Mainstay Gatherings

Inspire Me

Spring is all about new beginnings.  And I find myself in awe of how many friends are setting out on new roads.  As excited as I am for these friends and their new adventures, I am also aware of feelings of being somewhat left behind.  So, in an effort to positively move forward, I have been working hard on finding new sources of inspiration.  I have been sewing like crazy and getting into other fun projects, (but many of those will have to wait to be shared)!

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Taking a class can be wonderful inspiration.  It could be a class about something you have always wanted to learn or something that just seems fun, or even a bit random.  I have taken sewing classes that have taken my skills to new levels, as well as a random wool felting class resulting in some cute (and odd) little animals.  Sometimes the best thing about taking a class isn’t the subject as much as what it inspires inside,  who we meet, or simply the satisfaction of creating something with our own hands.

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A few weeks ago a friend, M, and I took a class on how to bake french macarons.  This is not something that I had a particular longing to know how to do… (I know how to buy them really well already).  But, they do hold a certain fascination, don’t they?  They reek of european sophistication and are currently very trendy.  The crisp outer layer, the creamy center, the beautiful pastel colors… These three-layer cookies do make a happy little package, don’t you think?

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And although I wouldn’t typically classify myself as a baker, I was reminded that it is so much fun to learn something new.  There is something wonderfully beneficial in seeing someone demonstrate the intricacies of a recipe or process.  By learning someone’s tips and tricks it removes the mystery and helps us to become a little more brave ourselves.  Since our class a few weeks ago, at least nine batches of macarons have been made between the two of us.  Can you say obsess much?  We are currently looking for qualified taste-testers… Please contact me if you would like to be considered.

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Author’s Note: I am excited to say that I will be taking my first Pantry at Delancey class this weekend.  I have looked forward to trying out the The Pantry for a long time.  It is a food photography workshop, so you can be the judge in future posts as to whether it was worth my time, but I’m sure it will be full of inspiration.

Happy Spring!

Busy Life Black Bean Soup

I have been terribly slow posting so far this year and it is not because I am not thinking about the blog (and you).  It feels as though between PN (post-nanny), additional kid activities, and some exciting projects that I can’t share with you (quite yet), there is just very little time left in the day.  But clearly we still eat, so you might still be interested in knowing what we eat when things feel totally hectic and nuts.  It is not super glamorous, but this Black Bean Soup from Rachel Ray is a healthy staple that Gus and I rely on.  We eat it almost every other week in the winter months.

This is such a super simple recipe, it almost seems crazy to share it.  But I have thought about it many times and I feel like I am holding something back from you by not telling you about it, as it literally saves us on nights where we don’t feel like cooking but want to eat something healthy and delicious.  We always cook a double batch and then freeze additional portions in couple-sized quantities.  Then, on busy nights, we pull it out of the freezer, serve it over a bowl of rice, add avocado, sour cream, cheese, chicken, or anything else we happen to have in the fridge.  We up the quantities of vegetables from Rachel’s version, and sometimes we throw in a can of refried beans to add thickness. When we have leftovers, sometimes this will be the filling to burritos the next night.  What I love most about it is that it is one of those recipes that seems to turn out well no matter what I do to it.

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Black Bean Soup

adapted from Rachel Ray’s Black Bean Stoup

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan
1 large onion, chopped
3 ribs celery with greens, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1 fresh bay leaf or 1 large dried bay leaf
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 red or yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 (15-ounce) cans black beans
2 tablespoons ground cumin, a couple of palms full
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander, 1/3 palm full
Salt and pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons hot sauce, divided
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, diced tomatoes with peppers and onions, or stewed tomatoes
1/2 lime, juiced
3 scallions, chopped
sour cream

Serving ideas:
rice
avocado
cheese, shredded
hot sauce

Directions:

Heat a medium soup pot over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil to the hot pot, then onion, celery, garlic, jalapeno, and bay leaf. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, then add peppers and continue to cook. Drain 2 cans of beans and add them. Use a fork to mash up the beans in the remaining can. Stir the mashed beans into the pot and season with cumin, coriander, salt and pepper and 2 to 3 tablespoons hot sauce. Add stock and tomatoes to the stoup and bring to a bubble. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes over low heat. Add the lime juice. Remove and discard the bay leaf.

Ladle up black bean soup and top with sour cream and scallions.

Rachel Ray likes to serve this “stoup” alongside a hearty sandwich, but as I mentioned above, we prefer to make up a batch of rice and serve the soup on top.  Adding accoutrements like sour cream, cheese, and additional hot sauce.  If I happen to have an avocado, that typically makes its way on top as well.

