Leftovers

Unlike many people, I like leftovers – especially when the meal the night before was wonderful. I know this is going to sound strange, but my favorite meal of the year is Christmas morning – leftovers from Christmas Eve dinner!  But when I have a day where time won’t allow me to cook, I RRREEEAAALLLLLLYYY appreciate leftovers.

Today is one of those days.  Not only was the day busy, but I’ll be at my Bible study this evening so dinner is either leftovers, fast food, or something way too late in the day.  And today is one of those lucky days where the leftovers are from a wonderful meal – stuffed shells.

Jeff and I worked together to make them and they turned out great.  The filling included: ricotta cheese, spinach from our garden, parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, salt, pepper, nutmeg, fresh parsley, and some sauteed onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes.

When we make a dish that requires tomato sauce, I am so glad that Jeff roasts and cans tomatoes when they are plentiful in the garden!  We sauteed onions, carrots, green peppers, zucchini, garlic and red pepper flakes until they were soft, added some tomato paste, and cooked it until it had a chance to caramelize.  We then whizzed it up in the food processor (allowing it to remain a bit chunky) and added it to a jar of Jeff’s roasted summer tomatoes.  Finally we added some fresh oregano and parsley and the juice and zest of one lemon and allowed it to cook until all the flavors melded together. Mmm mmm mmm!

While the sauce cooked, we cooked the pasta and filled a pastry bag with the filling.  Although you can fill the shells using a spoon, I find using a pastry bag to be more efficient and less messy. I put a layer of sauce on the bottom of the baking dish and filled the shells, nestling them tightly in the dish.  When all the shells were filled, I topped them with sauce and then some parmesan and mozzarella.

 

The finished product was a warm, gooey, delicious pasta treat with a summer-fresh tomato sauce.  It was great the first night and I’m sure it will be even better tonight!!!!

A Labor of Love for My Love

I am lucky to be married to a man who knows how to cook, clean and iron his own shirts.  He’s quite self-sufficient.  In fact, if it weren’t for trouble matching his clothes and folding a fitted sheet, he probably wouldn’t need me at all.

Over the years, we have learned numerous things from one another – not from any formal lessons, but as couples do – simply from being around one another for enough time. For example, I have learned to put the toilet paper roll on the holder the “right way,” the first 15ish steps of troubleshooting my computer before asking him (an IT guy) for help, how to change a ceiling light fixture, and that you can enjoy a Phils game IF you sit in the good seats!  He has learned how to wrap a gift without 1,000 wrinkles and 1,000,000 pieces of tape, that a crock pot (or anything with a cord) is not a gift unless expressly requested by the receiver, that some towels are just for show, and that you don’t have to follow a recipe to the letter for it to turn out well!

From the beginning, we’ve shared household chores in a non-traditional way.  He enjoys coupon clipping and grocery shopping, but has allergies.  So until a few years ago, he did all the grocery shopping and I cut the grass.  When we both worked full-time, he made dinner as often as I did (ok, maybe he still does) and we shared cleaning responsibilities (ok, maybe we still do).  It’s a balance that may make other couples scratch their heads; but it works for us.

With all that said, it’s unusual for Jeff to ask for something.  But when we returned from vacation he began hinting that he’d like me to make a peach pie.  So I put it on my To Do list.  The hinting started getting less subtle, so yesterday – with the last of the peaches – I surprised him with a peach pie.

I must be honest and admit that making pies intimidates me, and not for the reason you may think.  I have no trouble making pie crust.  It doesn’t scare me in the least.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say I’m pretty good at it.  It’s the fruit fillings that get me every time!

In the past, no matter what I’ve tried – flour, cornstarch, tapioca – my fillings have always slid out of the pie with the first cut.  I had some seriously bad pie mojo.  But all that changed on vacation.  We got some really yummy peaches at a farm stand on the way to the OBX so I couldn’t resist attempting to bake a pie.  I googled ‘peach pie’ and looked at several recipes.  I decided on one entitled ‘Peach Pie the Old Fashioned Two-Crust Way’ from allrecipes.com.

The recipe worked like a charm and my bad pie mojo lifted!  I think I learned a few things about my sad pies of the past.  Here’s what I did differently this time:

  • I used room temperature peaches.  In the past I am fairly sure I used fruit from the fridge.  I don’t know exactly why I think this has an impact, but drawing on tidbits I’ve learned over the years, I know many recipes call for room temp ingredients (except when making a good pastry).
  • I mixed the filling about 30 minutes prior to filling the pie, which gave everything a chance to meld, the peaches a chance to juice and the flour a chance to begin absorbing that juice.
  • I waited until it was fully cooled before cutting it.  When I made my pie on vacation I had an easy distraction – the beach.  I made it in the morning and then we headed off for a full day at the beach and the pie had a chance to rest.  Yesterday, I made the pie in the afternoon and then went to my Bible study group and Jeff worked his part-time job – so again, the pie had time to fully cool.

