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.

“The Bomb” Ice Cream Sundae — A Tribute to My Grandmother

My grandmother, my Italian Nonna, passed away a few weeks ago.

Memories with Nonna
Memories with Nonna

Nonna Joanne was a fount of confidence, faith, and joy. A meticulous organizer, my Nonna was the boss, the life of the party. Nothing mischievous could get past her. I’ll always remember her laugh, her voice on the phone as she always, without fail, told me how proud of me she was. Though we were only able to see my grandparents twice a year, my Nonna took full advantage of her visits with us. We would play cards together for hours. While she had me and my two sisters at the table, she would chat with us about our lives. The most important lesson she taught me was how to be assertive. There is a way to stand up for yourself without being aggressive or terribly passive. In those chats with her, I learned how to be proud of myself and how to never let anyone else’s mean behavior get in the way of my happiness.

In our summer visits to Massachusetts, it was tradition for me, my sisters, and Nonna to make an ice cream sundae she affectionately titled “The Bomb.” We’d be watching television in the library after dinner, and then suddenly she would say “let’s make the bomb!” We knew exactly what she meant. Down we went to the kitchen, where we grabbed the necessary sweets for this scrumptious concoction.

Nonna Joanne and I, with "The Bomb" Ice Cream Sundae
Nonna Joanne and I, with “The Bomb” Ice Cream Sundae

First, we had to have a fudgy brownie on the bottom. We usually used vanilla ice cream, but moose tracks was an extra special treat. Spoon hot fudge sauce on top of that, lather on the whipped cream, and then top off the sundae with a maraschino cherry or a “truffle” as my Nonna called it. In this picture it looks like we put an Oreo on top!

Though my Nonna is no longer with us in body, she is most definitely with us in spirit. She lives on in my heart as a woman who celebrated life and all of its infinite joys. Ice cream sundaes were one of those little joys she wished to share with her granddaughters.

I made “The Bomb” ice cream sundae yesterday in tribute to her. The sundae may seem simplistic to some, but for me the process of making it fills me with the sweetest of memories.

"The Bomb" Ice Cream Sundae
“The Bomb” Ice Cream Sundae

“The Bomb” Ice Cream Sundae

  • 1 fudgy brownie (You owe it to yourself to make Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownies. I use no other brand.)
  • 1 scoop of vanilla ice cream (Any flavor will do, but I prefer something vanilla based for this sundae.)
  • hot fudge sauce
  • whipped cream
  • 1 maraschino cherry, Oreo cookie, or “truffle”

1. Make one batch of brownies. You can use your own recipe. If you use a brownie mix, buy Ghirardelli. You will not be sorry.

2. Take one brownie (as big as you want), and place in a bowl.

3. Top the brownie with one scoop of vanilla ice cream.

4. Warm hot fudge in the microwave per the package’s instructions. If you make your own, even better!

5. Pour the desired amount of hot fudge on top of the ice cream and brownie.

6. Add your desired amount of whipped cream on top.

7. Finally, top the sundae with a maraschino cherry, Oreo, or “truffle”

The sundae is simple, and simple is best in this case. Everyone’s sundae will come out differently, and that’s the point. Making “The Bomb” sundae allowed my sisters and I to celebrate our uniqueness. Who knew making ice cream sundaes could be so profound?

Here’s to you, Nonna Joanne. Thank you for influencing the woman I have become. Thank you for making the best ice cream sundaes in the world with me. They are, truly, “the bomb.”

French Toast Oatmeal

Before we get into the goodness the title of this post suggests, I’d like to start off with a much-needed life update.

I graduate with my Master’s in May, and that means it’s thesis time. Forty pages in, and I’m marching along. Digital marketing is such an analytical yet creative industry. You interpret data, yes, but you also have to imagine the needs and typical lifestyle of a user on your site or digital apps. While I was an English major in college, both of my Physics professors said I should be a physicist. One of them even wanted me to be a Physics TA and teach it! I love that mixture of objectivity and subjectivity. You can find this marrying of objective and subjective in cooking. There are some elements of the craft that you must follow, through and through, like don’t ever substitute baking soda with baking powder. Food is scientific. On the other hand, taste depends on an individual’s palate. Food is creative, too.

America’s Test Kitchen is treating me well, too! I love working as a Web Editorial Intern. I’m writing their Facebook posts and some Pinterest pins. My blog series on the America’s Test Kitchen Feed is launching March 6th. So exciting! It’s called “#ATKVeg Better Together,” based on The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook. I’ll be highlighting unique flavor combinations in some of the book’s recipes, reflecting on each ingredient before showing how they are the perfect match. My first post involves Roasted Butternut Squash with Goat Cheese, Pecans, and Maple. How do goat cheese, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper taste together? Find out next Friday the 6th!

