Artichoke & Garlic Hummus

In six short weeks, life will be turned upside down for my husband, Les, and me. This is when our kitchen tear-out will begin, and we are beginning to shift our expectations as we prepare for the eight weeks or so that we will be “without” a kitchen. Welcome, friends, to our “in-between” kitchen!


We have rearranged our dining room space to accommodate a baker’s rack that will hold some of the appliances that will help us get through the chaos. A new two-burner induction cooktop will allow us to do simple stove-top cooking, including heating water for my daily dose of French press coffee. We will make good use of our slow cooker, toaster oven and the panini griddle that doubles as a waffle iron. We have the gas grill for outdoor cooking, and so far, the only thing I haven’t quite figured out is how I will make bread without our oven, though don’t be surprised if I use one or more of the above to make it happen!

As we are preparing for the load out of the old kitchen (not to mention a bevy of random pantry and freezer ingredients), I’m giving all of our other small electrics a chance to prove themselves worthy of a spot in our new space. One item that will be (sadly) getting the boot is our KitchenAid 11-cup food processor, but not because we don’t use it; on the contrary, this thing gets so much action, it is on its last legs. The protective film over the power buttons has become brittle and is completely worn away from the pulse button, the feed chute is cracked and the inside of the “S” blade stem has some dried-on crud that I have not been able to remove. I have had the appliance nearly 20 years, and KitchenAid no longer makes my model (or any of the parts), so my only choice will be to replace the machine.


Until then, I’ll keep going with recipes like this one, for easy homemade hummus made with garbanzo beans, lemony artichoke hearts and lots of fresh garlic. Hummus is one of my favorite “blank canvas” foods, and it’s so simple at home, it makes no sense to buy it. The other key ingredients include tahini, olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon, which is a perfect highlight to the tangy artichoke. 

Warm the garbanzo beans to soften them up before you begin and use a food processor or a good blender for best, smoothest results. Enjoy your hummus on crackers, chips, crostini or fresh veggie slices.


It’s so much tastier than store-bought!

Ingredients

15 oz. can garbanzo beans, with liquid

3 Tbsp. tahini* (see notes)

2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

About 1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts*, drained and rough-chopped

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Kosher salt and pepper

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


*Notes

Tahini is a paste made of ground sesame seeds. It is available in most larger supermarkets, usually in the same section as olives, or perhaps in the international aisle.

The artichoke hearts I used were Trader Joe’s, marinated in sunflower oil, vinegar and spices. If you use plain hearts, consider adding a pinch or dried herbs (dill or oregano would be great), and either way, drain all the excess liquid from them.


Instructions


Pour the entire contents of the canned garbanzo beans into a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat until mixture just begins to boil. Remove from heat and drain liquid off beans, but do not discard it (you’ll use it for blending).

Transfer warm beans into a food processor or blender and pulse a few times to grind the beans into a meal-like texture. Scrape down sides of the processor bowl. Add tahini, garlic, artichoke hearts, salt and pepper. Pulse a few times to combine. Scrape down the sides again.

Turn processor on and run continuously while slowly pouring about 3 tablespoons of the warm liquid into the processor. Blending slowly will help to emulsify the ingredients into a smooth blend. Add more or less of the liquid, depending on your preference for hummus consistency. Remember that the mixture will become firmer after chilling. Scrape down sides once more.

Run processor continuously and slowly blend in about 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.

Transfer hummus to a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for up to a week.



Artichoke & Garlic Hummus


Fuzzy Navel Sorbet

It was July, 1986. My wardrobe included stirrup pants, big blouses and my favorite pin-striped, high-waisted skinny jeans. The ones with the pleats. My hair was permed and teased out to here, and all the girls were lusting after Tom Cruise in Top Gun. I was restless in my not-so-exciting hometown, and I spent entirely too many weekend nights on the dance floor at a bar called the Rusty Nail, drinking the most sticky-sweet drink that was all the rage that year.

When we were not enjoying our Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers, the “fuzzy navel,” made with orange juice and DeKuyper Peachtree schnapps, was the “cocktail” of choice for me and so many of my friends, whether we were out on the town (which meant we were in the next town over), hanging at home (because our town didn’t have much going on) or gathering for a bridal shower (because getting hitched is what several of my friends were doing that year). Man, we were so cool.

Why did we ever think it was cool to smoke??
But I wish I still had that striped top!

It was an odd time for me, as I turned 21 and I would finally be cleared to order a drink in public. Again. There was a great deal of confusion for my friends and me, as the state of New York had raised the legal drinking age not once, but twice, in a short period of time. First, they raised it from 18 to 19, after I had been legally imbibing for about eight months. Then, when I was 20 and enjoying my fuzzy navels, they upped it to the national standard age of 21. In the next town over, this did not present as much of a problem, because I had a fake ID. Yes, it was bad, but shame on the state for having a no-photo ID that was made of plain old paper. I had used a safety pin to scratch off the bottom part of the 7 and a #2 pencil to reshape it into a 2, giving myself a Feb. 25 birthday! Seriously, it was ridiculous that the powers in Albany did not find a way to “grandfather” in the people who were already considered “of age.”

In my hometown though, everyone knew I was a July baby, so I had to rely on the bottles of DeKuyper Peachtree schnapps I had already purchased (when I was younger, yet “old enough”), and that was what carried me through the final stretch of waiting. Let’s just say that I bought a lot of orange juice during those weird alcohol retrograde months.

A few weeks ago, for nostalgia’s sake, I brought home a bottle of Peachtree schnapps when I spotted it in our local ABC store (that’s what we call our state-run liquor stores in North Carolina), and Lord have mercy, I wish I could have seen my own face when I took a sip! It has a fake fruit flavor and a slight medicinal edge, definitely not what I remembered as being “totally awesome.”

Yes, my taste has changed a great deal (thankfully), but I could not resist finding a fun way to pay homage to the drink of my youth, and this easy sorbet is the result of my effort. I am presenting it during National Ice Cream Month, as an alternative frozen treat for anyone who can’t eat ice cream, and as a nod to my younger self on her 21st birthday. The sorbet is surprisingly refreshing on its own, and I found that it also makes a fun brunch cocktail when topped with prosecco!

