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Life Skills: Garlic

August 29, 2014

I am convinced that chopping & sautéing garlic is a skill that can carry even the most novice home-cook’s meals from standard to spectacular. Growing up in an Italian-American household you just kind of pick up this knowledge from sitting at the counter watching your mom cook a pot of sauce or linguini with clams (or any other meal). Imagine my shock as a young adult to learn that not all of my friends possessed this knowledge. What to me seemed like something you were born with, was something some people had to actually learn!

Here’s the how:
1. Grab a chef’s knife.
2. Pull a garlic clove off of the bulb (don’t worry about the papery covering).
3. Chop off the flat end of the bulb.
4. Lay the wide part of your knife on top of the clove.
5. Holding the handle with your right hand, hit the wide part of the knife with the heel of your left hand. This will crush your clove.
6. Pull off the papery covering of the clove – it should come off with ease. If it doesn’t, hit it again.
7. Thinly slice the garlic – you can stop here for some recipes (anything that calls for sliced garlic).
8. With your knife on the cutting board in chopping position, put the heel of your left hand on top of the first third of the knife.
9. Using your left hand to anchor the knife, rock your right hand up and down, left and right, to chop the remainder of your garlic.
10. In a saucepan, heat oil on medium. When hot (a sprinkle of water in the pan will sizzle), add the garlic.
11. Move it around the pan with your spatula.
12. As soon as the garlic becomes fragrant, REMOVE IT FROM THE HEAT! It will continue to cook a bit more off the heat. Don’t ever trust anyone or any recipe that tells you to cook your garlic until brown.

A Simple Recipe for Your New Skill: Toss the oil and garlic with some spaghetti, adding salt and red pepper to taste. You’ve officially made Pasta Aglio Et Olio, an incredibly simple dish that sounded so luxurious as a child, that I never realized what a treat it was for my mom when we requested it!

To remove the smell of garlic from your hands, squeeze some lemon juice in a bowl of water, dip your fingers, and rinse. Though honestly, I’ll never understand why you’d want to remove such a beautiful fragrance. Something that adds so much flavor and heart, yet we insist on pretending it magically chopped itself right into our pans?

There’s nothing I love more about garlic than that sweet smell telling the story of the quiet moments of chopping, a lovingly prepared dinner, and a meal had with the people I love.

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roasted veggies

April 28, 2014

If you’ve read my blog posts so far, you’re probably aware of a few things:

  1. I repeat myself. Got a cool love story? Tell me, and I’ll make sure it’s told hundreds of times… just ask Mr. Zucchini. Want to hear about how I like changing, forgetting, and obsessing over recipes? Just read any one of my posts. Woops.
  2. I love smitten kitchen. You may have gathered that half of my posts are about recipes she created, but what you may not realize is that of the other 50%, a good majority are recipes I forced myself to try from other sources… just so I could post my favorite new recipe of hers.
  3. I like complicated.

The problem with all of these lovely facts is that number 3 isn’t actually true. “Then why do all of your recipes have a gazillion instructions and steps,” you say? Simply put, I’ve always thought it’d be way more exciting for you to read about a recipe you kinda have to follow than to read about the day I steamed some escarole and mixed it with beans and garlic. Though actually, this should be added to the recipe list shortly.

Recently I’ve had several friends ask me for quick and easy recipes. The requestors fall into two main groups

  1. The “What’s a Stainless Steel Saucepan?” Group: New to cooking – or to cooking (relatively) healthy – these guys and gals waltzed into a kitchen, knife and garlic in hand, and suddenly realized the papery wrapping on each clove was a lot more troublesome than it seemed (hint: smash the cloves before chopping and the paper comes off in one piece). They’re ready to cook, but may be better off learning what a spatula is first.
  2. The “Does a Handful of Nuts and Leftover Diner Fries Count as Dinner?” Group: Bound by endless meetings and ever increasing to-do lists, this group may know how to cook – even how to cook well – but they’ve got about as much time to cook as they do to revel in the beauty of a freshly organized freezer, which is to say, none. Cereal for breakfast lost its novelty long ago, and they realized they’re ready for a refreshed perspective on cooking at about the same time they realized the counter guy at the neighborhood pizza joint was on their bday list.

