Vanilla Honey Fig Jam (Small Batch)

There’s nothing like the aroma wafting from a ripened fig tree during the peak of its harvest; this delightfully floral vanilla honey fig jam is the perfect way to capture that ethereal scent. This recipe is sweetened in part by honey which contributes aromatics as well as flavor and even helps to cut down on the white sugar content.

Why You Should Love Figs

If you’re anything like me, you’re an avid fig fan. Tender, sweet insides covered with soft skin are a flavorful burst of texture with each bite–a wonderful playground for the culinarily-inclined! Rich in fiber as well as calcium, phosphorus, iron, and potassium, figs are also a good source of prebiotics, which are essential for maintaining gut health. Though I think there is nothing better than digging into a perfectly ripe fig, they fortunately are fairly forgiving with different methods of processing and preserving, such as drying, making fig newtons from scratch, fig ice cream, or turning your figs into sweet fig chutney.

Where Are Figs From?

While the common fig hails from an area extending from Northern India to Asiatic Turkey, ficus carica also grows well in Mediterranean and and warm-climate areas.

The fig was one of the first fruit trees ever to be cultivated, at once so popular in the Mediterranean, it was called the “poor man’s food” because it was abundant and cheap, fresh or dried.

Nowadays, it’s not too altogether uncommon to walk down an urban street and see a neighborhood fig tree complete with broad, lobed leaves and its characteristically droopy fruit. When you break a fig from the tree or snap free a leaf, you may notice a viscous, white liquid emenating from the site of injury–this is, in fact, liquid latex. This is why some folks suggest boiling your green, unripe figs twice with fresh water to rinse away the milky substance–but that’s a blog post for another day!

How Figs are Pollinated

If you’ve ever spent any amount of time around vegans, you may have learned some or most of them don’t eat figs. But why? You may be thinking, Aren’t figs a fruit? 

While you are correct in the assertion that figs are a fruit (and therefore should be vegan-friendly), figs have a tangled relationship with that of the wasp reproductive cycle. When figs aren’t self-pollinated (the method used in the United States to produce figs), unripe figs invite pollen-carrying female wasps into their ostiole, the small opening at the base of the fig. From there, the female wasp will lay her eggs amongst the unpollinated flowers, pollinating other flowers as she moves along. The female wasp then dies, and her exoskeleton breaks down within the fig thanks to an enzyme called ficin. Fortunately, this teeny-tiny lady wasp is only about 1 1/2 milimeters long–so if you take a bite out of a fig pollinated through mutualism, you may end up eating, in one way or another, the remains of the female wasp.

As for her eggs, these are concealed within the fig’s flowers; the males hatch first, going around and fertilizing any unhatched females, dig an escape tunnel to the outside world, and die. When the females hatch, it’s their turn to find a fig to die in. It’s one heck of a life cycle, yo.

Why Figs Aren’t Considered Vegan

Point being, some vegans think eating figs is unethical, or that it breaks the rules as you may be inadvertently eating animal with your fig. Weird? A little bit. Kinda gross? Definitely. Miraculous? Big yes. And it’s still not enough to keep this lunatic away from sweet, delicious figs…

For those of you that are now completely freaked out by figs, rest assured–most likely, any figs provided in the grocery store are going to be self-pollinated. That is to say, wasp-free!

So…Where Can I Buy Figs?

Figs tend to be elusive until the season is upon us, at which point they are EXPLOSIVE and you have to make use of the bounty quickly so it doesn’t all rot or go to waste. Figs enjoy two seasons: the first few weeks of June, then a second wave spanning August through October.

Check in with grocery retailers like Whole Foods or Publix to see if they carry figs during the peak weeks of summer. Otherwise, you may be lucky enough to find vendors selling sweet, sweet figs at a local farmer’s market. I hate to direct you to Amazon, but apparently you can even buy fresh figs there! Who knew?!

But the best way to get your figs and eat them too is to make friends with somebody who enjoys a fig tree on their property and has more figs than they know what to do with! I’m not saying you should scope out someone’s yard before introducing yourself, but I’m saying it wouldn’t hurt to make a new friend who happens to have a robust fig tree…edible trades are a lot of fun. 🙂

Another option is to plant your own fig tree. Yes, you will have to wait a while…maybe several summers…to have your figs, but then you have a legacy tree that just keeps giving. Once you’ve been bitten by the fresh fig bug, you will come to love this time of year–trust me!

How Many Different Kinds of Figs Are There?

Well, with over 700 known different kinds of fig trees, there’s quite a lot! To make it easier, botanists have broken figs into four groups:

  1. Caprifigs: These produce male flowers which never bear fruit; their primary function is to fertilize female fig trees.
  2. Smyrna: These are the female fig trees, which must be pollinated by caprifigs.
  3. San Pedro: These kinds of figs produce two crops: the first is on leafless mature wood and requires no pollination, and the second is on new wood requiring pollination from a male flower.
  4. Common Figs: These are the most common figs you might see while on a neighborhood walk. Common figs don’t require another tree for fertilization.

Now that we know our fig types, let’s talk about some common figs you may have seen growing lately. Here are some varietals you may be able to identify:

  • Celeste figs–these are smaller, brownish-purple figs grown on large trees; these ripen earlier in the season than other figs
  • Brown Turkey figs–medium-sized, plum-colored figs with vibrant pink flesh
  • Alma figs–these large figs are brownish-purple teardrops with green tips and light pink insides
  • Purple Genca–sometimes referred to as Black Spanish figs or Black Genoa figs, these large, dark purple beauties have vibrant red flesh
  • Mission figs–also called Black Mission figs, this extremely popular varietal is medium-sized and has a mottled purple/green combination exterior
  • Bourjassotte Gris figs–these large, purple figs with a green tip have a lush, dramatic purple flesh

For this fig jam recipe, I used Celeste figs–yum!

How To Tell When Figs Are Ripe

Some figs, like mission figs, will split when they are at their peak ripeness. Green figs, like kadota figs, can be slightly trickier to figure out, as they are green from their initial formation through their maturity.

Ripe figs should be soft to the touch and give slightly when squeezed. There should be little resistance when plucked from their tree or bush, without much white latex oozing from the tip. If you have to tug, the fig isn’t ready!

Will Figs Ripen Off the Tree?

The short answer is yes! Figs that are picked just before peak ripeness will continue to soften and grow sweeter if left in a dry place.

If you pick extremely unripe figs, however, they will not reach maturity on your countertop! This is part of the lovely, ethereal nature of this sweet natural treat.

How To Eat Your Abundance of Figs

When figs arrive, they arrive all at once! You will know a tree’s fruit is mature when all of the insects move in–figs attract a wide array of bees and wasps, which come to feed on the sweet fruit.

Here are some ideas for ways to use up your figs before they spoil:

Small Batch Vanilla Honey Fig Jam

Part of the beauty of this recipe is how simple it is. With a few high-quality ingredients, you will be amazed at how much divinely aromatic flavor this wonderful, chunky fig jam presents.

Start with an abundance of ripe figs.

ripe celeste figs

Gather your ingredients and a heavy-bottomed dutch oven. Chop the figs into quarters. I like a chunky jam, so I cut some of the figs in half for variety.

fig jam ingredients

Cook the figs down gently, stirring so they don’t scald or cook unevenly.

gently simmering fig jam

When your fig jam has thickened considerably and passes the cold plate test, it should look something like this:

cooked fig jam

Ladle your warm jam into sterile jars. For a more detailed breakdown of how to properly can your jam, check out my post on canned small-batch apricot jam.

halfway through canning

It’s a messy process, but made easier by my canning funnel which fits atop an empty jar perfectly.

canning vanilla honey fig jam

You can totally reuse old jars to can your fig jam as long as you properly sterilize them beforehand in the oven or in boiling water for 10 minutes. I used the boiling method for this round of jam.

vanilla honey fig jam

Boom, fig jam!

