Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Facelift + Spaghetti with Spinach, Tomato, and Ricotta

I am slowly working on updating my blog, hoping to give it a more fresh, professional look. Please bear with me over the next few weeks- I'm new at this. I've changed the title to something a little more, um, English, so don't be thrown off. This is still Nic's blog. Thanks in advance for your patience. Now, onward!

The time has come again, dear reader, for my bi-weekly clean-out-the-fridge meal. Before I cared about things like wastefulness and frugality, I would, on a very regular basis, recklessly throw out leftover bits of produce and meat that I didn't plan to use for later meals; now, I make it a point to leave a few days open on my monthly meal plan to find a tasty way to incorporate every last green leaf, bit of cheese, herb, and scrap of meat in my refrigerator into something tasty. This can sometimes prove challenging when the only items I have to work with are things like beef bones, watermelon rind, and alfalfa sprouts (yes, it's happened, and yes, we ordered pizza that night), but this week's refrigerator forage made for an exceptionally easy, quick meal. I had about half a cup of canned tomatoes leftover from who knows what (summer tomatoes, please come quickly!), several handfuls of baby spinach from the hub's sandwich stash hanging on for dear life, and a couple spoonfuls of ricotta left from a lasagna I made last week. Easy.

Spaghetti with Spinach, Tomato, and Ricotta.

1/3 lb spaghetti (or pasta of choice)
2 Tbs olive oil
several handfuls of spinach (or rapini, kale, or chard)
salt
hot pepper flakes
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 to 1 cup of canned tomatoes, diced (or 2 fresh roma tomatoes, seeded and diced)
A few spoonfuls of ricotta cheese.


1. Boil pasta in well-salted water to al dente (don't skip the "well-salted water" part. It makes a big difference).

2. While pasta boils, sautee greens in olive oil until wilted. Add salt to taste, hot pepper flakes to taste (just a couple pinches worked for me), and garlic and cook for one minute. Add tomatoes and heat through.

3. Drain pasta and distribute into bowls. Stir ricotta and tomato mixture together and spoon on top of pasta. Serve immediately.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Hibernation Stew

Let's travel back in time for a bit, shall we? Last weekend, Yves and I spent the day outside and enjoyed a balmy, 80 degree Saturday tilling the garden in preparation for this weekend, which was supposed to be spent planting in the garden. I had visions of tomatoes, melons, berries, and herbs, and all of the bountiful promise they entailed dancing through my head. Fast forward to today: Mother Nature has had a major mood swing. It's 21 degrees out and falling, and we're in the middle of a blizzard. My dreams of sun, earthworms, soil, and seeds have been utterly dashed; in fact, I can't even see my garden area through the blowing snow. Go figure... But hey, I'm adaptable. Miss Nature can throw all the sleet, freezing rain, snow, and blustery winds she wants my way- it just gives me a perfect reason to throw on a pot of stew and have a quiet, snowed-in evening with the hubs. How romantic is that?


I found this recipe over at simplyrecipes.com. I've made it several times, once following the recipe and then making several substitutions (not that the original isn't good-it's great- but I always play around with soups and stews). I love this stew because it involves lamb and the broth is mostly wine. Really, I should stop there, because that's reason enough to try it, but lest you need more convincing, this recipe is quite versatile and can take a lot of experimentation without losing its integrity. This time around, I used beef instead of lamb because I didn't have any lamb on hand, and I get my lamb from a farm that isn't exactly accessible during blizzards. But if you're not snowbound, get thee to your local grocer/farmer/field full of sheep and get some lamb. I also didn't have any roasted red peppers, but I made up for it by making a few other alterations and switched things up a bit- thyme instead of rosemary, beef stock instead of chicken stock, regular paprika instead of sweet, and I threw in some chunks of sweet potatoes (not yams)... which, I realize, completely changes the flavor profile, but hey, this is my blog and I can do what I want, and it was delicious. Whether you follow the recipe or just use it as a guideline, this recipe is worth keeping in your back pocket for a snowy day.


