Archive for the 'Recipes' Category



Best recipe of 2007

Best Recipe of 2007More snow fell on Iowa City today, and the weather put me in a mood to cook, and to think about cooking. Luckily, today is also the last day to be part of the 2007 Foodbloggers’ Recipe Collection (which is why I’m going back on all that big talk about how I was done blogging for the year…), so it all worked out well for me. You know, the snow. It worked out well for me. And that’s about the last time I’m ever going to say that.

I had a slow cooker simmering chili all day, prepared with frozen hot peppers acquired at the farmer’s market in September, and with roasted Mexico Midget and Yellow Pear (both ripe and green) tomatoes that I harvested just before the hard freeze back in October.

At lunch, I whipped up a batch of tandoori lamb chops. I did not personally ever meet this lamb, but it came from Farmer Mark and Barbara’s farm, where it frolicked happily before giving itself up to the cause of good eating. I have been trying to track down a picture of the cute little lamb, but have come up empty-handed so far.

All this thoughtfulness about food made it that much harder to select my favorite recipe of the past year. I was able to narrow it down to a list of three: Rosemary-Artichoke Hummus, which has graced the table of so many of my own and others’ parties since I stumbled on that combination over the summer; Warm Green Tomato and Apricot Salad, which I can’t wait to make again when the seasonal timing is right; and Mac and Cheese Like You’ve Never Tasted Before.

All three recipes have their merit. The mac and cheese recipe is one of the most sought-after recipes on my blog, and for good—nay, great—reason. The salad is awfully unexpected and, therefore, even more delicious. And the hummus? Oh, the hummus. I seriously eat that stuff with a spoon…no pita required.

But a choice must be made, and so…I’m going to go with the mac and cheese. It was the first recipe of the year, and remains a winner with its comforting, gooey goodness. It satisfies the palate of vegetarians and carnivores alike, and can be served to the pickiest of eaters without fear that they’ll turn up their nose. It makes no amends for its complete and utter unhealthiness, but I maintain that there’s a time for salad and a time for carbs. When that time for carbs comes around, I hope you’ll consider Mac and Cheese Like You’ve Never Tasted Before. Your taste buds and endorphin receptors will thank you for it.

And a hearty thanks to Sandra from Un tocco di zenzero and Zorra from 1x umrühren bitte for organizing this terrific blog event! I can’t wait to read the round-up on or around December 31.

Roasted cauliflower

Cut up cauliflowerAfter I posted about the Union Square Greenmarket, I have to admit, I was surprised by the clamoring for instruction on roasting cauliflower. I’m glad of it – cauliflower always seems to me to be some kind of stepchild in the world of vegetables: no one pays nearly enough attention to it.

Cauliflower, though, if prepared properly, need not be ignored. And as far as I’m concerned, by properly, I mean roasted.

I know there are plenty of devotees of the steamed variety, and there are plenty of folks who like their cauliflower topped with some kind of cheese sauce or whatever. But at the end of the day, I will stake roasted cauliflower against any of that.

Why? Because it tastes freaking awesome. It’s crispy and crunchy in places, soft in others. It’s caramelized and therefore terrific.

Don’t believe me? Give this recipe a try. You will not regret it.

Roasted cauliflowerRoasted cauliflower
(Serves 4, unless there are two of you who find it eminently tasty, in which case it serves 2)

1 head of cauliflower (white, orange, purple, green…any color cauliflower will work well in this recipe)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Chop up a head of cauliflower. Don’t be too compulsive about it—evenly-sized pieces are fine, even if they are not perfect florets.
  3. Put the cauliflower in a roasting pan or baking pan that will withstand high heat and drizzle it with the olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss.
  4. Roast for approximately 30 to 45 minutes, or until the cauliflower is getting well-browned. Do not short-change this step! Shake the pan once or twice during cooking.
  5. Serve immediately.

This is my contribution for this week’s edition of Weekend Herb Blogging, which is being hosted by Paulchen of Paulchen’s Food Blog. This is the last one of the season, folks…be sure to check out the round-up.

Pear salad with honey-cranberry drizzle

Thanksgiving feastOur family Thanksgiving menu is a little bit of a moving target. Turkey? Check. Stuffing? Check. Cranberry sauce? Check.