Read more…

autumn quiche

September 23, 2013

There’s a few week period right between summer’s end and fall’s beginning when all I can think about is the impending doom of winter. How many storms will we have this year? How much earlier will I have to wake up to actually dry my hair? How long will it take my car to warm up enough that my frozen fingers will able to feel the steering wheel? Soon though, the toasty smells and burnt colors work their magic and my thoughts are suddenly consumed with all the wonderful fall flavor possibilities. Savory winter squash. Tart apples. Crispy and anything-but-bitter Brussels sprouts. And everything caramelized, roasted, and slow cooked… with brown sugar on top.

When I get a food obsession, it’s on. I mean ON. The time I realized I loved onions as more than just a second rate partner to sausage and peppers? They weren’t just on the menu for dinner (every. night.), they were creeping into breakfast and lunch; I was cooking extra at night just so I could snack on them throughout the next day, and I even day dreamed of how I could win a cooking competition requiring onions in every course! When I discovered the richness of butternut squash? Roasted. Salted. Buttered. Brown sugared. Mac n cheesed. And kale? I think we had 3 straight months of kale replacing every green in any recipe I could get my hands on. Kale with beans, pasta, eggs, sausage, soup. So what happens when it suddenly hits me that all of these former obsessions could be married into one, beautifully balanced dish? Autumn Quiche.

This is fall.

This is fall.

Read more…

hummus & veggie sandwich – an ode to mama zucchini

April 8, 2013

We run a pretty hectic schedule around here, and Mondays are consistently a challenge. With less than an hour to finish up work, feed/walk Neo, get ready for Tuesday, and cook/eat, we almost always end up walking out the door hungry. This inevitably ends in Taco Bell or a very late dinner. I pride myself on the fact that a haven’t eaten fast food in years, and although for some reason I never lump T-Bell in that category, I’ve been trying to cut that out as well. Which means tonight would require either a lot of patience and hunger pains – or cereal.

Cut to my habit of getting random food cravings after drooling over perfectly lighted Pinterest and Instagram photos. Last week I saw some ridiculous sandwich on Instagram and all I can think about is caramelized onions. Add to this the list of “foods I have to eat before they go bad or I feel weird about eating them” running through my head, and we now have hummus + caramelized onions. This sandwich ended up being the perfect outcome- it was quick (40min from entering the kitchen to “clean up”- which is loosely defined as counters clean and sink full), it was hearty (some sandwiches are clearly only lunch worthy, but this passed the dinner test), and it was delicious.

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I am always teasing Mama Zucchini for the way she relays recipes. Though she has to put up with my constant calls of “How did you makes this again?” or “Why does my broccoli look weird?” and always, “Why did this not come out like yours?” I get to put up with tons of descriptive, yet totally unquantifiable ingredient amounts. Her favorite? “Just add a good amount of ____.” To which I’ll always press for something – anything – that will quell my recipe anxiety, and to which she’ll reply with, “Just a good SIZED amount.” ….. ….. which does absolutely nothing for a girl in the first decade of her kitchen years. So since most of us will turn into our mothers at some point, apparently some sooner than others, please accept my apologies in advance for the way I am about to write this recipe.

Read more…

kind-of swedish meatballs – no sauce needed

February 11, 2013

Guest Post by Mama Zucchini

The delicious recipe for Sesame Spiced Turkey Meatballs, initiated by one of my amazing children, inspired me to create another recipe for another kind of meatball. You’ll see why I was inspired and how it happens for our family.

Tori and I share the same placement in the family…both youngest children…always feeling that we missed out on the lived family history that our older siblings enjoyed with our parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts… you get the picture. This compels us to ask the elders to tell and retell the family stories, the family shared traits and to delve deeper than others before us have. In an Italian family stories take place at family gatherings like holidays, celebrations, births and deaths. All of which require food.