Please help me think of a good name for this fuzzy navel brunch cocktail. Mimosa and Bellini are already taken. 🙂

There is a hefty amount of peach schnapps in this sorbet, but fear not—the stuff is only 40-proof, so it isn’t going to wreck you. I pureed a handful of fresh summer peaches to add some freshness and actual peach flavor. The orange juice was a frozen concentrate (which is not as commonly available as in 1986), and I finished the mixture with a light simple syrup of sugar and water.


Ingredients

4 medium peaches, peeled and pitted

Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon

2 cups water, divided

1/2 cup cane sugar

2 Tbsp. light corn syrup* (see notes)

1/3 cup frozen orange juice concentrate

1/3 cup DeKuyper Peachtree schnapps

2 Tbsp. vodka, optional for extra kick


*Notes

Corn syrup is not crucial, but I used it to help keep the sugar from forming unpleasant crystals in the frozen sorbet.


Instructions

  1. Cut up the peaches into chunks and transfer them to a regular or bullet blender. Squeeze in the lemon juice and toss lightly to prevent discoloration of the peaches.
  2. Combine 1 cup of the water and all of the sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a low boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in corn syrup. Remove from heat and allow the syrup to cool.
  3. Add the orange juice concentrate to the bullet blender, along with the peaches and about 1/2 cup of the simple syrup. Pulse a few times, then blend continuously until the mixture is smooth and uniform.
  4. Strain the puree through a mesh strainer to remove any solids, including the stringy fibers that surround the peach pits.
  5. Combine the pureed mixture, the remaining simple syrup, remaining water and the Peachtree schnapps in a large bowl or pitcher. Stir to blend. Cover with plastic wrap and chill several hours or overnight.
  6. Freeze the fuzzy navel mixture in an ice cream machine for about 25 minutes, until it’s frozen and slushy. Transfer to an insulated container and freeze overnight.

This sorbet can be served as is, or spoon a couple of tablespoons into a flute glass and top with prosecco. It’s a fun little brunch drink, almost as if a mimosa and a Bellini had a baby.


And as for you, young lady—well, you have a lot to learn. But you are awesome just as you are, even with your eyes closed. Don’t ever let anyone tell you different. ❤



Fluffy Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes

In my quest to determine which of our gadgets and small kitchen electrics will win a permanent spot in our soon-to-be-new kitchen, I am cycling through some recipes I haven’t made in a while, just to have a reason to pull those gadgets from storage and give them a run.

For these fluffy, buttermilk-rich blueberry pancakes, I turned to a favorite King Arthur Baking Company recipe, and I added a twist to give them extra loft. The ingredient list isn’t changed, but the technique is slightly different in that I separate the eggs before mixing, whipping the whites by themselves and then folding them into the batter just before griddling. It’s a simple kitchen trick that elevates any favorite pancake recipe—figuratively and literally.

Rather than cooking the pancakes on my beloved middle griddle that lives permanently on our gas range top, I asked my husband, Les, to get the stepladder for fetching my reversible, non-stick griddle from its unlikely storage spot in the kitchen. The griddle is enormous, and for lack of a better stowing spot, we have kept it wrapped in a large kitchen trash bag, stored way up there on top of the cabinets, where Taz is sitting!

She is large and in charge up there!

I’m reluctant to let go of this griddle because it is easy to clean, reversible to a grill side and the temperature dial ensures consistent cooking. Needless to say, its large cooking surface helps me get breakfast ready all at once. Unfortunately, the out-of-reach storage makes it inconvenient for regular use.


When the big reveal happens on our remodel, Les and I will be re-evaluating where everything goes, and the full-height pantry cabinet should have plenty of room for this convenient, though bulky, appliance (fingers crossed)!

Now, about these fluffy pancakes. 🙂

The air whipped into the egg whites gives the pancakes extra loft and lightness. They are so delicious with real maple syrup!

Serves 4

Adapted from Buttermilk Pancakes | King Arthur Baking

Ingredients

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 Tbsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1 large egg, separated* (see notes)

1 cup thick buttermilk*

1 Tbsp. melted butter

1 tsp. real vanilla extract

1 cup blueberries or other soft fruit


*Notes

Eggs separate more easily when they are cold, so take care of that first and set each part aside until they are room temperature.

It’s best for the buttermilk to be near room temperature, also.


Instructions

Heat an electric griddle to 350°F, or a cast-iron skillet over medium heat.


In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl, combine the egg yolk, buttermilk, melted butter and vanilla. Whisk together until smooth. Mix the wet ingredients with the flour ingredients, stirring just until blended.

In yet another bowl, whip the egg white with an electric hand mixer (or with a whisk and some elbow grease, if you’re feeling sassy). When properly whipped, the egg white should increase a great deal in volume and will form stiff peaks when you remove the whisk.

Fold the whipped white into the bowl with the rest of the batter, taking care not to stir down and deflate the batter. Allow it to rest about 15 minutes.

Pour or ladle batter onto griddle in smallish rounds, about 4 inches across. Do not swirl or otherwise flatten the batter—we want them fluffy, remember? 😊 Cook the first side about a minute, then carefully arrange blueberries onto the cakes. Continue to cook until the pancakes are set on the edges and bubbly all over the top.

Turn gently and cook the other side. Serve warm with butter and real maple syrup.


Who’s ready for pancakes?



Orange & Honey-Ginger Fruit Salad

You didn’t know it when you opened this post, but you are about to witness something that doesn’t happen all that often in my kitchen—a simple, two-ingredient twist that will transform a basic fruit bowl into a mouthwatering side dish that is almost as sumptuous as dessert. Unlike some of my other “make-the-whole-thing-from-scratch” ideas, this one really is ridiculously simple. You can apply this easy twist to virtually any kind of fruit, including pre-cut if you are short on time, and the fruit itself does not have to be fancy. Look at my salad again—it’s only pineapple, grapes and berries. What elevates this simple fruit combo into an elegant and special treat is the dressing.

Nothing fancy about this fruit.