But sometimes the sweet potatoes show up roasted, sometimes mashed, sometimes in a pie. Some years, mashed potatoes make an appearance, other years, we save them for another meal. This year, steamed broccoli made the menu.

Yes, steamed broccoli. Come on…don’t you think “steamed broccoli” whenever you think “pilgrim hat?”

We generally have some manner of salad, and this year, Mom mentioned a pear salad in the days leading up to the feasting. However, at a critical moment just before our guests were to arrive, she arranged some romaine leaves on five plates and handed me three washed pears. “Here you go,” she said. “You’re in charge of the salad.”

The moment of truth upon me, I took a look at what I had to work with: one red pear, two yellow pears. Some pecans. Dried cranberries.

I set to work, slicing the pears thinly and arranging them on the plate in the world’s most OCD manner. As it turned out, I needed the whole red pear, and 1.2 yellow pears to accomplish an even number of slices on each plate.

That left me with .8 yellow pear. What do you do with that? It’s not like you can eat it, not when you’re faced with the impending groaning sideboard. And then, inspiration hit. I diced the last .8 pear, mixed that diced pear with dried cranberries, and topped the slices with the mixture. I added crumbled pecans on top, and then had to decide how to finish the dish.

Had I had blue cheese, this is where I would have crumbled some of that, too, and called it a salad. But Mom had just purged the refrigerator of blue cheese, and while she did have some blue cheese dressing in the refrigerator door, it was good that we checked the expiration date: it turned out to be June, and that left me back at the drawing board. It needed a finishing touch, and if it wasn’t to be cheese-related, then I was going to have to improvise an actual dressing.

“I have honey mustard dressing,” she said, but that didn’t jibe with my developing salad fantasy.

“Do you have honey?” I asked.

She did.

“Cranberry juice?”

Also a yes.

And thus was born a slightly sweet, fruit-appropriate, yet Thanksgivingesque dressing for the pear salad. Drizzled overtop, it was delicious, and would also make a nice addition to the table any time you have pears at perfect, sliceable stage of ripeness.

Pear salad with honey-cranberry drizzle
Pear salad (Serves 5)

Enough romaine leaves to line 5 plates
3 pears (preferably different colors, for contrast)
1/3 c. dried cranberries
¼ c. pecan halves
1 ½ Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp cranberry juice

  1. Line the plates with the romaine leaves.
  2. Slice the pears thinly, reserving approximately ¾ of one pear. Arrange the slices evenly on the lettuce leaves.
  3. Dice the remaining pear and mix it with the cranberries. Divide the mixture evenly between the five plates, mounding it in the center of the sliced pears.
  4. Crumble the pecan halves and divide them evenly between the five plates, sprinkling them over the mound of diced pears and dried cranberries.
  5. Whisk together the honey and cranberry juice (adjusting the amount of cranberry juice depending on how thin your honey is – you want this to be a mixture that can be drizzled) and drizzle a small amount over each salad.
  6. Serve immediately.

This is my contribution for Weekend Herb Blogging, which is being hosted this week by Truffle of What’s On My Plate. Stop by later in the weekend for the full round-up of recipes and other herb, veggie and fruit goodness!

Time to chestnut up

Raw chestnutsBack when I was a reporter, I wrote about all kinds of things I’d never done. Arresting people as part of a narcotics jump-out squad. Marching in a Christmas parade. Dealing with the Maryland welfare system.

But I almost never write about things I haven’t eaten.

A couple of months ago, armed with an assignment, I began doing the research on Iowa-grown chestnuts. I grew up wondering what a chestnut roasted over an open fire really tasted like—after all, Bing Crosby made them sound delicious—but when I asked my parents, they told me chestnuts were pretty disappointing. Not worth the effort. Not worth the lyric.

Not so, said the chestnut growers I talked to for my recent article in Edible Iowa River Valley. In fact, it turns out that the reason most Americans hate chestnuts is because the nut is perishable, and the ones usually found in stores and at street vendors in major cities around Thanksgiving and Christmas are low-quality product shipped in from Italy without proper preservation. The song doesn’t say “Moldy chestnuts roasted over an open fire,” after all.

