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Kid-Friendly Recipe: Pasta with Browned Butter

22 Jul

This is the best thing there is. Period. End of discussion.

Grace’s hippie sister here, popping in with a quick, kid-friendly recipe.

Remember when you were little, and you hated spaghetti sauce, so you’d bug the crap out of your mom to get her to let you eat noodles with butter and Parmesan cheese instead? Yeah, our mom wouldn’t let us do that very often, either. Most of my adult life has revolved around doing crap Mom wouldn’t let me do when I was little.

The whole skip-the-sauce-and-go-straight-for-the-noodles thing gained an air of legitimacy about 10 years ago, when I had my first encounter with the Old Spaghetti Factory’s awesome spaghetti with browned butter and mizithra cheese, which — the menu assured us — was a great favorite of Homer (the blind poet from ancient Greece, not the fat guy from The Simpsons) while he was writing The Odyssey. As an English teacher, I considered this complete justification for eating as much of the stuff as I wanted.

I was pretty amped when the Old Spaghetti Factory decided to share its recipe for this awesomeness in the Riverfront Times’ annual cookbook. I was even more amped when I found out how ridiculously easy it was to make.

This is the part you throw away. Unless you're me, in which case you savor its salty, buttery goodness while nobody's looking.

Start your pasta. I like capellini because it cooks fast and has a nice texture, but a fatter pasta will work just as well. While the pasta cooks, melt a stick of butter — realbutter, not margarine or “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Toxic Waste” or whatever else you’ve got — over low heat. Stirring constantly, bring the butter to a boil. It will froth and bubble and do all kinds of outrageous things. Just keep stirring until it settles down, takes on an amber color, and smells like heaven. At this point, remove it from the heat and pour it through a strainer to remove any scorched solids. (Have you ever eaten browned butter residue out of a strainer? If not, then, uh, I haven’t either.)

Cheese + butter = awesome.

Drain your pasta, top with embarrassing amounts of grated cheese — the restaurant uses mizithra, a Greek cheese made from sheep’s milk that tastes better than anything else on the planet, but Parmesan will work just fine in a pinch — and drizzle with the browned butter. One stick of butter makes two servings. Unless you’re me, in which case, we’re going to need a bigger boat.


Seasonal Recipe: Homemade Salsa

20 Jul

Snack of champions: chips and homemade salsa.

Grace’s hippie sister, Emily, here, surfacing for the first time in months to share a recipe that should come in handy for anybody who has a vegetable garden (or a neighbor with a garden).

That’s right, kids: It’s salsa time.

Use an entire head of garlic. Seriously.

Start by throwing a big handful of cilantro (one bunch from the grocery store or whatever you have in your garden will do) into a food processor and pulsing it until it’s nice and fine and feathery. Next, take a head of garlic, separate and peel the cloves, cut off the ends, and throw ’em into the food processor. Give ’em a good whirl to mince them, then add hot peppers to taste. Four serranos will give you a nice medium-hot salsa; adjust the quantity to suit your taste, and feel free to substitute whatever peppers you prefer (or need to use up).

I like red onions, but red or yellow will work as well.

Next, add three cored, quartered bell peppers in any color and a peeled, quartered onion, processing after each addition. Add the juice of two or three small limes — proportions aren’t critical, but you want to get a little extra acid in there for canning purposes — and process to mix.

Tomatillos look like little green tomatoes with husks.

If you can put your hands on some tomatillos, peel and core about five of them and add them to the mix at this point. If you can’t, don’t worry about it; they aren’t absolutely necessary, but they do add a nice flavor if you happen to have them. Process, then dump the mixture into a large bowl to make room in the food processor for your tomatoes.

Core and quarter about three pounds of tomatoes (Romas are ideal, but any kind will do; just be aware that the juicier varieties will make a finished product that’s more like picante sauce than salsa) and chop them in the food processor.

Now, here is a neat trick: If you have extra cucumbers that you need to use up, you can add a couple to your salsa at this point, and nobody will be any the wiser. Just chop them finely and stir them in. You’ll never notice them by the time they’ve absorbed the other flavors. You could probably do this with zucchini, too, although I wouldn’t use too much, lest it compromise the texture.

Unless your food processor is huge, you'll have to do half the tomatoes at a time.

Stir everything together in a huge bowl. At this stage, the salsa will probably look kind of bubbly and unappealing. Remedy this by stirring in ground cumin until the froth goes away, then stirring in chili powder until the color looks nice and red.

Salsa cans well in a boiling-water bath.

You can either eat the salsa now or pack it into clean pint jars with an inch of headspace and process in a boiling-water bath for 15 minutes. Serve nice and cold with plenty of tortilla chips or fresh vegetables for dipping. Makes about three quarts.

I like to bring this salsa to office parties. It always impresses people, and it’s safe for vegetarians, diabetics, and various other dieters, especially if you bring celery sticks and cucumber slices for low-carb dipping.

Quick Recipe: Cajun Shrimp with Cheese Grits

14 Jan
Spicy shrimp and cheese grits: the perfect winter warmup.

Red Fork Hippie here, dishing up a warm, hearty way to begin or end a chilly January day: thick, buttery cheese grits spiked with bacon and topped with sauteed shrimp in a spicy roux.

