Plan B Salad

Today at the Farmer’s Market I found some declicious-looking pears.

Overexposed, under-ripe pears.

Immediately, I thought of the gorgonzola cheese I had in the fridge and the tiny handful of walnuts left in the cupboard and knew that I had dinner planned.

So I got home and started slicing the pears when I realized they weren’t ripe, yet.

“Aw, crap!” I thought. “So much for the perfect dinner salad.”

But wait! I had also purchased a small musk melon.  Since the pungent, salty flavor of gorgonzola contrasts so nicely with the sweet, juicy flavor of pears (when they are, in fact, sweet and juicy, and not starchy and crunchy like mine were), why wouldn’t it go well with the sweet, juicy flavor of musk melon?

Add in some chicken, onions, and a dressing made of equal parts wildflower honey, balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and you end up with a salad even better than the one I had intended.  (Whoops, forgot the walnuts!)

Plan B Salad

If there’s one thing I’ve gotten good at in life, it is adapting quickly to changes to my plans.  I like to make plans, set goals, etc. and find that doing so helps keep me going in the right direction, but sometimes life won’t conform to your plans and goals and you have to quickly detour.  And who knows?  Maybe that detour will lead to something even better than you had planned for yourself.

Summer Cold

Monday morning I went for an amazing bike ride; 12 miles in one hour.  I felt great afterwards and especially after a dip in the pool.  That evening, I read my book and enjoyed a martini (or two) on the porch as the sunset.  It was a great day, and I felt wonderful.  Until around 11pm, when my throat started feeling scratchy … and around 3am when I started coughing incessantly.  I woke up Tuesday with a sore throat, stiff neck, and congested sinuses.  I had gotten a cold.

I don’t know how this happens … one minute you feel great and the next, like crap.  When I get sick, which is quite rare, I give myself one full day to mope and BE sick.  After that full day, I make myself get up and do things, be productive.  So on Tuesday I let myself BE sick.  My husband brought home some cold medicine and canned chicken noodle soup, which was the only thing I ate that day.

I still wasn’t hungry on Wednesday, but I did feel better and I made myself get up and do things.  And then I ran out of things that a sick person can reasonably do.  Going for a bike ride was out of the question, so was putting my syllabus together.  I thought about what I wanted to do, and what I wanted to do was to cook.  But I wasn’t hungry.  The only thing I thought I could eat was more chicken noodle soup, but my husband had only bought the one can.  So I made it from scratch.

This was the first time I had ever made stock, and also the first time I had ever tried to cut up a chicken before cooking it, so I will spare you the pictures of that process.  But I was surprised, after the stock got going, how easy it was.

stock

I mean, you literally just boil a chicken in a lot of water, with an onion, lemon, and spices like garlic, bay leaves, and pepper.

carrots and celery

Then remove all that chunky stuff from the stock, throw some sliced carrots and celery in while you cut up the meat, add the noodles then the meat.  It’s surprisingly simple and so much better than canned.

soup

I rarely had chicken noodle soup when I was sick as a child.  If I did, it was from a can, the kind with the stringy noodles and teeny-tiny pieces of chicken. So, I don’t have any fond memories of this as a comfort food.  But I do believe that old-fashioned remedies have a surprising amount of science hidden in them.  Chicken stock supposedly contains a chemical that acts as a decongestant, and the warm, salty, slightly fatty broth soothes the throat.  I don’t know all the science behind it, but I do know that I felt better enough on Thursday to go to the DMV to get my new Tennessee license and I didn’t need a cough drop all day and that today, Friday, I feel 90% like myself and even managed to run a 12-minute mile, the first time I’ve ever been able to run a mile without stopping.  But I won’t chalk it all up to the soup … I also made chocolate-chip cookies, which make me feel better no matter what is wrong.

cookies

Pasta Salad

When visitors leave, I find that no matter how much I enjoyed their company, I always need some time to be quiet and chill out.  This “cool down” mode also applies to food, especially after my in-laws visit.  It seems like all we do when they are around is eat, or plan where we are eating next.  This was a good thing this week as it got my husband and me out of the house and trying new restaurants in Knoxville.  But it left us feeling, well, like all we had done was eat.

So yesterday, after everyone had left, I knew I needed to make something simple and healthy for dinner.  Inspired by Smitten Kitchen’s Summer Pea and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Salad, I decided to make my own variation using what I had on hand.

Broccoli, Walnuts, Sun-dried Tomatoes,Basil

I’m not sure if you would call this a sun-dried tomato pesto or something else, but it was very tasty.  I attempted to puree almost all of a 7oz jar of sun-dried tomatoes in a blender with olive oil and some red-wine vinaigrette.  I say attempted because my blender isn’t very good and I had larger chunks of tomato than I had envisioned.  I started with two tablespoons of olive oil and one of the vinegar, but added more as I went, probably doubling the amount in the end.

I tossed 2 cups of chopped broccoli in with the whole wheat pasta during the last couple minutes of boiling, drained, then stirred in the pesto/sauce/whatever, followed by half a cup of chopped walnuts and a handful of julienned basil.

Pasta Salad

The walnuts added a nice, unexpected crunch, which even my husband, who would normally turn his nose up at nuts in pasta, enjoyed.  The broccoli and basil provided a fresh, green taste, though I would add more broccoli or an additional vegetable next time.

My husband ate it warm. I had it at room temperature with some shaved Grana Padano.  Either way, it was delicious.