It was time to nut up.

After my article came out, I bought some of the locally-produced chestnuts at the Co-op and put them in the refrigerator. That’s what the producers told me to do, after all. And then I left them there for a couple of weeks because I had not officially figured out what to do with them.

“I think you can just roast them in the oven,” The Mint Killer told me. “Word is you just make a cut in their shells and they open right up.”

Knifes and nut shells. In my experience, that was a no-win situation, but I figured I’d give it a try.

To my surprise, the knife sliced right into the shell. It’s softer than you might imagine, Cross-cut chestnutsalthough I recommend going in knife-tip first so you don’t skitter the knife off the surface into your finger.

The traditional cut is a cross-hatch, but I read somewhere (don’t ask me where…I’ll probably never find it again…) that it was just fine to make a single cut across the flat side of the nut. I decided to try both options just to see what would happen, X marks the chestnutand it turns out both options work just as well. Either way, the nuts open right up when roasting.

As I was interviewing for the article, I learned that all the chestnut growers like to eat the nuts raw. They cure them first, letting the nuts’ starches turn into sugars, but then they described them as sweet and delicious. As I sliced, I decided to give a few a try in the raw, and I can report the growers weren’t kidding—the nuts were tasty in their uncooked state.

But once roasted, the nuts popped almost unaided out of their shells and they were sublime. They were slightly sweet, slightly nutty, and definitely worth singing about.

Roasted chestnutsRoasted chestnuts

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut an x-shaped or single-line slice in the flat side of each nut’s shell, and roast them for 15 to 20 minutes. Shake the pan at least once midway through roasting. As soon as the nuts are cool enough to touch, serve them up, or peel them and reserve the roasted nuts for use in other recipes. The roasted nuts can also be peeled and frozen for up to six months.

This is my contribution to this week’s edition of Weekend Herb Blogging, which will be hosted this week by Vanessa at What Geeks Eat. Stop by later in the weekend for the full round-up!

Blackberry-ginger-sage vinaigrette

Sage in dressingI don’t know why I get so lazy about salad dressing. It’s an easy thing to make, really. Mix some oil, some acid, something to give it pizzazz, and call it a day. Salad dressing made at home inevitably tastes better than anything that has a shelf life of a year or two, and it’s such a cinch to whip up…I don’t know why more people don’t do it.

You know, more people. Like me. I probably make salad dressing a couple of times a year. Sure, I splash my greens with olive oil and balsamic on many occasions, but actually mixing up a batch of dressing? I don’t do that nearly enough.

I was inspired, this time, by a blackberry-sage mojito served at a bar in downtown Iowa City. I haven’t even tried the drink, but the flavor combination intrigued me, and I certainly have plenty of sage out back. I also have acquired some excellent blackberry-ginger balsamic vinegar, which really gives this dressing an intense and delicious flavor. If you don’t have a version of blackberry-ginger balsamic available at a local market, consider substituting regular balsamic and throwing some minced fresh ginger (no more than a teaspoon, please, or you’ll overpower the sage) into the mix. You’ll miss out on the blackberry, but I think there will be plenty to keep you occupied.

This is the dressing I served on my flower salad a couple of weeks ago. See? I promised I’d share the recipe eventually…

Salad dressingBlackberry-ginger-sage Vinaigrette
(Makes about 3/4 c.)

1/4 c. blackberry-ginger balsamic vinegar
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c. sage leaves, sliced
Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste

  1. Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive dish. Whisk until all ingredients are fully incorporated.
  2. Taste to adjust seasonings, and serve over salad. Leftover dressing keeps well in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

This is my entry for this week’s edition of Weekend Herb Blogging, which is hosted this week by Pille from nami-nami. Please stop by later in the weekend for the full round-up of recipes!


Getting in touch

Need garden advice? Then you probably shouldn't send me an email.

Also, please note that this site has now relocated and will not be updated. You can find me at the new and improved location.

Take a look back…



All words and images (unless otherwise credited) on The Inadvertent Gardener are © 2006-2008 Eugenia E. Gratto. All rights reserved.

Drop in & Decorate

Bake. Decorate. Donate.
Free guide tells you how!