Ways To Eat Up Your Fig Jam

Sweet, complex, aromatic, and delightfully textured, there’s a lot to love about this fig jam. Fortunately, you can throw it into sweet and savory dishes to add high floral notes and a kiss of sweetness. Here are some easy ways to eat up your vanilla honey fig jam:

  • stirred into whole milk yogurt
  • spooned atop vanilla ice cream
  • dolloped over seared pork chops or chicken breasts
  • stirred into oats or porridge
  • spread over toast with a layer of ricotta and sea salt
  • bake it into pound cake, muffins, or cornbread

Get eating! 🙂

cooked fig jam

Small-Batch Vanilla Honey Fig Jam

Sweet figs, aromatic vanilla, and floral honey all come together in this delightfully chunky, not-too-sweet, small-batch fig jam! I used Celeste figs, but any tender, ripe figs will do!
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Canning Time (optional) 15 mins
Total Time 1 hr 15 mins
Course Appetizer, Seasoning, Side Dish, Snack, Spice, Vegetarian
Cuisine American, Comfort Food, Intuitive, Southern Cooking, traditional

Equipment

  • heavy bottomed dutch oven
  • canning funnel

Ingredients
  

  • 2 lbs ripe figs, halved and quartered (I used Celeste figs, but any ripe figs will do)
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup local honey
  • 2 lemons, juiced (seeds removed)
  • 1 Tbs vanilla bean paste (or 1 1/2 vanilla beans, seeds scraped)

Instructions
 

  • Wash your figs and cut into quarters. I like a chunky jam, so I cut about 30% of my figs in half. Juice lemons, minding the seeds, and set juice aside. Place a small plate in the freezer.
  • Place figs, sugar, honey, and lemon juice in a heavy-bottomed dutch oven over medium-high heat and bring ingredients to a boil, stirring until combined. (If using vanilla beans, add seeds and pods, taking care to remove the pods after the jam has cooked. If using vanilla bean paste, add now. If substituting vanilla extract, wait until the jam has thickened before adding.)
  • Lower heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened considerably (between 45 minutes and an hour). You will know your jam is ready to ladle into jars when a small drop of jam placed on the freezer plate wrinkles under your finger. (Dollop a small amount of jam onto the cold plate. Return to the freezer for a few minutes. Drag your finger through the jam--if it wrinkles, it's ready to can!)
  • If canning for long-term storage, ladle jam into sterilized jars, lightly screwing lids onto your jars. Place in a large pot and completely cover with water, boiling for 10 minutes. Using tongs, remove jars from hot water and allow them to cool on your countertop. You should hear the "ping" of your jam jars sealing! When jars have cooled, tighten the lids and label. If any of your jars did not fully seal, try re-boiling them or replacing with different sterilized lids and repeating the process.
  • If making quick-batch jam for short-term storage, simply ladle the hot jam into clean jars and place in the fridge. This fig jam keeps in the fridge up to 1 month once it's been opened.
Keyword are figs vegan, different types of figs, fig jam, honey jam, how to tell when figs are ripe, small-batch, small-batch fig jam, small-batch honey fig jam, small-batch honey jam, small-batch jam, small-batch vanilla honey fig jam, vanilla bean, vegetarian recipes, where do figs grow, where figs grow

This recipe based off the one found here, from Flavor the Moments!

Sweet Pepper Braised Pork Butt Tacos

Summer harvest means an array of sweet and spicy peppers just perfect for flavoring braised pork butt. All a good hunk of meat needs is a few aromatics, quality stock, and time to turn into tender braised shreds just askin’ to be layered into a tortilla with a squeeze of lime. (Add some raw veggies for crunch and top with fresh herbs for best results.)

Let’s take a look at what makes this chunk of meat so special!

What is Pork Butt?

My boyfriend and I received a hunk of pork labeled “pork butt” in our most recent Butcher Box. I stood over the freezer with the massive chunk of meat in my hands, staring at the sticker on the plastic as somewhere in the catalogue of my cooking knowledge, dim recollections started bubbling towards my consciousness. Somewhere, somehow, at some point along my foodie journey, I remembered that pork butt is not in fact a pig’s butt.

We’ve all had ham, right? Well isn’t ham from the hindquarters of a pig? A quick Google search confirmed this.

where does ham come from?

Boom. Confirmed. Ham = rump. So why didn’t the massive slab of meat in my hands (which looked nothing like a ham, by the way) say “ham” if it was, in fact, from a pig’s butt?

Deep in the recesses of my brain, memories continued to stir, leading me to ask:

Are pork butt and pork shoulder the same thing?

I googled diagrams of pork cuts. Let’s just say humans have certainly figured out how to get the very most out of the animal.

pork cuts

There it is: Boston butt, clearly distinct from ham!

But to make matters even more confusing, continued Googling revealed that Boston butt is also sometimes called Boston shoulder. Naturally, this lead to further questioning…

are pork butt and pork shoulder the same thing?

As you can see in this diagram from The Spruce, the Boston butt sits just above the picnic shoulder on the pig.

 

Why is the Boston Butt Called the Boston Butt?

So, if the Boston butt doesn’t come from anywhere near the animal’s rump, why is it called a “butt”?!

As is true of many mysteries, the answer is rooted in history. In colonial New England during America’s fledgling years, butchers used to pack inexpensive cuts of shoulder meat into barrels, called “butts.” Used for transporting their wares across New England, the contents of these barrels became known as “pork butts,” the name we still call some shoulder meat today.

So yes, pork butt and pork shoulder, Boston butt and Boston shoulder, are all referring to the same cut of meat.

Primal Cuts of Pork

As you saw in the second diagram above (which is not even a complete breakdown of every cut of pork), we parse out many pieces of meat from a single pig.

First, however, a butcher must make several initial cuts, called primal cuts. These are shoulder, loin, belly, and hind leg cuts.

From there, an experienced butcher will continue to cut out pieces we know and love, like spare ribs, tenderloin, and bacon.

What Makes Certain Cuts of Meat More Expensive Than Others?

There are several factors in play when determining the value of a price of meat. These include but are not limited to:

  • flavor
  • tenderness of cut
  • fat marbeling
  • animal diet
  • USDA certifications, like organic or grass-fed and finished

Another influential factor is supply and demand. For example, Bacon is rich in fat marbling, inherently tender because of its cut, and also happens to be extremely flavorful. It is also simple to prepare because of these positive characteristics. I don’t think I’m breaking any new ground here when I say that these are the reasons why bacon is so popular. In short, it’s truly delicious.

What this means for the market, however, is that bacon prices range from $6.99 for 16 ounces to $17.50 for the same weight. Bacon quality ranges from the cheapest money to buy to the most luxuriously-seasoned, thick-cut bacon available. Unless we collectively undergo a radical cultural shift around the cuts of meat we love, there will always be a market for bacon.

Less favorable cuts from the pig, like pig feet, can go for as little as $2.00 per pound. Typically, people purchase pig feet for traditional recipes or for dog food, but still others work to break ground on new ways to use these less sought-after cuts. (For the curious, check out Serious Eats’ recipe for crispy grilled pig feet here.)

Cultural Shifts Affect the Price of Meat

Flank steak is an example of a cut of meat that has had its reputation revamped. Years ago, flank steak was dirt cheap. Flank steak is a very lean cut on the cow that generally has little fat marbling. If handled poorly, this cut of meat can be tough and flavorless.

But when certain diet trends suggested ways of preparing the lean cut of meat, like the South Beach Diet in the mid-1990s, it gained popularity. The price of flank steak last year according to the USDA was $8.25 per pound. This month, it’s $9.16.

From this example, we can see that cuts of meat we value culturally can shift. So who knows: maybe someday we will be inviting neighbors over for grilled pig’s feet!

How to Prepare Lean Cuts of Meat

There are several things to consider when you work with a lean cut of meat. When a cut of meat has little marbling, that means it will tend towards toughness and may be low on flavor.

Fortunately, there are certain tricks you can employ in order to make the most out of your lean cut of meat. Here are some ideas to consider:

  1. Marinate your meat. Marinating your meat in acid or vinaigrette helps to tenderize it before the cooking process. Lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and apple cider vinegar are all great bases for marinades. Don’t forget to add a little honey to balance your flavors–honey is also acidic!
  2. Use a meat mallet. Physically tenderizing your tough cuts with a meat mallet or rolling pin helps to break down thick muscle fibers.
  3. Allow your meat to come to room temperature before cooking. This will help the meat to cook more evenly, especially for bone-in cuts. More control over your meat temperature means more control over moisture and overall “done-ness”.
  4. Rest your meat after you cook it. This helps restore the natural juices in the meat by allowing them to redistribute around the whole cut, rather than spilling out under your knife once you start cutting. A general rule is, rest for five minutes per inch of thickness.
  5. Cook lean cuts low and slow. Slow-roasting lean cuts can reduce the risk of “shocking” the meat or causing unnecessary loss of moisture. This is especially true for braising, during which process the meat is completely submerged in tasty cooking liquid like broth or wine.
  6. Cook meat to the right internal temperature. It may seem obvious, but overcooking your meat highlights any negative characteristics, like toughness and dryness, which can be avoided by cooking it on the rarer side.
  7. Cut against the grain. Cutting against the grain of long muscle fibers makes for tender bites that are easy to chew. You might be amazed at what a difference this simple step can make!

