Happy 100th!

18 Jul

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Blogging is a strange avenue of expression. It is an open can-of-worms of opinions, expressions, and not at all approved, edited, or formatted by any professional publisher. In my case, recipes are created, enjoyed, and un-tested by a professional chef. No one is making money off my blog or my food (while I’d like to!), but yet it puts everything out there – one big $5.99 Vegas buffet loaded high with my cooking style, writing style, personal stories, and cooking tips and antidotes.

Thinking about it, rather than a Vegas buffet, writing a blog is more like checking out at the drug store. Likely, most people buy an over-the-counter-something-or-another to cure, fix, heal, whatever ailment they have at that moment. Sometimes the checkout experience is simple and unassuming, like nail polish remover and a pack of gum. Other times the very-public purchase is somewhat more embarrassing, like foot fungal cream, or hemorrhoid ointment. People don’t “have to” buy these things to survive, but sort of “need to” to again, cure, fix, heal, etc., and it can be blush-worthy.

Over the last few years, writing my blog has been my drug-store-check-out, providing me with the necessary “fix” of expression. First and foremost, it’s always been about the food. However, food alone can still leave something to be desired: the people enjoying it, of course! As in my life, food revolves around stories, events, and silly life happenings. Sometimes, like sending my husband to the drug store to buy tampons, sharing has been embarrassing; but I also choose to share, so there’s not the slightest urge to complain. Only occasionally, there have been some sad-story moments, but humorous occurrences that seem to happen to my family and me on an almost daily basis always quickly follow. I have put my husband, mom, dad, sister, in-laws, extended family, and even my dog on the Blog-o-Sphere hot seat, all in the name of 42potatoes: And Many More Cooking Experiences.

Because of this, a phrase has developed in our household: You should blog about that!

For example, here are only just a few of those moments that have elicited the You should blog about that! mantra:

Literally every time (and I am using the word ‘literally,’ literally here) I go to drive Rob’s car, the “Low Tire Pressure” light comes on. Like the car sighs when I sit in it. (YSBAT!)

Sig stealthily stealing a barely eaten cheeseburger that was harmlessly, and quickly, put down on a table our friends house. (YSBAT!)

When one of my students said he wanted to go live with Rob, but didn’t want to live with me. (YSBAT!)

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The American Flag cake off of Food 52 that was a feat for me to accomplish, but I did it! (YSBAT!)

Rob almost dying in a Panamanian hospital (I’d rather not relive those days…)

How people can’t watch movies with me, specifically Robin Hood Men in Tights, because I say all the words (and do all the dance moves). I think Rob’s exact words were, with disgust, “You turn into another person when that movie comes on.” (YSBAT!)

When Rob and I went to TPC Sawgrass and saw our favorite golfers, I told him that I always thought he was amazing at golf, and had the best swing I’ve ever seen, until I saw Bubba Watson. He didn’t appreciate that so much. But then agreed. (YSBAT!)

When we tied ribbons around three big pine trees to try to save them from the chopping massacre happening on the lot next door. Yes, our Oregon-ness still rings true. (YSBAT!)

Then we started grilling Strawberry BBQ Chicken, and the smoke blew from our patio onto the workers; we didn’t put up a fight about the trees after that. (YSBAT!)

How Rob’s mom starting secretly giving one of us the answers to our nightly ritual of watching Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune – In Connecticut she sees them in reverse, so Rob and I would foolishly impress each other with super hard-to-get answers. So now whenever either one of us really does get a hard answer correct, it’s always followed with, “Did you get a text?! Let me see your phone…” (YSBAT!)

When I learned to surf, and the really embarrassing injuries that ensued. (YSBAT!)

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How our little 17-lb. pup gets a running start and then body-checks me in the kitchen, hitting me perfectly on the weak part of my hip to almost knock me down in order to get a taste of roasted chicken. (YSBAT!)

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When I overflowed a pot of deep-frying oil, twice. This was a yikes-in-the-kitchen moment. But nothing was keeping us from Shoestring Sweet Potato Fries with Wasabi Lime Fry-Sauce, so the frying continued while continually cleaning up to our elbows in oil and paper towels. (YSBAT!)

When Jenn and I poured French Rose wine into mason jar mugs to take to the pool – we were perfecting our good Southern girl redneck-ness. (YSBAT!)

How my mom always yells the phrase, “No laughing, no laughing!” when doing, or carrying, something hard, difficult, heavy, etc., and it always results in rip-roaring laugher, and almost broken toes. (YSBAT!)