Basque Lamb Stew


3 1/2 lbs. lamb shoulder, cut into 2 inch pieces
6 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
3 canned roasted red bell peppers, cut into 1/2 inch strips
1 large ripe tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
4-6 sprigs parsley, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup dry, full-bodied red wine
1/2 cup chicken stock

1 Combine the lamb, 3 of the garlic cloves, rosemary, and white wine in a medium bowl. Let marinate for 2-3 hours. Drain the meat, discard the marinade, and pat dry with paper towels. Mince the remaining 3 garlic cloves and set aside. (Nicole's note: I NEVER throw out the marinade. I just fish out the herb sprigs and garlic cloves and save the marinade to add to the stew when the red wine is added. Sometimes I don't even add the stock- I just use the marinade and the red wine.)

2 Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan with lid, over medium-high heat. Working in batches, brown the meat on all sides, about 10 minutes per batch. Return all meat to the pot. Add onions, minced garlic, and salt and pepper to taste, and cook, scraping browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon, until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in paprika, add roasted peppers, tomatoes, parsley, bay leaf, and red wine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until juices in pot reduce and thicken slightly, about 10-15 minutes.

3 Add chicken stock, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until meat is very tender, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Adjust seasonings.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lemon Extract

I have finally dwindled my lemon stash down to just over a dozen lemons. I've made lemonade (more on that later), several lemon cakes, lemon curd, and I've put lemon in every meal I've made for the past 5 days. Frankly, I'm a bit lemoned-out, so I zested and juiced a good chunk of the stash and now have fresh juice and zest crowding my already space-challenged freezer.

I didn't freeze all of the zest, though. While I was giving my homemade vanilla extract its weekly shakeup (more on that later, too), I figured I could make some lemon extract with some wide strips of lemon peel. Its super easy and doesn't really require a recipe, or any effort- just place a few strips of lemon peel in a glass jar (I use small jam jars or canning jars) and top off with vodka (I ended up using rum, because I use it to flavor buttercream and I like the rumminess, but vodka will give you a much cleaner flavor). Let it sit for 6 to 8 weeks in your pantry, and give it a good shake or two every week, and you'll soon have a good-quality lemon extract.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Shaved Fennel, Mushroom, and Pecorino Romano Salad


Though spring has officially arrived and I want nothing more than to dive headfirst into seasonally-correct cooking, I have to contend with what I have for now. At the moment, I still have several wintery fennel bulbs hanging on for dear life in my refrigerator, taunting me with their crisp, licorice-y flesh and aromatic fronds every time I peer into the crisper. Luckily, fennel happens to be one of my favorite winter vegetables. As tempting as it is to throw it into a roasting pan with some other root veggies and a small bird, I just want something incredibly satisfying and fresh without all of that heat coming out of my kitchen.

Pretty? No. Tasty? Oh yeah.

I've always held to the idea that when you have good quality ingredients, you can make a very satisfying dish without doing much. And really, when the weather is this beautiful, the last place I want to be is stuck behind the stove for hours on end. This is probably my favorite salad... at the moment, anyways. (I'm a fickle girl; I'll have a new favorite in a couple of weeks). Maybe it would be more meaningful to say that this is my all-time favorite salad involving raw mushrooms? Ok, that doesn't mean much, either, but whatever. It's a really good salad, and I plan to eat a lot of it over the next couple of weeks while I can still get my hands on good fennel. I absolutely love the play on flavor and texture between the fennel and the Pecorino Romano, and I like to use just enough fennel to be noticed without being overpowering, but it's a versatile dish, so you can use whatever fennel-to-mushroom ratio you like.



Shaved Fennel, Mushroom, and Pecorino Romano Salad
(Alice Waters)

1/2 bulb fennel, shaved into thin slices
Several small button mushrooms, sliced
A chunk of Pecorino Romano cheese (or similar cheese)
Salt, for sprinkling
Good-quality extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

On serving plate, layer mushrooms and fennel, sprinkling salt and drizzling every couple of layers. Top salad with pieces of shaved cheese (use a vegetable peeler to shave the block of cheese). Serve immediately.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Lemon-Glazed Butter Cake

The first weekend of spring could not possibly be more beautiful this year. The hubs and I spent almost all day outside tilling the garden and prepping a few new planting areas, and I couldn't have been more content to spend my day any other way. To top it off, I have the evening to play with my lemon stash, which I'm finally starting to put a dent in.