It may be that you have never considered “dressing” a fruit salad, but why? We don’t often see a vegetable salad served dry, and fruit is just as worthy of dressing up a bit. Dressing a fruit salad is not only tasty; it also helps the fruit retain moisture and color. Try this once and you’ll be craving fresh fruit salad every day.

The dressing for this salad depends on two special ingredients that can only be purchased in a boutique olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop, and they are worth every penny. You have probably seen one of these stores, with all their shiny stainless steel containers lined up on a high table. Those containers, called “fustis,” hold exquisitely flavored extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars, ingredients which have uncanny power to change the way you cook. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will tell you that I used to work in one of those shops here in my city, and it was one of my most fun jobs ever—a true foodie fantasy, come true!

These days, nobody is paying me to share about these products, but I feel compelled to do so because of the one question we received over and again at the shop, from customers who enjoyed the flavors but asked, “what would I ever do with it?” Part of my job as a sales associate was taking home various products and coming back with inspiration for the home cooks who shopped our store. I guess you could say I took my job seriously, because I’m still doing it. 🙂

These flavors work great together!

The combination I’ve used for this fruit salad is blood orange-fused extra virgin olive oil and honey-ginger white balsamic vinegar. The vinegar has a slight tartness to it, but it is mostly sweet with the warmth of honey, and the ginger is subtle but present. The olive oil is rich with the flavor of blood orange, because the oranges and olives are pressed together during production. The result is so good, it makes itself at home in sweet and savory dishes alike.

At the end of the post, I’ll share some other ideas for using up these two ingredients.


Ingredients

2 cups fresh pineapple chunks, cut into bite-sized bits

1 heaping cup fresh strawberries, sliced into quarters

1 cup fresh large blueberries

1 cup fresh white seedless grapes

3 Tbsp. honey-ginger white balsamic vinegar* (see notes)

3 Tbsp. blood orange whole fruit-fused extra virgin olive oil*

Lime zest or fresh chopped mint or basil, optional for garnish


*Notes

I wish I could offer up a universal brand name for the olive oil and balsamics that I use, but they are bottled under various franchised shop names. Here’s a tip—if you have this type of store in your community, ask for the name of the supplier. If it is Veronica Foods, you’re in the right place. 😊


Instructions

Wash your fruit just before assembling the salad, and it’s best to add berries just before serving or they tend to get mushy. Combine all the fruit in a bowl large enough for easy tossing in the dressing.

Pour the honey-ginger white balsamic into a small bowl, or a glass measuring cup for easier pouring. Slowly pour the olive oil into the balsamic, whisking quickly and constantly, until the mixture is thick and syrupy.

Immediately pour the dressing over the fruit and toss gently to coat the fruit. Serve right away or refrigerate up to one hour before serving.

If you would like to put a little extra pizzazz onto the salad, sprinkle with fresh lime zest or thin strips of fresh mint or basil.




Looking for more ways to use your blood orange-fused olive oil?

Substitute for the equal amount of oil in your favorite carrot cake recipe

Use it in a marinade for chicken or fish

Drizzle a teaspoon over dark chocolate ice cream (yes, really!)

Toss vegetables in it before roasting

Use it in your favorite pancake or waffle recipe


Need ideas for using up the honey-ginger white balsamic?

Try it an any salad dressing, especially Asian-inspired salads

Use it in a marinade for chicken, fish, shrimp or pork

Add a splash to a cocktail or white sangria

Drizzle it onto vegetables after grilling or roasting

Add a tablespoon to your water bottle for flavorful summer hydration



Shrimp & Quinoa Salad

One of the benefits of working from home is the flexibility to carry out personal tasks during my workday. It is not unusual, even during my job’s “busy” seasons, for me to be working on a loaf of sourdough bread or some other dinner prep amid online conference calls or in between answering emails. So when my friend, Ruthanne, texted a few weeks ago to ask if she could come to my house for an online job interview, I instantly answered, “of course!”  

Her own home was more than 45 minutes away, and she needed a quiet place to land where she could conduct her meeting without attracting suspicion from management at her current job. My place was an easy solution, being just a few minutes down the parkway, and (obviously) I also promised her a tasty lunch.

Ruthanne has a fit, healthy lifestyle that is usually along low-carb lines with an emphasis on clean, whole food ingredients, and I took that into consideration when I planned this simple lunch. It was mostly made in advance—I cooked up the quinoa and sauteed the onions and tomatoes before she arrived, then I set her up in the loft space in our home, where she connected to our wi-fi, took a few deep breaths, shook off her nerves and started her call.

The irony of the situation is that my friend was hoping to land a position with a company that exclusively employs remote workers, and that was their practice even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced so many companies to create a remote plan. Job interviews are stressful under the best of circumstances, but this one was a high-stakes situation. After 15 months of pandemic-forced remote work, her existing employer had mandated an immediate return to the office. Like so many other people, my friend had adjusted to working productively in the quiet environment of her own home, and despite her pleas to continue the arrangement for a few more weeks so that she could manage new family obligations, it was a no go. She needed this new job.

When she descended from the loft with a huge smile and an expression of relief, I popped the top on a bottle of blood orange seltzer for a quick workday-friendly mocktail. We had to celebrate what she said felt like a sure thing. With the pressure of the interview behind her, we had just enough time left for lunch. I did a super-quick sauté on the shrimp (using the pesto compound butter I already had in the fridge) and arranged this tasty plate.

So much to love about a lunch that is quick, easy, satisfying and good for you!

This was a light, clean bite with a good, healthy dose of protein. Quinoa is the only plant-based food that satisfies all nine of the amino acids our bodies need, yet it doesn’t feel heavy or too filling. Mixed salad greens in vinaigrette were a fresh backdrop to the quinoa and the gently sauteed tomatoes provided a juicy pop of acid against the sweetness of the shrimp. It was exactly what we needed, and my BFF was able to scoot back to work on time.

