Mamma Mia

#instafood

I didn’t have the luxury of growing up in a food driven family. My mom wasn’t the domestic type. I specifically remember one meal she made that left little to be desire. She pulled out a delicious smelling, but not homemade, loaf of garlic bread from the oven. Hungry and eager to dig in, we quickly noticed that she hadn’t taken the plastic wrap off, creating an inedible layer. I cannot remember if we threw the loaf in the trash compactor, or if we cut it the long way and ate the buttery, garlicky middle—something tells me the latter happened—but I think it highlights my mom’s cooking prowess. Eating out and takeout was the Pulkkinen-Harvey way.  Sorry if you read this, mom: you were great at everything else. Except driving…I digress, I digress!

I got a real dosage of home cooking when I dated this kid named Matt Giglio in high school. Minus the large family, they were the stereotypical, loveable, loud Italians. And there was always food on the table. How he and his sister stayed so skinny, I will never know. Despite my true Haitian heritage, and my very English-German last name, I like to think that if kids are in my future (sweet lord I hope they aren’t!) that I would be of the Italian mom variety. Home cooked meals on the table five nights out of the week, whipped together with love and adoration…and of course a little bit of brassy attitude. The other two nights, if you were curious, would be reserved for a nice restaurant meal and the other would be for leftovers. Yeah, I’ve put a little thought into this.

So, a few nights ago I ignored my pungent fish sauce and decided to go the Italian route. Sorry Asian food, you’ll have to wait. I went with the laziest meal possible, while still being able to keep my culinary muscles flexed. Think of it as an ‘active rest’ day in the kitchen. Folks, you guessed it, I made some pasta. And since I can kind of be an ingredient snob from time to time, I turned my nose up at the jarred, thick, preservative laden sauces that filled the shelves. I find that pasta only feels like a heavy meal when slathered in that red goop, so I ventured out and made my own. Well, I actually slightly modified a Martha Stewart version. Something tells me Stewart isn’t an Italian last name, but her sauce utilizes fresh ingredients, so I figured Mamma Giglio, if she could see me, wouldn’t mind.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 pounds unrefrigerated ripe tomatoes (preferably plum)
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic (from 2 garlic cloves), plus more if desired
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Variation: 1 cap-ful of balsamic vinegar to give it a little punch
  • 1 pound spaghetti or spaghettini
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Directions

  1. Finely chop tomatoes, basil, parsley,balsamic, and garlic, and mix together with oil (or pulse ingredients, including oil, in a food processor to blend).*The photo above is an example of a halved recipe. If you are doing the small one, and only have a small food processor, you are going to want to do this in two or possibly three batches
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta, and cook until al dente. Drain pasta, and toss it in a serving bowl with the raw sauce. Transfer to 6 shallow bowls, and drizzle with oil. Serve with cheese.

I like to make the sauce and let it rest for at least fifteen minutes, an hour would be ideal, to let the flavors mingle. This sauce tastes great warmed but, but it is also phenomenal cold. Fresh basil is absolutely necessary in this recipe. The dried kind can’t compare. If you aren’t sure what to do with the leftover basil leaves, which can understandably be a deterrent when buying fresh herbs, make sure to grab a lemon at the grocery store and make some lemon-basil water, which is so refreshing after a workout (yeah, people, I’ve actually been working out!)

Lemom-basil water and my new fruit bowl. Isn’t it massive and magnificent?!

Peel Away ❤

Jocellyn

Foliage and Butternut Squash

#instasoup

I never truly appreciated New England Fall until I spent my first semester of college at High Point University in North Carolina. I expected the leaves to do their gussied up business of turning all orange and rougey, but they kind of just fell off the tree in a zero climax death. Now I see why people travel up north to stop—dangerously—on the side of the road and take snap shots of our calendar worthy foliage, which is still hauntingly beautiful every single year.

