Sunday, July 12, 2015

Farm Markret Frittata!

I am on a seven day sugar free challenge with my family so I am relying more heavily than usual this week on fresh, juicy summer produce!  I’ve seen some versions of this challenge that don’t even allow fruit or sweeter veggies (I’m talking to you corn on the cob and sweet potatoes!), but I don’t want an all-out mutiny on my hands so I’m focusing on eating healthy amounts of fruit, no sugars added sugars (including agave, honey, maple, stevia or artificial sweeteners), and also eliminating processed white flour from our diet this week.  My goal is to lose a couple of pounds but also to get my kids to appreciate the natural sweetness in whole foods and to reach for some not-so-sweet snacks too.
I figured I would go big for breakfast on day one because that is honestly going to be the toughest meal for my family.  The kids tend to reach for cereal and milk every day and I usually have coffee with some sweetener, fruit and some sort of whole grain English muffin or toast.   Today I made a wonderful smoothie with fruits and veggies to curb our sweet tooth naturally and then made a huge frittata which we enjoyed today and which will provide leftovers for breakfast or lunch later in the week.
I make frittatas a lot on the weekends but they’re so quick and versatile, I should really consider making them more during the week.  This one came together in the time it took my coffee to perk!  I used zucchini, spinach, onions and cherry tomatoes because that is what I had on hand but mushrooms, kale, scallions or potatoes would have worked well too.  Since the veggies I had seemed a bit Mediterranean to me, I went with feta and some fresh oregano, but you could use whatever cheese and herbs you like to change it up and allow this breakfast to shapeshift throughout the seasons!
8 fresh eggs
Dash of milk or cream
Salt and pepper to taste
About a Tbsp of Olive Oil
1 medium zucchini, diced
¼ onion, diced
2 cups baby spinach leaves, washed and rough chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Some chopped fresh herbs (parsley, oregano, thyme or basil all work well)
About 1 cup of shredded or crumbled cheese (I used feta and a bit of provolone)

First, whisk up your eggs and milk or cream and season with some salt and pepper.  Set aside.  Preheat your oven to broil on high, making sure you have a rack in an elevated position (bit not the top shelf). Now, chop your veggies.  Place the olive oil in a large oven-safe saute pan; one without a plastic handle.  (I use a good sized Calphalon paella pan.) Heat over medium high.    Add the veggies but not the tomatoes or herbs.  Saute until soft seasoning with a bit of salt if you like.  Pour in the eggs, trying to distribute eggs and veggies pretty evenly across the pan.  Using a silicon spatula, tip the pan slightly and lift the edges to pour more of the raw egg mixture underneath so it cooks more evenly.  Do this a few times.  Now add the tomatoes and cheese and transfer the pan to the oven.  Broil for a few minutes until your frittata is done in center, golden brown on top and a little puffy.  Remove from oven and top with the fresh herbs.  I like to let it rest for 2-3 minutes and then use a pizza cutter to slice it evenly into 8 portions.  Remove with a spatula or broad fork and enjoy!  The leftovers will keep in the fridge for several days and are good warmed or even at room temperature.

This is a meal in itself but I made a quick smoothie to round out the meal.  It included about 1 1/2 cup of coconut water, ½ cup of unsweetened almond milk, a handful of frozen mango chunks, one chopped up carrot, ½ peeled cucumber, 1 ripe sliced banana, and one whole peeled navel orange.  I just threw it all in our Blendtec and set it to the “Smoothie” setting and let it do its thing.  It made 4 nice-sized smoothies and gave me enough leftovers to make a few smoothie popsicles for later.  For those, I just poured the leftovers into popsicle molds, but you could also use dixie cups.  I filled them about ¾ of the way full and then dropped a few frozen blueberries into each one to bring the level up and add a sweet surprise to the frozen treats.  These will be great snacks for later at the pool and my kids will never realize that I snuck veggies into their treats! 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Pickled Pink – My Attempt at Quick Pickles!

I recently spied some adorable little Kirby cucumbers at the Farmer’s market.  They are small and their skins are not waxy at all.  Plus, they don’t really have any bitter tough seeds.  I’ve also seen these lately at supermarkets and I was inspired to try and make some pickles.  Now don’t get me wrong, I know nothing at all about canning, sterilization or pickling – those all seem more like pioneer woman skills than abilities I’d actually possess!  But, I do have a collection of Mason jars just waiting to be used for something other than Pinterest crafts, so I figured I would try me hand at some quick or “refrigerator” pickles. 
Refrigerator pickles are just what they sound like.  You need to keep them in the fridge and since they’re not preserved with lots of salt or boiling, they’re only going to last for about a month.  That’s no problem because in my house, they keep getting gobbled up in a few days!  This pickling method lends itself especially well to bread and butter pickles, because you really want to eat those chilled anyway.  They’re so crispy and sweet, but also a little spicy and briny.  They are just wonderful on sandwiches, burgers, in salads, or just as a side dish.  This version has the added benefit of not having such a high amount of salt.  So, you can really enjoy them guilt-free!
I’ve made three batches already this year and today, we’re going to be enjoying them with some pulled pork barbeque to celebrate the fourth of July.  Go ‘Merica!
Seriously though, don’t be intimidated by the idea of pickling – it really could not be easier!  It just takes a few minutes of active cooking and a couple of hours of resting time.  I used that time to watch a few episodes of Orange Is the New Black, telling my family to “leave me alone – I am making pickles!!”  Shhh….don’t tell my secret!!
Here’s my technique.  First, slice up the cucumbers and some sweet onions.  I like the onions really thin but the cukes not too thin – maybe about 1/6 of an inch.  Place them all together in a large bowl and sprinkle about 1 Tbsp of salt over the top.  Toss lightly and then throw a few ice cubes on top, allowing to sit on the counter.  When it looks like the ice has melted (about 90 minutes), drain off all the water.  This way, you’re also draining off much of the salt and lots of liquid from the cucumbers and onions.  This will allow your cucumbers to remain crisp when pickled and take some of the bite out of the onions.
Once that’s done, boil all the remaining ingredients together and then pour it over the cucumbers and onions, and allow that to sit for about an hour.  That’s it!  You’re done – for real!  Just pour into jars and allow to chill in the fridge for at least 12 hours ideally.  If you feel the need to dive into them after 2 hours, they’ll still be great!
For spices, these are all eye-balled amounts – I am way too lazy to measure!  If you like spicy, add more crushed pepper, if you don’t, leave it out altogether.  You can play with the flavors a bit based on personal preference and what you have handy.  Here is the actual recipe:

