Sourdough Pumpkin Spice Waffles

As eager as I have been to get things rolling on our kitchen remodel, I have enjoyed being able to make some of the fall recipes I thought would get left behind. If we must be delayed, I may as well keep cooking fun things, right? We still have a few days of “Better Breakfast Month,” and this simple twist on your favorite waffles is covering a lot of territory for me.

If you have never tried them, sourdough waffles are the best thing going—with delicate, crispy exterior and soft, fluffy goodness on the inside. They are not as sweet as some other waffles, which is fine by me, given that I usually drench them in real maple syrup. In keeping with the season (we are now five full days into fall), I have also spiked these easy-to-make, overnight waffles with pumpkin and warm spices, the two flavors everyone seems to either love or hate. If you’re in the first camp, keep reading. If not—well, perhaps you simply need to try these waffles, so you might want to keep reading, too.

I used to hesitate on pumpkin spice recipes, imagining that maybe this ubiquitous flavor combination was too cliché. But then I went to Trader Joe’s, otherwise known as the pumpkin spice capital of the world, and I found myself surrounded by pumpkin spice cookies, donuts, yogurt, coffee, granola bark, cake bites, scented candles—well, you know the scene. And it was there, standing amid all those fall-inspired goodies, that I realized 75 million Trader Joe’s fans can’t be wrong. And neither are these waffles.

I love the rich autumn color of these pumpkin spice waffles!

The addition of pure pumpkin puree gives these waffles a gorgeous fall color and a big dose of antioxidants, while a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice brings the essence of the season. Here’s a bit of happy news: if you don’t have a sourdough starter, you can still make a version of these. I made only those two modifications to my favorite sourdough waffle recipe for this variation, and I expect you can do the same with whatever recipe you like to use, sourdough or not. Just add pumpkin to the wet ingredients and pumpkin pie spice to the flour.

Obviously, you do need a waffle iron to make waffles. I have had good results using both a Belgian-style maker and a standard square maker, though the recipe will yield different amounts depending on the size of the waffles. No waffle maker, but jonesing for a pumpkin spice breakfast? Reduce the oil a bit, keep everything else the same and make pancakes instead.


Ingredients

Overnight Starter

1/2 cup sourdough discard

1 cup cultured buttermilk

1 Tbsp. cane sugar

1/3 cup pure pumpkin puree

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or white whole wheat)

A heaping 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (or a few pinches each of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger)


Combine the first four ingredients in a large bowl (twice as large as you think you’ll need) until smooth. Stir in the flour and spice ingredients. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a lid and leave it on the counter overnight to ferment.


In the Morning

Heat waffle iron to medium-high heat. Preheat oven to 200°F with oven rack in center position. Place a cooling rack inside a baking sheet inside the oven, for keeping the first few waffles warm while you finish the batch.


Whisk together these ingredients in a glass measuring cup:

1 large egg

2 Tbsp. canola oil (or melted butter)

1/2 tsp. baking soda

2 pinches salt


Pour the mixture into the pumpkin-sourdough starter and fold together, just until evenly combined. The buttermilk and baking soda will react, and the batter will become rather bubbly and rise in the bowl. Let the batter rest on the counter for about 10 minutes before you proceed with making the waffles.

Follow manufacturer’s instructions for making the waffles, transferring them to the oven to keep warm until ready to serve.


This recipe will make about four tall Belgian waffles, or about 12 squares. Either way, it’s plenty of breakfast for four people.


Homemade Giardiniera

One of the challenges (or joys, depending on your outlook) of flying by the seat of your pants is you can’t confidently predict an outcome. This is true for me in the kitchen, even when I am doing that flying through a familiar recipe. When I cook, I generally do not follow a recipe to the letter; rather, I follow my instinct to complete a meal using the ingredients I can find. This is why my mac and cheese is never exactly the same, and why I have so many meatloaf recipes in my repertoire, including a stuffed one that I made last winter that I never got a chance to share with you—but I will (it involves bleu cheese).

Last month, when I whipped up the Italian Deli Tortellini Salad, I made a promise that I would share my homemade version of giardiniera, which I had declared is far and away better than any stuff you’ll buy in a jar. I’m making good on my promise, but before I continue, I must explain that my on-hand ingredients this time produced a giardiniera that would be perfect for serving at, well, Easter.

