fresh veggie pasta

pasta is yummy.

fresh veggie pasta | ginger-snapped.comthere’s no getting around it. and why would you even try? it’s filling, homey, comforting, and so versatile it’s ridiculous. you could eat pasta every day for a year and not repeat a recipe (and probably get huge and never want to leave the house, but that’s beside the point).

i usually eat pasta few times a week, either at home or out. this is not exactly intentional – as much as i love it, i should choose healthier alternatives. i prefer fresh pasta, naturally, but we always have boxes of dried pasta around for emergency situations. and sometimes, mac & cheese is really the only thing that will do when it’s 2am and you desperately need something to eat.

(and lately, i’ve had mac & cheese on the brain. i was the food stylist for a boston food blogger’s cookbook last week, dan whalen of the food in my beard, and he’s not shy about using mac & cheese in absolutely debaucherous ways. example:

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you see what i’m saying. when presented with deep fried mac & cheese balls – complete with lobster – one must eat. but i digress.)

in my endless pursuit of delicious meals that won’t make me gain 20 pounds, i’ve been intrigued by this veggie pasta trend. not just for spaghetti squash anymore, chefs and home cooks alike are using zucchini, squash, carrots, potatoes, cucumbers, and tons of other vegetables to mimic the shape and texture of traditional pasta noodles – but with much more nutritional value, and far less calories. i’m sure you’ve heard of this. of course, not only did i want healthier noodles, i wanted those lovely, thin,  fettuccini-like noodles – and to get those, one generally has to use the dreaded mandoline.

fresh veggie pasta | ginger-snapped.com

i’ll be honest – i’m terrified of mandolines. i don’t even own one. i watch cooking shows religiously and it seems like every time a chef pulls one of these out, it’s only a matter of time before they cut themselves in dramatic, horrifying fashion. it’s always fast, it’s always deep, and it always puts them out of the competition for at least twenty minutes.

fresh veggie pasta | ginger-snapped.comain’t nobody got time for that. and i like my fingers attached to my hands and injury-free, thank you very much. so i gave up the dream and settled for ordering veggie-made pasta in restaurants.

my lovely friend nicole brought these noodles up again over dinner the other night, during a lively discussion on reducing meat in our diet, reminding me of my abandoned pasta idea. there had to be a way to cut these lovely little noodles that wouldn’t put my hands in danger.

naturally, the internet provided a number of ideas. the spiralizer. the box grater. the vegetable peeler. the julienne peeler, which i need to get my hands on immediately. and if you’re not irrationally afraid of particular kitchen tools, the mandoline.

fresh veggie pasta | ginger-snapped.com

like most of my recipes, this one is infinitely adaptable. there are a million ways to make these noodles, and in the same way, there are a million ways to prepare them. play with sauces, add other veggies to the mix, top it off with cheese…or, you could always add meat. but i’m trying to lose weight over here, so i used a few different vegetables, added some regular fresh pasta, and added a light, simple sauce. i ate this with a light lentil salad on the side and was a happy (healthy!) camper.

fresh veggie pasta

find me on instagram @megjoneswall

find me on instagram @megjoneswall

3 large carrots
1 zucchini
roughly 4 ounces fresh fettucini
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
2 tablespoons butter
salt & pepper to taste
1 teaspoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

peel carrots and zucchini, and trim ends. use your favorite method to cut vegetables into pasta noodles – i used a vegetable peeler. peel long strips, turning vegetables around so that all strips are evenly sized. save the cores for a salad or sauce.

in a large pot, boil several cups of water, salted to taste. cook fresh pasta noodles according to package instructions. i like to do half veggie pasta and half regular pasta, but adjust according to your preferences.

heat olive oil in a medium saucepan, then add white wine and butter. when sauce starts to thicken,  add carrot and zucchini noodles. saute for a minute. stir until mixed, then add cooked fresh pasta noodles. add parsley, dried red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. cook until sauce is thickened, another minute or two, then remove from heat and put into a serving bowl. top with parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

fresh veggie pasta | ginger-snapped.com

summer recipe roundup

it’s finally here.