Sweet Pepper Braised Pork Butt Tacos

Perhaps the best part about this recipe is how simple it is. The primary flavor comes from whatever peppers you have in abundance, onion, and aromatic herbs. The soft, flavorful peppers make an excellent addition to your tacos as well as the meat from the braised pork butt.

sweet and hot peppers, candle, olive oil

Brush olive oil on your peppers and broil on high until the skin is blistered. I used red bell peppers, sweet mini peppers, and spicy Fresno peppers.

braised pork butt ingredients

After your peppers are blistered, allow them to rest in their own flavorful juices while you brown the meat. No need to get fussy over peeling garlic or mincing onion–big chunks here are great!

browned pork butt

Sear your pork butt, fatty side first, and save the rendered oil! Set meat aside while you sear your onion and garlic.

seared onion and garlic in pork fat

Once you’ve browned your meat on all sides, sear the garlic and onion to flavor rendered pork fat. Settle your meat, herbs, peppers, vinegar, and stock into the dutch oven and bring to a boil.

braising pork butt

Ideally, your meat will be completely submerged. My pork butt was MASSIVE, however, and would barely fit in the dutch oven. I compensated by leaving the dutch oven covered for the entirety of the cooking process and by rotating the meat halfway through.

After about four hours have elapsed, shred the pork butt into bite-sized chunks, cutting any particularly long muscle fibers against the grain for maximum tenderness. Spoon braised pork butt and sweet peppers into warm tortillas with some fresh vegetables and herbs, and top with a squeeze of lime!

sweet pepper braised pork butt tacos

For more braised meat recipes, check out this recipe for miso-braised au jus sandwiches, or for garlic and wine-braised short ribs!

braised pork butt tacos

Sweet Pepper Braised Pork Butt Tacos

Using a few choice ingredients like garlic, onion, and aromatics, this dead-simple recipe is big on flavor and low on effort!
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 4 hrs 30 mins
Total Time 4 hrs 35 mins
Course dinner, Main Course
Cuisine American, Intuitive, Mexican, Seasonal, traditional
Servings 8 people

Equipment

  • heavy bottomed dutch oven

Ingredients
  

  • 4 Tbs olive oil, divided
  • 5-7 lb pork butt or pork shoulder, at room temperature
  • 2 red, orange, or yellow bell peppers, whole
  • 4-6 sweet mini peppers, whole
  • 2-6 spicy peppers of your choice (I used Fresnos)
  • 1 white onion, skinned and cut into quarters
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 6-8 cups chicken or pork broth, or enough to completely submerge the pork
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • corn tortillas, warmed
  • 2 ears raw corn, kernels cut from the cob
  • cilantro, for serving
  • 2 limes, cut into wedges

Instructions
 

  • Turn the broiler on high. Brush your peppers in olive oil on all sides and arrange on a rimmed cookie sheet. Roast under the heat until the skin begins to blister, turning peppers as necessary so they roast evenly. This should take between 4-7 minutes per side. Once your pepper skins have blistered, place in a bowl and set aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 275°F. Generously season the pork on all sides with salt. Heat a dutch oven over medium-high heat until drops of water quickly evaporate. Add pork shoulder, fattiest side down, and sear 5-8 minutes per side, or until deeply golden brown. Turn heat to medium-low and set the browned pork butt aside.
  • Cut the head of garlic in half horizontally and sear the exposed garlic cloves in the rendered pork fat until a nice caramel color, lowering heat if necessary. Remove from heat and add the onions. Sear undisturbed until the onion quarters take on some color, about 3 minutes.
  • Add stock and vinegar to the pan, scraping up any flavorful browned bits from the bottom of the dutch oven. Season the liquid with salt and pepper. Settle the pork butt into the liquid, fat side up, and add the two halves of the seared garlic head, bay leaf, rosemary, and thyme. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn off the heat. Cover, then place in the oven for 3.5-4 hours, or until pork is falling off the shoulder bone.
  • Pull pork out of the liquid using tongs and, once it has cooled slightly, break apart using a fork or gloved hands. If necessary, cut any long muscle fibers against the grain to enhance tenderness.
  • Gently pull peppers from the cooking liquid and remove seeds and stems. If desired, roughly chop into bite sized chunks. Using tongs, place pork, peppers, corn, and cilantro into a warm tortilla and squeeze lime over the top. Serve immediately. Pork keeps up to 5 days in the fridge.
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Rustic Tomato Tart (Vegetarian)

If your vines are sagging with tomatoes and your larders are looking perilously full of produce, may I present to you a simple solution: rustic tomato tart. It has been a while since I’ve made anything so thoroughly gratifying in the kitchen, from the process of crafting this elevated form of tomatoes to digging into a savory bite of this delicious tart.

While this recipe happens to be vegetarian, what it lacks in meat it more than makes up for in flavor. Layers of spicy mustard, rich gruyère cheese, earthy herbs, and juicy, roasted, umami-rich tomatoes come together beautifully in this culinary delight, which seems to be at least cousins with pizza. You won’t even miss the meat. Promise.

This show-stopping rustic tart is definitely a labor of love. It takes nearly two hours to prepare from start to finish, but is definitely a dish you’ll want to share with other tomato fans. (Or pizza fans…or savory tart fans…or fans of wholesome-feeling food…)

There is something so comforting about ingredients enveloped in pastry, and this tomato tart is no exception. This is not a dish to get fussy over, or to try to make look perfect. The point, if I may say so, is to put summer’s voluptuous tomatoes on the pedestal they deserve, all in one scrumptious buttery crust. Forkable and finger-food-able, chances are you will not be able to cut yourself a big enough wedge of this mouth-watering rustic beauty!

Why Tomatoes Are Good For You

Whether you’re munching on a cherry tomato or digging into a funky heirloom varietal, there are certain nutritional elements that are universal in the delicious world of tomatoes.

Red tomatoes are high in an antioxidant called lycopene, for example. This gives them their red color which helps to protect them from ultraviolet light damage from the sun. Eating high amounts of lycopene can likewise protect your cells from ultraviolet rays, so eating tomatoes in summertime (i.e. when they naturally are abundant) just makes sense. Isn’t it great when nature works with us?

Additionally, lycopene is associated with cancer prevention. It also reduces “bad” cholesterol, which may help to prevent heart disease.

All tomatoes contain substances called lutein and zeaxanthin. These substances have been correlated with protecting your eyes from blue light from smartphones and computer screens. These compounds may also help to prevent age-related macular degeneration, the number one cause of blindness in the United States today.

Lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin have also been associated with lung health. Tomatoes may be beneficial to patients with asthma as well as those at risk for emphysema.

Tomatoes are also rich in:

  • potassium
  • vitamins E, C, and K
  • folate (vitamin B9)
  • soluble and insoluble fiber

Tomatoes’ high vitamin C content gives an added boost to your immune system. Their antioxidants help to reduce inflammation, and they even prevent your blood from clotting. All of these benefits are associated with stroke prevention.

Is It Better to Eat Raw or Cooked Tomatoes?

Certain nutritional elements are more easily absorbed when tomatoes are cooked, like lycopene. However, cooking the tomatoes (even gently) removes some of the vitamin C.

So, why are you eating tomatoes? (Other than their wonderful, tangy taste?!) If you are boosting your immune system, eat raw tomatoes. If you are hoping to incorporate more lycopene into your diet, cook those fruits!

Are Tomatoes Really a Fruit?

The short answer is yes. Fruits are ripened flower ovaries with seeds. By this definition, lots of produce we think of as a vegetable is actually a fruit. Zucchini, pumpkins, avocados, cucumbers, and okra are all “vegetables” that are actually fruits. For a longer list, click here.

Over time, however, botanists distinguished fruits from vegetables by their relatively higher fructose content.

Today, most nutritionists clump tomatoes in with vegetables. Turns out the answer is complex as the flavor profile of a tomato itself!

Rustic Tomato Tart

It’s time to use up those uber-ripe tomatoes! Gather your ingredients for the filling and prepare the shortcrust pastry.

super ripe tomatoes and tart filling ingredients

Simple ingredients, big flavor…what could be better?

short crust ingredients

Familiar ingredients come together in a unique way for this shortcrust pastry. If you don’t have a food processor, feel free to make a pie crust following my recipe. The recipe in the link above utilizes both rye and regular all-purpose flour, but you can feel free to use only all-purpose flour.

Are Shortcrust Pastry and Pie Crust the Same Thing?

Yes, both shortcrust and pie crust are referring to a flaky, fatty pastry that it’s best not to overwork. Shortpastry relies on minimal gluten development for its flaky nature. This means that the more you work your dough, the more you form gluten networks. Overworking means chewy crust, not flaky crust–a shortcrust faux pas!

shortcrust pastry

Roll out the pastry to fit a pie dish or tart pan between 9 and 11 inches.

unbaked rustic tart shell

Save any residual dough, as it can be used to patch any seams in your tart shell!

blind bake

As you can see, I ran out of dried beans and improvised with some rice to weigh down the crust. This is important to prevent large bubbles from forming in the shell as well as preventing the sides from slumping down. While the crust is baking, prepare the filling.

thick tomato slices "sweat" with a layer of salt

Salt your thick tomato wedges and allow them to sit for a few minutes and “sweat.” Blot them with paper towels to remove excess moisture.

basil, parsley, olive oil, salt, and garlic

Blitz herbs, garlic, and oil until relatively smooth.

basil and parsley herb puree

Once you’ve created your herb puree and blotted your tomatoes, you are ready to assemble your rustic tomato tart!

disassembled tomato tart

Spread the dijon in a thin layer over the base of the par-baked crust.

layer 1 tomato tart

Next goes the cheese…

layer 2 of the tomato tart

Over the cheese goes the herb puree. Spread it as evenly as you can, bearing in mind it will level as the tart cooks and relaxes in the hot oven.

layer 3 tomato tart

Layer your tomato slices over the top of the herb puree. Be generous and really load the tart with tomatoes. Keep in mind they will shrink in the hot oven, so don’t be afraid to layer them.

unbaked tomato tart

Roast in the oven until the tomatoes have caramelized nicely and released some of their juices.

slice of tomato tart

If you must serve yourself two helpings of this rustic tomato tart, there will certainly be no judgment from me…ENJOY!