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When my friend’s Italian husband gave her a hard time about ordering cheese ravioli at a fancy Italian restaurant, so together we made cheese ravioli from scratch (including making the ricotta) so she could show him just how fancy cheese ravioli could be. (YSBAT!)

How my sister, on a visit to JAX, showed up at the front door all dressed up and holding a tall, green, mason jar fish bowl, and I mistook her for a pretty saleslady selling pickles.  I don’t know.  No booze was involved, I promise.  (YSBAT!)

When going to church with my in-laws, and during the Gospel, the heels and soles of my shoes literally started disintegrating under my feet leaving chunks of black rubber all over the floor. Is that a bad sign? (YSBAT!)

To make a long blog shorter than longer, there obviously have been, and will be, many more You should blog about that! moments.

All this reminiscing is fun, but also serves a purpose: this is 42potatoes 100th blog! Four years ago next month, I started this blog with the idea in mind to share my stories, recipes, and touch the people who thankfully read the blog. Hopefully, some food has been prepared and enjoyed, or at least culinary inspiration has been sparked inside a few of you wonderful people.

In my world, this also calls for a celebration – with food, of course! Keeping true to my roots of quality technique cooking with simple, true, local, and seasonal ingredients, here’s a beautiful, tasty, fresh, and perfect-for-a-cook-out celebration salad. The Carolinas, only a few hours away from us, are pumping out sweet, sweet, sweet seedless watermelons right now, and I’m indulging. This Watermelon Salad with Goat Cheese Froth and Basil Oil will knock your socks off. It’s the perfect start to a backyard BBQ meal, pairs perfectly with a bit of champagne or a hoppy IPA, and is fancy-shmancy enough for entertaining. My sister was the taste-tester – despite her aversion to green things, she enjoyed the pistou topping the watermelon stack (it is really just the solids from the basil oil flavored with a bit of salt. Waste not!)

Like melon and speck (ooh, another good name for a blog), the sweet-juicy and earthy-salty flavors pair dreamily. In this case, blending nutty almond milk with the grassy goat cheese creates an almost umami-flavored froth that never quite emulsifies with the basil oil. The flavors stay clean and distinct, but also humbly marry in the mouth. The finishing touch is a bit of quick-fried basil and thyme, just enough to crunch onto the dish, almost like tiny, herby croutons.

I hope you enjoy this dish – it’s a celebration of all these times I’ve entered Drugstore Blogtastic and came out with a comforting result. Thank you, my family and friends, for 1) eating my food, 2) reading my blog, and 3) (and most importantly), letting me write about you, too. Now, let’s eat!

Enjoy!

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Watermelon Salad with Goat Cheese Froth and Basil Oil
(serves 4)

  • 1 small (about 5 lbs) red, seedless watermelon, sliced into 1-in thick disks, and then using a biscuit cutter, punch out 2-3 rounds per dish (depending on the size of your cutter).
  • 3 oz. goat cheese
  • ½ c unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 large sprigs fresh basil, divided
  • 2-3 leaves fresh spinach (this isn’t for taste, its for the green color it imparts on the oil)
  • 3-4 sprigs of thyme
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper, divided in 4 (basically it is just a small dusting for each plate)
  • ¼ c grapeseed oil
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • s&p

* special equipment: blender

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In a saucepan, heat up the olive oil, 1 sprig of basil, and all the sprigs of thyme. Turn heat on high, and when the herbs start to get noisy (spittering and spattering), turn off heat. Remove herbs to drain on a towel, and reserve for plating.

Using a blender, pour in the grapeseed oil, and add the basil and spinach. Whir until completely combined. Strain the oil through a fine mesh sieve, catching the oil in a small bowl, and reserve the solids to a different small bowl. Add a pinch of salt to the solids for seasoning (it will look like a pistou, or a very fine, delicate pesto).

After cleaning the blender, use it again for the goat cheese and the almond milk. Combine in the blender and whir until frothy.

To assemble the salad: pour a teaspoon of the goat cheese mixture in the center and then drizzle some basil oil around the plate. Sprinkle a dusting of cayenne pepper over the goat cheese and oil. Place one watermelon round on top of the goat cheese, and drizzle again with the goat cheese mixture and a bit of oil. Layer until finished, and then top with the pistou, a 2-finger dash of s&p, and the crunchy herbs. 

Enjoy!

Beet Red Hands

19 May

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I love this time of year. Spring is simply awesome. When I lived in California, I would market-hop from one small-town parking lot to another looking for the best that season had to offer. There, the asparagus was perfectly green, the butter lettuce was making a grand entrance, and sweet smell of strawberries was just starting to emerge.