Cobblers and Crisps

My favorite activity in Knoxville so far is to go to the Farmer’s Market on Market Square on Saturdays.  Last week provided a whole lot of happy fruits and there was no way I could resist the plump, juicy blackberries.  I popped three of them in my mouth immediately after purchasing them, one after the other enjoying the ecstatic burst of sweet summer.  I couldn’t wait to have breakfast the next day, knowing that it would be a simple bowl of plain yogurt accompanied by a handful of these lovely things.  I mean, just look at them, you can SEE how good they taste!

Blackberries!

My husband doesn’t eat fruit, so when I buy it, I usually have to do so in tiny quantities; one banana, maybe two apples at a time.  Luckily, we had family visiting (to check out our new digs and new town) so I knew that I could buy the quart of berries and the bag of fragrant peaches and turn them into cobblers.

Finding the blackberries irrestistible, I decided to make those into a cobbler, first.  When I started looking into recipes, though, they were all calling for self-rising flour, which, as you may have guessed from reading my last post, I don’t have.  Nor had I picked up baking powder, yet, either.  So, I made a crisp, which I’ve also heard called a crumble.  I used a variation of a recipe I found at Homestead Farms.  The original recipe actually calls for both peaches and blackberries, but since I wanted to make two kinds of  cobblers, I decided to just add more blackberries.

Blackberry Crisp

3 cups blackberries,

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

In a large bowl toss the blackberries gently with the cornstarch and the granulated sugar until the mixture is combined well. In a small bowl stir together the flour, the brown sugar, the oats, and the salt, add the butter, blending the mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Spread the blackberry mixture in a 9 by 9-inch baking dish and sprinkle the flour and sugar mixture over it and bake the crisp in the middle of a preheated 350°F. oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the top is golden.


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This crisp, or crumble, or whatever you want to call it was awesome!  We had it plain, with vanilla ice cream, heck, I even had it for breakfast one day with yogurt instead of ice cream, although that was a little too much sugar in the morning for me.  Our family stayed for a week, so when this dessert ran out, I made the peach cobbler.  I decided that for such a Southern staple, I would turn to the dusty Paula Deen cookbook given to us by a family friend that lives in Savannah.  I’m not a fan of Paula Deen because I like to eat, well, healthy, but the cookbook is pretty good for those comfort foods and desserts for which you gladly throw health to the wind.  The recipe below is from the 1998 edition.

Peach Cobbler

Batter

1 stick butter

1 cup sugar

3/4 cup self-rising flour

3/4 cup milk

Peach Syrup

2 cups peaches (peeled, cored, sliced)

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put butter in deep baking dish and place in oven to melt. In a saucepan, mix peaches, sugar and water and bring to a boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. In a a bowl, mix sugar and flour; add milk slowly to prevent lumping. Pour over melted butter. Do not stir. Spoon fruit on top, gently pouring in syrup. Still do not stir; batter will rise to top during baking. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes.

Peach Cobbler

As you can see, this cobbler is quite, doughy.  It was like eating sweet dumplings or something.  And I could see butter  on the top of the cobbler and in my bowl.  Gross.  I mean, it tasted good and my aunt, especially, loved it, but I preferred the crisp, by far.  I think it is interesting that the same recipe from The Lady and Sons listed on the Food Network website uses HALF the butter, all else remaining pretty much the same.  I definitely would use half the butter, myself, if I ever made this again.

Bread

I like to think of myself as a baker, for it was through baking that I came to enjoy the process and science of cooking.  I make cookies and cakes that are so good that friends and family request them, or at least hint at them, around their birthdays or other special occasions.  However, I had never made bread, aside from cornbread, until the other day.

You see, I started this blog upon our move to a new state for my job, which doesn’t start until September.  I have just finished graduate school, a long period in which I had no time for hobbies, and I decided to take this free time to take on new projects.  Projects like learning photography, taking up running and cycling, and learning how to bake bread and pastries.  Inspired by the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge at Pinch My Salt (food blogs were something I discovered the week after I graduated … what a delicious way to spend time on the computer that I used to spend writing about research), I picked up Peter Reinhardt’s book and started with the Anadama bread this past Thursday.  Since it was the same day that I also brought home my beautiful specialized bike, I forgot to take pictures.  But it was just as well.  I didn’t have bread flour and had to use all-purpose instead and I felt like the mollasses called for was just too overwhelming.  As a result, I didn’t like the Anadama bread.  I may make it again after I buy some bread flour, but I was just a little disappointed, to be honest.  I was set on baking some bread that I could use for sandwiches, and never one to give up, I decided on Friday to skip ahead in the challenge and make the white bread on page 250(?).  I had still not yet made it out to the store to buy bread flour, so again, I used all-purpose, but this bread turned out much better.  I made a loaf, which I forgot to take a picture of (but take my word it wasn’t very interesting looking, being white bread and all), and with the other half of the dough, made a few giant hamburger buns.

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Finally, I had made bread that I was excited about.  They looked so round and perfectly golden.  I even added sesame seeds for the hell of it, and am very glad that I did!  I mean, they actually look like hamburger buns and they tasted like … well, like flour.  It was in baking, and eating, this bread that I realized just how important having the right kind of flour is; while we had some delicious turkey burgers this weekend on these buns, they were far too dense from all the extra flour I had to add to the recipe to make it less sticky.

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So, before I attempt another recipe in the BBA Challenge, I need to stock up on the proper ingredients!  Still, I made bread this week.  Bread that was edible and quite beautiful.