This recipe is based on Smitten Kitchen’s tomato tart.

rustic tomato tart

Rustic Tomato Tart (Vegetarian)

Thick wedges of tomato roasted over a bed of herbs, sharp cheese, and shortcrust pastry make this tart a show-stopper!
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 30 mins
Freezer Time 30 mins
Total Time 2 hrs 15 mins
Course Appetizer, Happy Hour, Main Course, Side Dish, Vegetarian
Cuisine American, Comfort Food, French, Intuitive, Seasonal, Vegetarian
Servings 6 people

Equipment

  • food processor

Ingredients
  

Shortcrust Pastry

  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp cold water
  • dried beans, rice, or pie weights, for par-baking

Tomato Filling

  • 3 large, very ripe tomatoes (heirloom or beefsteak work great)
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 1/2 cups basil leaves, loosely packed
  • 1 1/2 cups parsley leaves, loosely packed
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp whole grain mustard (Dijon works too)
  • 2 oz grated sharp cheese (Gruyere or Pecorino Romano are great picks)
  • freshly ground black pepper, for garnish

Instructions
 

  • Add dry ingredients and butter to a food processor and pulse until the mixture has formed a coarse crumb. Add water and egg and pulse until dough just comes together. Using two sheets of wax or parchment paper, form the dough into a disc and roll it out between the two sheets using a rolling pin or wine bottle until it will fit into a tart pan or pie dish. Transfer the sheet of dough onto a plate or cookie sheet and place in the freezer for 10 minutes.
  • While the dough is chilling, slice the tomatoes into 1/2" wedges and lay out on a rimmed baking sheet. Season generously with salt and allow to sit at room temperature while you work on the tart shell.
  • Remove the sheet of shortcrust from the freezer and work the dough into the pie dish or tart pan. Trim the edges as necessary and save any remaining dough for patching any tears that may have occurred. Prick the bottom and sides of the tart shell with a fork and place back in the freezer for another 20 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • While the tart is chilling for the second time, prepare the herb puree. Rinse out your food processor and add herbs, salt, and garlic and pulse until the herbs are finely cut. Add olive oil and pulse again until the mixture forms a paste. Set aside.
  • Pull the chilled tart shell out of the freezer. Line with parchment paper and add dried beans, rice, or pie weights until they climb up at least half the height of your tart shell walls. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until crust has begun to solidify. Remove pie weights and parchment, and bake another 5-10 minutes, or until the bottom of the tart is no longer shiny. Allow the tart shell to cool to room temperature.
  • Blot the tomatoes with paper towels to remove excess moisture. Spread mustard in the bottom of the ambient temperature tart shell. Sprinkle grated cheese over the mustard. Add an even layer of herb puree over the cheese, then arrange the tomato slices on top of that. Keep in mind they will shrink in the oven, so be generous and really load the tart with tomatoes. Crack pepper over the top layer of the tart.
  • Bake for 50 minutes to an hour, or until the tomatoes are nicely roasted. Allow the tart to cool slightly. Best served warm. Keeps in the fridge up to 4 days.
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What to Serve With Tomato Tart

I definitely ate generous slices of this as my dinner, but this tart works great as a side dish as well. Natural choices are a protein-rich salad, hearty sausages, or a balsamic-glazed flank steak. Don’t forget to eat this tart in the sunshine!

This tart keeps in the fridge up to 4 days. It doesn’t do great in the freezer due to the tomatoes’ high water content (water expands in the freezer, cell walls rupture, and you end up with tomato mush). This tart is for sharing, so eat it up quick!

Simple One-Skillet Roast Chicken and Schmaltzy Potatoes

This simple one-skillet roast chicken recipe is perfect for weeknight dinners or a cozy date night. Mouthwatering chicken roasts atop layers of thinly sliced potatoes which absorb flavorful drippings from the bird as it cooks. This chicken has it all: crispy skin, juicy meat, and precious rendered schmaltz absorbed into peppery potatoes below. Best of all, it all comes together in one pan!

The secret to moist chicken? Let the bird rest for 10 minutes before carving.

At What Temperature is Roast Chicken Done?

While some chefs pull their chicken at 155°F, the standard temperature for fully cooked chicken is 165°F.

Another way to check if your chicken is done is to slice between the thigh and the breast with a knife. If the juices run clear, the bird is done. If they appear bloody or murky, the chicken needs more time in the oven.

It is not uncommon for just-cooked chicken breast to look slightly pinkish. When in doubt, use a meat thermometer to ensure you’ve reached the point at which your chicken is safe to eat.

Where Does Roast Chicken Come From?

The history of humans consuming roast chicken reaches back about as long as we’ve kept the birds in captivity. Many different cultures from across the globe have variants of roasted chicken associated with traditional cooking. Peru, Australia, France, and Germany have long-held customs of roasting chicken, whether rotisserie style or in the oven.

So…What’s Schmaltz?

Schmaltz (also spelled “shmalz” or “schmalz”) is the name referring to rendered poultry fat, typically chicken but sometimes goose or duck. Schmaltz is known for its prevalence in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine as a cooking fat and flavor enhancer.

The word “schmaltz” is derived from the German verb “schmelzen” which means “to melt.” This perhaps refers to the common means of rendering schmaltz, which is to cut chicken fat into small pieces and stir it over heat until the fat is eventually liquified. Another schmaltz-rendering process is achieved through the use of steam injection. In both processes, the rendered schmaltz is filtered, then clarified, before it is ready for use.

A Brief History of Schmaltz

While chicken fat has been flavoring our meals since we began cooking with it (as true in American culture as any other chicken-eating culture across the globe), rendered schmaltz is perhaps most rooted in Ashkenazi cuisine. This is perhaps because European Jews often experienced restrictions on land ownership and as such could not own cattle. Schmaltz became an important olive oil replacement for central and northwestern Europe where olive oil was not readily available at a widely affordable price. Schmaltz has historical roots reaching back to Ancient Israel prior to the forced Jewish exile from Roman Israel.

Because olive oil and sesame oil were not available to Jews who made their way to northwestern Europe, they turned to schmaltz, an available cooking fat approved by Kashrut.

Kashrut is a set of dietary rules prohibiting certain foods; it also dictates how certain foods should be prepared before consumption according to Jewish law. These rules expressly forbid cooking with common fats like butter, lard, and tallow–thus Jews turned to using fat rendered from chickens to cook their meals.

In contemporary Europe, overfeeding geese became common practice in schmaltz and foie gras production.

How Schmaltz is Used Today

When Jews immigrated to the United States, they brought traditions like cooking with schmaltz with them. Due to aggressive advertising by Crisco, some American Jews swapped their schmaltz for the vegetable shortening. Others swapped schmaltz for newly-available olive oil or plant-based oils.

Some doctors and nutritionists suggested the saturated fat content of schmaltz made it an unhealthy cooking oil. Coupled with a series of health movements in the United States, schmaltz lost popularity at the turn of the 20th century and could not be found in most American kitchens.

Schmaltz has since resurged in popularity as modern Jewish cooks connect to their heritage in the kitchen. Endorsements from chefs like Anthony Bourdain brought schmaltz back into the culinary limelight, causing some positive waves for the slandered cooking fat. Schmaltz remains an important “secret ingredient” and flavor booster in modern dishes like chicken pot pie and chicken and dumplings.

Feeling Schmaltz-Curious?

Want to buy schmaltz but don’t know where to look? This jar from Epic is certified organic and unbleached.