Today, I am trying a lemon cake recipe from this month's issue of Gourmet, which couldn't have come at a better time: the dessert section this month features, of all things, lemons. Hallelujah! The Lemon-Glazed Butter Cake recipe looked simple enough to not require a lot of thought or work, which, after a day spent digging and tilling in the garden, sounds perfect. Instead of the suggested 8x2" round cake pan, I split the batter between two 8x4" loaf pans for two thin cakes. They turned out perfectly, with the edges just shy of crunchy and a delightfully moist crumb. I can't help but smile when I experience the combination of sunny yellow color, satisfying mouthfeel, and perfect interplay of lemon and butter. I love how this cake's humble looks belie the lemony goodness inside. This cake is delicious on its own, but it would be fantastic dressed up with fresh berries and whipped cream (or my personal favorite, gingered whipped cream).


Lemon-Glazed Butter Cake
(from Gourmet)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
rounded 1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp whole milk
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs at room temp. 30 minutes
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Garnish: confectioner's sugar for dusting

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in middle. Butter and flour an 8x2" round cake pan.

2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir together milk, zest, and vanilla.

3. Beat together butter and granulated sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

4. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with milk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mixing until each addition is just incorporated.

5. Pour batter into cake pan and smooth top, then rap gently on counter to release any air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes.

6. Whisk together confectioners sugar and lemon juice until smooth.

7. Turn out cake onto a rack set over a baking sheet, then reinvert. Brush top and side of cake with all of glaze. Cool completely.

This cake can be baked and glazed one day ahead and cooled at room temperature.

Friday, March 20, 2009

1-2-3-4 Cake

It's the first day of spring, and I am absolutely drowning in lemons. Remember that enormous delivery of lemons my husband trotted home with the other day? Well, after seeing the look of sheer glee on my face when he walked in with that cornucopia of citrus, my well-meaning, ever-seeking-to-please-me hubby went back to work the next day and hijacked the rest of the lemons from the community grab box, and I now have 54 lemons haplessly lounging on my kitchen table. Yeah. FIFTY-FOUR.

While I try to figure out how I can make these lemons the best that they can be, let me share a simple cake recipe with you: 1-2-3-4 cake, the ultimate non-baker's cake. It's probably the most basic, most well-known cake out there, mainly because name makes the recipe very easy to remember- 1 cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour, and 4 eggs. I call it a non-baker's cake because in its most basic form, there's nothing fussy involved in making it, it's versatile, and it's a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. While I wouldn't base a whole bakery business model on it (like many professional bakers do), I do think that it's a recipe that everyone should have in their repertoire for birthdays, family reunions, or for when you're just happy it's the first day of spring and want to celebrate.


1-2-3-4 Cake

Ingredients:

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups sifted cake flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour cake pans.*

2. In mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy (mixture will be almost white). Beat in eggs, one at a time, and add vanilla.

3. In another bowl, stir baking power and salt into flour. Add flour mixture and milk to creamed butter mixture alternately, starting with one-third of the flour. Stir just until incorporated.

4. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake until toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cake cool in pan for 20 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack and let cool completely before filling (I frequently use lemon curd) and frosting (recipe for swiss buttercream below).

*This recipe makes a 3-layer cake, or 24 cupcakes in muffin tins, or 30 cupcakes using liners, or a 12x18" sheet cake.

NOTES:

1. For a lighter, fluffier cake (my preferred way to make it), separate the egg yolks from the whites and add just the yolks into the creamed butter. Beat the whites to soft peaks and gently fold them into the batter after all the flour and milk has been incorporated into the batter.

2. For different variations, you can add a tablespoon of lemon zest and a couple teaspoons of lemon juice to the batter; you can also substitute almond extract for the vanilla extract.



Swiss Buttercream Frosting:
6 large egg whites- should equal about one cup
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups butter
1/2 Tbs. vanilla extract


1. In a double boiler (or, in my case, a metal bowl precariously balanced on a pot of simmering water), whisk egg whites and sugar together until sugar is completely dissolved (you don't want any granules of sugar remaining in the mixture).

2. Pour the mixture into your mixer bowl and whip until white and doubled in size. Add butter and whip until light and fluffy- and then whip more and watch it get even better. The first time I made this, I whipped past what I thought was finished, and I'm glad I did. It's fantastic stuff.

