Roasted Rhubarb with Orange, Ginger, and Clove

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Hi! It’s been awhile.

Sometimes we take breaks from certain things in our lives because we want to devote our time to other endeavors. Sometimes we go on hiatus for unintentional reasons. Life happens, and we naturally gravitate towards other matters in our lives that are (or seem to be) more pressing.

My break from blogging was an unintentional one. I so badly wanted to blog, but I’ve been devoting my time to co-chairing the 60th New England Book Show. After 10 months of planning, it’s finally going to happen next week on May 9th. If you’re in the New England area and love books, I encourage you to come!

After the book show is done, I’ll be devoting time to writing and branching out of my comfort zone in that arena. One way I like to practice straying away from what I know is to cook with ingredients I’ve never used before in my kitchen.

One such ingredient…rhubarb!

Surprising, right? I’ve had countless strawberry rhubarb pies, rhubarb cakes, and strawberry rhubarb jam, but I’ve never tried cooking the vegetable on my own.

Here’s what I know about confronting something new:

  1. It can be scary. (“What if I fall flat on my face?”)
  2. It can be exhilarating. (“What if this is the best thing that’s ever happened to me?”)
  3. Whether the predominant feeling skews towards fear or excitement, facing the unknown will, undoubtedly, teach you something valuable and make you a stronger person in some way.

The predominant feeling I felt towards those rhubarb stalks sitting on my kitchen counter absolutely skewed towards excitement. I know I love rhubarb. I also know rhubarb pairs well with sweeter ingredients since its sourness creates a balance of flavor.

“So,” I thought, “Let’s dive in!”

Roasted Rhubarb with Orange, Ginger, and Clove

  • 6 stalks rhubarb, cut on the diagonal in two inch pieces (If you buy rhubarb with the leaves attached, throw those leaves away! They are poisonous!)
  • 1/3 cup sugar (I find this amount achieves the perfect balance of sweet and sour. ½ cup sugar works, but it makes the rhubarb almost too sweet.)
  • 1 tablespoon strawberry jam
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 10 whole cloves
  • seeds from ½ vanilla bean
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Wash rhubarb stalks and cut on the diagonal into two-inch long pieces. Place in a mixing bowl.
  3. Add sugar, strawberry jam, orange zest, grated ginger, cloves, and vanilla bean seeds to the bowl.
  4. Mix it all together!
  5. Let the rhubarb mixture sit for 15 minutes so that the rhubarb begins to release some of its juices.
  6. Place the rhubarb in an 8” by 8” square baking dish and roast at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. The rhubarb should be fork tender, practically pulling apart.
  7. Let cool.

I took one bite of this roasted rhubarb, and I did a little dance in my studio kitchen. The spicy ginger, the simultaneous sweet/sour flavor of the sugared rhubarb, the bright kick of orange zest, and the warm clove all melded together at once on my tongue. Enjoy this beautiful concoction over tangy, plain Greek yogurt and granola or vanilla ice cream.

Baking with rhubarb for the first time has made me a better, more knowledgeable cook. Whether you’re facing a new ingredient, a new feeling, or a new life situation, try to embrace that unknown and all the lessons you will learn from that experience with kindness and gentleness towards yourself.

Have a wonderful week, friends, and go bake some rhubarb!

 

Pork and Chestnut Ragu

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Winter is here, and you know what that means…sickness! Everyone seems to have some form of cold, cough, or sore throat. I’ve definitely caught the bug. While everyone is out and about doing their Christmas shopping, I’ve had to stay in for most of the weekend and take a sick day today from work. This is tougher for me than it should be. General American working culture makes it seem like taking a sick day and, therefore, taking care of yourself, is a bad thing. It’s as if coming into work even though you’re sick is a badge of honor and dedication. Thankfully, I work at a company where culture dictates that taking care of yourself is a top priority. And, who wants to catch my germs, anyways?

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Taking care of yourself 101: Drink mugs and mugs of this beautiful tea—preferably in your favorite mug.

My boss just told me this today, and I think we all need this reminder on the daily: Never apologize for taking care of yourself. You know your needs better than anyone else does.

Part of taking care of myself includes nourishment, of course! When I’m sick, I always muster up the energy to cook myself something, even if it’s just warm chicken broth. Now, when most people are sick, they think “soup!” Well, when I’m sick, the first thing I think of is, “pasta!” (Are you at all surprised?)