I like fall for many reasons. For one I can pull out my arsenal of cowl neck scarves that sit, unloved, in the closet during the humid months. I can eat a few more sweet treats because all the layers of clothing hide my stomach which had to be at attention for days at the beach. And I can also fill said tummy with a variety of soups. I love soups because they give you artistic leeway in the kitchen, they are generally cheap and easy to make, and slurps are inevitable. Who doesn’t love slurping? So, behold the first soup of the season! It’s a homemade butternut squash recipe from the Whole Foods website.

I’ve never really been a huge squash fan or foe—I don’t really eat it much except during Thanksgiving when it takes on an applesauce form—so I was hesitant. Much to my surprise, the soup turned out superb.

It has a wholesome simplicity to it. It’s not filled with a myriad of flavors, but it isn’t bland either. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on top and you have yourself a warm, soothing bowl that can be a main dish or paired with half a sandwich or even chicken. Tip: if you have the self-control to hold off, make it during the evening and don’t eat it until the following afternoon. Just like you shouldn’t immediately cut into meat that’s hot out of the oven, soup also needs time to settle, which allows the flavors to mingle.

Whole Food’s Classic Butternut Squash Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 carrot, diced [I used 2 carrots and omitted the celery; I detest celery]
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cups cubed butternut squash, fresh or frozen [I got more than 4 cups worth for $3.00]
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth [Since this soup doesn’t need lots of expensive ingredients, look for the best broth you can find!]
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Method:

Heat oil in a large soup pot. Add carrot, celery and onion. Cook until vegetables have begun to soften and onion turns translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in butternut squash, thyme, chicken broth, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until squash is fork-tender, about 30 minutes. Use an immersion blender [the best gadget you could possibly buy] to purée soup. Alternatively, let the soup cool slightly and carefully purée in batches in a traditional blender.

Peel Away ❤

Jocellyn

Brined and Fine: The Best Chicken Around

It was the summer of ’06, and I was in the midst of changing hormones, understanding my femininity, and rebelling at almost every level. My friend’s mother surprised us with a trip to NYC to go shopping for clothes—the ultimate dream of any fifteen year old girl. It was our last shopping day and we stumbled upon an outdoor sale of massive proportions. I had just purchased a “totally authentic” Juicy Couture pink track suit (we all remember those, right?) and I was getting a bit hungry. Ignoring my friend’s mother’s strict instructions to not eat any of the street food—whenever the carnival came around town she also gave warned us about talking to the “carnies”, so full of wisdom was Mrs. Fontaine—I stole away to a chicken stand when she wasn’t looking. Placed haphazardly on bamboo sticks, the chicken was juicy and fragrant, with hints of pink insides and oozing green pus (which my friend said reminded her of her infected belly button ring); hunger inspires stupidity in man. Neglecting the obvious signs of salmonella, I munched away greedily. Mrs. Fontaine was less than impressed and I spent the next ten days firmly glued to the toilet seat, unable to keep in Gatorade or broth, regretting that oh so delicious and misguided decision.

Out of fear, I didn’t eat chicken for many months. My mom forced me to start eating it again, but I always found it too dry. If only I could find a chicken recipe that would match the juiciness of the chicken from the street vendor, but spare me the week of lower intestinal havoc. Although I’ve made many satisfying chicken recipes over the last several years, I think this one just has to be number one. The inside was juicy and flavorful—a bit salty but not terribly overpowering. The skin was soft, but not gooey, and absolutely succulent; move aside, crispy rotisserie chicken skin, for there’s a new hen in town.

What really made this humble poultry the piece de resistance was a slow, 30 hour marinating brine bath.

Check out this article for the science behind the wonderful world of brining.

Instagram ❤

This recipe was featured on Smitten Kitchen (so you know it’s going to be good) and she slightly adapted it from Nigella Lawson.

2 cups buttermilk (or soy “buttermilk)**
5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 tablespoon table salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika, plus extra for sprinkling (I used Hungarian, a smoked one would also be delicious)
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 to 3 pounds chicken parts (we used all legs)
Drizzle of olive oil
Flaked or coarse sea salt, to finish

Whisk buttermilk with garlic, table salt, sugar, paprika and lots of freshly ground black pepper in a bowl. Place chicken parts in a gallon-sized freezer bag (or lidded container) and pour buttermilk brine over them, then swish it around so that all parts are covered. Refrigerate for at least 2 but preferably 24 and up to 48 hours.

