Pink Peppercorn Bread Dipping Oil

My incredibly generous manfriend, Handsome Greg, treated me and Mom to an epic shopping spree at Kitchen Window for Christmas. My loot included 3/4 of the ingredients of a complex, delicious bread dipping oil: a fruity extra virgin olive oil, pink peppercorns, and smoked sea salt. I added a few leaves of fresh thyme, and served it for Greg’s birthday dinner.

Pink Peppercorn Bread Dipping Oil
The surprisingly fruity bite of the peppercorns was carried gently down to earth by the tender thyme leaves and robust, earthy smoked sea salt flakes. We sopped up the oil with chewy, warm ciabatta bread, alongside Greg’s favorite pepperoni-stuffed chicken breasts, angel hair pasta scampi, a killer salad with cambozola and hibiscus pearls, and classic molten chocolate cakes.

Pepperoni Stuffed Chicken and Pasta Scampi

Lemon Risotto with Seared Scallops

Have you met my mom?

Mom
If you’re an actor in the Twin Cities, she’s probably dressed you, beautifully and carefully in costumes that helped you fully realize the physicality of your character. If you’re a St. Kate’s graduate, she might have mentored you and helped you find your way into adulthood. If you’re a ballroom dancer, you might have once shared a waltz with her at the Dancer’s Studio weekly dance party. In the unlikely event that you’ve been incarcerated, she might have taught you to quilt on one of the many Sunday afternoons she’s volunteered at the women’s correctional facility in Shakopee. And if you’ve been to her place for dinner, you’ve had an incredible meal shared with good friends, along with music, wine, fascinating conversation, echoing laughter, and a lapful of love from her cat, Pablo.

Mom1
When she came to my house for her birthday dinner last month, I wanted to prepare an extra special meal, to return the kindness of many such dinners and thank her for setting such a powerful, compassionate, creative example for me to follow. Also, cooking for people is how I love them.

Mom2
So I topped a creamy lemon risotto with Mom’s favorite—seared scallops. The luxurious risotto is somehow light, with a pop of freshness from lemon and Italian parsley. I served it alongside a fig, burrata, and prosciutto salad with balsamic vinaigrette (recipe to come!), and followed it with mini flourless chocolate cakes topped with a blackberry and red wine reduction.

Lemon Risotto with Seared Scallops

Happy Birthday, Mama!

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Crab Cakes with Orange Aioli

The good news is my little show opens in less than two weeks and we’re right on track. The bad news is my little show opens in less than two weeks and I’m plagued with the world’s worst chest cough. For better or for worse, I’ll soon be standing in front of hundreds of people at the Illusion Theater in Minneapolis, and I’m hoping with all I’m worth that I won’t be up there honking like an agitated goose.

Thank goodness for Air Supply’s Greatest Hits to ease my anxiety.

Crab Cakes
I’m comforted, too, by the memory of the last meal I prepared for Mom and Handsome Greg that I truly tasted—Crab Cakes with Orange Aioli—before cough drops became my primary source of sustenance and “mentholyptus” killed my taste buds. The crab cakes were exceptionally crabby—you could easily add more breadcrumbs and make more cakes. They were moist and flavorful with a crispy, golden crust, and the accompanying dip was a perfect balance of creamy mayo, pungent garlic, and bright, fresh orange zest.

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Bloody Mary Ketchup

I’m not exactly what you’d call a sports fan. I mean, sure, I’ll watch gymnastics at the Summer Olympics and figure skating at the Winter Olympics. But beyond that, I don’t know the difference between a double dribble and a double play.

bloody mary ketchup
I make an exception to my sports Grinch-i-tude each summer when Handsome Greg takes me out to see our minor-league hometown team, the Saint Paul Saints. Granted, the game itself bores me to tears, but I love that the game is An Event. I love the anticipation of the action, and getting to know the people sitting near us, and the hokey entertainment between innings, and the tiara-wearing pig who delivers the game ball. And I love baseball food—hot dogs, pretzels, cracker jacks—I love it all.

Cracker Jacks

And so when I was tasked with preparing a springtime dinner for Mom and Handsome Greg last month, I thought, how can I elevate baseball cuisine?