The pictures posted above are all of a hastily decorated cake done with just plain buttercream and only two decorating tips (sloppy, I know, but done in less than 20 minutes) but I've found that a bit of white chocolate ganache mixed into the buttercream makes perfect icing for piping details, like vine work or cornelli lace:


And you know what my favorite thing about it is? It actually tastes as good, if not better, than it looks. Happy baking!






Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lemon Lust.

Last night, as I was recuperating from a horrible bout with what I can only assume was a 4-hour stomach bug (if such a thing exists), my husband walked in with a lemon the size of his hand. Now, my husband isn't exactly a wee man- he's 6'6 (think Michael Jordan- sized)- so any piece of citrus that fills his hand is just monstrously huge. In a hushed voice, I asked "Where did you get that?" Imagine my shock and awe when he said with a wry smile "Oh, there's more where that came from, baby" and produced a box piled high with gorgeous yellow lemons. Really, it was breathtaking, especially for someone who used to get oranges from her grandma's trees in Florida and is now living in a veritable citrus wasteland.


Apparently, one of his coworkers went on vacation to Arizona and visited her parents who have citrus trees on their property. She brought back dozens of lemons, oranges, and a few grapefruits for whoever wanted them at work. Of course, most people only took a few; Yves, however, knew better and picked up at least 30 lemons, 15 oranges, and a couple of grapefruits for me, lest he face a sobbing mess of a wife if I were to learn he passed up on free fresh citrus. What can I say- the man knows what makes me happy.


So what does one do with such a citrus cornucopia? I, for one, start with lemon curd! Oh, there are lemon tarts and bars and cakes and pavlovas to be had, but curd... that's where it's at for me. It's fantastic as a cake filling, or in thumbprint cookies, or just straight from the jar at 2 a.m. (hey, don't judge!). I also like to give it as gifts to my friends. This recipe is for quite a large batch, but you can scale it down to suit your needs.

Lemon or Lime Curd
(From Toba Garret)

Ingredients

8 large eggs
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 lbs (648g) granulated sugar
zest of 10 medium-large lemons or limes
12 fl oz (360 ml) fresh lemon or lime juice (about 10)
1 1/2 cups (345g or 3/4 lb) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces

1. Beat the whole eggs, egg yolks and sugar together in a stainless steel bowl until well combined. Add lemon zest, lemon juice and butter.

2. Cook in a double boiler over simmering watter, stirring constantly until the curd starts to thicken, about 15 to 20 minutes. The curd is ready when it coats the back of a spoon. Strain immediately and cool over an ice bath.

3. Store the curd in a plastic container covered with plastic wrap directly on the curd (no air should get to the top surface). This prevents a skin from forming. Cover with the lid. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Note: If 10 lemons or limes didn't give you the required 12 oz (360 ml) of juice, squeeze more lemons/limes. You can also substitute oranges to create orange curd.

Storage: This curd will last refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. It will last 2 to 3 months if frozen.

Yield: 5 1/2 cups (1.3 L).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pizza, My Way

This time of year, most people look forward to the gentle harbingers of spring: lightly chirping birds, fragrant spring rains, the year's first crocus buds pushing through the soil. In Kansas, however, just in case we miss all the delicate signs of the season, we have more forceful reminders that spring has arrived- namely, tornadoes- and this weekend, spring arrived with a vengeance. It took less than 5 minutes to turn our clear blue Kansas sky into a whirl of angry darkness, spewing forth hail, heavy rain, strong wind, and other storm-associated wrathfulness.
Once the sirens started blaring, the hubs and I hung out in the basement for all of ten minutes, and then, as quickly as it started, the storm ended. We found out later that a few tornadoes had either touched down or been spotted in the area, but nothing severe. No damage, no injuries- just a quick announcement that spring is here. Yay spring!

To celebrate the official change of season, I made the (un)official celebratory food: pizza! Really, I just had a bunch of random ingredients that I knew I could use for a good pizza, but that's why I love this stuff. It's so versatile- you can put pretty much anything on it, so you can cater it to your own tastes and nutritional needs- and it covers all of the major food groups. I can almost ALWAYS find a nice melange of ingredients laying around to make a good pizza. What more could you want?