Simple One-Skillet Roast Chicken and Schmaltzy Potatoes

Whether you choose to cook with schmaltz for religious reasons or for flavor, one thing is certain: you are in for a tasty meal. Gather your ingredients and prepare for assembly in your cast iron skillet.

whole chicken, potatoes, onion, garlic, lemon, thyme, salt, pepper, chicken stock, parmesan cheese

I used two large russet potatoes (to feed two of us), but if you are cooking for four, consider using another potato or two, and 1/4 to 1/2 cup more chicken broth. Add more parmesan, salt, and pepper between potato layers, too.

potato medallions, salt, pepper, chicken broth, parmesan cheese

Season between every layer of potatoes with salt, pepper, and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

parmesan and pepper potatoes await chicken broth and whole chicken

Once the potatoes are seasoned, add enough chicken broth to just reach the top layer of potatoes to ensure they cook thoroughly as the chicken roasts. Place your chicken atop the potatoes, breast side up.

chicken stuffed with onions, garlic, thyme, and lemon sits atop cheesy potatoes

Give your bird a little extra flavor boost with chunks of onion, sprigs of time, and wedges of lemon. Don’t forget to salt and pepper the skin, for maximum crispiness!

stuffed chicken ready for roasting!
Mmmm, just look at all that fat waiting to be rendered…those lucky potatoes!

Once you’ve rubbed salt and pepper all over your bird, it’s ready for the oven! Bake at 425 for 20-25 minutes, or until skin begins to brown. Lower the heat to 400 and bake another 30 minutes or so more, depending on the size of your bird.

that is one good-lookin' roast chicken

Mmmmm…crispy skin, juicy meat, schmaltzy taters…let your inner hedonist out and enjoy this meal!

roasted chicken breast, schmaltzy potatoes, green beans, love

Weeknight dinner just got a lot more fun!

that is one good-lookin' roast chicken

Simple One-Skillet Roast Chicken and Schmaltzy Potatoes

saltandstonefruit
Succulent roasted chicken stuffed with aromatics gets crispy and juicy atop a bed of cheesy, schmaltzy potato medallions.
Prep Time 45 mins
Cook Time 1 hr
Resting Time 10 mins
Total Time 1 hr 55 mins
Course dinner, Main Course
Cuisine American, ashkenazi, Comfort Food, Intuitive, jewish, traditional
Servings 4 people

Equipment

  • cast iron skillet

Ingredients
  

  • 1 whole chicken with plenty of fat, preferably organic
  • 1 white or yellow onion, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 1 lemon, cut in half with seeds removed
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
  • 6-8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2-3 large potatoes, sliced into thin rounds (russet works, but other potatoes are delicious as well)
  • 1.5 oz freshly grated parmesan cheese (pecorino works too)
  • salt, for seasoning
  • pepper for seasoning
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth (water or milk work in a pinch)

Instructions
 

  • At least 30 minutes before you plan to start roasting your chicken, pull it from the fridge and let it come to room temperature. (This ensures a true-to-recipe roast time as the cold bones of the chicken carcass don't inhibit the roasting process.) Dress the outside of the chicken with a generous sprinkling of salt and rub all over the skin. Crack some fresh pepper over the hen and let sit while you prepare the vegetables.
  • Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  • Prepare the onion, lemon, and garlic, and set aside. Cut the potatoes into thin rounds with a sharp knife or mandolin.
  • Arrange a single layer of potatoes in the bottom of a cast iron skillet. Season with a pinch of salt, a crack of black pepper (or as much as you'd like), and a bit of grated parmesan cheese. Add another layer of potatoes on top and season accordingly. Repeat with any remaining potatoes. When all of the potato rounds have been incorporated, season the top layer with salt, pepper, and the remaining cheese.
  • Pour chicken broth into the cast iron at the edge of the pan, taking care not to disturb too much of the cheese. You want the liquid to just come up to the topmost potato layer.
  • Place the chicken on the bed of potatoes, breast side up. Slide into the center rack of the oven and roast for 20-30 minutes, or until the skin begins to brown and start crisping up.
  • Turn oven down to 400°F and roast for another 30-45 minutes, or until juices from a knife stuck between the thigh and breast run clear, or the thickest part of the chicken temps at 165°F with a meat thermometer.
  • Allow chicken to rest 10 minutes before carving. Cut both breasts and thighs from the carcass, and immediately serve with the potatoes below. Keeps up to four days in the fridge.
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Nik Sharma’s Spicy Collard Greens and Legume Soup

A few days ago I woke up with a splitting headache and an achy kind of nausea. I say “woke up” loosely, because I laid in bed for several hours just trying to figure out what’s what. Even though it is July in the South, and plenty hot, and plenty humid, I knew what I needed. The answer? Hot, nourishing soup with plenty of collard greens, which happen to be the state vegetable of South Carolina.

You may be thinking, “You crazy woman. It’s 1000 degrees outside where you live and 900% humidity. A walk halfway ’round the block is enough to get you sweating. Why are you making hot soup?”

And reader, I must say: valid point…

However, the body needs what the body needs, and sometimes silver-green bunches of bitter collards and turmeric-coated chickpeas can work some of the profoundest miracles.

I leafed my way through the picture-rich Flavor Equation gluttonously, lingering over pages that contained ingredients I’d never heard of. If you need some magic injected into your culinary life, consider this beautiful book by Nik Sharma. He breaks down some of the science of what makes ingredients big players in the kitchen and throws in some really interesting recipes for adventurous eaters intent on culinary play.

I saw the picture of this chili-spiced soup and just knew it would cure me.

What’s not to love about stewed greens in bright tomato and tamarind, with spiced chili, turmeric, cinnamon, and black pepper seasoning two kinds of legumes?

I ate not one, but two bowls of this for early dinner and was back on track by 8.

Health Benefits of Collard Greens

These broad, leafy greens have more to offer than meets the eye. Here are some of the top nutritional benefits to eating collard greens regularly:

  1. Liver Detox: Collard greens are rich in glucosinolates, which cleanse cells of toxins and gradually purify the body over time.
  2. Vitamins and Minerals: Rich in vitamins A, C, K, and B-6 as well as iron, magnesium, and calcium, collard greens offer your body the building blocks to do everything from producing hemoglobin in your red blood cells, to boosting the immune system, to improving skin health.
  3. Fiber: High in both water content and fiber, collard greens are very beneficial to your gut in “keeping regular.” Fiber not only cleans out your lower intestine but also slows down your liver’s processing of sugars, lowering the chance that sugar will be converted to fat. Fiber also lowers cholesterol levels and may even have associations with bolstering mental health.

In South Carolina, it’s standard to purchase collard greens in giant bunches, too large to fit in the average grocery bag. Most folks cut the tough rib out of the center of the leaf, chop the greens into forkable chunks and stew them in a deliciously seasoned liquid. Here is a recipe for classic Southern Collard Greens from Grandbaby Cakes.

The Recipe

Collards aren’t all this dish has to offer. From the healing punch of warming spices to the healthy protein contributed by the chickpeas and lentils, this soup will have you going back for another bowl.

First, I prepped all of the ingredients. I thawed my homemade stock…diced the onion…soaked the red lentils…peeled and chopped the ginger and garlic…washed and cut the collards….etc. It was my day off and I had all day to make magical soup, as far as I was concerned. A mini “vacation,” if you will.

(If you are looking for other ways to use up your gorgeous red lentils, check out this recipe for dal from one of my previous posts!)

Once the ingredients were prepped, it became a matter of bringing out the best in all of them. Sauteeing the onions until translucent, just cooking through the ginger and garlic, caramelizing the tomato paste and blooming the spices, stewing the tomato and collards…then adding the beans and stock to simmer until everything married together.

Serve yourself a bowl, add a healthy amount of fresh herbs on top, and you’ve got yourself a wellness boost:

Bet you can’t eat just one bowl.

Nik Sharma's Spicy Collard Greens and Legume Soup

Nik Sharma
This collard-packed soup is doubled down on legume-y goodness with both red lentils and chickpeas. With warming spices and brightness from fresh tomato and tamarind, this vegetable stew will leave you both refreshed and comforted!
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 1 hr 15 mins
Course dinner, Main Course, vegan, Vegetarian
Cuisine Comfort Food, Intuitive
Servings 4 people

Equipment

  • heavy bottomed dutch oven

Ingredients
  

  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1 tsp red chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric powder
  • 2 Tbs tomato paste
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 7 oz collard greens, rinsed, midribs removed, and coarsely chopped
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed
  • 1 quart low-sodium vegetable stock, or chicken stock
  • 1 Tbs tamarind paste
  • salt, to taste
  • chopped parsley, to taste
  • chopped cilantro, to taste

Instructions
 

  • First, rinse your lentils in a fine mesh colander and pick out any impurities. Cover lentils in a bowl with 1 cup of water and let soak for 30 minutes.
  • While the lentils are cooking, peel and dice the onion, garlic, ginger, and tomato and set aside. Remove the midribs from the rinsed collards and roughly chop.
  • Heat oil in the bottom of a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sautee for about 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add ginger and garlic and cook 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add cinnamon stick, pepper, chili, and turmeric followed by the tomato paste and cook 2-3 minutes.
  • Drop in the diced tomato and collard greens and stir until the leaves are bright green and begin to wilt, about 1 minute. Drain the soaked lentils and add to the pot along with chickpeas and stock.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook uncovered about 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender but still retain their shape. Season to taste with salt.
  • Garnish with freshly chopped herbs and serve immediately.
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Miso-Braised Short Rib Au Jus (From @ladyandpups)

 

When was the last time you felt truly gluttonous, where eating felt like pure indulgence, every mouthful rich and decadent?