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Author’s Note: Yikes! Okay, seriously… this just shows how crazy things have been lately.  I published this recipe without remembering that I had a bunch more photos that show this dish completed, served up, and being consumed (above)!  And the worst part?  While prepping this yummy meal, I forgot that I used up the very last drops of the amazing homemade hot sauce! Well, I’ll definitely be making that again…

Enjoy!

Slow-Cooked Carnitas Tacos with Quick Pickled Onions

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Okay, so here we go on something that is full of meat and does not count as a soup.  I feel it is necessary to say that this meal does not photograph well, but I promise you that it is still worth trying.  As I have mentioned, I am a “recovering vegetarian”, but this is a dish of meat that I have been known to eat just over rice… that’s it, meat and rice.  That should say something.  Does it?

This recipe for Slow-Cooked Carnitas Tacos from Epicurious is so amazing simple, it is just perfect for busy lives.  You get the ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning and do not need to think about it again until dinnertime.  When you start this recipe in the morning, all you need are five ingredients (three of which you already have in the pantry).  As long as you make sure to buy an onion and some pork (plus salt, pepper, and oregano), you are ready…  (you can grab the rest of the ingredients on the way home from work, or preschool pick-up or something).  Be sure to make the pickled onions though.  They add crunch and a big flavor punch.

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Step 1:

Slow-Cooked Carnitas Tacos

originally published in Bon Appetit 2008, serves 4
  • 2 pounds boneless country-style pork ribs, pork shoulder (Boston butt), or pork tenderloin, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
  • 1/2 large onion, cut into 4 pieces

preparation

Toss pork in bowl of slow cooker with salt, black pepper, and dried oregano to coat. Place onion pieces atop pork. Cover slow cooker and cook pork on low setting until meat is very tender and falling apart, about 6 hours.

Using slotted spoon, transfer pork to cutting board. Discard onion pieces. Using fingers, shred pork; transfer carnitas to platter.

Step 2:

Quick Pickled Onions

  • 1/4 red onion, sliced
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water

preparation

Mix vinegar, salt and sugar until dissolved.  Add onions, stir.  Add enough water to cover onions.  Ideally the onions will sit in marinade for at least 1/2 hour, but onion’s taste will improve with time in refrigerator, lasting 5 days.

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As with any taco, add the things you like…  Our favorites are rice, shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, pickled onions (recipe above), avocado slices, cilantro sprigs, cabbage, pickled jalapenos, sliced red bell peppers, hot sauce and/or lime.  We added cilantro and lime to our rice as well to add a bit of flavor…

Wrap tortillas in damp kitchen towel; microwave until warm, about 1 minute. Serve carnitas with warm tortillas.

Enjoy!

Step 3:

Taco Assembly:

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Post-Merriment Minestrone

Everyone knows tomorrow there will be resolutions aplenty.  Some may include a more healthful lifestyle, or maybe just a few more vegetables at mealtime.  Either way, this recipe can help.  Do yourself a favor and buy the ingredients today, so that come tomorrow you will be ready to make those resolutions a reality.

The reason to make this soup is the pistou (the Provençal cousin of italian pesto), which is ladled into this traditional vegetable soup, making it aromatic and rich in flavor.  This delicious recipe comes from Pasta & Co. – a legendary Seattle food shop, opened in 1981.  I grew up with Pasta & Co., so the flavors are familiar and comforting to me.  This recipe for Minestrone Genovese was published in 2002 by the original Pasta & Co. owner, Marcella Rosene, in a cookbook called Pasta & Co. By Request.  Rosene has a way of amplifying flavors in pure foods that elevates them to true loveliness.  I think you will find that this recipe, in particular, is just what the doctor ordered in the lull after December holidays.  It may even make you want to keep those pesky New Year resolutions!

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Minestrone Genovese

Makes 13 cups.  Will keep for five days, refrigerated.