It’s exciting to see how quickly things can happen when you are courageous enough to put yourself out there. Ruthanne begins her new job today, and I’m so proud of her! 😀


Serves 2 for lunch

Ingredients

1 cup cooked red, white or mixed quinoa* (see notes)

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 sweet onion slices, chopped

Small handful organic baby tomatoes, halved

2 handfuls mixed baby greens

4 Tbsp. vinaigrette (I used the last bit of some Good Seasons dressing, but any vinaigrette would work)

6 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined*

2 Tbsp. pesto compound butter*

Lemon wedges for serving


*Notes

Cook the quinoa ahead to allow time for chilling it. If you have found quinoa to have a bitter taste, you may have missed the step of rinsing it before cooking. Give these instructions a quick review to see how I prepped the quinoa. I made a large batch and used up the rest in other dishes.


The shrimp I used for this dish were “16-20” size, which means a pound of the shrimp would include 16 to 20 individual shrimp. Each portion of this salad included about 4 ounces of shrimp.

This recipe makes use of the compound butter I shared in my previous post, or you could swap in regular butter or extra virgin olive oil, but add a little minced garlic and herbs to the pan when you cook the shrimp.


Instructions


  1. Place a small, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil and heat until shimmering. Sauté onions and baby tomatoes just long enough to soften them. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl until you’re ready to assemble the salad.
  2. Toss the mixed greens in vinaigrette until lightly coated. Arrange the greens on the plate, reserving leftover dressing.
  3. Add the quinoa to the bowl with dressing and toss it around to absorb it. Mound the quinoa on top of the dressed greens, then scatter the onions and tomatoes over it.
  4. Heat the compound butter in the same skillet used for cooking the onions. When it is melted and the skillet is hot, lay the shrimp into the pan, taking note of the order you added them. After about one minute, turn each shrimp over, following the same order, to cook the second side.
  5. Arrange the shrimp on top of the salad. Drizzle any remaining melted butter over the top of the shrimp.


Compound Butters for Grilled Corn

Summer, meet your new best friend at the grill.

No matter what you’re into grilling during the warm weather months, you’ll find countless ways to use compound butter, and I do hope you’ll try it on my favorite—freshly grilled summer sweet corn.

Oooh, look at that beautiful char!

In the days of my youth, I ate more sweet corn than I can recall. My small, upstate New York town was one of those idyllic, rolling green hills kind of places you read about. The landscape was dotted with dairy farms, and sweet corn was so prolific, it was not unusual at all to see freshly picked ears of it piled high against trees at the side of the road with a sign that said, “for the love of God, please take this corn already.” The grocery store didn’t even order corn in the summer because everyone already had more than they needed.

The down-side of living in one of these pastoral places was that we didn’t have much to do. Many a summer night in my young-adult years, I would gather for a backyard bonfire and corn roast with my cousin, Annie, and a friend, Julie. It was just the three of us most times, and we were not exactly living large. We would fill up two big, galvanized steel buckets—one with cans of cheap beer and a bag of ice, and the other with cold water and as many ears of free corn as we could fit—and we’d spend the night lamenting our town’s lack of interesting options (for anything). The corn was still dressed in its husks, silk and all, and after a good soaking, we would toss it directly onto the bonfire to roast and steam it to perfection. We peeled the charred husks back and used them like a handle as we finished off ear after ear. Little flakes of black, burned-up husks and silk would end up all over us, but do you think we cared? There is nothing that compares to that roast-y flavor and it never occurred to us that we should dress up our fresh summer feast with butter or anything else.

A couple of years later, Annie and I had both moved away from our little town, rarely to return. Julie got married and stayed in town, and the last time I saw her, she was happily raising a family. I don’t miss our small town much (except perhaps in mid-October, when I know the maple trees are turning brilliant shades of rust and red), but I do miss the abundance of sweet corn in the summer. Come to think of it, I equally miss the piles of free zucchini squash, but that will be another post.

Today, when I want to enjoy summer corn (which is always), we “roast” it on the grill. There’s no soaking involved and no charred corn husk getting all over everything, and the flavor of grilled corn, though not quite as intense as the bonfire-roasted corn of those olden days, is still far superior to that of boiled corn. And because I’m all grown up now, I do enjoy putting a flavor spin on my grilled corn, and that’s where the compound butter comes in.

Grilled corn with pesto compound butter

This is a simple way to add a little pizzazz to corn, or whatever else you might be pulling off the grill—fish, shrimp, chicken, steak, burgers or other vegetables. Not grilling? No problem, because compound butter also comes in handy when you need to give a boost of flavor to something you make on the stove. Use it to sauté shrimp or vegetables, liven up a baked potato, melt over cooked pasta or drizzle onto your popcorn. What I love about compound butters is that you can make them in advance, they keep a good long time in the fridge (or freezer), and they afford multiple flavor options when you are serving guests.

Compound butter may sound complicated, but it could not be simpler—soften up a stick of salted butter and stir in the flavors that suit your fancy. Mix in a swirl of olive oil for extra depth of flavor and extended “spreadability.” I will offer up a few compound butter combos, using simple ingredients I already had in my fridge. Mix and match them any way you like. And, by all means, please share your ideas for compound butter flavors and uses, too.


Pesto Compound Butter

1 stick salted butter, slightly softened

2 cloves fresh garlic, very finely minced

Small handful fresh basil leaves, finely snipped or cut into ribbons

1/3 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese (or parm-romano blend)

A few twists freshly ground black pepper

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


Sun-dried Tomato & Feta Compound Butter

1 stick salted butter, slightly softened

2 to 3 Tbsp. sun-dried tomatoes, cut or snipped into very small bits* (see notes)

2 oz. whole milk feta cheese, crumbled and pressed dry

A few twists freshly ground black pepper

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

*Notes – If the sun-dried tomatoes are packed dry, rehydrate them for a few minutes in boiling water, then drain and press out the excess moisture. If they are packed in oil, chop them fine and stir them in as the final ingredient, omitting olive oil.