When I got home from church last night, I texted Jeff a picture of the pie and this is how the remainder of the text exchange went:

JEFF: What is that?
ME:     What do you think it is?
JEFF: Pie!!
ME:     it IS pie
JEFF: But what kind
ME:     What do you hope it is?
JEFF: Peach
ME:     Yep
JEFF: !!!
JEFF: Are you sharing?
ME:    The question is are YOU sharing?  I made it for you!
JEFF: I’ll share it with you

As I disclosed earlier, Jeff is very self-sufficient so it is nice to be able to do something for him that makes him happy and is unexpected.  I was amazed at his restraint….he came home from work and did not have a piece of pie.  And he didn’t even have one for breakfast with his morning coffee.  He did, however, cut a “small piece” to take for lunch so that he could have another piece this evening.  It is true what they say, the way to a man’s heart (or at least my man’s heart) is through his stomach!

PS.  In case you were wondering, it is incredibly difficult to cut a piece of pie and pour a hot cup of coffee so that you can get some good photos and NOT indulge!

 

Just Peachy

Last week in the Outer Banks was terrific.  I truly can’t remember the last time I was so relaxed.  We let each day unfold like a surprise.  We had no plan, no itinerary, and no stress!

On our way home, just before we crossed from North Carolina into Virginia, we stopped at a roadside produce stand to pick up some late-summer peaches.  And boy are they good!  Jeff and I usually overdose on PA peaches in August; but this summer we just didn’t find any great peaches near home.  Fortunately, North Carolina not only delivered on a great vacation, but on great produce as well.

As a salute to vacation, I decided to bake today; which is funny since our fridge is bare. After scanning the contents, I decided to make a crostata – a rustic Italian tart.  But I wanted to amp it up a little so I added some brandy to the last of the blackberry syrup Jeff used to make a refreshing blackberry gin drink on vacation and I added a little bit of fresh thyme from the garden.

I used the 3/4 cup of blackberry syrup that remained and added to it 6 Tbsp of brandy and 1 Tbsp of chopped fresh thyme.  I cooked it over medium low heat for 15 minutes, whisking frequently, until it reduced and became dark and thick.

While the syrup reduced, I made the dough.  This dough is a very simple recipe with just a few ingredients:

I pulsed the flour, salt, sugar, lemon zest and thyme in a food processor until just combined and then added the cold butter.  I pulsed the food processor until the butter incorporated into the flour mixture and resembled coarse crumbs.  I added the ice water a bit at a time until the dough began to hold together.

Then I turned the dough out onto a board, gathered it together, shaped it into a ball, flattened the ball into a disk, wrapped it in plastic wrap and refrigerated it for approximately 1 hour.

I rolled the cold dough into a rough 12-inch “circle” – remember this is a RUSTIC Italian tart –  and transferred it onto a parchment lined baking sheet.

I then topped the dough with the blackberry, brandy, and thyme reduction – kind of like you top a pizza crust with sauce.

I sliced two ripe, juicy peaches and arranged them on the crostata.  I folded the edges of the crostata toward the center – no need to be precise.  In my opinion, the more rustic looking, the better.

I brushed the crust with egg wash and sprinkled it with some white (I’m not quite sure why they call it white when it is really clear) sanding sugar and baked the crostata in a 400 degree oven for approximately 35 minutes.

The end result is a delightfully mouth-watering treat.

I rewarded myself with a piece of the crostata dusted lightly with powdered sugar and a steaming cup of Jeff’s yummy coffee.  I’d say my day is going to be just peachy!

Top Ten….or is it Eleven?

This morning I was in the kitchen and looked at the four containers in which we store kitchen tools and “gadgets” and, among other things, I wondered why we need four containers and if we actually use the things in them.  I emptied the containers to determine if I could get rid of anything and I couldn’t bring myself to discard anything.  But I was able to ask and answer, “What are the 10 tools you couldn’t cook without?”

Unfortunately I was only able to answer the question with 11 items!  I know, I always have to be difficult.  A friend of mine told me once that she never buys a gadget if it doesn’t have more than one use.  In looking through my containers, I realize I have inadvertently followed her theory. The following are the items I couldn’t cook without.  I thought about ordering the list from least to most important tool, but I truly cannot decide which would be the most important – I just know that I wouldn’t want to do without any of them in the kitchen.

Disclaimer: All items in the following photographs are well-used.  I don’t have the budget the fancy magazines have to show you only pristine, brand new products!