summer recipe roundup | ginger-snapped.com

that most delicious, wonderful, exquisite time of year when the recipes come out, grilling parties and beach festivals go wild, and the eating is amazing.

summer recipe roundup | ginger-snapped.com

summer recipe roundup | ginger-snapped.com

 

summer recipe roundup | ginger-snapped.com

yes, dear readers. it’s tomato season.

summer recipe roundup | ginger-snapped.com

and in honor of this most delightful fruit, i’ve gathered together some of my most popular summer recipes, many of which feature the tomato. there’s nothing quite like a fresh, just-picked heirloom tomato, straight from the farmer’s market, with just a little salt – just cut that sucker up and eat it whole. if you’re in the mood for something more elaborate, check out a few of the following:

summer recipe roundup | ginger-snapped.com tomato, cheddar & basil summer pie

lentil & veggie salad

summer gazpacho

orzo salad

super fresh ceviche

fish tacos

and, from the back of the vault… the ultimate blt

what’s your favorite tomato recipe?

summer orzo salad

it’s june.

flowers

did you just do a happy dance? because i did.

drink stand

church window

i’ve spent most of my life living in new england, but i can’t help it – i really am a california girl, through and through. i’ve been to some amazingly beautiful places, but my favorites always have the same things: sunshine, salt water, and palm trees.

hancock?

but living in boston really makes you appreciate these warm summer months. they slip by so quickly, you have to take advantage of every warm, sunny day – because before you know it, we’ll be buried under twenty feet of snow and will be digging your car out, chipping ice off the windows, and longing for those hot, humid days of august.

gate

hat

alley

and boston is really gorgeous this time of year. greenery everywhere, happy dogs, bright flowers, cold beer, farmer’s markets, and all the best food festivals. fresh fruits and veggies, refreshing cocktails, and mouth-watering seafood. what could be better?

salad plate

i’d like to submit an often-overlooked lovely thing about summer. it’s easy, fresh, energizing, and completely delicious – yes, i’m talking about cold summer salads. i feel like dishes like potato salads, pasta salads, and grain salads sometimes get a bad rap – people think they’re so simple that they aren’t worth eating. they’re a grocery store cop-out. they’re generic and boring. but i think good salads can be absolutely fantastic. perfect as a side dish for a grilled dinner, easy to add protein to for a complete meal in a bowl, and fun to bring to a picnic or barbecue -what more do you need? i’ve already written about my favorite lentil salad, as well as a delicious pasta salad with tofu, but i want to submit a new one for the collection: mediterranean orzo salad.

orzo

this salad, like most others, is about as simple and easy to customize as can be. take orzo, add a bunch of stuff you like, stir it up, and eat it. i have a tendency to go a little overboard with fresh veggies and other goodies, so my recipe includes red onion, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, basil, and garlic, along with feta cheese, olives, and capers. you don’t have to use that much stuff if you don’t want – use what’s in your house, or what you find at the farmer’s market. use what makes you happy. 

garlic

 

clearly, garlic makes me happy.

salad closeup

mediterranean orzo salad

12 ounces orzo, cooked according to package directions
3 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, pressed or diced
juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 large handfuls of baby spinach, roughly chopped
10 olives, roughly chopped (i used a mix of stuffed green and kalamata)
5 ounces crumbled feta cheese
1 medium tomato, diced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced
1/4 small red onion, finely sliced
2 tsp capers
salt and pepper to taste

in a large sauce pan, warm the olive oil over medium heat. add garlic and allow to saute for 1-2 minutes, until golden brown. add cooked orzo and stir, coating in garlic oil. put everything into a large bowl, and top with lemon juice and zest. add spinach, olives, feta cheese, tomato, pepper, onion, and capers. get liberal with your salting and peppering, and stir well. top with extra olive oil or lemon juice if you like.

