Panzanella With Fresh Burrata

Panzanella With Fresh BurrataBreaking Bread
If you like to bake bread, are just learning, or are trying to master a particular technique, chances are you have found yourself with extra bread that goes stale. Fresh, homemade bread is one of life’s great pleasures. But, it doesn’t last very long. So, you either have to eat it all immediately (not a totally awful idea) or find different ways to use it. Throwing all of your hard work away is just not an option.

There are plenty of ways to use stale bread. You can make fantastic croutons for your salad. French Toast is always delicious—depending on the type of bread. Though, I have been known to make French Toast out of anything that will hold its shape after dunking. Also, never underestimate the power of good bread crumbs when making some meatballs.

Now that we are heading into the warmer months where the tomatoes get better and the idea of a big heavy dinner is unappealing, my mind starts to turn towards meals that are light, don’t require heat to prepare them and still have a lot of flavor. And, if they use up any ingredients like say, stale bread, then so much the better. Panzanella is one of those options.

Panzanella is a classic Italian bread salad that comes in many iterations. I recently found the recipe below and my family is excited about it. Good tomatoes are the key to this recipe. So look for the best ones you can find.

Panzanella With Fresh Burrata Recipe
Yields 4 servings
Adapted from Tuesday Night Mediterranean by Christopher Kimball Read more…

Green Pea Salad with Pea Shoots and Tarragon

Green Pea Salad with Pea Shoots and TarragonThe Vegetable Diaries
Spring break is here—which means it’s time to plant a veggie garden. I’m very excited. I haven’t had a true garden for many years. There have been too many other activities getting in the way of being able to take care of the plants. So, I am beyond motivated.

A few weeks ago I started my seeds. And, we had way too many cubic yards of good planting soil delivered that we used to fill our planter boxes. (I totally over-ordered.)

The waiting has been the hardest part. As a rule, you’re not supposed to plant until the temps stay above 50 degrees—and my patience has been running thin. I tend to jump the gun, usually planting a week or two too early. I showed better restraint this year. I did get the peas in the ground early though, mainly because they like the cold. But, I also chose a variety that is frost-resistant…just in case.

The recent weather has been great. But, the mornings have been a bit chilly. I am crossing my fingers that we are done with the frost. As of this post, all of my tomatoes are in the ground as well as the beans and peppers, both the bells and the spicier versions. I have been growing strawberries in my greenhouse which have recently exploded with so many berries. So, that’s some tastiness to look forward to. My peach tree is also showing significant signs of life.

I am experimenting with grow bags this year and I have to report that so far things are going well. I planted potatoes in them which are super easy to grow. And, from the looks of them, potatoes love grow bags. Grow bags are a great, inexpensive option for those who don’t have the space to have big planters. A friend of mine has had success growing tomatoes in grow bags. So, apartment dwellers take heart, you have options beyond a wine barrel or bulky planters.

With everything in the ground all that is left is the waiting. The peas will probably be the first to produce anything in great numbers. There’s nothing better than fresh peas right out of their pod. Although fresh picked corn on the cob might be a close second…and then there are the tomatoes. It’s great to have options!

Green Pea Salad with Pea Shoots and Tarragon Recipe
Adapted from Alex Guarnaschelli and the Food Network
Yields 4 to 6 servings

This is the ultimate salad for pea-lovers. It showcases three kinds of peas plus pea shoots—which are delicious if you have never tried them! Read more…

“Dirty” Rice (Cajun Rice Dressing)

"Dirty" Rice (Cajun Rice Dressing)Getting’ Dirty
The arrival of February means we leave the dullness of the last days of January and move headlong into a series of events that happen within the span of two weeks. First up is Super Bowl Sunday and while it may not be as exciting this year due to restrictions and whatnot, it is still an afternoon of much-needed and appreciated entertainment. Next comes Valentine’s Day which will also see its celebrations dimmed by the current situation. But, it still gives us something to celebrate and it highlights the importance of letting the ones you love know how you feel. And lastly, bringing up the rear, is Mardi Gras…

I recognize that, outside of Louisiana, Mardi Gras may not be that big of a deal. Ash Wednesday is much more widely observed. I, however, see Mardi Gras as an excuse to make recipes from one of my favorite regional cuisines. This year, because I am still on my trying new things kick, I will be making recipes from my new award-winning cookbook, The Mosquito Supper Club by Melissa Martin.