So, earlier this week I saw peeled and cooked chestnuts at Trader Joe’s, and something came over me that said “you MUST buy these and cook with them!” even though I’ve never cooked with chestnuts before in my life. I was kicking myself later in the week, staring at these chestnuts dumbfounded. Then I took out all my cookbooks and cooking magazines to look for a recipe. Thank goodness, I found a copy of Jamie Oliver’s magazine (aptly named Jamie Magazine) from November/December 2011. He had a whole section on cooking with chestnuts. Perfect! His recipe was for Chestnut Tagliatelle with Venison Ragu. Well, I hate venison (don’t hate me!) and I did not have the ingredients to make the homemade tagliatelle, so I tweaked the recipe a bit to make my own version of it! Behold (let’s show this beauty pic again…):

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Pork and Chestnut Ragu

  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 vacuum-packed package of peeled and cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup tomato purée
  • 3/4 cup red wine (I used Chianti)
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  1. Add finely chopped carrot, celery, and onion to a sauté pan with 2 tablespoons butter, the bay leaves, cinnamon, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, covered, for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the ground pork and break that up in the pan. Sauté until cooked through.
  3. Add the chestnuts and nutmeg and stir together.
  4. Add the tomato purée, stir in, then add the red wine and stir again.
  5. Add the chicken broth and let the mixture come to a boil. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes.
  6. Add the tomato paste and mix into the sauce. The sauce will thicken at this point and should only need a few more minutes to simmer.
  7. Taste the ragu and add additional salt and pepper to taste.

Serve this with a pasta of your choice. Rigatoni pairs perfectly, if you were looking for a recommendation!

The holiday season is about giving to others, but please remember to give to yourself, too. Happy December!

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

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Today is election day. Today marks a pivotal point in our country’s history. A new chapter is about to begin, and many of us are worried about what the outcome will be this evening.

Before I continue, I urge everyone to vote. Please. We have the incredible right in the United States to make our voices heard. Exercise this right. Do your part to ensure this country goes in the right direction.

Now, because this day is going to be filled with so much apprehension and anxiety, I want to talk about spreading the love.

From an early age, I saw gifts of food as gifts of love. My Mom would bake banana bread or lemon bread for new neighbors to welcome them. She learned this ritual from my great grandmother. During the Depression, my great grandmother “Bunna” would not only make food for her five children, but she would also cook meals for those around her who could not put food on their table that day.

Have you heard of the five love languages? They are quality time, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. We all have our favorite ways of giving and receiving love, and those ways can be placed in one or more of these categories.

Over time, I’ve come to find that I give love through acts of service—specifically when I cook for others. If I cook for you, I’m sending my love to you. The top way I receive love is through words of affirmation. So, if I cook for you, and then you tell me you like what I made, the love comes full circle!

So, where do banana chocolate chip muffins fit into this reflection? It all starts with my Mom’s recipe for banana bread, the bread that she would make and give to others as an act of service, love, and kindness. I adapted that recipe to make muffins—a very portable breakfast staple and the perfect way to make anyone’s morning special.

Bake these muffins. Wake up tomorrow morning. Have a few with a cup of coffee or tea. Bask in the sunshine that is this election being o-v-e-r. Give some of these muffins away out of love. Because, boy, do we need more love right about now.

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup (equal to a half stick) melted butter
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 and 1/2 cup of flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Lightly whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  3. In another bowl, mash the bananas well.
  4. In a third bowl, whisk the egg and sugar until light yellow.
  5. Add the melted butter, vanilla, and bananas to the egg and sugar mixture. Mix well.
  6. Add the flour mixture and mix with a spoon until just incorporated. Don’t overly mix!
  7. Add the chocolate chips and stir until just incorporated.
  8. Line a muffin tin with paper baking cups. Spoon the batter into each cup until it’s about 2/3 full.
  9. Bake for about 20 minutes. Check the muffins with a toothpick—if it comes out cleanly, the muffins are done.

Fall Apple Bake and Bourbon Apple Oatmeal

Have you gone apple picking yet? If not, go now and embrace the season!

I went apple picking a few weeks ago. Here in New England we had a drought, so I had to prepare myself for a different sort of crop. Less water means smaller, less abundant apples. However, when we got to the orchard, the apples were still beautiful and delicious.