this dish is great warm, and is also really yummy to make the day before and serve chilled. or you can do what i do and have some right after you make it, then put it in the refrigerator and eat some more later.

salad bowl

 

happy june! and get excited – i have another amazing giveaway coming up in the next few weeks!

scones & a giveaway

in my house growing up, maple syrup was something of a necessity. bacon was mandatory. pancakes were always made from scratch. and breakfast was an extremely big deal.

square plate | ginger-snapped.com

but it took my family a little while to figure out that real maple syrup is a completely different thing than the super sweet syrup that comes in plastic bottles shaped like a lady. my immediate family is from the west coast, and i always grew up eating the fake stuff, not realizing that there was something vastly superior being consumed on the other side of the country. we didn’t know hardly anything about it, but my parents wanted us kids to be comfortable in our new homes and to try foods that were more specific to our new home of new england. after moving from southern california to northern vermont, my parents bundled my brother and i into the car, drove us out to the woods, and tried to take us maple sugaring…in september.

cinnamon | ginger-snapped.com

obviously, we were all a little disappointed to learn that sugaring happens in the spring. and to be honest, when my family first tasted pure, made-from-tree-sap syrup, none of us were that crazy about it. but it seemed ridiculous at our weekly sunday brunch to take my father’s incredible, fluffy, chock-full-of-love homemade pancakes and smother them with fake syrup, so we gave the real stuff a shot. and the more we tried it, the more we fell in love with the pure, delicious flavor of authentic maple syrup. it’s impossible to imagine going back now.

syrup | ginger-snapped.comthis is all a little embarrassing to admit, since i now do my best to consume as many local foods as possible and put real emphasis on eating natural, whole, healthy foods – but i try to just remind myself that we’re all a little foolish when we’re younger. after all, i used to hate tomatoes. clearly i had a lot to learn.

and while i’ve tasted some truly delicious maple syrup over the years, the syrup crafted at sweet brook farm, right here in massachusetts, is one of the best i’ve ever had. rich, sweet, with complex, beautiful flavors. i use it for all kinds of things, from pancakes to oatmeal to chicken to bacon, but i really love it in scones – it adds so much flavor and moisture and makes these perfect breakfast pastries light and sweet and positively lovely.

of course, any good quality maple syrup will work in the following recipe, but i’m giving you a chance to score your very own bottle of sweet brook farm syrup, along with some other yummy local treats! but first…

napkin | ginger-snapped.com

maple syrup & toffee scones

1/4 cup really good maple syrup
1/3 cup milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled or steel-cut oats
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon sea salt
11 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
1/4 cup toffee bits, plus extra for topping
2 tablespoons brown sugar

preheat oven to 400 degrees.

in a small bowl, mix together maple syrup and milk.

in a large bowl, or the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, oats, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, toffee | ginger-snapped.comand sea salt. add cubed butter – you can either mix this with your fingers, or lightly pulse in a food processor until mixture is crumbly. slowly add syrup and milk mixture until dough is just holding together, but isn’t sticky – you may not need the entire mixture. add the toffee bits and stir gently.

dump dough out onto a floured surface and knead it a few times, just enough so that the dough stays together. press dough into a square or a circle, and cut into 12 even pieces. i like squares, but you can also do triangles, or split it into 12 little round balls – whatever makes you happy. place the scones onto a baking sheet lined with parchment, with at least half an inch between them. mix brown sugar with a bit more toffee, and sprinkle mixture onto the top of each scone.

bake scones for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. eat these warm, preferably with hot coffee and a few friends. you can add butter, honey, jam, or more maple syrup, but they’re delicious all on their own.

crumbs | ginger-snapped.com

in honor of my 100th post, i’m delighted to announce that i’ve partnered with eat boutique to give away one of their exquisite and delicious local artisan food gift boxes! if you don’t know about this beautiful blog and shop, get your butt to their site right now. maggie batista and her talented team find the best of local syrups, spices, cookies, and other goodies and package them all up into these beautiful gift boxes that you can send off to your friends and family. i’ve both given new-england-gift-box-2_1024x1024and received these as gifts, and they’re an absolutely wonderful thing for any food lover in your life.

