed diced tomatoes in a pan on the stove top; add a little olive oil if you want.
  2. Slice and roast zucchini, at least two large ones. (If I did this again, I’d also cut them into quarters and make every slice at least 1/2 an inch thick. Grease that pan!)
  3. When tomatoes begin to thicken, add cream cheese or herbed goat cheese. When zucchini have roasted for 30 minutes, mix all ingredients together and serve on crackers or pita chips.

43. Childhood “Loaded”Mashed Potatoes

As a kid, I was fascinated by state-changed foods. I thought that pancake batter puffing into soft, thick cakes was magical; liquid to solid was pretty common. More strange still was solid to liquid, when my mother and I would make mashed potatoes. I couldn’t imagine how those hard, brown lumps turned into the fluffy cloud-like mashed potatoes I loved.

When I was 10 or 11, my parents instituted a rule when I had to cook a meal every week during the summer – it was both to teach me, keep me busy, and help my mom a little. One of my first variations on my mom’s normal recipes was my idea for “loaded” mashed potatoes: namely, normal mashed potatoes full of onions, bacon, and cheese. I clearly have been a girl who loves rich food for a long time.

So, Husband and I were making salmon with potatoes as a side the other evening, when I realized I wanted mashed potatoes – salmon with a little mashed potato on the side was just EVERYTHING for a moment there. So, I boiled a bunch of sliced fingerling potatoes, fried bacon with shallots, and poured it all into my newly-acquired stand mixer. At first I was worried that leaving skins on the potatoes was going to ruin the look, but when I threw a bit of cheddar and a pat of butter in with them, the potatoes whipped up wonderfully. They were thick and had chunks in them, which isn’t nearly like the bright white potato-flake mashed potatoes of my thanksgiving memories, but they felt hearty and flavorful anyway.

It’s this kind of memories that are coming back when I cook more – sure, I love me a pile of take-out chinese food (hello crab rangoons) but it doesn’t hold as many home memories as getting in the kitchen and putting something together. My family only ate out as a treat when I was growing up, probably for money reasons, and while my young adulthood has been filled with eating in restaurants, I am really reconnecting to the way time in the kitchen calms me, employs the problem-solving parts of my brain, and saves me money.

No formal recipe for loaded mashed potatoes; I just recommend boiling the cut potatoes at least 20 minutes, and add proportions of “baked potato ingredients” to your mixer as you feel led.

What recipe have you re-discovered lately? Do you remember specific kitchen moments when you encounter a familiar ingredient or craving? Feel free to comment and tell me about it. 🙂

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So important to boil them long enough… then you get to go wild.