It’s pink!!!

In my previous times making this quick-pickled vegetable medley, I have used sweet or yellow onions and I didn’t have this pastel outcome. But in the ruckus of preparing to remodel, I had to forego an extra trip to the market, and I just used the red onions that I had. It was disappointing at first, because I am a perfectionist who wants everything to be just so, especially if I am sharing it on my blog. But there is also great joy in some of these culinary surprises, and it got me wondering what would happen if I used purple cauliflower along with the red onions, and maybe even purple carrots?

No matter the hue, I find the homemade version to be not only more flavorful, but also far crunchier than the jarred versions. I grew to love this stuff when I worked in a supermarket, as a house-made version of it was always in the prepared foods section of our deli department, and it was a perfect side to a beef on weck sandwich (now there’s a recipe for my culinary bucket list)!

Giardiniera is simple to make, but I suggest you plan ahead because it requires a few days and a decent amount of space in the fridge, at least during preparation. When it is finished, you’ll need a tall jar or good-sized container for keeping it, and it will last in the fridge for a few weeks.

One more thing to mention about my variation of giardiniera—it is intended as a riff on the Italian version, not the “Chicago-style,” which is marinated in olive oil rather than pickled.


Ingredients

About 4 cups fresh cauliflower florets                                            

1/2 cup carrot slices

1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, or pepperoncini or cherry peppers

1/2 onion (remember that red onion will make the dish pink!), cut into slices

3 celery heart stalks (strings removed), sliced thickly on the bias

Other vegetables would be good in this as well, provided they are crunchy. If I had made that trip to the store for yellow onions, I would have also picked up a bulb of fennel—that would be fantastic.

1/4 cup kosher salt* (see notes)


*Notes

I use kosher salt for most of my cooking and especially when brining or pickling. It has a pure salt flavor and the large grains take up more space than regular table salt. The additives in table salt (iodine and anti-caking agents) can add an unpleasant flavor and will likely result in a cloudy liquid. If you only have table salt, it is OK to use it here, but I’d recommend using less of it—maybe 3 tablespoons plus a teaspoon.


Instructions – Day One

Combine all the cut-up vegetables in a large bowl. Pour salt over them and use your hands to toss until evenly salted. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a lid and refrigerate several hours, up to overnight.


I’ll stop right here and admit that in my distraction over all the remodel prepping activity, I let my vegetables brine in the salt way too long, but it was not a disaster; a couple of extra rinses on the second day washed away the excessive saltiness.


Instructions – Day Two

Drain the released liquid from the vegetables and rinse well under cold running water for about two minutes. Taste one or two pieces for saltiness. If they are too salty, cover them in the bowl with cold water and let them rest half an hour, then drain and rinse again. When they taste seasoned, but not unpleasantly salty, they are ready for the next step of pickling.

This part of the recipe project felt like a scavenger hunt, mainly because I have packed away my spices based on which ones I figured we would likely need for easy cooking during our remodel.

Believe it or not, I used to know where everything was.

In case I have not mentioned previously, I have a lot of spices—enough to fill up both sides of this cabinet (and surplus spices, which live in a cabinet above the washer and dryer), and there are too many jars to fit in a single box for short-term storage. We expected to be put out of the kitchen two weeks earlier, and when the delays gave me time to make giardiniera, I had to go in search of my ingredients.


No worries. It will all be worth it when the kitchen is done. 😊


Pickling Ingredients

1 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar* (see notes)

1 1/4 cups water

3 or 4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed*

2 tsp. each mustard seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds

1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

2 bay leaves

3 Tbsp. cane sugar

2 tsp. kosher salt (slightly less if using table salt)


*Notes

I usually have two kinds of apple cider vinegar on hand. One is raw, which means unfiltered and unpasteurized, which I will use for salad dressings or health purposes, but it is expensive. The other is a grocery store brand that is clear, which means it is filtered and pasteurized. I use the latter for this purpose because the vinegar is heated and that destroys the probiotic benefit of the raw vinegar anyway.

Unfortunately, I was so consumed in my search for fennel seeds that I did not remember the garlic when I made this batch, but I recommend it for an extra zing of flavor.