Be forewarned: This ain’t diet food.

The recipe is a riff on an idea I swiped from my favorite Cajun restaurant, Chicory and Chives, which is an awesomely awesome place to have brunch on Saturday mornings, but which also happens to be several miles (and two or three construction zones) away from Red Fork, making it a less-than-ideal choice for weeknight dining. Continue reading

Vegetarian Recipe: Linguine Pesto

11 Jan

Like dining out, only cheaper. And faster.

Grace’s hippie sister, reporting in from Oklahoma with a knockoff of a recipe from her favorite upscale Italian restaurant.

I knew I’d spent way too much time hanging out with Italians when I caught myself adding red wine and olive oil to a batch of Hamburger Helper.

Grace and I grew up surrounded by Italians: Alegnanis, Berras, Calcaterras, Camaratos, Cerniglias, Colombos, Dell’Eras, DeTomasis, Ferraris, Garavalias, Garegnanis, Garnatis, Gualdonis, Marlows, Pisonis, Quaglias, Ranchinos, Sollamis, Spezias, Trapanis, Venegonis … you get the idea.

Somehow, I managed to land in Tulsa — where the Mexican and Lebanese influences tend to dominate the culinary landscape — but while you can take the girl out of Herrin, apparently you can’t take Herrin out of the girl: A cursory glance at the cabinets on a recent Friday afternoon revealed that while I was out of milk, bread, and most other staples, I had plenty of garlic, two kinds of olive oil, and at least seven different types of pasta on hand.

I heard the basil plant on my windowsill calling my name, so I pinched off some leaves and broke out the food processor. It was pesto time. Continue reading

Easy Recipe: French Onion Soup in Bread Bowls

10 Jan

Soup in a bread bowl is a simple but elegant way to warm up on a cold evening.

Gracie’s hippie sister here, using a cold day as an excuse to make one of the warmest of winter dishes.

When I lived in the St. Louis area, my office was just a few blocks from a St. Louis Bread Company restaurant. One of my favorite lunchtime treats was to go to the Bread Company (known outside the St. Louis area as Panera) and have some of their famous onion soup in a bread bowl.

The Panera/SLBC version involved an oversized sourdough roll with a cylinder cut out of the middle to hold the soup.

It was nice, but I think my simple homemade version — which is a lot faster to make than sourdough — is even better, and it really isn’t difficult to make at all. Continue reading

Easy Recipe: Chocolate Truffles

6 Jan

Grace’s big sister here, resisting the temptation to tag this post “breakfast.”

Truffles: the epitome of Christmas candy awesomeness.

I tend to be an extremely lazy cook, but I make an exception in December, when I break out the Complete Wilton Book of Candy (which I value only slightly less than the Bible, and perhaps slightly more than my copy of the Mother Earth News Almanac) and start making candy to give away to people I love and/or wish to impress. Continue reading

Easy Recipe: Dressed-Up Dressing (Pecan-Mushroom Stuffing)

22 Dec

Mushrooms and pecans dress up basic storebought stuffing mix.

Grace’s sister here, offering another low-effort holiday dish.

I’m not sure this one really counts as a recipe, but it certainly beats the alternatives, which include A.) serving plain old storebought dressing, or B.) doing some actual work. Continue reading

Easy Recipe: Scarborough Fair Turkey

17 Dec

(This post brought to you by Emily; the wonderful turkey she made for Thanksgiving is definitely a worthwhile venture for your Christmas dinner table as well!)


Thanksgiving doesn't get any simpler than this quick turkey recipe.

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there,
She once was a true love of mine….

— Anonymous

What do Simon and Garfunkel have to do with Thanksgiving? Plenty, if you’re Grace’s hippie sister (which I am).

The popular ’60s duo’s recording of the traditional English folk song “Scarborough Fair” includes the lines above. In medieval England, plants were assigned meanings, so the herbs mentioned in the song actually represent character traits such as strength, courage, love, etc.

The herbs mentioned in the song also happen to taste good in poultry dishes, so I decided to give my Thanksgiving turkey a little folk-hippie twist this year. The results were so good — and the preparation so simple — that one could just as easily use this recipe for a weeknight supper. Continue reading

Slow-Cooker Recipe: Chicken Stew

30 Nov

Grace’s sister here, checking in with a spur-of-the-moment recipe that turned out better than I expected.

The other day, I had a craving for chicken pot pie — or, more accurately, chicken pot pie filling. I wasn’t particularly interested in the crust. I just wanted the stew inside.

A bag of frozen vegetables and a couple of chicken breasts later, I had something lovely simmering in my Crock-Pot. Continue reading

Seasonal Recipe: Pumpkin Gingersnap Cakies

29 Nov

These little cookie-cake hybrids go well with a glass of milk.

Grace’s hippie sister here, indulging a craving and using up odds and ends as fall starts leaning toward winter.

After Thanksgiving dinner, I discovered I had two things on my hands: two-thirds of a can of leftover pumpkin and an outrageous craving for gingersnaps. I set out to make pumpkin gingersnaps. I fell short of my goal, but the finished product was so tasty that I decided to take the Pee-Wee Herman approach (“I meant to do that! Ha ha!”) and post the recipe for anyone else who might enjoy a simple little treat that’s somewhere between cookies and spice cake. Continue reading