When ready to roast, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking dish with foil (not absolutely necessary, but Nigella suggested it and I never minded having dish that cleaned up easily). Remove chicken from buttermilk brine and arrange in dish. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, then sprinkle with additional paprika and sea salt to taste. Roast for 30 minutes (for legs; approximately 35 to 40 for breasts), until brown and a bit scorched in spots. Serve immediately

**If you don’t know where to buy buttermilk (or need to go with the non-dairy alternative) you can make something similar. For every cup of milk, put in one tablespoon of lemon juice. Stir together and let the mixture sit for 10 minutes. You’ll notice it starts to curdle. There, now you have butter milk’s first cousin, so there is no excuse not to try this out!

Throw  together some pan seared vegetables, a plump sweet potato (I won’t tell anyone if you want to use a bit of butter and cinnamon), and you’ve got yourself a hearty dinner that’s sure to make your taste buds gyrate!

Peel Away ❤

Jocellyn

Pad Thai Oh My!

When I go out to a restaurant the last thing I order is something I can already make at home; you’d be hard-pressed to see me ordering some basic salmon or grilled chicken. Why pay a premium mark up when it’s something I can make for a fraction of the cost? Nope, I tend to frequent restaurants that make time consuming dishes that I don’t have the ingredients, patience, or cultural prowess to whip up. Case in point: Thai food. I was introduced to Pad Thai sometime in high school. I dabbled around on Thai menus—some drunken noodles here, some yellow curry there—but I always found myself returning to the “spaghetti and meat balls” of Thailand.  Thankfully, Pad Thai isn’t expensive (I don’t think I ever have paid more than $12 for a heaping dish), but I always wanted to try it out in the kitchen. You could imagine my discontent when I pulled up a recipe and was greeted with an ingredient list that rivaled the one I would put together for Santa Clause. Jeeze Louis. Not to mention many of the spices you need for Thai food aren’t necessarily going to be found in a bulk bin or be very cheap.

For months I thought I could only get my Pad Thai fix at the local restaurant…and then I met Pinterest. I was doing my daily peruse of the platform, pinning DIY projects I know I’ll never get around to, when I spotted an easy (and apparently more “authentic”) version of my favorite, noodle dish. If only I had a fainting chaise. I didn’t need to buy any bean sprouts, I could easily leave out the peanuts, and I finally could snub my nose at the long parts of scallions that I always picked out and unceremoniously wiped on my napkin. But would it taste good or be a subpar version of those “DIY Pad Thai Kits” you can get in the International aisle of the grocery store?—do yourself a favor and never, ever get those.

I won’t leave you with baited breath through the pictures and ingredient list, wondering if this recipe made me swoon. I’ll be upfront: it did. I’m officially in love. True, it tastes very little like the Pad Thai of restaurants, but the new flavors were refreshing, muted, and a welcome change. Not to mention it was so easy to pull everything together. Major plus: it reheats far better than the restaurant kind, which is great because they always give you such massive portions, and  I’m always stuck with deciding if I should bring it home and try to reincarnate it the next day, or shovel it all in and accept the inevitable food baby. So many problems are now solved!

Pad Thai

Serves 4 (more like a meager 4 or a hearty 3)

8 ounces dried, wide and flat rice noodles
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus wedges for serving
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 squirt (about 1/8 teaspoon) Sriracha (optional)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
3 scallions (green onions), white and green parts, separated and thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 large eggs, light beaten (optional)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped roasted, salted peanuts

  1. Soak noodles according to package instructions. Drain.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together brown sugar, lime juice, soy sauce, and Sriracha.
  3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat.
  4. Add scallion whites and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Add eggs and cook, scraping skillet with spatula until eggs are almost set (about 30 seconds). Transfer eggs to a plate.
  5. Add noodles, scallion greens, and sauce to skillet. Cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are soft (about 1 minute). Add egg mixture and toss to coat, breaking eggs up gently.
  6. Serve noodles with lime wedges, topped with cilantro and peanuts.