I prefer pizza with very little to no sauce (with a few exceptions) and I don't like any meats gracing my pizza except prosciutto. Fortunately, I had some leftover various mushrooms, spinach, shallots, random sprigs of fresh herbs, and chevre lounging in my kitchen just waiting to be utilized in a manner pleasing to moi. This recipe guideline (it really is just a guideline- no set amounts of anything, just however you like it) is my usual fallback for pizza (though I love making pizza margherita almost as often), but you can put whatever you want on yours. You know, have it your way.

Shallot

Pizza, my way

1 batch pizza dough (recipe follows)
Olive oil
1 small red onion, sliced OR a few shallots, sliced
various wild mushrooms, sliced OR sliced portabellas
Flake salt
Spinach leaves
A few sprigs of various herbs
Chevre


Preheat oven to highest heat with pizza stone in oven. If you don't have a pizza stone, use a baking sheet.

Sautee red onion/shallots and mushrooms for a few minutes in olive oil. Sprinkle with a few pinches of salt, add spinach and herbs and cook a few minutes more. After pizza dough is formed and ready to cook, cut/break small chunks of chevre and scatter across pizza dough. Top with sauteed mushroom mix and a few more chunks of cheese and lightly drizzle with olive oil, then transfer pizza to pizza stone and bake 7-10 minutes. Serve immediately.



Pizza Dough
(Adapted from smittenkitchen


Yield: One small, thin-crust pizza

Dough
6 tablespoons warm water (may need up to 1 or 2 tablespoons more water)
2 tablespoons white wine
3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups flour

Assembly
Cornmeal for sprinkling
Flour for dusting counter


Wee Yeasties

Whisk wine, water and yeast in a medium bowl until yeast has dissolved. Add honey, salt and olive oil and stir. Add flour and no matter how dry it looks, work it with a spoon and your fingers until it comes together as a dough. Add more water one tablespoon at a time if you need, but this is almost never necessary.

Sprinkle some flour on the counter and knead the dough for a minute or two.

Put the dough in an oiled bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rise for an hour or up to two, until it is doubled.

Once the dough has doubled, turn it out onto a floured counter and gently deflate the dough with the palm of your hands. Form it into a ball and let it rest on a floured spot with either plastic wrap over it (sprinkle the top of the dough with flour so it doesn’t stick) or an upended bowl. In 15 minutes, it is ready to roll out. Do so on the floured counter until pretty thin, then lift it onto a cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheet or pizza paddle.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Browned Butter Brown Sugar Cookies

I am not one easily excited by a cookie. Give me a lemon tart, a bite of flourless chocolate cake, or a slice of chocolate babka any day and you can keep your cookie. I've had more than my share of mediocre, one-note cookies and few truly good ones ...but just one bite of these browned butter wonders has me reconsidering my stance on cookies altogether. My first bite elicited an enraptured "Ooooohhhh... oohhhh...mmmm..." from my usually critical lips. You think I jest? Try them. I submit that these are the best cookies that will ever emerge from your oven. You won't give them as gifts, and you won't make them for guests; you will keep them for only yourself and (maybe) your family.

These cookies are an incredibly delicious example of perfection in simplicity. You'll be astounded at the complexity and depth of flavor derived from some of the most basic ingredients in your pantry, and the results you get from so little work are incredible. These cookies are not pretty and do not masquerade as anything fancy, nor are they attractive cookies full of empty promises; they are quiet, unassuming treats that at once astound and comfort the tongue. Their subtle sweetness mellows into an amazing interplay of buttery nuttiness and warm vanilla perfume that lingers on the palate, begging to be savored. In simple terms, these are really good cookies.



Browned Butter Cookies
(Adapted from Gourmet)

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Cook butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it has a nutty fragrance and flecks on bottom of pan turn golden. Transfer butter to a bowl and chill until just firm, about 1 hour.
2. Beat together butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in vanilla, then mix in flour and salt at low speed until just combined. Transfer dough to a sheet of wax paper or parchment and form into a 12-inch log, 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Chill, wrapped in wax paper, until firm, about 1 hour

3. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Slice dough into 1/4-inch-thick rounds, arranging 1 1/2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake until surface is dry and edges are slightly darker, 8 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.