The Oregon Coast was a bit different during the Spring. The sunshine was not yet warm, but worked hard to penetrate through the rainy clouds and bitter wind. Berry brambles were furiously flowering, and the sturdy greens – chard, pak choy, and kale – were a daily staple. March, and sometimes April, was always a hard time in Oregon – weeks of bone-chilling rain. But May was always welcomed with open, vitamin D depraved arms.

This is our first spring in Northern Florida, and I have been more than excited about the abundance of spring fruit and veg coming our way. Everywhere I’ve lived has had a very distinctive seasonal produce drought – either it’s too hot, too cold, too wet, or too many wildfires to illicit a productive growing season. Summertime in Northern Florida definitely falls into the too hot category. But right now, the mid 80 degree weather, with only a kiss of humidity, is producing a bounty of fresh fruits and veg.

Like we did in Oregon, Rob and I joined a CSA program out here called Black Hog Farm. Not only does it have great Florida produce (some local, some sourced), but also has amazing meats and dairy. Every week we get a full chicken – perfect for roasting and having left-overs on hand for salads and the impromptu taco night.

But this past week we received some beautiful springtime jewels – the root vegetable that signifies the growing season to me: beets. I’m obsessed, and for good reason. Beets have the rich creaminess you’d expect in wintertime, and a bright freshness foreshadowing the warm months ahead. They stain your hands a gorgeous, deep magenta, and add so much depth and flavor to a meal.

Rob has had many night-flights recently, leaving me to resist the temptation of eating popcorn for dinner and actually cook something of substance. So, with beets at hand, and a few more simple ingredients, I whipped up a quick and easy salad with a little more culinary clout than just chopping some veg into a bowl (not that there’s anything wrong with chopping veg into a bowl! I found like Seinfeld…).

Beets are finicky raw, so by mincing them in the food processor – not enough to be pureed! – is the best way to get them cooked super fast. Seeing how beets are a root veg, they happen to pair wonderfully with very earthy flavors (amazing how that works, eh?). So, truffle oil on the peppery arugula is a go-to for a smack-your-lips umami experience.   With hints from the tangy goat cheese in the Beet Relish, you’ve got yourself a gourmet meal with no fuss. Except your hands will be red. Hope that’s ok. It kind of an occupational hazard with beets.

Enjoy!

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Beet Relish with Lemon-Truffle Arugula
(serves 4)

Beet Relish:

  • 2 medium beets, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 small yellow squash, pre-cooked (either grilled, roasted, or sautéed), and roughly chopped
  • Mint leaves off 2 fresh sprigs
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 5 oz goat cheese
  • s&p
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Put all ingredients, including a seasoning of s&p in a food processor, and run until almost smooth. The mixture will turn bright pink/red (from the beets), and show have the consistency of pesto.

In a sauté pan, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Add the beet relish and sauté consistently until the beets have softened. They will also change to a darker red color. This will only take about 3-5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and set aside to cool.

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Lemon-Truffle Arugula:

  • 16 oz. baby arugula leaves
  • Juice 1 fresh lemon
  • 1 ½ tsp white truffle oil
  • s&p
  • a few pieces of parmesan shavings (I use a wide veg peeler to make the ribbons of parmesean)

Put all of the arugula in a bowl, squeeze over the lemon juice, and drizzle over the truffle oil. Season with a pinch of s&p, and toss to coat the leaves.

NOTE: I actually do not emulsify the lemon and truffle oil separately – like most vinaigrettes – because I like the separation of flavors. With the peppery leaves, the bold lemon, and the fragrant oil, each ingredient does a fine job holding its own.

Shave some parmesan ribbons on top before serving.

TO PLATE:

Spread some of the beet relish on the bottom of a dinner plate. Generously top with the arugula salad. Add a few more shavings of parmesan if you’re feeling sassy.

Enjoy!

What Does the Sig Say?

26 Apr

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Recently our household has turned a little cartoonish. But in a good way. There are no anvils dropping out of the sky, and Tom and Jerry aren’t making appearances, but I am having long conversations with my dog – and he’s talking back.