the winner of this giveaway will receive a special new england gift box, made just for ginger-snapped, containing taza chocolateQ’s nutssalt traders saltsweet brook farm maple syrup, and new harvest coffee beans. all items are produced right here in new england, and the chocolate and nuts are both actually from somerville, where i live – i can personally vouch for their deliciousness.

to enter, click the link below to enter through rafflecopter – the form is also available on the ginger-snapped facebook page. you can earn extra entries by following on facebook and twitter, or by tweeting about the contest. these boxes can only be shipped within the US, so the contest is only open to US residents. the winner will be selected with rafflecopter. the giveaway ends friday, may 24th, and the winner will be announced right here, as well as on facebook and twittergood luck!

this contest is now closed. the lucky winner is emily olson – congratulations! i’ve emailed you, so let me know where we can send your lovely prize. thanks to everyone who entered, and keep your eye on the blog because i have another giveaway coming up in june!

maple syrup & toffee scones | ginger-snapped.com

citrus & chicken

it’s been an overwhelming few months.

ginger-snapped | citrus & chicken pasta salad

getting through the end of winter and welcoming spring with open arms. beginning a photography class and trying to boost my resume, fantasizing about working with food and drinks and words and photographs and social media and all those lovely things all day, every day. trying to come to terms with ginger-snapped | citrus & chicken pasta saladthe death of my long-ill grandmother and a bombing in my city, all in the same week. running a half marathon in dc a week and a half after the marathon bombers were apprehended, and being overwhelmed by support and love and refusing to give in to fear.

i haven’t known what to say here. too much has happened, and it feels like i’ve been struggling to keep my head above water. but as well as not writing, i haven’t been cooking either. and i miss both. these things keep me grounded, keep me together. they remind me of who i really am, what i want. and these things that i often take for granted, getting lost in a beautiful novel or letting my words spill out into the universe or playing with old ingredients to create something new – i need them. even if my dream job doesn’t exist, even if i end up doing something completely unrelated to food or visual media or writing – i need to keep doing this.

this blog is a selfish thing, really. sometimes it keeps me sane. it reminds me to take joy in small victories, to continue writing and taking pictures and staying in touch with other food-loving people in my life. it makes me happy, even when it’s not easy.

ginger-snapped | citrus & chicken pasta salad

so does this recipe, actually. except that unlike my blog entries, this recipe takes about twenty minutes to prepare.

ginger-snapped | citrus & chicken pasta salad

the story of this dish is a little strange. i’m taking a photography class at the new england school of photography with a delightful photographer named keitaro yoshioka, and it’s absolutely wonderful. and after classes on the basics, on light, portraits, sports, families, and landscapes, we finally got to my bread and butter (pun only partially intended) – still life photography.

naturally, after playing with some other objects, i just had to start shooting food. wanting to play more withginger-snapped | citrus & chicken pasta salad natural light, as well as use studio lighting and some other techniques we’d learned in class, i chose several vivid citrus fruits, cut them into various shapes, and spent a delightful afternoon playing around with my camera.

of course, i was left with some images that i really loved…and a large tupperware bursting with fresh-cut citrus, just waiting to be used in some bright, tart, addictive dish.

what else could i do but start cooking?

ginger-snapped | citrus & chicken pasta salad

the great thing about cold pasta salads like this is that you can adapt them to whatever you have on hand. try adding capers, or bell peppers, or a little red onion. leave out the feta or switch it up for another cheese that you like. use greek yogurt with lemon juice instead of the vinaigrette if you’re pressed for time or want it to be creamier or simply aren’t in the mood to dice up a shallot. and if you don’t happen to have a refrigerator full of cut-up fruit, you can use whatever you like. try all lemon, add some more lime, or focus more on the grapefruit. it’s completely up to you – think of this recipe as more of a rough guideline.

ginger-snapped | citrus & chicken pasta saladcitrus chicken & pasta salad with honey-citrus vinaigrette

1 1/2 lbs chicken breast or chicken tenders, shredded
12 ounces pasta, cooked al dente
1 large tomato, diced
6-8 basil leaves, finely diced
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper, as needed to taste

vinaigrette
(this recipe makes more than you’ll need for the pasta salad – use the rest on greens, veggies, or as a marinade for fish or poultry!)