To order items mentioned below from Amazon.com, visit my blog store.

  • Whisks

I have them in different shapes and sizes, but on any given day there is at least one in the dishwasher because it’s been used to beat eggs until they are fluffy, to stir polenta or gravy to eliminate lumps, or to beat something by hand rather than getting out the mixer.  If you find yourself without a whisk – a situation I hope to avoid at all costs – you can use two forks facing one another so the tines interlock.

  • OXO Good Grips Vegetable Peeler

For some items the brand is not important to me, but for others I find it makes a difference.  In the case of my vegetable peelers, I like the OXO Good Grips.  Specifically the Swivel Peeler.  Having peeled an inordinate amount of carrots and potatoes in my lifetime and having used many not-so-great peelers, I prefer the OXO because it’s comfortable in my hand, the food doesn’t get stuck in the blade and the blade swivels nicely around curves.

 

 

  • Salt Box and Kuhn Rikon Pepper Mill (Vase Grinder)

Technically I know this is two items, but they both fall under seasoning and you can hardly even say “salt” without “pepper” so surely you can cut me some slack!  The salt box is a round wooden “box” with a lid that swivels open to reveal the salt yet stays attached.  It’s a good size and fits neatly on my counter blending nicely with the cabinets.  The Kuhn Rikon Pepper Mill (Vase Grinder) was a gift from my mother-in-law and I’ve never used another pepper mill in the many years I’ve owned this one.  It grinds the pepper just the way I like it, holds a lot of peppercorns at one time and never (knock wood) jams.

 

This tool is amazing.  I have two and they’re usually both in the dishwasher because we use them so often.  My favorite use is grating parmesan cheese (my absolute favorite food); but I also use it for zesting all kinds of citrus fruits (this is quite different than a zester that gives you longer “strips” of citrus peel), for finely grating chocolate over tiramisu or other desserts, for grating whole nutmeg, ginger, etc.  I like this brand because the grating blade is longer than others I have tried.

  • Hand-Held Citrus Juicer

I have no idea what brand mine is, but I like the design because it keeps the seeds inside while the juice flows though the holes.  The only drawback of the model I have is that while it is terrific for smaller fruits like lemons, limes, and mandarin oranges, larger citrus fruits just don’t fit into it.  I am typically not in need of so much juice that I would pull out an electric juicer so I don’t even own one.

  • Williams Sonoma Green Herb Snips

Because I grow a lot of fresh herbs in my yard, these are an invaluable tool – particularly during the growing season.  The snips are dishwasher safe and come apart so they dry completely without rusting.  They have an “on board” stripper that removes leaves from woody herbs such as rosemary.


  • Seven Inch Hollow-Edge Santoku

I love this knife!  The brand of mine is Wusthof.  It fits very comfortably in my large hand and is weighted quite nicely.  I really appreciate the hollow edge, which reduces drag when cutting and helps prevent food sticking to the blade.  If you use your knives as much as I do, I would highly recommend investing in a knife sharpener.

  • Ramekins and Pinch Bowls

I am a firm believer in mis en place.  This is a French phrase that translates into “everything in place.”  It means you get all your recipe ingredients prepped and in place before you start cooking.  In order to do that, I use ramekins and pinch bowls of different sizes on a regular basis.  I find prepping all my ingredients ahead of time helps reduce the chance of missing an ingredient and requires me to review a recipe so there are no surprises when I actually start cooking.

  • Food Processor

Again, this is a tool I use quite regularly.  It’s great for making pesto, for grating large amounts of cheese and/or veggies quickly, for making pizza dough and/or bread dough, for incorporating butter into pastry dough, etc.  In fact, I use mine so often that I purchased a second bowl so that I’m not constantly washing the bowl.  My current food processor is a Kitchen Aid and I have had very good luck with it.

  • Silicone Spoons with Stainless Steel Handles

I am a lover of wooden spoons.  I think they are quite beautiful – particularly those in funky shapes made from exotic woods; but I don’t like the hassle of cleaning them.  For the hard core cooking I do, I like being able to throw my spoons into the dishwasher.  Over time I have found that silicone spoons with stainless steel handles really hold up for the long haul.

  • Half Sheet Pans

We use our half sheet pans at least once a day.  We use them for roasting meats and vegetables, for baking cookies and cakes, for reheating leftovers, for making chocolate barks, among a zillion other uses.  You can tell by looking at them that they are well loved.  We own two, but honestly I would say it’s not enough.  Of course, if I owned more I’d dirty more and then I’d be complaining more often because they don’t fit into my sink.

I hope the above information is helpful to you.  I would love to hear the tools you can’t cook without – especially those with more than one use!