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Nature shows us that life does not always happen the way we plan it, and that is okay. Beauty still comes from the unexpected events. This was an imperfect year for apples in New England, but that doesn’t mean these apples were useless. Ohh no. I made two fabulous recipes from them. We, too, can create beautiful things in times of uncertainty, when we are in our own “droughts.” I’ve come to find that expectations can easily disappoint, for they hardly ever represent reality. The true measure of resilience is making the most of your present circumstances, rather than discrediting them for not living up to what you thought was perfect.

On to the APPLES!

My Momma made this apple bake for my sisters and I every year. I unabashedly have it for breakfast, lunch, or dessert with vanilla ice cream.

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Fall Apple Bake

  • 8 medium size tart apples; peeled, cored, and sliced (McIntosh and Cortland are best)
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoons grated orange zest

Topping

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 2 1/2 quart soufflé dish, deep casserole dish, or 12-inch cast iron skillet.
  2. Mix sliced apples, brown sugar, flour (2 tbs), and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add orange juice, lemon juice, and orange zest to the apple mixture and transfer to your baking dish.

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  1. For the topping, mix flour (3/4 cup), salt, and brown sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and break down with either a fork and knife or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
  2. Add the chopped pecans or walnuts to the topping and spread this over the apples.

20160925_144619Bake at 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes. You’ll want the top to be golden brown and the filling to be bubbly!


But wait…there’s more!

Below is the most beautiful breakfast on earth. Make this topping for your oatmeal, and you will start your day off like the champion you are.

Bourbon Apple Oatmeal

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  • 1 Mcintosh Apple, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1.5 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • Cinnamon and Nutmeg to your liking (I like a lot of spice!)
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  1. Melt butter in a skillet.
  2. Add apple slices, water, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Sauté for about 5-7 minutes.
  3. Add bourbon. Sauté for another 3-4 minutes.

Add topping to a serving of steel cut oatmeal. Happiness will ensue.

 

Braised Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Cotija Cheese

Braised Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Cotija Cheese

Today I’m offering a two-part reflection. One on the beauty of cast iron skillets, and another on the deliciousness that is the brussels sprout.


We Should All Be Like Cast Iron Skillets (a poem)

We should all be like cast iron skillets—

A vessel that can take the heat.

Built of strength, it can endure most anything.

With time, it becomes more nonstick,

seasoned, retaining the wisdom of what’s touched its surface before,

letting things go cleanly, more easily.

We should all be like cast iron skillets—

a vessel through which masterpieces are made.

Reliable, it will always be there,

a labor of love lasting a lifetime.


As I grew up, brussels sprouts had a bad reputation. The cliché going around was that one may like vegetables, except for brussels sprouts.

A typical conversation among friends or family members:

Inquiring adult: “Kristina, do you eat your vegetables?”

Kristina (as a child): “Yes, I eat my vegetables!”

Adult: “Which vegetables do you like to eat?”

Kristina: “Well, I like corn, potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, broccoli, all kinds. But I hate brussels sprouts. Gross!”

Here’s the thing—I had never even tried brussels sprouts. I heard such terrible things about this vegetable that I didn’t have the guts to try it until I was maybe 23 years old.

I know. Shameful.

When I did finally try them at a restaurant in Boston, I was floored with how delicious this vegetable really is. Brussels sprouts have a more earthy, cabbage-like flavor that pairs so incredibly well with bacon and cheese. The sprouts caramelize, boasting a hint of sweetness that begs for crispy bacon and salty, yet firm cheese. This is why we see many recipes for brussels sprouts with parmesan, for example. I chose cotija cheese for its mild yet salty qualities. The cheese melts just enough, and then it browns right along with the sprouts at the very end.

This dish is one of my kitchen experiments, and after a few tries, I’ve hit the jackpot of deliciousness. I love serving this as a side dish with baked chicken or on top of pasta. Enjoy, and let me know if you make it!