1 medium shallot, finely diced
2 tablespoons honey
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup fresh grapefruit juice
4 tbsp fresh lime juice
salt and pepper to taste

in a large bowl, combine shredded chicken (this is my preferred method of preparing the shredded chicken), cooled pasta, tomato, basil, feta cheese, and red pepper flakes. in a mason jar or reusable container, combine shallot, honey, olive oil, white wine vinegar, orange juice, grapefruit juice, lime juice, salt, and pepper. toss as much dressing as you like in with the chicken and pasta mixture, then add extra salt and pepper as needed. you can serve this warm and eat it immediately, or chill it until you’re ready – it’s yummy either way.

ginger-snapped | citrus & chicken pasta salad

a french onion soup day.

some days are soup days. no explanations necessary.

ginger-snapped - french onion soup

and soup is a delightful thing. on a soup day, there are no possible substitutions. nothing else can warm a soul that is chilled to the bone, a body that is weary, or a heart that needs comforting. and many soups can do this job quite well. some days require simple, beautiful tomato soup (grilled cheese optional but encouraged). other days i want to feel like a real boston girl and enjoy some fresh new england clam chowder. and my vegetable minestrone is a favorite in our house for a hearty meal that still fills the soup criteria.

ginger-snapped - french onion soup

but yesterday was a french onion soup kind of day. the dogs were cranky, my husband has been traveling far too much, and spring keeps teasing us by poking its head out, looking around, and then ducking when boston gets nailed with another half a foot of snow.
ginger-snapped - french onion soupi’m craving greenery. i’m so tired of white and gray, of big, ugly snow boots and too many layers. i can’t
wait to see buds on the trees
, to spot flowers slowly unfurling from the earth, and to savor that delicious, indescribably gorgeous scent that always lingers when spring is approaching. you know what i’m talking about. winter smells pretty too, but i’m ready for a new fragrance.

but until spring actually arrives, we must content ourselves with the comforting flavors of almost-spring… i.e. warm, boozy, sweet, salty and fragrant french onion soup. with bread and cheese on top. and a glass of wine on the side.

ginger-snapped - french onion soup

i’m a simple girl. bread, cheese, onions, and wine – that’s pretty much all that i need to keep me happy.

this recipe is essentially julia’s, with a few modifications. i used homemade turkey stock, but you’re free to substitute chicken stock or more beef stock (or use a hearty vegetable or mushroom stock if you don’t eat meat). also, this soup is so good on its own that you don’t technically need to top it with the crouton and cheese…but i’m never one to turn down bread and cheese.

ginger-snapped - french onion soup

(let’s not pretend this is a healthy meal. soup days are not days that we count calories.)

classic french onion soup

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oilginger-snapped - french onion soup
6 tbsp butter
5 cups sliced onions
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp flour
1 cup white wine (i like to use chardonnay but do what you want)
2 cups beef stock
4 cups turkey or chicken stock 
1 clove minced garlic
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp brandy or cognac
salt and pepper, to taste (if necessary)

a few thick slices of crusty bread
2 tbsp butter
8 oz gruyère cheese, grated

in a large saucepan or stockpot, heat oil and butter until melted. add the onions and cook covered, on low heat, for 10-15 minutes. uncover and add sugar and salt. turn heat up to medium, and cook, stirring frequently, until caramelized a deep, even brown, about 40 minutes. (this is a good time to put on fun music or reruns of your favorite television show, because while your house is going to smell amazing, it’s a little boring stirring onions and waiting for them to brown*.)