Combine the pickling ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt, then remove from heat. Pour the pickling liquid over the vegetables in a clean bowl and press the veggies under the surface of the liquid as much as possible. If it seems there is not enough liquid to go around, add equal splashes of vinegar and water to ensure good coverage.

Cover the bowl with plastic or a lid. Allow the giardiniera to cool, then refrigerate it at least overnight before enjoying it. For longer storage in the fridge, I transfer the giardiniera to a tall jar, and pour the pickling liquid through a mesh strainer to catch the seed spices and bay leaf.




Tzatziki Potato Salad

There are as many ways to make potato salad as there are grandmothers, and although my own Gram never made this version, I know she would have liked it. Gram introduced me to yogurt when I was a young girl, and it’s a good thing she did, for a couple of reasons. First, I love it in all its forms—plain, Greek, drinkable, etc.—and second, I likely would not have tried yogurt at all because my mother hates it.

If the passion for food and cooking is passed down genetically, then all I can say is that it skipped a generation in my branch of the family tree. My mom is not a bad cook, just a basic (and infrequent) cook, and the meals she served when I was young never strayed from what she herself liked to eat. My friends, that was a short list. On the good side of things, this allowed me to experience Mexican food at an early age, and it is still a favorite. On the flip side, I nearly missed out growing up on so many things I love today, including cream cheese, eggplant, bleu cheese and, well, I could go on for days. Not only did my mom not enjoy those foods, but she would make disgusted faces about the very idea of them, and I might have grown up believing they were poisonous, if not for my grandmother’s influence.

Yogurt is about as far from poison as you can get; it’s rich with protein and gut-nourishing probiotics, and I learned to love the little cups of it that my grandmother always seemed to have in the fridge when I visited. My favorite flavors, as I recall, were lemon and the ones with blueberry or peaches that you stirred up from the bottom. These tasty treats paved the way for me to love Greek yogurt in my adult years, and most often with no fruit or sugar added. This powerhouse food is strained to a thicker texture than regular yogurt, so that the protein is concentrated, making it a fantastic base for healthy breakfast smoothies. In our house, we regularly reach for Greek yogurt as an even exchange for sour cream, and we whip it into our scallion cream cheese to make it more spreadable.

As summer inches toward its end this year, I had been considering ways to liven up my basic potato salad recipe, and it occurred to me that tzatziki—the bold and zesty, Greek yogurt and cucumber sauce—could be a terrific addition to a potato salad. I am not crazy about having a lot of mayonnaise in my salads, and the idea of refreshing tzatziki sounded pretty darn good. I was right.

Cool, creamy, refreshing!

While you cook the potatoes, make the tzatziki. Begin by chopping or shredding a peeled and seeded cucumber, then use salt to strip it of excess moisture and blend it together with a healthy dose of Greek yogurt, garlic and dill. Combine that with a touch of mayonnaise and fold it into cold, boiled potatoes, and you will have a side salad that’s perfectly cool and fresh, served with burgers or any kind of meat kebab on the grill.


Ingredients

About 1 1/2 pounds red or yellow potatoes

1/2 good sized slicing cucumber, peeled

Kosher salt and black pepper

2 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced

2/3 cup Greek yogurt

Fresh or dried dill leaves

1/4 cup mayonnaise (I used canola mayo from Trader Joe’s)


Instructions

  1. Scrub the potatoes but leave the peel on. Cut the potatoes into large chunks and cook them in salted water at a low boil until they are just tender enough to pierce with a knife. Drain, cool and chill them at least two hours.
  2. Cut the cucumber lengthwise into quarters (like pickle spears). Use a paring knife to carefully slice off the center strip that contains the seeds. Discard them. Slice, then dice the remaining parts of cucumber into very small bits. Alternatively, you may cut the cuke in half lengthwise, use a spoon to scoop/scrape out the seeds, and then grate it on the large holes of a box grater.
  3. Transfer the cucumber bits or shreds to a paper towel-lined bowl and sprinkle with two generous pinches of kosher salt. Toss the cucumber in the salt, fold the paper towel over it and put the bowl in the refrigerator. After about 30 minutes, gently press the cucumber between layers of clean paper towel to remove the excess moisture.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the Greek yogurt, minced garlic, black pepper and dill. It is unlikely that you will need additional salt, as the cucumber will bring that flavor to the dip. Fold in the salted, drained cucumber bits.
  5. Combine the tzatziki with mayonnaise. Adjust pepper and dill to taste.
  6. Fold the dressing into the chilled cut-up potatoes. Garnish salad with additional sprinkles of dill and a few cucumber slices.