Vegan Tahini-Soy Compound “Butter”

1 stick dairy-free butter substitute

2 Tbsp. tahini paste

1 tsp. soy or tamari sauce

1/2 tsp. Trader Joe’s Umami seasoning (powdered blend of garlic, mushroom, salt and red pepper)


Chili & Lime Compound Butter

1 stick salted butter, slightly softened

Zest of 1 small organic lime

1/2 tsp. ground chili powder (your favorite, check the sodium)

1/4 tsp. ground cumin

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


Steakhouse Bleu Cheese Compound Butter

1 stick salted butter, slightly softened

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup crumbled bleu cheese

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


Instructions

Press and stir the butter down into a smooth, creamy spread. Add the other ingredients, beginning with those that can be stirred into the butter, and ending with any ingredients that need to be folded in. If you want to keep a few distinguishable bits, such as crumbled cheeses, fold them in at the end.

If you are adding ingredients that are inherently salty, such as hard cheeses or pre-mixed spice blends, you might opt to use unsalted butter to keep the sodium at the right level.

Keep compound butters in tightly sealed bowls in the fridge, or wrap them tightly in two layers of plastic wrap for freezing. Bring to cool room temperature to soften before serving.


Instructions for prepping easy grilled corn:

Remove husks and silks from fresh sweet corn. Use a sharp knife to make fresh, flat cuts on the ends of the corn ears. This will make it easier to hold them with corn handles. Tear off a square piece of aluminum foil for each ear. Melt salted butter in the microwave or on the stove top. Use a pastry brush to thoroughly but lightly coat each ear with melted butter. Season with salt and pepper. With the corn ear centered on the foil square, fold up one long end of foil all the way over the corn. Then, roll it up and twist or fold the ends to seal.

A bit of friendly, been-there-tried-that advice: resist the temptation to put the compound butter on the corn before grilling, especially if it has any type of cheese in it. In my experience, the add-ins will burn or gunk up or stick to the foil, rather than the corn. It does not seem to make a difference what type of foil you use, either, as I’ve had the same trouble using the expensive “non-stick” foil. It’s best to keep it simple for grilling, and add your flavored butter component at serving time. Besides, it’s fun to watch the butter ooze over the hot ears of corn! 🙂


The cooking instruction is a bit more nebulous because, as my husband, Les, says, grilling is an inexact science. How long you cook the corn depends on the type of grill you use, the temperature you are using for whatever else you’re grilling and placement of the corn on the grill, whether direct or indirect heat. When I pressed Les for a “ballpark” estimate on time, he quickly answered, “40 minutes.” The best thing to do is put it on the grill early, turn it periodically and check it a few times until it is done to your liking. We love it with a little bit of char on some of the kernels. And Les says if you turn up the temperature sometime to sear meat or another food, move the corn onto the upper warming rack.


Happy Summer!



Homemade Pistachio Ice Cream

When our new kitchen is installed this fall, organization will be priority one. My husband, Les, and I are not doing all this planning and spending only to fall into the same jumbled mess of stuff we started with. To that point, every gadget we own is going to be catching a little side eye, as we make some hard, overdue decisions about what deserves to stay in our beautiful new prime real estate and what must go.

One small electric that has already passed muster in my mind is my Cuisinart ice cream maker. This device gets plenty of action at our house, and I have no complaints about it whatsoever. It’s easy to use, requires no hand-cranking effort or rock salt, and it quickly churns out up to two quarts of ice cream at a time. I purchased it several years ago (when I lived in a different kitchen) and it was one of the first things I laid claim to when I struck out on my own. I have made some delicious, memorable ice creams with this machine, and it technically does not fall into the single-purpose category because I can also use it to make sorbets and fruity wine slushies. How could I not love that, especially during summer?

Check out these fun ice cream flavors I churned out in summer of 2020:

July is one of my favorite months, not only because I will celebrate my birthday in the late part of the month, but also because it happens to be National Ice Cream Month! For your summer refreshment pleasure, I’ll be sharing several delicious ice cream recipes in the coming weeks. If you enjoy ice cream (especially if you like unexpected flavor combinations), I urge you to make a small, one-time investment in an ice cream machine. Sure, there are about a million “no-churn” recipes for ice cream on Pinterest and other internet sites, but if you look closely at some of those recipes, they often depend on numerous extra steps to produce the texture you expect in an ice cream, including setting a timer to pull it out of the freezer every couple of hours to stir it up. I’d rather just use an ice cream maker and be done with it.

The first ice cream for 2021 is pistachio, and though this was my first time making this particular flavor, it was simple because it begins with my “basic” formula for custard-based ice cream, which is as follows:

  • 1 1/2 cups each of heavy cream and whole milk
  • 3/4 cup organic cane sugar
  • 3 free-range egg yolks

The cream and milk are heated together with half of the sugar, and the egg yolks are whipped with the rest of it. When the cream mixture is hot enough, I whisk it into the whipped yolks to temper them, then it all goes back into the pot to cook until custardy. From that point, you can flavor it up as you like, chill it and then churn it in the ice cream machine. Homemade ice cream has a somewhat shorter shelf life than store-bought because it doesn’t have any weird, chemistry-lab ingredients. But here’s the fun flip side—you don’t need homemade ice cream to have a long shelf life because it’s usually gobbled up within a few days anyway!


To infuse this ice cream with the unique flavor of pistachio, I toasted the pistachios briefly, pulsed them in the food processor, and then infused their flavor into the cream mixture. I double-strained the mixture to remove the gritty bits of pistachio before tempering the eggs, but next time I will use cheesecloth to simplify that step. At the end of the freeze-churn stage, I added roasted pieces of pistachio for extra flavor and texture. A little touch of amaretto churned in during the final minute gave the ice cream a perfectly scoopable consistency for serving, straight from the freezer.