I happened to have some fish sauce that I’d just bought for another recipe this week, so I did 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and a little less than 1 tablespoon of fish sauce. Leave it as is or add some chicken or shrimp.

Peel Away ❤

Jocellyn

The Meals That Got Away

Everything in the kitchen isn’t all sunshine and daisies; sometimes you create  meals that are real stinkers. And, as luck would have it, these off meals are generally the ones you’ve poured the most time and energy into. Nothing sends me into a frenzy of emotional eating  more than taking the third nope-this-isn’t-going-to-work bite of a meal that flopped. By then I’m running to fill the void in my heart (and stomach, duh) with something terrible.  Oddly enough, I got both these recipes off the same blog. Maybe it just isn’t the place for me to get some foodie advice.

Last week I was on Bex Life (I love listening to her talks!) and she had a guest blogger who was giving out a recipe for cauliflower crust pizza. My gluten free heart sang as if it was battling for the win on American Idol.  I love cauliflower and the fact that I didn’t have to utilize any of my insanely pricey gluten-free flour blend made my wallet hum a ditty as well.

Looks are deceiving! The inside was complete mush!

Cauliflower Crust Pizza (serves 3)

Ingredients

Crust:

  • 2 heads cauliflower
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup ground flax
  • 1/4 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 3/4 tsp dried oregano

Toppings:

  • Sauce (I used a box of crushed tomatoes)
  • Fresh Mozzarella, sliced
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor pulse cauliflower until it’s well processed. Scrape down the sides as needed. Lay cauliflower out on a baking sheet, pre- sprayed with non-stick spray or using a slipat. Bake for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and place in a large bowl. Add eggs, grated cheese, flax and spices. Mix together well. Spoon “dough” onto a pizza stone, covered pizza pan* or baking sheet. Bake for 16-17 minutes. Remove from oven. Spoon sauce onto dough and season with spices. Add fresh mozzarella. Bake for 5-7 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

I mean, look how awesome and clean that recipe looks. I managed to find the particular brand of tomatoes—Pomi—she mentions in her video. I even went authentic and sprung from the fresh mozzarella, like any good Italian Mamma would do. Wait, there’s more, I even bought the really shnazzy Boars Head pepperoni. Man, I had high, high hopes, but I knew something wasn’t going right when, after taking the ground up cauliflower out of the oven for the third time, it wasn’t the golden, crispy brown as seen on the video. Mind you my food processor is a fraction of the size of hers, so it took be 12 painstaking batches. I baked the pizza for 30 minutes and had to accept the crust just wasn’t going to set. I was bumming.

The next recipe I tried was a raw vegan carrot soup with a few simple ingredients: seven carrots, two cloves of garlic, one whole avocado, lemon juice, salt & pepper to taste.

You may know I’m a huge fan of making a batch of soup at the beginning of the week during the school year. Now that summer is rolling around I can start looking towards raw, cold soups, which are perfect for the temperatures we’ll (hopefully) be getting in the near future. I had tried out this recipe a few months back, prior to my juicer, and my blender couldn’t handle the pureed carrots. It sputtered, it grumbled, it said “no smooth soup for you!”  I was left with a chunky, off tasting mess. This time I was so ready, but to no avail it still tasted funny. I wanted so desperately to like it, and I’m sure it’s not a bad recipe, but my taste buds just weren’t feeling it.

Needless to say, I was at least able to salvage a few pictures from the creation.

Yup, making food you don’t end up liking sucks. You’ve wasted time, you’ve wasted money, and if you plan out your meals like I do you probably don’t have much lying around to calm those tummy grumbles. Sometimes all you can do is grab a banana, slather it in some peanut butter, and deal with your melodramatics by watching a C-rate Netflix movie while drinking a glass of nice wine that you had been saving for the ill-fated, extravagant meal….I’m not bitter or anything!

Peel Away ❤

Jocellyn