I braised fresh bratwurst in beer infused with apples and onions, and served them in soft Kaiser hot dog rolls topped with Bloody Mary Ketchup and Rosemary-Roasted Garlic Honey Dijon. I served the brats with soft pretzels and beer cheese sauce, alongside a great, big platter of fresh veggies with homemade French onion dip. For dessert, I served homemade Cracker Jacks—caramel puff corn and peanuts in red and white striped popcorn boxes.

Touchdown! Or home run! Or whatever, I don’t know.

I first made Bloody Mary Ketchup from scratch, with slow-roasted tomatoes and onions and blah blah blah. I most recently tried the same idea with store bought ketchup, and it was every bit as good, but with far less work and time. So here’s the quicky version:

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Sugar Snap Pea Salad with Miso Dressing

Well, this is awkward. I suppose it’s a little late to give a heads up that posting will be sparse until my show opens in August…? Also, the dog ate my homework, and the check is in the mail.

Salad3
I’m sure you will forgive me for failing to post a new recipe for (gasp!) an entire month, when you try this righteous salad. It’s bright and fresh, yet satisfying, with a perfect balance of salty, sweet, and sour. It’s so delicious that with one bite, you’ll forget entirely what a lazy slacker I am. The recipe is from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman. Do you have this book? You need this book.

Salad2
The day I prepared this salad is pretty much a blur—I was so rushed making dinner for Mom and Handsome Greg that I barely had a chance to take photos of the meal. So I’m sorry to say that my sad pics don’t begin to do this recipe justice. Just another reason to pick up The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook; the photos are so beautiful you’ll have to resist the urge to devour the actual pages. The only change I made from the original recipe was to omit the tablespoon of fresh, minced ginger, because, as I mentioned before, I’m deathly allergic. If ginger doesn’t send you to the ER, then I suppose you ought to add it to the dressing as Deb suggests. She knows what she’s talking about.

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Top Ten Recipes of 2012

Happy Holidays, imaginary internet friends! And congratulations on surviving the end of the world. Now I’m off to Barnes and Noble to demand a refund for my Mayan wall calendar. Wish me luck!

In the meantime, I hope you’ll take another look at the 10 most popular recipes I shared this year.

S’mores Fried Ice Cream with Chipotle Chocolate Sauce

 

Asparagus Lasagna Slice

Asparagus Lasagna with Pancetta, Goat Cheese, and Lemon

 

Baked Churros with Cinnamon Ice Cream and Dulce de Leche

 

Loaded Baked Potato Grilled Cheese Sandwich

 

Cinnamon Roll Grilled Cheese Sandwich

 

Oatmeal Cream Pies

Homemade Oatmeal Cream Pies

 

Cookies and Milk

Toffee Cashew Cookies

 

pie crust crackers

Chicken Pot Pie Soup with Pie Crust Crackers

 

Jalapeno Popper Grilled Cheese Sandwich

And the most popular recipe of 2012:

Pepperoni Stuffed Chicken

Pepperoni Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Here’s to a delicious (and gooey) new year!

Pear Napoleons with Bourbon Caramel

It’s embarrassing how much time I spend thinking about recipes I want to try. I’ll start with the germ of an idea (say, a pear dessert for Mom’s birthday dinner). Then I’ll spend weeks – maybe months – considering the options: pear tart, pear cobbler, pear cake, pear sorbet… And when I finally decide on the perfect recipe, I abandon the idea entirely because I’m terrified of making a mistake. (Yeah, I never said my process was a healthy one.)

In this case, the paralyzing fear was invoked by the menace of homemade caramel sauce—it’s the easiest thing in the world to ruin. I think if I ever get around to recording another CD, it’ll be called Ways to Ruin Caramel, with forlorn country ballads like “Too Runny,” “Too Hard,” “Bitter and Scorched,” and “Grains of Sand.”

It took no less than three glasses of cheap wine for me to face my caramelized fear, and I’m so drunk—I mean, I’m so happy that I did! This caramel sauce is the perfect texture (creamy but not too thick), with the subtlest bite of sea salt and just enough booze. *hiccup*

The other components of the recipe – poached pears, sweetened mascarpone, flaky puff pastry, and toasted pistachios—are a cinch to prepare, yet every bit as delicious as the bourbon caramel.

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