 
Pistou Ingredients:
1/3 to 1/2 cup basil leaves, washed dried and finely chopped
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, put through garlic press
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup orzo or melonseed pasta
1/2 cup freshly grated Romano cheese
 
Soup Ingredients:
6 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups carrots, peeled and cut into a 1/4 inch dice
1 cup celery, cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 cups red potatoes, skins on and cut into a 1/2 inch dice
1/2 cup green bell pepper, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1/2 cup zucchini, unpeeled, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1/4 cup best-quality unflavored bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika
10 grinds black pepper
Optional: Very small pinch saffron
2 cups water
1 (8-ounce) can kidney beans, well rinsed and drained OR 3 cups fresh green beans, washed and cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes or 2 cups fresh tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch pieces including all juices
1/2 cup frozen peas or corn (add to soup frozen) – do not use if using fresh green beans (unless you incorporate fresh corn cut from the cob)
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
Parmesan cheese, grated by hand at the table, to top

Preparation:

In medium bowl, whisk together basil, Parmesan, tomato paste, and garlic into a thick paste.  Slowly drizzle in olive oil until it is incorporated.  Set aside.

Cook orzo in a large amount of boiling water until tender.  Drain well and fold into olive oil mixture.  Fold in Romano and set aside.

In a large soup pot, bring the 6 cups of water and the salt to a boil.  Add carrots, onion, and celery and cook 5 minutes.  Add potatoes and cook 5 minutes more.  Add bell pepper, zucchini, bread crumbs, paprika, black pepper, and saffron (if desired) and cook 5 minutes more.

Turn off heat and ladle a couple of cups of the soup into orzo mixture.  Stir well and pour back into the soup pot.  Add the 2 cups of water, kidney beans, tomatoes, frozen peas or corn, and parsley.

Stir to mix.  Serve topped with additional freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

 Happy New Year!

Italian Sausage & Tortellini Soup

So this is my favorite new soup and I think you will love it too.  I had kind of vowed to stop sharing soup recipes, but what can I say, this one is delicious and since I have made it multiple times in the last weeks, that makes it worth sharing.  I recently made a double batch of this soup for a holiday party and I don’t think it is an overstatement to say it was gobbled up and gone.  This Italian Sausage & Tortellini Soup is adapted from one published in the October 1993 issue of Bon Appetit.  And although it is not a new recipe, it is one worth keeping close at hand.

There is something truly lovely about the richness of this soup.  It uses many tablespoons-worth of dried herbs and then simmers for 40 minutes, creating a rich, stewy flavor that is perfect for winter eating.  It also is very easy to pull together and makes the house smell incredible.  This soup works well for a group and can definitely be put in the category of “main dish”, as the pasta and sausage create a heartiness that is nicely filling.  I have made this soup with both pork and chicken sausage and did not notice any appreciable difference, so use whichever you prefer.  I have made it with both chicken & beef broth, and felt both worked well.  I also added some of the slow-roasted tomatoes that I made this summer and froze for later use.  This added to the developed flavor, but is certainly not necessary.  This is a very flexible recipe that adapts well with whatever you have on-hand.  Substituting swiss chard or kale for the zucchini might be nice as well.  Have fun experimenting with this delicious winter dish!

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Italian Sausage & Tortellini Soup

  • 1 pound mild Italian sausage (pork, turkey, or chicken), casings removed
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 4 cups beef stock or canned broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes (I use a 14.5-ounce can of muir glen chopped tomatoes)
  • 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 large zucchini, sliced
  • 1 large carrot, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium-sized green bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 2 tablespoons dried basil
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 8 to 10 ounces purchased fresh cheese tortellini
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Sauté Italian sausage in heavy Dutch oven over medium-high heat until cooked through, crumbling with back of spoon, about 10 minutes. using slotted spoon, transfer sausage to large bowl. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon drippings from Dutch oven. Add onion and garlic to Dutch oven and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Return sausage to Dutch oven. Add stock, 1 cup water, tomatoes, tomato sauce, zucchini, carrot, bell pepper, wine, basil and oregano. Simmer until vegetables are tender, about 40 minutes. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to simmer before continuing.)

Add tortellini to soup and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. If soup has thickened, add the additional cup of water at this point.  Season soup to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls. Sprinkle with Parmesan and serve.

Even my little taste-tester approved… Enjoy!

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Bitters

IF THE BITTER CUP CANNOT BE PASSED, DRINK IT AND BE STRONG

Jeffrey R. Holland

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November has arrived and we need a little restart here on the blog.  September and October were surprisingly busy and I am trying like heck to keep up with my life.  I am also noticing that a different sort of drink is calling my name these days.  As the leaves turn and fall off the trees, one of the warm-ups I relish is a lovely, mixed cocktail.  This is a bit of a departure for me, as in the past I would have called myself a wine or beer drinker, but last winter I discovered rye whiskey and a fabulous cocktail from Zig Zag Cafe, called a Blessed Event.  And it is just that… I was inspired to look at this drink a bit more closely and try to recreate it at home.