ginger-snapped - french onion souponce onions are browned, add flour and stir, allowing to cook for another 3 minutes. add minced garlic and worcestershire sauce, and cook for another minute before adding wine, beef stock, and turkey stock. cover partially and simmer for another 30-40 minutes. add brandy, salt and pepper to taste if needed, and you’re done.

at this point, if you’re making the soup ahead (which i highly recommend but rarely have the strength to accomplish), let it cool and put it away. the flavor will just continue to deepen and develop until you’re ready to eat. if you’re like me and can’t resist the fragrance that will be filling your home, move on to the next step.

spread thick slices of crusty bread with butter and toast until crunchy. spoon soup into oven-safe bowls and top with bread and a generous amount of gruyère. place on a baking sheet and pop these under the broiler until cheese is bubbling and golden brown. eat immediately.

*cook’s illustrated has developed a method of caramelizing onions in the oven, which appears to work very well. my dutch oven isn’t large enough, but if you try it, please report back!

ginger-snapped - french onion soup

just meatloaf

this post is a long time coming.

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not because i don’t like meatloaf, because i absolutely love meatloaf. not because i don’t make it often, because my husband loves it and it’s often our “we only have dinner together once a week so let’s make it special by eating something fattening” meal. not even because it’s not the most photogenic dish in the world.

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(it’s really not.)

to be completely honest, i just haven’t known what to say about this dish. my mother never made it. i didn’t grow up eating it. it wasn’t one of those dishes i always wanted to be good at preparing, like tomato sauce or souffle or coq au vin. it wasn’t even a dish that i frequently ordered in restaurants. i’ve wanted to write this post for months (months!) but simply haven’t known how to write about meatloaf.

but these days, boston is a bit of a bummer. there’s obscene amounts of snow everywhere, the roads are crazy, everyone in the state is cranky, and just doing everyday tasks is exhausting and frustrating.

i opened my door saturday morning, and this is what i found...

i opened my door saturday morning, and this is what i found…

meatloaf always seemed to me like a kitchen sink sort of dish, something you made when you didn’t know what else to do and wanted to get rid of leftover veggies. not that those kinds of dishes are bad – they’ve saved me on more than one occasion – but it didn’t seem like a dish that one would master the art of, a dish that one painstakingly prepared.

dear readers, i was wrong. meatloaf may not be complicated to make. it may not be incredibly sophisticated or win you points with “high food” people. it’s probably not the dish to win over your pickier family members or friends. and honestly, it has kind of an icky-sounding name. but it is so, so good. comforting, warm, like a big hug from your oven. and when there’s this much snow, and simply going to the grocery store and then finding a parking spot is a serious undertaking (because, inevitably, your cranky neighbors will have stolen the spot you spent hours shoveling out the day before, and now you have to carry your groceries half a mile back to your house because the only available spot is on the other side of the neighborhood), the only thing that will help is something simple and delicious. and meatloaf is so easy to put together, and so completely worth the minimal effort that it takes, that there’s really no excuse not to make it. 

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there are so many variations that it’s overwhelming – suffice to say, this recipe is infinitely changeable. don’t like celery? leave it out. prefer ground lamb instead of pork? go for it. wish it had more cheese? i would never, ever stop you from adding more cheese. and if you want this to be even more decadent, pull a ree drummond and wrap the whole thing in bacon.

not-quite-kitchen-sink meatloaf

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, finely diced or pressed
2 stalks celery, diced
1 pound ground chuck
1 pound ground pork
1/4 cup plain greek yogurt (or sour cream)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup bread crumbs
2 eggs
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
2 tsp chopped parsley
2 tsp chopped basil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper

for the sauce:
1 cup ketchup
2 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce

preheat oven to 350 degrees.

in a large bowl, combine ground chuck, ground pork, yogurt, cheese, bread crumbs, eggs, worcestershire sauce, parsley, basil, salt, and pepper.