*Cook's notes:

- Dough keeps in the fridge for a few days and in the freezer for several weeks. I like to make a few rolls of dough to keep in the freezer so I can slice and bake at my leisure.

- You can roll the dough rolls in sanding sugar/raw sugar before slicing to add a bit of sweet crunch to the edges of the cookies. I prefer mine sans sugar, but they're good either way!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Culinary Personality

Quality farmer's markets make me super happy.

I use cheap butter when baking for people who can't tell the difference.

In fact, I find myself cooking less and less for people who can't tell the difference because I will not make anything I wouldn't eat, but I hate putting in so much time and effort when the recipient can't tell the difference between a genoise and a twinkie.

I wash mushrooms in a big bowl of cold water.

I prefer dark chocolate to milk chocolate, but when I'm PMSing, nothing beats a cheapo Cadbury caramel egg or the Cadbury minis with the sugar shells. They're my monthly Achilles heel.

I truly believe that you can separate the good cooks from the bad by tasting their soups and egg dishes.

I am notorious for using as few pots, pans, and utensils as possible when cooking.

When people say things like "I don't like broccoli/asparagus/blueberries/etc," I am sure it's because they've either never had that particular food prepared well, or that they've only had that particular food out of season. Almost everyone I know here in Kansas doesn't like seafood- and after seeing what the options are here, I understand why.

On that note, I regularly convert people over to foods they previously hated. I love doing that :).

I haven't met a cheese I don't like.

I adore Washington State wines.

Now that I mentioned it, I adore western Washington for all its culinary prowess, bounty, and opportunity.

I love making food that makes people happy. I enjoy the preparation aspect, but there's something purely wonderful about enjoying a good meal with good friends and family- the conversations that linger late into the night, the laughter, the love- that's the part I love the most.

Ripe figs have got to be the most delicious fruit on earth.

I have a lengthy list of favorite foods that I can't even begin to recount, but it's safe to say that I like virtually anything, as long as it's made well.

I'm a purist at heart.

The thing I miss most about living on the east coast is the fresh seafood... and fresh fruit.

My husband doesn't like chocolate, and it scares me.

I can't cook with other people who don't know what they're doing in the kitchen. Maybe I have some control freak tendencies... but I usually cook alone.

I absolutely hate when I have a cake in a metal pan and guests help themselves- and use a sharp knife to cut the cake, scratching my cake pan.

I eat creamy peanut butter only because that's what the hubs eats. I prefer chunky.

I once ate a live baby octopus. It's the only time I've ever felt food fight back, and even though it was difficult to eat, it wasn't as repulsive as one would expect.

Because we live in such a small town, my husband and I stock up on food when we travel. When we last drove to Minneapolis, we had the trunk filled with cured meats, wine, cheese, produce, and kitchen staples before we drove back home.

A cured meat and cheese plate with a crusty baguette and a glass of wine... that's what dreams are made of.

I spend entirely too much time reading food blogs and I have hundreds of recipes marked that I know I will never get to.

The best sushi I have ever had was at Tojo's.

I absolutely hate when people don't rinse their dishes. It makes for SO much more work for whoever has to clean them.

I have no self control around baked goods. Really, it's frightening.

I want a garden that eliminates all need to buy produce from the store.

As much as I love complicated dishes, the best food is almost always the simplest.

I've never made my favorite cookies for anyone other than my husband. Some things you have to save for just him :).

Hands down, I would rather eat at home than at most restaurants. More often than not, the food will be much better at home.

I almost always dress my salads with olive oil, a splash of cider/balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and either fresh citrus juice or mustard.

Salted caramel is a beautiful thing.

I eat poached eggs at least once a week.

Until I married my husband, I never ate rice unless I was sick.

I don't believe in diets, but I do believe in moderation and exercise... and when moderation isn't happening, then more exercise :).

Food almost always tastes better when you are barefoot at the beach.

I save chicken carcasses and bones from roasts and freeze them to make stock. It freaks people out when they look in my freezer.

I absolutely love pho.

It saddens me to see people throw food away. I don't like waste.

I adore almost any vegetable that is simply roasted in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and a light sprinkling of salt. It's a perfect example of how to take a good ingredient and not screw it up.

So what about you?