Roasted Butternut Squash with Goat Cheese, Pecans, and Maple
Roasted Butternut Squash with Goat Cheese, Pecans, and Maple

Lastly, my grandmother passed away a few weeks ago, so I was out of town all last week. She inspired me immensely. I’ll have much more to say about her in a forthcoming post, a tribute to her and the glorious ice cream sundaes we always made together.


Now, for the goods.

Yesterday was my first day with no plans or obligations in a very long time. So, I thought I’d treat myself to a nice breakfast—something sweet but healthy. I craved two things: french toast and oatmeal. Having both would mean a carb overload. What to do? Fuse them together!

French Toast Oatmeal with Dried Apricots and Cranberries
French Toast Oatmeal with Dried Apricots and Cranberries

French Toast Oatmeal

Serves 1

  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats (these cook up far quicker when you’re in a pinch, but steel cut oats would be lovely if you have time. Just remember that the ratio of milk/water to oats will be different with the steel cut variety. Follow the package’s instructions.)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • dried fruit of your choice (I love dried apricots and cranberries. Golden raisins are wonderful. Add as much or as little as you like.)

Note: While I did not add this yesterday, I think a little orange zest would be a fantastic addition. Try it and let me know what you think!

1. Put the oats and milk into a medium pot.

2. Turn the heat to medium-high. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and dried fruit. Mix all ingredients until fully incorporated.

3. Wait until the milk begins to boil on the sides, about 2 minutes. Start stirring more frequently to prevent the oatmeal from sticking on the bottom. Once the mixture starts mildly boiling, cook until oats are tender and reach desired consistency, about 5 minutes. I love my oatmeal nice and thick, but you may like yours more liquid-y.

4. Pour into a bowl and enjoy. I recommend topping the oatmeal with real maple syrup, à la french toast!

Lessons in Chinese Cooking

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a restful, joyous holiday season full of delicious food. My immediate family resides in Ohio, so I was there for about 10 days delighting in family recipes. This holiday was different for me, however, as I met my boyfriend’s family for the first time! His parents are from Shanghai and have resided in Atlanta for a long time now. His mother has the reputation for being an amazing traditional Chinese chef, so I was even more elated with the opportunity to bond and learn a few things from her repertoire!

My flight was delayed four hours, but this did not deter me from missing lunch. Thank goodness.

First, I witnessed Mrs. Chang make scallion pancakes. Her version is a little puffier than you’ll find in Chinese restaurants, but the flavor is the best I’ve tasted. She uses bread dough, fresh scallions, black sesame seeds, and sesame oil to create this masterpiece. The pancakes are placed in a skillet with a little olive oil and water. The pan is then covered so that the pancakes steam until the water evaporates. The heat is then turned on low so that the pancakes have a chance to brown on both sides without getting burned. Note: I am going to attempt these recipes for myself and then provide the full recipe on the blog to be sure I convey the best tips and tricks.

Scallion pancakes
Scallion pancakes

Then I watched as she created steamed pork buns, or shengjian bao. She used the same dough for these as for the scallion pancakes. The dough was broken apart into small balls and rolled out to be round and flat, about the size of a typical sand dollar and about a quarter inch thick. The main ingredients for the filling include ground pork, ginger, garlic, scallion, sherry, one egg, salt, and pepper. From what she told me, I am going to recreate these myself and post the recipe with exact ingredients and measurements. She put a small amount of the ground pork filling in the middle, and then made folds upwards that met in the middle. The buns are cooked the same way as the scallion pancake, with oil and water until the water evaporates, and then the bottoms are browned on lower heat.

Steamed Pork Buns
Steamed Pork Buns

The next day she taught me how to fold wontons and make wonton soup. Mrs. Chang used Twin Marquis wonton wrappers from the Asian supermarket. These have the same filling as the steamed pork buns. You just put a little filling in the center of the wrapper. Take a little water and wet the top edge of the wrapper. Fold the bottom edge of the wrapper “hamburger style” up so that it meets the dampened edge. You then fold the top edge in towards you, and finally fold the two sides down so that they meet at the bottom. You wet one of the edges and then press them together. They kind of look like Italian tortellini! The wontons are then boiled in water until they float to the top. In the meantime, take your bowl and add salt, pepper, sesame oil, fresh scallion, and fresh ginger. When the wontons are done cooking, all you do is ladle the wontons with the hot water into your bowl. So easy!

Folded Wontons
Folded Wontons

Finally, one of the best lunches we had there included a roast chicken stuffed with fried rice. Oh my goodness gracious. The chicken was marinated overnight and came incredibly tender. The fried rice absorbed the flavorful juice from the chicken – need I say more? Again, once I gather exact measurements and ingredients, all will be revealed on how to make this!

Roasted Chicken with Fried Rice Stuffing
Roasted Chicken with Fried Rice Stuffing

What new things did you learn while cooking over the holidays? I hope these discoveries inspire some of your culinary adventures in this new year!