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Over the last twenty years, both wineries and breweries experienced a surge in popularity and now it appears to be the distillery’s turn for a time in the spotlight.  Distilleries are popping up all over the Pacific Northwest, as well as a revival of prohibition-style speakeasy bars, specializing in the “craft cocktail”.  As we enter the season for entertaining, I recommend adding classic cocktails to your party menus.  A well-stocked bar is easy to pull together, as long as you have a few ideas of what cocktails you are ready to make for your thirsty guests!

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Bitters are an ingredient in many of these classic cocktails that I had never spent much time thinking about, but they are an intriguing element to be sure.  With only a dash or two, bitters can transform your craft cocktail, adding warmth, complexity, and dimension.  For a full description of bitters, head over to The Kitchn for their conversation on All About Bitters.  Last winter it came to my attention that it is possible to make bitters.  My curiosity was immediately piqued and I tried it.  Over the course of a couple of weeks, I made my own bitters using wonderfully aromatic ingredients like orange peel, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, and cloves.  Although I made this during the summer months, I kept thinking how perfect it would be come autumn.  (Scroll down to see the recipe for orange bitters and the accompanying photos).  But, if a cocktail is what you seek, we’ll start there…

As I mentioned above, this fall has been a crazy one.  We have been getting used to the schedule of kindergarten, and this has been admittedly tougher than I thought it would be.  I’d like to raise a glass to the fact that we are two months into this new elementary school gig and all members of the Poole household are here to tell about it.  Sometimes it is just important to celebrate the fact that you are surviving.  So, without further ado… three “bitter” cocktails that you can raise your respective glass to:   

Part 1: Cocktail Recipes

1)  The Classic Manhatten

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This classic cocktail was my grandmother’s favorite.  Listing it here is a nod to her and how eminently hip she was.

1 3/4 ounces rye whiskey or bourbon

2/3 ounce sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica formula is my favorite)

dash of bitters (homemade orange bitters, recipe below, was used)

maraschino cherry or twist of lemon (my grandmother always drank hers, “Up with a twist.”)

2)  Blessed Event

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As I mentioned above, this is my current fave.  The renowned bartender, Erik Hakinen, at Zig Zag Cafe is credited with its creation, as a twist on the classic Boulevardier.

1 ounce rye whiskey

3/4 ounce sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica formula)

3/4 ounce Campari

1/2 ounce lemon juice

3)  Soda with Bitters

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I loved the article written about the refreshing nature of this simple beverage found here on The Kitchn.  Bitters are known to have a medicinal quality and they add a light and refreshing, yet complex addition to a glass of soda.

Dash or two of bitters (Peychaud’s brand preferred)

Soda water

Wedge of lemon or orange

Cheers!

Part 2:  Making Orange Bitters

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Orange Bitters

  • 2 oranges 
  • 1 bottle (750 ml.) Everclear* (grain alcohol)
  • 10 cardamom pods
  • 2 whole star anise pods
  • 3 cinnamon sticks (each 2 1/2 in.)
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 tsp. chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 cup sugar 

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 250°. Remove zest from oranges with a vegetable peeler and put zest on a baking sheet (save fruit for another use). Bake until zest dries, starts to curl up, and begins to brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool.
  2. Put all ingredients except sugar in a 1-qt. glass jar and seal tightly. Let sit in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks.
  3. Strain liquid through cheesecloth into a 1 1/2- to 2-qt. glass jar (save spice flavorings) and set aside. Put flavorings in a small saucepan with 2 cups water. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Set aside.
  4. Cook sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, lifting and shaking pan occasionally, until sugar caramelizes and turns deep amber, 8 to 10 minutes. Pour caramel into liquid in pan (it will bubble furiously and may firm up). If needed, return pan to medium heat and cook, stirring, for a few minutes until caramel melts again.
  5. Set pan in a bowl of ice water until liquid is cold, about 10 minutes. Pour into jar with first infusion. Seal and let stand in a dark place 5 days.
  6. Strain final mixture through cheesecloth into a glass measuring cup and discard flavorings. Divide bitters into small jars and seal tightly.
  7. Make ahead: Up to 1 year, chilled.
  8. Bottle it: 7.5-in. clear glass bottles
I am so excited to have tried this DIY recipe.  It turned out beautifully and some of you will be receiving it this winter for Christmas.  Now, you will, potentially, know what to do with it!!

Enjoy!