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!



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.



Cilantro-marinated Skirt Steak

There is a glaring disparity between the typical celebratory rituals honoring one’s parents. On Mother’s Day, the gifts we give are generally aimed at relaxation or pampering for mom, such as spa treatments or beautiful flower arrangements. We take mom out to brunch to give her a break from cooking and cleaning up the dishes. But on Father’s Day, which is coming up this Sunday, we put dear old dad straight to work. The annual occasion may as well be Black Friday for the stores that sell power tools and bbq equipment, two of the most popular categories of items we give dad to “honor” him. And, in the days when families still had landline telephones*, Father’s Day marked the highest day of every year for collect calls.

*For anyone born after 1990: our phones used to have long, twisty cords and they were plugged into the wall, so you could only use them at home. They were used exclusively for speaking to someone else, who also had to be home, or else it would just ring and ring. It’s true—this old-timey relic didn’t even offer games or weather apps or texting or anything cool. I know, crazy, right?! It was brutal. You had to memorize the phone number for the house you were calling, and you put your finger into the number holes and turned the dial to make a call. It took forever. And it cost extra to call your dad if he lived far away, but you could ask the operator (a phone assistant—kind of like Siri, but a real person) to make it a “collect” call, and that meant dad got the bill for it. That part was kind of cool.


That’s still kind of how Father’s Day works—you sit back and relax, while dad builds stuff and mows the lawn and slaves away at the grill to make dinner. To be fair, however, I have never known any man, father or otherwise, who did not greatly enjoy these kinds of gifts, and time spent cooking animal meat over a fire, so it works out perfectly. Grilling is in their DNA, and most men I know are pretty darn good at it. My husband, Les, is no exception, as he proved again this past weekend, when he finished what I started with this mouthwatering skirt steak recipe. I made the marinade, and then, while I was busy inside making drinks and setting the table, Les worked his magic on the grill, delivering this fantastic skirt steak.

The peppers and onions were grilled, too. YUM

If you have never had skirt steak, first of all, you are missing out on what I believe is the very best cut for fajitas. It comes from the front-underside of the cow, a bit more forward than flank steak. There’s a lot to love about skirt steak; for one thing, it has generous marbling for exquisite flavor and texture. It is thin, so it grills up in a hurry (and you do want to cook it quickly). It takes a marinade really well, and that means you can send it off in whatever flavor direction strikes your fancy. For an Asian stir-fry meal, you might marinate it in a garlic and soy mixture. At our house, we tend to favor Mexican and Southwest flavors, and I’ll show you how we bathed our skirt steak in fresh lime juice, garlic, onions and a big, fat handful of fresh cilantro.


The skirt steak we used came from a local butcher, and I am turning to these farm-focused artisan purveyors more and more. I appreciate their sustainable practices, which are more respectful to the animals’ natural grazing habits, and the flavor of pasture-raised beef is exceptional. It must have been my lucky day, because this skirt steak was also dry-aged, an air-curing process that intensifies the beefy flavor. You can read more about the difference here, if you’d like.

Most of my instruction is centered on the making of the marinade. I keep asking Les to take pictures of what he does on the grill, but he keeps forgetting, which may be his subconscious way of saying, “this is my job, just let me do it.” So, if you have questions about that part, call a dad.


Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds beef skirt steak

1/2 medium onion, rough chopped

1 medium jalapeno, seeds removed and rough chopped

3 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped

Fat handful of fresh cilantro, stems and all (be sure to wash it)

Zest and juice of 1 lime

A few shakes of ground cumin

Kosher salt and fresh black pepper

About 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil or canola oil


Instructions

For ease of grilling (and, later, slicing), I recommend cutting the skirt steak into manageable pieces, about 6 inches long. Arrange the pieces of steak in a large, glass baking dish. Generously sprinkle the meat with kosher salt on all sides.

Combine the onion, jalapeno, garlic, cilantro, lime and spices in a food processor. Pulse a few times to rough chop everything, then scrape down the sides and turn the processor on to run continuously. Slowly drizzle the oil into the processor as it runs, and continue until the mixture is uniform and somewhat thick.