Maybe in between salads and roasted root vegetable dinners, you like to let your inner carnivore out of her cave…you might invite her to tear through supple slabs of fatty meat, grease lining her lips and juices rolling down her chin…

Enter the au jus sandwich.

This brilliant recipe by Mandy of @ladyandpups (check out her Instagram here!) pairs Japanese flavors for an original take on this luscious, mouth-watering sando. Tender chunks of short rib perched in cheesy, crusty toasted bread dive into salty umami broth and make for a very gratifying dinner indeed. I ate this two days in a row and would have gone for a third, had there been any more to eat! Do heed Mandy’s advice and let the cooked short ribs hang out in their juices overnight before you plan to assemble your sandwich–the depth and complexity of flavor will be worth it!

What Does “Au Jus” Mean?

“Au Jus” is derived from French, literally translating to “with the gravy” and is thought to date back to around 1915. Today, it is used to describe a dish that is served with the “natural juices” of cooked meat.

A Brief History of the Au Jus Sandwich

The Au Jus (or French Dip, as it’s often called in America) has its roots in early 1900s Los Angeles. According to legend, a restaurant owner was making a sandwich for a local cop when he accidentally dropped the finished product in a pan of beef broth. The accommodating officer ate the sandwich anyway and enjoyed it so much, he invited friends the next day to eat this new invention. Two different L.A. restaurants claim to have started this culinary delight: Philippe The Original and Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet, which have both been in operation since 1908. Regardless of the true origins, it did not take long for this delicious creation to reach international familiarity.

This Recipe Calls For A Lot of Miso…Where Should I Buy It?

It’s true: for this recipe, you need a whopping half cup of miso paste (no need to add extra salt for seasoning)! If supporting independent businesses is important to you, consider buying from South River Miso Company (their chickpea miso is an excellent idea, if slightly tangential to this recipe, which calls for regular soy). You can also always find miso at your local Asian market, and it usually comes in relatively large containers.

Other Ways To Use Miso

Miso is a versatile ingredient that can be used in sweet and savory contexts. It boosts saltiness and umami flavors, and generally has a slight nuttiness that adds depth to whatever you cook. Here are some ideas for using up your leftover miso:

The Recipe

Brown the meat in neutral oil on all sides. Assemble the ingredients and prepare to braise. The best part of this recipe? Once everything’s in the pot, all there is to do is wait while a delectable odor fills the air…

I like Kettle & Fire brand beef broth, but other low-sodium beef broth works well too.

Combine the rest of the ingredients in a hot, heavy-bottomed pot, add the meat and cover with liquid.

Make sure the beef is completely covered with liquid. If you don’t have enough beef broth to do this, a little water or chicken stock will do in a pinch!

Cover and braise for 3-3 1/2 hours at a relatively low temperature. Toast some crusty bread with a sharp cheese, assemble your sandwich, and ladle some of the luscious broth into a dip-able bowl.

Yeah…not at all a bad way to end the day…

Does it seem like hyperbole when I say I literally looked forward to eating this sandwich for weeks before it finally came to fruition? There’s something about planning meals ahead of time that is so rewarding.

This recipe makes for excellent leftovers that only taste better the longer they hang out in your fridge (you should probably throw it away if you can manage to keep it longer than 5 days or so, however…mine didn’t last nearly that long). Wow a friend or lover with this recipe! It makes for an excellent proclamation of love.

Miso-Braised Short Rib Au Jus

Adapted from a recipe by Mandy of @ladyandpups, this take on a French Dip sandwich combines classic Japanese flavors for a mouth-watering, juicy, crispy, cheesy meal.
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 3 hrs 45 mins
Total Time 4 hrs 5 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American, French, Japanese
Servings 4 people

Equipment

  • oven-safe heavy-bottom dutch oven

Ingredients
  

  • 3 lbs English short ribs
  • 3 Tbs canola oil
  • 2 Tbs low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 large white onion, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 inches ginger, cut into strips
  • 1 Tbs tomato paste
  • 3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp curry powder
  • 6 cups beef broth, plus more if needed to cover meat
  • 1/2 cup miso paste, preferably yellow or white
  • 1/3 cup mirin
  • 4 6 inch pieces of baguette, cut down the middle
  • 6 Tbs butter, room temperature
  • 1 lb provolone cheese, cut into slices
  • 1/4 cup shallot, minced

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 300°F.
  • Heat the oil over medium-high in a heavy-bottomed, oven-safe dutch oven. Add the short ribs fat side down first and cook, rotating until all sides are brown, about 4 minutes each side. If cooking in batches, drain browned short ribs on a plate lined with paper towels.
  • Lower heat to medium. Return all meat to the pot. Add the soy sauce and cook, stirring until most of the liquid has evaporated. (You want the soy sauce to caramelize, but not burn.) Add onion, garlic, and ginger and cook about 3 minutes. Add tomato paste and spices and cook for another 4 minutes, or until the tomato paste has caramelized slightly. Add beef broth, miso, and mirin and stir. If needed, add water until the meat is completely submerged.
  • Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook 3 to 3 1/2 hours, or until the meat is falling off the bone tender.
  • Using tongs, gently remove the short ribs from the liquid and place in a medium bowl. Strain the cooking liquid into a large bowl using a fine mesh sieve. Discard the spent ginger, onion, et cetera, and return the liquid to the pot, followed by the beef. Clear space in the fridge and let the mixture cool, ideally overnight.
  • When ready to eat, remove the dutch oven from the fridge. Skim off some of the solidified fat from the pot and discard. Over medium heat with the lid slightly ajar, reheat the short ribs until at a bare simmer.
  • Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F. Mince the shallot and set aside. Cut the bread into 6 inch lengths and butter. Place on a sheet tray and toast for several minutes, or until golden brown. Set aside.
  • Using tongs, pull short ribs from the au jus and place in a large bowl. Using kitchen shears, snip the meat into one inch chunks. Place cheese on one half of all four of the sandwich toasts and place back in the oven until bubbling.
  • Ladle the remaining au jus into four bowls and distribute chopped shallots into all four. Pile snipped short ribs and their juices between each set of sandwich toasts. Cut in half if desired, and serve immediately. If there is any left over, meat will keep well up to 4 days in the fridge.
Keyword @ladyandpups, American cuisine, American food, au jus, au jus sandwich, Bon Appetit, date night dinner ideas, easy dinner ideas, Food 52, Food52, French cuisine, french dip, french dip sandwich, French food, history of the au jus, history of the french dip, how au jus is made, intuitive chef, intuitive cook, intuitive cuisine, intuitive eating, intuitive eats, is au jus gluten free, Japanese cuisine, Japanese food, Lee Mandy, Mandy Lee, miso, miso ideas, new york times cooking, nyt cooking, simple dinner ideas, South River Miso, South River Miso Company, what is au jus sauce made of, what's au jus sauce

Pasta Carbonara

If you, like me, have been hoarding boxes of pasta over the course of the pandemic, you may be getting tired of your same old noodle routines. We all have the recipe rotations we keep in our back pocket for those nights following long days during which we haven’t had much bandwidth to think about dinner. Part of the beauty of a recipe like pasta carbonara is that the scratch-made sauce that takes moments to come together; even better, it maximizes flavor with only a few simple ingredients. This is a great one for everything from fancy date nights to “Oh my gosh I am so tired but can’t do canned red sauce even one more time this week” dinners!

A Brief History of Pasta

The origins of pasta as we know it are somewhat in dispute: there are those who claim it dates as far back as 3000 B.C. in China, and those who attest it had a parallel birthplace in 1100s Sicily. Regardless of origin, pasta has always held global appeal and been a cheap, reliable, appealing way to fill a belly.

According to “Italics Magazine,” an Italian magazine written in English, pasta as we know it was originally closer to lasagne than spaghetti. In the 1st century A.D, Horace, the Roman poet, wrote of “lagana,” a dish made of sheets of fried dough which may or may not have been stuffed with layers of meat.

Writings from 3rd century Palestine describe “itriyya,” a semolina-based dough cut into strips, dried, and then boiled. An Arab lexicographer and physician named Isho bar Ali described this ancient cousin of pasta in detail, and wrote of the industry surrounding it–ships sent the itriyya to “Calabria, to Muslim and Christian countries,” noting “very many shiploads are sent.”

As a result of extensive trading in the Middle Ages, food historians estimate pasta began to take on different shapes. Sicily may be credited with couscous; by the 13th century, pasta shapes like gnocchi, ravioli, vermicelli, and macaroni spread across the Italian peninsula.