Don’t tell me all you dog owners don’t do it. Whether you want to admit it or not, dog owners talk to their dogs way beyond the sit, stay, come commands. They share secrets, they vent, and they talk about what so-and-so unbelievably and outrageously said about another so-and-so behind their back. Usually, and normally, the dog gives a cocked-head, wide-eyed, uncharacteristically genuinely interested look hoping that a familiar word like “treat” or “walk” will add relevance to the blah blah blah noise coming out of our mouths. My sister’s dog makes a funny, gruff, growly noise when she talks to him, until he gets fed up at her lack of understanding him, and does the only thing that relieves his frustration: rolling over onto his back for an obvious, demanded belly rub. It’s as if he were saying, “Well, if I have to listen to you go on about the latest Housewives episode, then I might as well get something out of it.”

And it’s moments and thoughts like this, the art of anthropomorphism, which led to my conversation with Sig, our floppy little mutt of a doggie.

Rob and I have often wondered if Sig had a voice, who he would sound like. We’ve joked about a James Earl Jones reverb emanating from his small body, as well as someone sophisticated and witty, like Brian Williams. After way too much deliberation on such a ridiculous thought, we’ve settled on a cross between Michael J. Fox and Owen Wilson. Think hard, you can picture it. So last Monday night, after Sig had a long walk, and then his dinner, we had a conversation.

“Sig, what are you doing? You are in my way.” Almost stepping on him, I was cooking my Sautéed Spring Vegetables to accompany a pulled chicken with Carolina Sauce. It was an easy and fast dinner with the chicken in the oven, and the sauce already made and on hand. Rob sat on the other side of our island keeping us company.

“Mom, I’m waiting for some more food.” Yep, Sig’s Owen Fox voice responded (from across the island).

Being a good dog-mom (or a really stupid person to engage in this), “You already had your dinner,” I responded.

“But seriously, Mom!” surprisingly, as the words were spoken, Sig’s feet actually moved back as if in protest. “How do you think I can eat that same ground up chicken meal every night? It’s just not fair!”

“You’ve never complained before – “

“But you took me on a long walk today,” his voice stretched, “and it’s hot outside,” and then finally, “and you have all that yummy stuff cooking – can’t you just drop me some?”

And then as if on cue, my wooden spoon just happened to stir with vigor, shooting a piece of bell pepper and squash out of the pan. “Oh man. Ok, pup. There you go.”

“Hey thanks! Wow, this stuff is hot.” (quick sneeze) “Maybe if I eat it real quick – oh yeah. Good stuff. Mom, can I have some more?” Those wide puppy eyes looked up in anticipation.

“No. You didn’t chew your food.”

“Ah, gee.”

So Rob does a great Sig-voice. And yes, this interaction did happen. It was just an average Monday night. And no, I’m not exaggerating. Just ask Sig.

On a not-so-strange, OMG-does-this-woman-actually-have-conversations-with-her-dog note, enjoy the sautéed veg. Sig did. It’s a great side dish and even better left over the next day. It’s easy, fast, and satisfying. I cook it in stages, kind of like a ratatouille, but I use a high heat to caramelize the veg while keeping its toothsome integrity. No one likes slimy sautéed veg (think buffets at giant banquet halls for work conferences where the so-overdone vegetables leave an oil slick on your plate, napkin, and possibly your brand new outfit, leaving you to walk around schmoozing the rest of the night looking like a 5-year old having just eaten pizza). So make sure you only use a touch of oil but more seasoning to bring out the liquid – and taste – in the veg.

If you want to come over to our house to witness a Sig conversation, I’d be happy to cook it up for you. If not, enjoy making this super easy, super delicious side dish at your leisure. Enjoy!

Sautéed Spring Veg
(serves 2, generously)

  • ½ onion, sliced
  • 1 large celery stalk, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ½ green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 medium yellow summer squash, diced
  • A few leaves of fresh, washed, romaine lettuce, sliced
  • 1 tbsp Smoky Spice Mix:
    1:1:1:1 white pepper, chili powder, paprika, and brown sugar.
    Add a 3-finger pinch of cardamom and s&p to taste
  • 1 tbsp butter 

In a large sauté pan, heat the butter over medium-high heat. Once melted, add the onion and sauté until it starts to soften (“sweat”). Add the celery, garlic, bell pepper, and squash, and raise the heat to almost a complete high. Sauté consistently in 2 minute intervals until the veg starts to brown, but is still slightly firm to the touch.

Once the veg has turned golden, add the Smoky Spice Mix and stir consistently, so everything gets coated and the mix starts to toast (you’ll smell a definite change from the “raw” spices to once they brown in the pan – the spice will be more pronounced). Take off the heat and add the romaine lettuce. Mix well and serve next to your favorite protein, or enjoy by itself as a light dinner.

Enjoy!

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