If you have ever wanted to taste the legit flavors of the Louisiana bayou, this book is for you. On top of that the pages are filled with fantastic stories of the people who live there and about their struggle to earn a living and maintain their way of life in the face of global warming. I have recently made a number of recipes from the book and have yet to find one that wasn’t outstanding. Be prepared to plan ahead, though. These recipes are authentic and require certain ingredients that you just won’t find on the West Coast and will have to be ordered to get the right flavors.

A couple of weeks ago, I made the Braised Duck Legs on a blustery Sunday and the results were fall-off-the-bone fantastic. As suggested by the author, I also made the Rice Dressing to go with it. Rice Dressing is more commonly known to the rest of the United States as “Dirty” Rice because of the “dirty” color that happens when you add the ground meat to it. No matter what you call it, the rice is good eatin’ and can be served along side duck, chicken, beef or turkey. It’s also good on its own with a side salad, fresh green beans, or stewed greens. The recipe makes a lot. But, the rice tastes better the next day—so it’s worth it.

If you have never tasted this Louisiana staple you have definitely been missing out. Don’t be turned off by the inclusion of chicken liver (I don’t use gizzards). It just gives the dish richness. I strongly urge you to give this rice a try.

And, laissez les bons temps rouler, Cher…

“Dirty” Rice (Cajun Rice Dressing) Recipe
Adapted from The Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou by Melissa Martin
Yields 6 to 8 servings Read more…

Brie and Fig Fondue

Brie and Fig FondueTake a Dip
The 70s were a funky time, man. We had bell bottoms and disco. There was a lot of plaid and polyester–tragically sometimes at the same time. (Yikes!) We had 8-track tapes of Abba and the Bee Gees. And let’s not dare forget the abundance of macramé. Be honest, you all had a macramé owl on your wall at some point. As a child of the 70s, I survived all of these. One thing I didn’t experience? Fondue…

It seems strange, really. As a food family, you would think, given its popularity, that fondue would have been a regular occurrence. You would, however, be very wrong. And, apparently this is something that has been missing in my life. That would be the only logical explanation I could come up with that would explain why I quite randomly used a gift card I received for the holidays to purchase two, yes, two, fondue pots, very much out of the blue.

To be fair, I did not order two of the same fondue pots. Why make this wackier than it needs to be? I instead ordered an electric one and the more traditional fondue pot that you keep hot with tea light candles. Why the two versions you ask? Because, and I had no clue this was the case, fondue is not just a pot of melted cheese. One can also Fondue with hot oil or broth. (Mind blown.) For the oil or broth version it is best to have an electric fondue pot so it is easier to control the temperature. Makes perfect sense.

The arrival of said fondue pots—and, of course, the requisite library of fondue cookbooks—was way more exciting than it should have been. (This is what happens when you’ve been locked up with your family for entirely too long and have reached the end of Netflix.) We had to try it out immediately. We opted for a hot broth fondue as well as a cheese fondue. I went with broth because we’re all a little twitchy right now. And, I found the idea of hot oil to be potentially problematic. You will be happy to note that no people were harmed in the making of this fondue. In fact, I was pleased to note that doing fondue this way is essentially like having Asian Hot Pot. (I know, but this was a revelation for me.) The recipe I chose was good but I would like to find another one that has a bit more oompf. When I do, I will make sure to pass it along.

For the cheese, I went with a brie fondue that was so, so good. The original recipe called for fig preserves to be mixed into the melted brie. I thought this would make it too sweet. So, I left it out and served the preserves on the side as a dipping sauce. I think it was better that way, but feel free to try both versions. The cheese “dippers” were a traditional variety of cut bread, veggies and fruits. But, we all agreed the absolute best combo was dipping a crunchy red grape into the cheese. Divine!

Since stormaggedon is upon us and it looks like rain is in the forecast for the next week, now would be a great time to enjoy some hot, melty cheese when the temperatures are chilly outside. Can you dig it?

Brie and Fig Fondue Recipe
Yields 2 to 4 servings
Recipe adapted from The Essential Fondue Cookbook Read more…