Naples emerged as the leading producer and consumer of pasta in the 17th century. Pasta’s increasing popularity may have been due to the fact that it was a dish accessible to those who did not have the means to purchase meat for their meals. The Industrial Revolution saw the advent of machines like the torchio, which was a mechanical press designed to cut dough into thin pieces. The first license for a pasta factory was written in Venice in 1740.

In 1877, in the town of Parma, Italy, Pietro Barilla began one of the most successful pasta businesses still in production today.

Pasta’s Story Isn’t Over

Some pasta shape traditionalists attest that the record for existing pasta shapes is set in stone. Pasta-curious podcast host Dan Pashman challenged the status quo this year by setting out to create the “perfect” pasta shape: able to be speared by a fork and retain sauce, and toothsome enough to have a decent chew.

According to the New York Times, he worked with Sfoglini, a pasta company based in New York, to put the wheels in motion and create a riff on tradition. After nearly three years of research, they made the bronze casting capable of bringing Pashman’s dream to fruition and a new shape was born!

Enter cascatelli, a word derived from the Italian “cascata,” meaning waterfall. This new noodle is available for purchase online and was even recommended by the NYT article to be paired with–you guessed it–carbonara sauce!

Photo from the New York Times

So What About Carbonara?

If you, like me, impulsively purchased every available box of bucatini after the great bucatini shortage of 2020, a more traditional pasta shape would lend itself just as well to carbonara, a dish which may have origins reaching back to Italian coal miners, as it was colloquially called “coal miner’s spaghetti.” (“Carbonaro” is the Italian word for charcoal burner.)

While it is possible, of course, to eat whatever shape of pasta you like, it is recommended that you choose a shape with a large ratio of surface area to volume, like spaghetti, bucatini, or fettuccine in order to cook the eggs in the sauce properly. Let your heart be your guide!

You gotta love a tasty dish with simple ingredients…and how can you go wrong with that much cheese??

Gather the ingredients. Grate the cheese, whisk the eggs with salt and heavy pepper, cook the bacon…

Whisk cheese into the eggs and place in a large bowl while the pasta is cooking. Enjoy a little mental “vacation” while all you have to do is stare into a pot of boiling water, stirring occasionally…

When the pasta is al dente, drain and add to the egg and cheese mixture, tossing vigorously. Serve immediately topped with more cheese if desired, or grated salt cured egg yolk.

Or, if you are hedonistic like me, add both cheese and yolks!

Note: the pasta will loose a lot of heat when transferred from colander to cold bowl with cold sauce. Have whoever you are feeding on call and ready to eat! 🙂

Pasta Carbonara

Al dente pasta cooked bacon or guanciale is tossed in raw eggs, cheese, and salt and pepper, cooking the eggs and turning them into a delicious, creamy sauce.
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 2 people

Ingredients
  

  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano
  • salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
  • 8 oz pasta (bucatini, spaghetti, or fettuccine are traditional)
  • 5 pieces thick cut bacon (guanciale or pancetta are more traditional, so feel free to sub)
  • 1 Tbs olive oil if using guanciale or pancetta (otherwise, omit)

Instructions
 

  • Heat the oven to 425°F. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  • Lay bacon on a metal rack over a sheet track with a lip, and cook bacon in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, until thoroughly cooked but not crispy. Chop or snip bacon into 1/2" pieces and set aside.
  • In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, yolks, and both cheeses. Season with a small pinch of salt (bearing in mind the pasta water is salted and the bacon contributes a significant amount of salt) and a generous crack of fresh pepper. Set aside.
  • Cook pasta until al dente, 8-12 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a serving bowl with hot water to preheat.
  • Drain pasta when al dente, reserving 1 cup of pasta water. Dump hot water from serving bowl, patting dry with a towel. Add pasta to the warmed bowl, followed by the egg and cheese mixture, tossing continuously. If desired, add some pasta water for additional creaminess.
  • Serve immediately with more cheese, fresh pepper, or salt-cured egg yolks if desired.
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Everything But The Kitchen Sink Baked Mac & Cheese

Some people say “I love you” with cards and flowers. Others do it with mac and cheese.

Here in the South, baked mac and cheese seems to be a dietary requirement; it’s on nearly every menu that in any way boasts a connection to “soul food” and can be found both as dressed up rotini with a fancy cheese sauce made from gruyere AND unfussy elbows tossed in a Velveeta solution. One thing all of these versions have in common is their unequivocal deliciousness…one doesn’t even mind that with each forkful their arteries are clogging and, with each second helping they are solidifying a pending commitment at the gym. Sometimes, the heart just wants cheesy carbs and, being a heart-leading individual, I find this echo of longing hard to stave off for more than a week or two.

If you are reading this, chances are you too enjoy a sinfully large heap of steaming, cheese-coated noodles from time to time. I won’t bother you with the nutrition facts of today’s recipe, as sometimes it truly is better not to know.

What I will say is, it is really hard to have a bad day when you’re eating bacon, cheese, hamburger meat, and spiced breadcrumbs all in one bite. Believe me. I tried. And I wasn’t even mad to eat this as dinner for several days in a row…or lunch, for that matter. Mac and cheese is just kind of magical that way.

If you have children or are trying to pinch pennies, this recipe is especially for you. Each serving is incredibly filling and offers a significant amount of protein, and definitely has enough, erm, caloric value to keep even your most athletic family member going from lunch until dinner. Add a vegetable and a salad to your plate and you’ve got a “balanced” meal! (If you’re feeling particularly virtuous, throw some chopped cauliflower into your pasta water in the last few minutes before al dente and mix in with the ground beef and cheese sauce…but let’s just say this dish has no intentions of claiming to be “healthy”…)

Mac and Cheese Facts

  • Thomas Jefferson’s black chef, James Hemmings, is the first known person to cook mac and cheese in America.
  • Cheese dates back around 10,000 years and was originally made as a way to preserve farm fresh milk.
  • The first cheese factory opened in the United States in 1851, which caused cheddar cheese to be one of the first foods affected by the Industrial Revolution.
  • Velveeta cheese has over 22 ingredients and is no longer regulated as a cheese.
  • Kraft mac and cheese was originally created in order to provide the cheapest protein to American families possible.
  • The recipe for macaroni and cheese likely originated from Northern Europe, though the first record of a recognizable recipe dates back to 1769.

For more on mac and cheese, check out this article from the Smithsonian.

Good lord, it looks like nearly equal parts cheese and pasta…oh well. Who’s complaining about this? I ask the reader! Bacon and lean hamburger meat make delightful additions to the bubbling, cheesy pasta, which, as you can see here, consisted of two different pasta shapes I was trying to get rid of. This is a comfort food, not a gastronomic masterpiece, after all.

I cooked the bacon slices then snipped into bits using kitchen shears, then browned the beef in the bacon fat, which I reserved when the meat was done. Featured next to these two plates is a bowl full of panko breadcrumbs, seasoned with oregano, garlic salt, onion salt, and paprika.

What we have here is cheesy, meaty noodles. 🙂 I made a simple roux using the reserved bacon/beef fat and butter, then added milk and grated cheese. In go the cooked noodles and ground beef, then bacon bits, breadcrumbs, and a sprinkling of grated parmesan for good measure. Bake at 375°F for 20 minutes or until the breadcrumbs are beginning to brown. Broil on hi for a few minutes if you want it extra crispy.

Add something green to your plate to pretend you are a grown up and enjoy the fruits of your labor; now pull out your colander and get ready to make mac and cheese! 🙂

Everything But The Kitchen Sink Baked Mac & Cheese

Cheesy noodles nestled with bacon and ground beef are topped with crispy, spiced breadcrumbs for comfort food perfection!
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Total Time 55 mins
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine American, Comfort Food, Southern Cooking

Equipment

  • Dutch oven

Ingredients
  

  • 3-4 pieces thick cut bacon, cooked, chopped, and with rendered fat reserved
  • 1 16 oz package of ground beef, lean is ok
  • 1 1/2 cups panko, unseasoned
  • 1 tsp paprika, smoked or unsmoked
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning (or substitute equal parts dried oregano and parsley)
  • 3/4 tsp garlic salt
  • 3/4 tsp onion salt
  • freshly cracked pepper, to taste
  • sea salt, to taste
  • 16 oz pasta, shape of your choice--rotini is great for maximum sauciness
  • 4 Tbs butter, salted or unsalted
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups grated cheese, tightly packed (cheddar is classic but feel free to sub gruyere or gouda)
  • 1 cup grated parmesan