Braised Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Cotija Cheese

  • 1 lb. brussels sprouts, cut into halves or quarters depending on the sprout’s size
  • 3-4 slices applewood smoked bacon
  • 1/3 cup chicken stock
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed in a garlic press
  • 1/4 cup crumbled cotija cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Slice bacon into pieces about 1/2 inch wide and place into a cast iron skillet. Turn on the heat to medium-high and fry until crispy. Take the crispy bacon pieces out of the pan with a slotted spoon and place bacon into a dish. Set aside.
  2. While the bacon is cooking, prepare your brussels sprouts. Slice off the very bottom of the sprout and throw away. Cut the brussels sprout in half. If the sprout is quite large, you can cut the sprout in half again.
  3. Once the bacon is done cooking, place the brussels sprouts in the cast iron skillet with the bacon fat. Over medium heat, let the sprouts acquire an initial char (about 2 minutes).
  4. Place minced garlic in the pan and stir to incorporate. Add crushed black pepper to taste (I used about 1/4 teaspoon, you can always add more).
  5. Pour 1/3 cup chicken stock into the pan and cover the skillet with a lid. Let the sprouts steam over medium heat for about 5-7 minutes. The liquid should be about evaporated.
  6. Turn up the heat to medium high and let the sprouts caramelize further as the liquid fully evaporates, 1-2 minutes.
  7. Add crispy bacon and crumbled cotija cheese into the pan. Turn off the heat, and allow the cheese to melt just slightly.

 

 

 

Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho

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Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho

Whether we like it or not, our lives are made up of seasons.

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter.

Baby, Child, Teen, Young Adult, Adult, Senior.

Those seasons contain seasons within them. Take fall, for instance. September marks the end of tomato season, giving way to apple season. Squash flourish in October, the orange color of their insides reflecting the color of the outside world, the ever-changing leaves on the trees. The season is not stagnant. There are ebbs and flows within it, peaks and valleys. We may miss the tomatoes, but we have apples and pears and squash and beets to look forward to.

Each season in our lives has similarly functioning peaks and valleys. For example, young adults tend to move many different times. I moved from Columbus, Ohio to Boston for graduate school. I found love. I graduated. I obtained a job in my field. I lost love. I went back to the drawing board of life. I set new goals.

What do we know about seasons? A few things (at the very least):

  1. Each phase of a season is beautiful and necessary. The beginning brings joy. The end brings a despair that only lasts until the hope of a new season emerges—and it always does.
  2. If we try to bring back a season that has already passed, it does not taste as sweet. Eating tomatoes in December is not as pleasant as eating them in August. The fruit won’t be as fresh, flavorful, and bright.

We must enjoy each present season for what it brings to us. What can the joy teach us? What, conversely, can the sadness teach us?

Embrace the now—it is beautiful and necessary in a very particular way.

This past weekend, I embraced the tomato.

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Heirloom tomato magic
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My weekend farmer’s market trip. Success!

It is the beginning of September, and while tomato season is on the cusp of leaving us, they are still available in all their glory. Let’s have one last hurrah, shall we?

While caprese salads are my jam through and through, nothing celebrates fresh, sweet tomato flavor more than cold, smooth gazpacho.

This recipe comes from a summer when I worked in Spain. In my last three weeks there I stayed with my coworker’s family. Her husband was from Asturias, a region in northern Spain, and he was the most hospitable, heartwarming man. The kitchen was his domain, and he created new dishes every evening. When I first arrived at their house, he greeted me with a massive pan of paella. I knew I was in good hands.

Gazpacho was his kitchen staple. While I was used to very chunky renditions of this soup in the U.S., his version was a fresh garden of veg turned creamy.

Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho

  • 9–10 medium heirloom tomatoes (or 3-4 large heirloom tomatoes)
  • 2/3 cup chopped shallots
  • 2/3 cup chopped green pepper
  • 1/4 cup bread broken into pieces
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 11 ice cubes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
  • 1/4 cup cucumber, chopped (optional)
  1. Wash and chop the tomatoes, onion, and pepper. If you choose to add the garlic and cucumber, you can wash and chop those too.
  2. Add ingredients to a blender and blend for 2 minutes.
  3. Break apart about 1/4 cup of bread (2-3 small baguette slices). I suggest using a crustier bread. Stale, dry french bread is the best, but you can also use ciabatta. Add to the blender along with salt and pepper.
  4. Blend for 30 seconds.
  5. Turn on the blender and pour balsamic vinegar and olive oil while the gazpacho blends. This ensures the gazpacho is creamy! Blend for 30 seconds.
  6. Add the ice cubes to the blender right as you are about to serve the soup. Blend until ice is fully incorporated.

If the gazpacho is too grainy or seedy for you, you can pass the ingredients through a fine mesh strainer. This recipe serves about five people, so if your blender is not very large, you may need to make this recipe in batches. I’ll usually cut the recipe in half and make two batches in my blender.