12 small cucumbers
1 vidalia onion (or other sweet variety)
1 Tbsp salt
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
A few whole peppercorns
2-3 whole allspice
About 1 Tbsp whole mustard seeds
About ½ tsp whole coriander
Good sprinkle of crushed red pepper
3/4 tsp celery seed
1/4 tsp turmeric

Slice your onions thin and your cucumbers into 1/6th inch disks.  Place in a large bowl and sprinkle with the salt.  Toss lightly and throve a few ice cubes on top.  Allow to sit at room temperature until the ice cubes melt (about 1-2 hours).  Drain well – you should have a lot of liquid to pour off. When those are ready, place all the other ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil to melt the sugars.  Remove from heat and pour the hot liquid over the cucumber and onion mixture.  Press down on the cucumbers so that all are covered with the liquid and allow to cool uncovered at room temperature for about an hour.  You can then transfer these to jars or Tupperware style containers.  This recipe makes about 3 standard size mason jars worth of pickles.  They’re best after another 12-24 hours in the fridge to crisp up, chill and allow the flavors to meld.  Store in the refrigerator – good for about 4 weeks…but they’ll never last that long!  Enjoy!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Popovers, or Flaky Little Mouthfuls of Heaven…You Decide!

I wanted to try something new for Father’s Day Brunch and since I had some homemade jam to showcase (more on that later!), I landed on popovers.  Have you ever had these amazing and surprisingly easy pastries?  They are definitely best warm right out of the oven which is why you don’t see them at bakeries or stores frequently, but they’re like a wondrous cross between and soufflĂ© and a croissant; flaky, airy, moist, buttery, and really the perfect vehicle for some great honey or jam.  They rise beautifully if you can resist the urge to keep checking them in the oven and when the steam releases as they cool, it creates this incredibly buttery pockets, just perfect for holding jam or whatever topping you decide to add. They truly are heavenly and you probably have the ingredients and equipment in your kitchen right now!

Basic popovers only have 5 ingredients – butter, flour, salt, eggs and milk.  That’s all the ones I made had too, but you could definitely make them into a dinner item by adding a little thyme and grated cheese!  Let’s start with the basic recipe for now.  If you have a popover pan, by all means use it!  You will get taller and slightly larger popovers, but you can definitely use a muffin pan too.  A muffin tin was all I had, and mine came out wonderful.  Since there are only five ingredients, focus on good ones!  Use farm fresh eggs if possible and good quality sea salt and butter.  It really will make a difference.

Ingredients for 18 muffin-sized popovers

2 cups Milk (2% or whole works best)
4 Eggs
½ tsp Salt
2 cups Flour
6 Tbsp Butter

Preheat your over to 450. You can easily make the batter in your blender - that’s what I did for easier clean-up.  If not, get out a large bowl and a whisk or your standing mixer.  First, melt 2 Tbsp of the butter (microwave works well for this). Now, add the eggs and milk into the blender or bowl and mix together.  Add in the melted butter and blend a bit more, finishing with the flour and salt.  Now melt the remaining 4 Tbsp butter, and set it aside.  

Once your oven is preheated, place the muffin or popover tin in the oven for at least 3 minutes to get it hot.  Carefully remove it from the oven and add the melted better equally into each of the muffin cups.  Pour the batter about 2/3 full into each cup, on top of the melted butter.  Place the pan in the oven on the center rack.  Back for 15 minutes at 450 and then reduce the temp to 350, baking for another 15 minutes.  

Don’t open the oven door to check on them until the time is up.  I know it’s hard to resist, but it will cause your gorgeous popovers to fall early which will affect their unique and lush texture.  Apparently, starting with a warm pan and high heat, helps the popovers rise and get flaky on the outside, lowering the temperature midway, helps them not collapse immediately and creates the wonderful airy texture on the inside.

As soon as you remove these from the oven, flip the pan over to get all the popovers out and then take a small knife and quickly pierce the bottom of each pastry to allow some steam to escape.  Then, you can turn them all back over the serve warm.  Some people add more butter but my family just enjoyed them with plenty of jam.  We happened to have homemade jams on hand (plum and strawberry), but any good preserve, honey or jam would be excellent.

I promise there won’t be any leftovers and if there are, they’d be delicious with a little chicken salad served in the center the next day for lunch.  Enjoy!