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • In a large pan over medium-high heat, cook bacon until cooked but not quite crispy. Snip into 1/4" strips or roughly chop and set aside.
  • In the same skillet used to cook the bacon, brown the ground beef over medium heat. Using a slotted spoon, remove beef and drain on a plate covered in paper towels. Pour any remaining fat from the pan into a dish to use later. You should have about 1 tablespoon.
  • Mix breadcrumbs and spices in a small bowl and set aside.
  • Bring a pot of heavily salted water to boil on the stove. Meanwhile, grate the cheese. Boil pasta until just cooked, 8-12 minutes depending on the shape. Drain in a colander over the sink. If you are worried about the pasta sticking into one mass while you make the roux, reserve enough cooking water to keep the pasta wet while you prepare the cheese sauce. Pasta cooking water contains starch which prevents the pasta from sticking together.
  • In a medium-sized dutch oven, heat butter and reserved bacon fat over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, turn heat down to low and add flour, whisking until incorporated. Cook the flour over low heat until it foams and turns a golden brown, about 2 minutes.
  • Slowly add milk, whisking continuously, until fully incorporated. It may seem liquidy at first; add the grated cheddar (or alternative) cheese and whisk until the cheese has fully melted.
  • Add cooked ground beef and drained pasta to the dutch oven and stir until fully incorporated.
  • Dress the top of the mixture with the cooked bacon bits. Sprinkle the spiced bread crumbs over the top of the pasta until fully covered. Add an even layer of parmesan over the top and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. If you desire crispier breadcrumbs, broil over high heat for several minutes. Serve immediately!
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Samin Nosrat’s Buttermilk Roast Chicken

I’m sure we can all agree that the circumstances surrounding this holiday are less than ideal. It’s challenging for families to come together, connect, and share food due to travel limitations. It seems most folks are celebrating on a smaller scale than usual, reducing their menu for the day if they’re even observing the holiday at all–at least, this is what I’ve observed on my food-saturated social media feed.

If you, too, are cooking for two, or four, or even just yourself–you may consider a roast chicken as your centerpiece rather than larger fowl.

Of all the chickens I have ever roasted in my life (and I love roast chicken!) this buttermilk chicken from Samin Nosrat is the juiciest, most chicken-y roast chicken I have ever had the sublime pleasure of sinking my teeth into. It really is about quality of ingredients because there are so few: take care to use a fine grain salt, like a sea salt or kosher salt, good buttermilk with few additives (or make your own like I do!) and a chicken that you can wager, with reasonable certainty, lived a good life. I don’t know if it’s all in my head, but I feel pretty certain that one can taste the difference in quality meat.

If you treat this recipe with the respect it deserves by investing in quality ingredients, you will be rewarded with beautiful results. For me, this was a life-changing, eureka moment, holy-smokes-this-is-it recipe for roast chicken. (You should probably buy yourself a copy of Salt Fat Acid Heat if you haven’t already.)

I like to keep the ingredients fairly simple in accordance with the original recipe. The lemon, herbs, and half an onion featured are optional, but delicious, additions.

this chicken marinated for two days in the fridge, though samin recommends 24 hours. i have found that two days does not negatively impact the chicken at all by drying it out w salt exposure–in fact, two days is kind of my sweet spot for this recipe, taking care to rotate the chicken every 8-12 hours, or whenever it crosses my mind: whichever comes first.

After I drained the chicken of buttermilk, I tucked the thyme under the skin near the breast meat, and stuffed the cavity with half of a small onion, a small bundle of sage, and a squeezed lemon half. The legs get tied together with twine.

samin instructs us to remove excess buttermilk from the skin by “scraping it off”; i have never found this to be a necessary step. if you hold the chicken so the cavity is facing over the sink or garbage can and wait patiently for a few seconds, the extra moisture should wick away. any remaining milk solids contributed to that delicious, delicious browning on the skin–and tell me, why would one want to prevent this from happening??

The first time I tried this recipe, I was slightly daunted by the recipes–shall we say, specific–roasting instructions. However, I followed them to a T and, I have to say the results made a believer out of me. Just try it. It will work. Trust me. (If you can’t trust me, trust Samin.)

i removed the chicken as soon as the drumstick juices ran clear and the breast meat clocked in at 155°F–for best browning results, use a shallow cast iron to house your chicken.

After you pick clean the carcass with the most delicious chicken you’ve had, maybe ever, save the bones/carcass to make stock. It’s soup season, after all…

Buttermilk Roast Chicken with Aromatics

Based on Samin Nosrat's recipe in NYT Cooking.
Prep Time 45 mins
Cook Time 1 hr
Resting Time 10 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American, keto, paleo, traditional

Equipment

  • cast iron skillet

Ingredients
  

  • 1 4 lb chicken, preferably organic
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • fine grain salt
  • 1/2 onion, peeled, optional
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced into the cavity and shoved inside, optional
  • fresh sage, optional
  • fresh thyme, optional

Instructions
 

  • One to two days before you cook the chicken, generously season it with salt, and rub into the skin. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Do not be shocked if you go through 2-3 Tablespoons, bearing in mind what is not absorbed by the bird initially will dissolve into the buttermilk as it marinates.
  • If using any aromatics like fresh herbs, onion, lemon, garlic, etc, tuck under the skin or in the cavity of the chicken now.
  • Place chicken into a large zip top bag and seal the buttermilk inside. Place in the fridge for 24-48 hours, turning the bag whenever you remember; ideally this is every 8-12 hours.
  • An hour and 15 minutes before you plan to cook the chicken, remove it from the fridge to thaw. After an hour has passed, preheat the oven to 425°F and take care your rack is centered in your oven.
  • Drain the chicken of the buttermilk over a sink or garbage can. When the chicken is completely drained, place it in a shallow cast iron pan. Slide the cast iron to the very back of the stove and into one corner of the oven, so that legs are pointing in the corner. Bake this way for 20 minutes.
  • After 20 minutes has passed, reduced oven heat to 400°F, and continue roasting 10 more minutes. Then, rotate chicken so that it is in the other backmost corner, with legs facing in the opposite corner. Bake for another 30 minutes, or until the chicken is a beautiful brown on top, juices pricked from where the drumstick meets the carcass run clear, or until the breast meat clocks in at 155°F-165°F.
  • If chicken is getting too crispy as you wait for it to reach temperature, feel free to cover the top with foil.
  • Let bird rest for 10 minutes before carving. Enjoy.
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Southern Key Lime Pie

After wandering through an antiques store in Little Mountain, South Carolina, I managed to emerge with only three vintage cookbooks. This, truth be told, was nothing short of a miracle. As it turns out, there are a lot of antique cookbooks to be had here, which, as a newcomer, I found terribly hard to resist.

I leafed through the recipes hungrily, looking for different culinary influences in the ingredients which might have contributed in some way to southern cooking’s unique charm. I suspected to encounter a lot of butter and refined sugar–and it’s true, those ingredients were star players on many of the pages–but I was excited to see ingredients more on the “earthy” side, like turnips, greens, root vegetables, and grains.

Colonialist ingredients clearly do not stand on their own, in this cuisine: the more “rooted” ingredients add a lot of richness to a well-rounded palate, much fuller than the myopic view fast food chains would lead us to believe.

When I saw a tantalizingly simple recipe for key lime pie, I figured I’d best give it a shot. I’m trying to pinch my pennies right now, after all. The South is a pretty good place to do this; plus, freshly made key lime pie makes it easy to forget one is doing so.

here are most of the gathered ingredients (note: i did not end up using all of the limes)

This was a great excuse to break in my new food processor, besides…blitzing the sleeve of graham crackers was delightfully easy, and made perfectly uniform pieces.

pulverized graham crackers, salt, and quality butter baked for 7 minutes and smelled divine

This recipe was dead simple. Only a handful of ingredients, and just a few steps. The hardest part was waiting for the pie to chill…

I managed to let this simple beauty chill overnight, no small feat

Because you need whipped cream on a key lime pie, I added a few finishing touches, and…voila! Will definitely be eating this for breakfast until it’s gone…

Southern Key Lime Pie

This recipe based off of a vintage Southern Living cookbook, as simple as it is sweet!
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 7 mins
Chill Time 2 hrs
Total Time 2 hrs 22 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine Southern Cooking
Servings 12

Ingredients
  

Crust

  • 1 sleeve graham crackers
  • 6 Tbs butter melted
  • 1 pinch finely ground salt

Filling

  • 2 14 oz cans sweetened condensed milk
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Blitz graham crackers in a food processor or blender until they are uniform in texture and size. Add melted butter and salt and combine until the mixture resembles coarse sand.
  • Press graham cracker mixture into a 9-inch pie dish until it is evenly dispersed in a thin layer across the bottom and up the sides.
  • Bake for 7 minutes, or until the tops of the crust are golden brown and releasing a pleasant aroma. Cool at least 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, beat sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, and freshly squeezed lime juice in a medium bowl with a whisk until combined. Pour the mixture into the cooled pie crust. Zest fresh lime peel evenly over the top of the custard mixture, and chill at least two hours.
  • Before serving, whip cream and powdered sugar in a deep bowl and beat with an electric mixer. Using either a piping bag or a spoon, place 12 dollops of cream around the edges of the surface of the pie in a circle, then one dollop for the middle. If desired, zest more lime peel over the top. Serve immediately.
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