Ingredients

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

3/4 cup organic cane sugar, divided

3 egg yolks

1 cup raw, unsalted pistachio meats, divided

1/2 tsp. real vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. pure almond extract

1 Tbsp. amaretto liqueur (optional at the end of churning, for improved texture)


Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Toast the pistachio meats on a parchment-lined baking sheet for about 7 minutes, or until fragrant and toasty. Remove from oven and cool. Divide pistachios evenly, transferring half of them to a food processor bowl. Pulse a few times until the nuts are reduced to small bits, but not to the point of powder. Use a sharp knife to gently chop the remaining pistachios. Set them aside for mixing into the ice cream during freezing.
  2. Combine milk and cream in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add half the amount of sugar and whisk gently until sugar is dissolved. Add the pulverized pistachios to the milk mixture and simmer until the mixture is hot but not quite boiling. Remove from heat and let this stand for about 10 minutes. This will steep the pistachio flavor into the cream mixture.
  3. When steeping is finished (you will know because the cream mixture will have taken on a slightly chartreuse green color), pour the mixture through a mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth to remove the nut solids. Clean out the saucepan and dry it. Return the strained cream mixture to the pan and heat over medium until it returns to the not-quite-boiling stage.
  4. While the cream mixture is heating, use a hand or stand mixer to whip the egg yolks until silky. Add the sugar, a little bit at a time, mixing well and stopping a couple of times to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Whip until the mixture is soft, light and lemon-colored.
  5. Measure out about 2 cups of the milk-cream mixture. Slowly pour it into the egg mixture, whisking or beating with electric mixer the entire time. This step will temper the eggs, gradually cooking them without scrambling or breaking them.
  6. Pour the egg mixture back into the remaining milk-cream mixture and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the custard begins to slightly thicken and coats the back of your spoon.
  7. Remove from heat immediately. Stir in vanilla and almond extracts. Lay a film of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the custard to prevent condensation from forming. Cover the entire bowl with a lid or additional plastic wrap. Refrigerate several hours or overnight until fully chilled.
  8. When you’re ready to freeze the ice cream, give the cream mixture a good stirring to minimize any settling that has occurred in the fridge. Freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. My Cuisinart takes about 20 minutes. Sift the reserved pistachio nuts in a mesh strainer to remove any powdery crumbs from chopping them. Add them to the ice cream machine only for the last few minutes. Add amaretto (optional, but recommended) for the final minute of mixing. You will not taste the alcohol, but its addition ensures easy scooping of the ice cream straight from the freezer. If you avoid alcohol, or if you will be serving children, skip it and simply remove the ice cream from the freezer about 15 minutes ahead of serving.

Great way to start the summer!


You may be wondering if I’m a paid endorser for the brands and products I spotlight on Comfort du Jour, and the answer is “no.” I do not receive money or merchandise for my recommendations, and what that means for you is that you can count on me to give an honest opinion. If something changes, I will update my disclosures. Either way, you can still count on me to be honest in my recommendations, as I will only stand behind services and products I believe in. Fair enough? 😀

Terrie


South-of-the-Border Crab Cakes

We are on a bit of a Southwest/Mexican kick at our house recently, and there are two likely reasons. First, it’s grilling season, and we enjoy cooking outdoors where it is already hot rather than heating up the house with the oven or stovetop. Southwest flavors go hand-in-hand with the grill. The other reason for this spicy flavor trend is that when my husband, Les, and I make anything with jalapenos or cilantro or chipotle, we usually begin with fresh ingredients, which means we stay on the lookout for other ways to use the remainder of those fresh items. Last week, we hosted one of Les’s buddies for dinner in our home, and our entire meal followed this theme, from the pineapple-cilantro mules and a tropical shrimp-crab ceviche to the cilantro-marinated skirt steak with handmade tortillas, all the way through to a salty-citrusy Paloma pie, which I will be sharing with you very soon. Ooh, I do love a theme party.

There are many ways to enjoy the flavors that are beloved south of the border, and this time, I’m diving into the ocean to put a slightly spicy, southwestern twist on fresh crab cakes. These easy-to-make patties are Mexed out with minced jalapenos, red onions, fire-roasted corn and a chipotle-spiked mayonnaise binder. I coated them with panko crumbs and pan-fried them for a crispy edge that kept all the tender, delicate crab nicely contained.

These crab cakes have just the right amount of heat, and the panko breading makes them nice and crispy.

What I love about this recipe (besides the fact that it was simple to make in stages when I had free moments through the day) is that it can be imagined and served in various ways—we paired the crab cakes with sautéed zucchini and onions for a light, low-carb weeknight dinner, but you could just as easily turn it into a crab cake sandwich on a brioche bun, with a chipotle-infused tartar sauce. Or perhaps as a Mexican-style Sunday brunch benedict, atop a crispy fried corn tortilla with a poached egg and green chili aioli. You could even make them itty-bitty and serve them as an appetizer. If you wanted to go way outside the box (or shell, as it were), you could swap the crab for drained, chopped hearts of palm and make them vegetarian! I mean, it’s your party. I’m only here to offer inspiration and pictures.

This recipe follows the same general ratio of ingredients as the scallion-sriracha salmon cakes I shared a few months ago and the artichoke-crab cakes that I put on top of a salad. Hey, that gives me another idea—why couldn’t these south-of-the-border crab cakes adorn a Tex-Mex salad? Of course they could.


Serves 2

Ingredients

1/3 cup canola mayo

1 Tbsp. chipotle w/ adobo puree* (see notes)

2 Tbsp. minced jalapeno

2 Tbsp. minced red onion

2 Tbsp. fire-roasted corn, thawed and patted dry

1/2 beaten egg (save the rest for another use or discard it)

Salt, pepper and garlic powder

1/4 cup panko crumbs (plus 1/4 cup extra for shaping)

6 oz. lump crab meat, picked over to remove pieces of shell

Small handful of cilantro, optional for serving


*Notes

To make the chipotle with adobo puree, empty an entire can of chipotles in adobo sauce into a food processor or blender. Pulse, then run continuously until the mixture is relatively smooth. You will only use a small amount of the mixture for this recipe. We use up the rest of it in a number of ways—in deviled eggs, hummus, homemade bbq sauce, hot dog chili, or anything else you want to give a little smoky, spicy kick in the pants. For sure, try Les’s smoky guacamole, which includes a few tablespoons of this pureed chipotle with adobo.


Instructions

Combine mayonnaise and chipotle to desired spiciness. Reserve a few tablespoons of this mixture to serve alongside the finished crab cakes. I transferred it to a small zip top bag, so I could drizzle the cakes with it.