in a large saucepan, warm olive oil on medium heat. add onion, and saute until translucent, about five minutes. add garlic and celery, and saute for another three minutes. add to meat mixture. wash your hands thoroughly and use them to combine everything. it will look like a hot mess in a bowl, but once it’s baked, it will be delicious.

press mixture into a large loaf pan. (there’s no need to grease this, but i like to line mine with a few layers of aluminum foil so that i can lift the entire loaf out after it’s baked and slice it on a cutting board. you don’t have to do this if you’d prefer to slice it in the loaf pan, but a lot of fat tends to accumulate in the bottom of the pan and i find removing the meatloaf from the pan makes it easier to deal with.)

in a small bowl, combine ketchup, mustard, and worcestershire sauce. use a spoon to spread the sauce over the top of the loaf. put the meatloaf into the oven and bake for an hour. serve immediately, preferably over mashed potatoes.

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**you may have noticed that the blog got a facelift over the weekend. i’ll still be tweaking the design over the next few weeks, but i’d love to get your feedback – rants, raves, snarky comments are all accepted. i’m also working on a new photography portfolio that will also be growing over the coming weeks, and i’d love feedback on that as well, if you check it out. thanks again for reading!

chowdah

if you know me at all, you’re probably aware that i’m not exactly a typical new england girl.

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IMG_0336my parents (and basically my entire family) are all from the west coast, so in spite of spending most of my life living in new england, i’ve never quite fit in here. i don’t like cold, snow, or ice. i don’t do any winter sports…though i’ve been known to join skiers and snowboarders after their days on the mountainside, sharing a few drinks. i don’t even have a boston accent.

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why, yes – i am on instagram. find me as megjoneswall.

most of the year, this doesn’t really matter. after all, i am a diehard new england patriots fan. i love cranberries, cheese, and real maple syrup, especially from vermont. and most of the year, living here is pretty okay. spring in new england is basically mud season, but summer is beautiful, if humid, and autumn is spectacular…but right now it’s january, and all of my real new england friends are constantly complaining about the lack of snow and ice. freaking out that it’s not cold enough and that they can breathe without wheezing. lamenting the fact that the city hasn’t shut down from a nor’easter and that it’s still easy to drive around without skidding over black ice on the way to work. because doesn’t that sound like a blast?

i think you’re all nuts.

in spite of my numerous complaints, there’s one thing that new england has to offer that i absolutely never get tired of – and would miss desperately if i were to move away. (i mean, besides going to foxboro for patriots games. and my friends and family and stuff. whatever.) other regions have their own versions, but they’re just not as good. it’s new england clam chowder, and it’s the best chowder (chowdah!) out there. i’ll just say it. you can complain all you want in the comments, but you’ll never convince me that any other region can do it better.

boston has about a million different places to get chowder, and probably half of them have won awards and accolades that state that their chowder is the best. don’t worry, they’re all wrong. the search is over. mine is the best.

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just kidding. sort of.

IMG_6889i’ve had some great chowders in my day, but my favorites all have the same things in common – thick, rich, creamy broth. big chunks of clam, potato, bacon, and onion. smoky, comforting layers of flavor. and obviously, lots of oyster crackers on the side.

now, i know that you’re going to look at the following recipe and get a bit mad. i’ll just prepare you now: i used canned clams. what??! you wonder. this girl constantly carries on about farmer’s markets and fresh ingredients…and she lives in boston, land of fresh seafood. i should write her a nasty email. please don’t. i was sad IMG_6878too. i went to buy some fresh littleneck clams for my yummy chowder, then realized that they were priced per clam and it was going to cost a small fortune to purchase as many asi would need. it was disappointing, but times are tough and i can’t rationalize spending my entire paycheck on one meal…so i went for the cans. if you can get fresh clams, by all means, do it – fresh is always better. but if you’re a little poor, like me, it’s okay to use cans every once in awhile. i won’t tell anyone.