Pour the marinade evenly over the steak, turning each piece to ensure equal coverage. Cover the baking dish and refrigerate at least 2 hours, up to 6 hours* (no longer, or the acid will begin to break down the meat fibers).

Grill over high heat for a short period of time until meat is seared (you can cut into a piece to check its done-ness to your liking), and immediately wrap it up in a double layer of foil. Rest the wrapped meat on the cutting board for about 5 minutes before slicing—against the grain, always. For skirt steak, this means making your cuts along the longer side of the meat, another reason it is helpful to cut the skirts into pieces.

So. Much. Flavor.

We enjoyed our cilantro-marinated skirt steak with grilled peppers and onions, on handmade flour tortillas (I used this recipe) with sour cream and Les’s incredible smoky guacamole.



Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Every now and again, I accidentally cross paths with a recipe that has so many uses I have no choice but to add it to my repertoire. This is one of those sauces, and I can thank my husband, Les, who discovered this one last fall, tucked inside an email he received from New York Times Cooking. The sauce was intended for some kind of “couscous cake,” which sounds interesting for another day, but Les trusted his instinct to believe it a perfect dipping sauce for his spinach ball appetizer recipe, and indeed it was.

First time making the red pepper sauce to accompany these, and it was fantastic!

As Les and I have repurposed this flavorful sauce for various uses, I have laughed to myself recalling an inside joke from the “Pinch” kitchen, which was how the staff usually referred to A Pinch of Thyme, the catering company where I spent my spare time for about two years. In the Pinch kitchen, it did not matter what kind of sauce you were preparing—it might have been one of the fancy French “mother sauces,” such as a hollandaise or béchamel or velouté, or maybe even a turkey gravy or a cheese fondue—if it was sauce of any type, Chef Rodney had a code word for it: “weez.” I imagined that the moniker might have been adapted from the name of the overly processed spread known as “Cheez Whiz,” but Rodney never confirmed that. It was amusing though, and we all secretly looked forward to the recipes that required creation of a weez, just because it was a funny word to say.

There was such irony in those scenes; while my friend Tammy, the Pinch events manager, was on the phone selling clients on the elegance of a dish such as filet mignon with béarnaise, Rodney was in the kitchen offering instruction for making a “tarragon weez.” He definitely kept things interesting.

This roasted red pepper weez is simple to make, which is surprising, given its depth of flavor and incredible versatility. The sauce begins in the oven, with the roasting of red bell peppers, a tomato and two whole bulbs of garlic, and it’s finished in the blender, where those ingredients come together with a splash of red wine vinegar, olive oil and the smallest kiss of maple syrup. The result is perfectly balanced and utterly addictive.

Easy, weezy, and delicious! 😊

Did I eat some of this yummy sauce straight from the spoon? Maybe. 😉

Adapted from Giant Couscous Cake with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Recipe makes about 2 cups

Ingredients

2 medium red bell peppers

1 Roma tomato, halved and seeded

1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil, divided

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 bulbs roasted garlic (link to this post for easy DIY instructions)

1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

1 tsp. real maple syrup (or substitute honey)


 Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Cut the bell peppers into segments, along the natural lines of the fruit. Discard the seeds and membranes. Lay the tomato halves and pepper segments, skin side up, on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush all pieces with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Roast about 40 minutes, until the skins on the peppers are nicely charred.
  3. Transfer the tomatoes and pepper segments to a bowl. Cover the bowl and set it aside for several minutes, giving the skins time to soften for easy release.
  4. Once cooled, carefully peel the skins off the peppers and tomato halves. Transfer them to a food processor or standard blender. I do not recommend a “smoothie” blender for this step, because you will need to drizzle oil in later. An immersion blender would also work. Pulse a few times to chop the peppers and tomatoes into smaller pieces. Carefully squeeze in both bulbs of roasted garlic.
  5. Add the red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and maple syrup. Pulse a few times, then run processor or blender continuously while drizzling in the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Transfer sauce to a jar or bowl.


This roasted red pepper sauce has so many easy uses, from appetizers to pasta to pizza and more. It will keep in a jar in the fridge for a couple of weeks, though we have not been able to make it last that long at our house. Next time, we will make a double batch!