Add the onions, jalapeno and corn to the chipotle mayo and stir until blended. Stir in the half amount of beaten egg. Fold in the crab, taking care not to break up the lumps. Sprinkle some panko crumbs into your hand, and gently shape the mixture into four patties. The mixture will be quite messy, but it will firm up in the fridge.

Arrange the cakes on a parchment-lined sheet; cover with plastic wrap and chill at least one hour, though two hours is better.

Heat a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Swirl in about 2 tablespoons olive or canola oil. When oil begins to shimmer, carefully arrange the crab cakes into the skillet and leave them, undisturbed, until the bottom edges appear to be crispy. This should be about 4 minutes. Gently turn the cakes over to cook the same amount of time on the second side.

Serve as desired, with reserved chipotle mayo for dressing or dipping.



Raspberry-Rhubarb “Pop Tarts”

Show me a kid who doesn’t eat pop tarts, and I’ll say that kid doesn’t spend nearly enough time at Grandma’s house. For me, one of the treats of being with Gram—besides that I simply loved her company and always had fun learning and making things—was getting “spoiled” a bit with certain foods that were not necessarily available at home. It isn’t that I loaded up on junk food at her house; that definitely was not the case. But I was allowed to grab handfuls of Cap’n Crunch cereal, right out of the box, to munch on while I watched Saturday morning cartoons from the big wing chair. Gram could be persuaded to purchase an occasional box of strawberry Pop-Tarts (assuming she had a coupon), and I did so love spreading my toast with banana- or cinnamon-flavored peanut butter. Please tell me you do remember Koogle, don’t you?


I would give anything to relive some of those sweet childhood memories and to appreciate the simple joys more than I did in the moment, especially the sputtering sound of Gram’s pressure cooker or the metronome-like sound of the pendulum on the cuckoo clock that hung on the back wall of the den. Just remembering the zipping sound it made when Grandpa pulled down the clock chains to reset it every evening makes me feel calmer inside. And, just like that, my eyes are misty—talk amongst yourselves, I need a moment.


These days, all the clocks in my house are digital display, with blue lights, and most of them keep me awake at night. Sugary cereals and funky-flavored peanut butters don’t stand a chance in my kitchen, and neither do most of the convenience snacks that have all kinds of who-knows-what ingredients. But I have been thinking about how simple it would be to make a homemade version of at least one favorite childhood treat, and to incorporate a flavor that Kellogg’s never would have thought of.

That’s how these raspberry-rhubarb “pop tarts” came to be, and they were ridiculously simple to make with store-bought pie crust dough and a fruity mashup that I made with my most recent score of rhubarb. Gram always had rhubarb in the spring and summer, and I learned to love it when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Why not make it a filling for pop tarts? I cooked it with raspberries, which have pectin for thickening power (rhubarb doesn’t), but there’s no reason you couldn’t use any flavor of ready-made preserves, homemade or otherwise, as a filling for this treat. And you could skip the sugary frosting if you’d like, too. I only made it because I wanted the pictures to be pretty.

OK, pretty and girly. 🙂

Word to the wise, I would not recommend actually putting these in the toaster. The pie crust pastry is more delicate than a commercial pop tart, and I’m pretty sure you’d have a mess on your hands (not to mention inside the toaster). Also, because these tarts are not filled with preservatives, you will want to eat them up once they are made, but I doubt that will be a problem.

This was a fun, whimsical project, and the tarts were delicious. The icing, however, made them very sweet, so I won’t likely make this exact version again anytime soon. But I’ll tell you this much—if I had grandchildren, we’d be making these easy homemade pop tarts every visit, in as many flavors as the little ones could think up!

What flavor would you make?


Ingredients

Enough to make 8 tarts

Pastry dough for double crust pie (I used store-bought)

About 1/2 cup raspberry-rhubarb filling:

1 heaping cup rhubarb chunks

1/2 cup fresh raspberries

1/4 cup cane sugar

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 Tbsp. corn starch, dissolved in 1 Tbsp. cold water


Glaze Icing (optional)

1 Tbsp. heavy cream

2 Tbsp. light corn syrup

About 2 cups powdered sugar

Food coloring, optional

Sparkling sugar, optional


Instructions

Make the fruit filling first, and give it plenty of time to chill in the fridge before making the pastries. Combine rhubarb chunks, raspberries, sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat until the fruit breaks up and mixture is thick, syrupy and bubbling. If the mixture seems thin, whisk in a small amount of cornstarch slurry and cook until it is no longer cloudy in appearance. Transfer to a covered bowl and refrigerate.

To assemble the pastries, spread the pie crust dough out onto a lightly floured countertop or board. If you are using a store-bought rolled crust, use a rolling pin to even out the wrinkles, but do not aim to make it thinner than 1/8 inch. Pinch together any breaks in the dough as best you can. Cut the dough into approximately 3-by-5-inch rectangles. You should be able to get 8 rectangles from each pastry round. Discard the scraps, or do what my Gram always did with extra pie dough: brush the scraps with egg wash and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, then bake them and have the kids try to guess what animal they look like. 🙂

Carefully spread about 1½ tablespoons of the chilled fruit filling onto one set of rectangles, keeping the edges clean at least 1/2 inch on all sides. Top each pastry with a second rectangle. Use a fork to crimp the edges all the way around and to pierce shallow holes in the top surface. It occurred to me while I was doing this step that I could have used egg wash to seal the pastry, but they turned out fine without it. Transfer the pastries to a parchment-lined baking sheet and place the sheet in the freezer while you preheat the oven.

Preheat oven to 400° F, with rack set in center position. If you do not plan to put icing on the tarts, give them a quick brush with egg wash or milk before baking. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven for about 15 minutes, but watch them closely, as the edges of the tarts may want to burn. Carefully transfer the tarts to a rack and cool them completely before icing.

For the icing, whisk together heavy cream and corn syrup until smooth. Gradually add up to 2 cups of powdered sugar, whisking in each addition until smooth. Stir in a couple pf drops of food coloring, if desired, in one of the early sugar additions. The icing should be thick enough to form ribbons when dripped from a spoon, but thin enough to smooth out after a few moments.