We find ourselves through family and re-live the family through memories, many of which are food memories. Just try to deviate from certain dishes on our holiday celebrations and the e-mails fly faster than a speeding bullet. We are allowed to introduce new items but do not dare try to replace a family favorite like stuffed artichokes on a holiday.  Each recipe has a story, at least one, and the stories are told over and over again.  While we experiment with the recipes to create new favorites and discard the failed attempts for new and better, the core of what that recipe represents remains intact.

Meatballs are one of the core Italian recipes. They were always included in the sauce (AKA gravy for some) that we woke up to on Sunday morning. Many times, they were our breakfast, either provided by Mom or carefully stolen, sometimes before they were immersed in the sauce, sometimes with extra sauce and a slice of Italian bread causing us to salivate in anticipation of the afternoon family meal we dare not miss. This savory and delicious round circle of love and family that satisfies body and spirit with more iterations of itself than have yet to be discovered…I humbly add my small contribution to meatball mania and await yours with great anticipation. Read more…

sesame-spiced turkey meatballs and smashed chickpea salad

February 6, 2013

Since we moved our bookcase into the bedroom, I’ve been staring at it guiltily realizing I’ve amassed this wonderful collection of cookbooks that for some reason I never use. It started when we first moved into the apartment and Borders happened to be closing down at the same time. In my world, this is serendipity defined. I obviously bought the two largest Martha Stewart books I could find, the two oldest Julia Child books they had (did I mention I had just seen Julie and Julia? Perfect Storm.), and the five most random baking, caking, and ingredient books out there. Since then, I continue to swoon over new cookbooks I see and my wonderful family fulfills all my cookbook desires for birthdays, Christmases and regular old weekends (I know, how great are they!).

For my last birthday, after Brian’s sisters must have heard me blab about Smitten Kitchen all summer long, they bought me the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Like every other cookbook I’ve gotten, the first few days after I received it I turned the pages slowly, anticipating all the new and wonderful things she would teach me and we would eat. I mentally checked off the ones I would start immediately and the ones that would become favorites. Then I found the perfect place for it on the bookshelf. And it stayed.

Read more…

my first blog post

February 6, 2013

First blog post! What a hurdle to finally be getting over. For some reason I always had this idea that my first recipe had to be either the best or the most interesting or the one with the most history (maybe even the one for which I named this blog), but I think I’ve reached my breaking point. My real reason for actually starting to write on this blog is not that I have anything particularly witty or mind-blowing to share, but because I am a serial recipe changer. And also a serial recipe forgetter.

I usually start with an easily searchable recipe, deluding myself into thinking I’ll just add it to my binder or look it up the next time I *have* to make it. Problem is, I change ohhh about half of the ingredients. I’m a big fan of cooking with what you have. I think a lot of times people think they can’t cook because a recipe is too complicated or they’ve never heard of this ingredient or they just don’t have the money to go out and buy every middle eastern chili pepper variety out there. The secret is you don’t have to follow the recipe. Seriously! Don’t even follow mine! Cook with what you have- and what you’ll reasonably use up later (no one believes you when you say you’ll be using that jar of sumac by next week).

Being my recipe changing self, last week I made the. best. buffalo. wings. ever. Based, of course, on a recipe found right on the first google search result page. Problem is, I added a little of this, switched out a little of that, and end up with a completely different recipe. It was AMAZING. And I forgot it. Well, no more! I officially have no reason to forget my changes. From now on, my little changes will all be documented here… in a searchable, savable recipe box. Of course you’ll get to read about my kitchen triumphs and disasters too, and hopefully you’ll get to learn which changes you loved and hated as well. Use the comments section to document the “this’s” and “thats” you changed, and we’ll start a kitchen revolution. One of actually knowing what we ate last week for dinner.

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