Drizzle it thinly over cooled tarts and sprinkle with sparkling sugar or candy sprinkles, if desired. I mean, why not?

Just tripping down memory lane over here… ❤


Mac and Pimiento Cheese

Show up at any family reunion or church potluck in the South, and you can bet your sweet tea you’ll find at least three kinds of mac and cheese on the table, plus a couple of pimiento cheese appetizers (probably layered thinly in little white bread finger sandwiches). I love doing mashups of classic foods, and so it seemed obvious to me that pimiento cheese should be paired with mac and cheese. It’s a beautiful, diet-be-danged casserole collision, if I do say so myself.

If you have made any of my other mac and cheese recipes, you know that American cheese is usually the standard in my cheese sauce base. The special salts and enzymes in American cheese are what gives it that ultra-creamy, ooey-gooey meltability, and isn’t that the best thing about mac and cheese?


But pimiento cheese has its own character (namely, it’s mayonnaise-y) and I didn’t want it to feel overshadowed in this mashup. Last summer, I shared the recipe that my husband, Les, uses for pimiento cheese, and it is awesome but not a classic “Southern” style (mainly because it was not drenched in enough greasy mayonnaise). My own pimiento cheese recipe is also shy-of-classic, because I blend together mayonnaise and cream cheese for the base, and it’s probably no surprise that I usually add unexpected ingredients such as jalapeno or chopped pickles. I just can’t leave well enough alone.

For this “mac and pimiento cheese,” which just happens to be my 200th post here on Comfort du Jour, I leaned on cream cheese rather than American in the base for my cheese sauce. I really wanted the smooth, velvety texture of the mild cream cheese to anchor all the cheddar that’s happening throughout the rest of the dish. For the pimiento cheese accents, I used a whole jar of roasted red peppers, drained and chopped into small pieces. Some of them went into the cheese sauce, but the rest found their way into a quick mayo-based pimiento cheese that was layered in with the cooked noodles and cheese sauce before baking. All those dollops gave this mac and cheese that distinctive mayonnaise-y tang that is so signature to a good, classic Southern pimiento cheese.

Oh mercy me, look at that pimiento cheese dripping through that mac and cheese!

Disclaimer warning on this one—there’s a lot of richness in this recipe, and the chance is fair to middlin’ this mac and pimiento cheese will crush your calorie count, so you would do well to consider it dinner all on its own or with a fresh side salad. Here we go, y’all!


Ingredients

Cheese sauce

1/2 medium onion, diced small

4 Tbsp. salted butter

4 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

2 cups whole milk

6 oz. cream cheese, softened to room temp* (this was most of a standard brick)

8 oz. brick sharp cheddar, shredded* (see notes)

About half of a 7 oz. jar of pimientos or roasted red peppers, drained and chopped


Pimiento cheese dollops

2 oz. cream cheese, softened to room temp (the rest of the brick)

1/4 cup mayonnaise

A few shakes sweet paprika

The other half of the 7 oz. jar of pimientos or roasted red peppers, drained and chopped

4 oz. sharp cheddar, shredded (this was roughly a cup)


For assembling the casserole

Most of a 1 lb. package of macaroni or other pasta*

1/4 cup panko bread crumbs

1 Tbsp. salted butter, melted

1/4 cup parm-romano blend (ours was seasoned with “chili onion crunch” from Trader Joe’s)


*Notes

I recommend regular, full-fat cream cheese for this recipe. I have found that the light version does not maintain the creamy texture in a heated sauce. For the complete recipe, I used an entire 8 oz. brick of cream cheese, but it was divided nearly evenly between the cheese sauce and the pimiento cheese mixture.

Two kinds of cheddar went into my mac and pimiento cheese, because we like spicy stuff at our house. I used an entire 8 oz. brick of sharp cheddar and half a brick of habanero cheddar. Mix and match to your liking, but reserve about a cup of shredded cheese for the pimiento cheese mixture.

Pimientos are a variety of pepper, and though it is easy to find jars of pimientos at the market, I used a large jar of roasted red peppers because that is what I had in the cabinet. You might even choose to roast fresh peppers yourself—that’s what I usually do when I make my own version of pimiento cheese. If you choose jarred peppers or pimientos, be sure to drain them well and use a paper towel to wick away excess moisture.

I held back about 1/4 of the box of pasta for this recipe, because I wanted it to be extra “saucy.” Classic elbow macaroni works great in a mac and cheese, and I always encourage choosing pasta that is labeled “bronze die cut,” because the surface of the pasta is rougher and holds a sauce extremely well. Cook your pasta just barely to the “al dente” stage, or a bit underdone than you would prefer. When you bake the mac and cheese, it will soften further from the heat and the cheese sauce.


Instructions

  1. Make the béchamel: melt butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Saute the onions until soft. Sprinkle in the flour and stir to combine. Cook until flour is absorbed and bubbly. Add milk and whisk until smooth.
  2. Add the first amount of cream cheese to the béchamel and whisk until smooth and creamy. Add the shredded cheddar, a handful at a time, and whisk until smooth. Use immersion blender (optional) to amplify the creamy texture of the cheese sauce.
  3. Pat dry the first amount of pimientos or roasted red peppers, and stir them into the cheese sauce.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350° F, with oven rack in center position.
  5. Cook the elbow macaroni or pasta according to package instructions until just al dente. Slightly undercooked is better than overcooked, as the pasta will absorb moisture form the cheese sauce during baking. Drain the pasta and cool slightly.
  6. Combine the remaining cream cheese and mayo, whisking as needed to create a smooth-textured spread. Add the remaining pimientos (pat them dry first), paprika and remaining shredded cheddar.
  7. Fold the cooked pasta into the cheese sauce and layer about half of it into a glass 8 x 8 inch casserole. Spoon dollops of pimiento cheese mixture randomly over the mac and cheese, then layer on the rest of the pasta mixture. Spoon remaining pimiento cheese over the surface of the mac and cheese, but do not spread it.
  8. Bake the mac and cheese, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle the cheesy panko crumbs all over the top of the mac and cheese. Slide it back into the oven for 15 more minutes. Cool 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Life is good, y’all!