new england clam chowdah

8 medium yellow potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/4-1/2 inch cubes
16 ounces heavy cream
1/4 pound center cut bacon, finely diced
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
3 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1 large clove garlic, pressed or diced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup white wine
15 ounces canned chopped clams, with about half of the juice
8 ounces bottled clam juice
2 whole bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 tablespoon dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
approximately 1/2 cup roux

put diced potatoes and heavy cream into slow cooker and turn up to high. allow to heat up while you prepare the other ingredients.

in a large saucepan, cook diced bacon until fat is rendered out and the pieces are crispy – about five minutes. add onions, celery, garlic, and butter, and saute for five more minutes, or until onions are translucent. deglaze pan with white wine, and allow to come to a simmer.

add bacon and vegetable mixture to slow cooker, stirring well to combine. add canned clams, clam juice, bay leaves, parsley, thyme, salt, and pepper. add roux to thicken, and stir well. cover and allow to simmer on high in the crock pot for about five hours, stirring occasionally and tasting – i added regular salt as well as smoked salt for extra flavor. you can also set it for low and cook for about ten hours, if it suits your schedule better. garnish with fresh chopped parsley and serve with oyster crackers and crusty bread. (or try these yummy-looking bread bowls and send me photos.)

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the first thanksgiving

oh, thanksgiving. that most wonderful of holidays, where all anyone talks about is family, friends, football, and food. four of my favorite things, which makes thanksgiving one of my favorite holidays.

unfortunately, it seems like when a lot of people think about the big turkey day, they just think about stress. cleaning, menu planning, traveling, shopping, and putting out seemingly endless fires of family drama and scandal.

the family. dad, brother, husband, mother, dog, and me.

now, i don’t want to brag. (well, maybe i do. just a little.) but my family is pretty awesome. both my immediate family and my in-law family are wonderful, kind, loving people who are a joy to be around – and to cook for. and my husband, of course, is amazing. so this year, rather than traveling to the rugged wilderness of caribou, maine to see my husband’s family (we’re saving that for christmas!) or driving a few hours to my parent’s house in vermont, i opted to host thanksgiving at our little apartment in somerville.

i think most of my friends thought i was crazy.

and after cleaning every inch of my apartment, pouring over millions of holiday recipes, deciding to make every dish from scratch, making a terrifying shopping list, buying everything, and prepping as much as possible before thursday, i admit that for a minute, i thought i was crazy too. what the hell was i thinking?

sous chef steve, diligently peeling potatoes.

but my mother is calm and wise, and my father, brother, and husband are wonderful sous chefs. even the dog was surprisingly quiet. we had a few epic mishaps – the coffeepot breaking spectacularly and spilling coffee all over everything, the pie crust failing to rise…twice, and burning my hand on some hot oil in the roasting pan – but the meal came out even better than i’d hoped. it just goes to show that even if you’re not martha stewart or rachel ray, you can make a few mistakes on a big family holiday and it doesn’t wreck the entire occasion. and my family was wonderfully tolerant of me stopping everything to take pictures every five minutes. thanks, guys!

in the spirit of the holidays – and with the knowledge that christmas and its accompanying feast is looming – i’d like to share my full menu with you. my family is all a little food-and-wine-obsessed, so in addition to dinner we also had several nights’ worth of appetizers, a spectacular cheese plate, about a dozen wines, and homemade pumpkin pie. some things are more photogenic than others, but all of the recipes are either linked or listed.

the cheese board.

in choosing recipes, i ended up creating a pinterest board with dozens of options. i made my poor family look over these and choose their favorites, which resulted in a menu that everyone was happy with…and about a dozen recipes that i’d never made before. this is not an approach i would recommend. but somehow, magically, every single recipe was delicious and wonderful. i would remake this meal in a heartbeat, and i think that that’s pretty incredible. feel free to steal the entire thing for next year.

the breakfast. i wanted to make something simple, seasonal, and satisfying that i could make ahead and throw into the oven on the big day. i didn’t want people fussing around in the kitchen before i destroyed it to create our meal, and making something filling and comforting seemed like a great answer. it took two pots of coffee spilling all over the kitchen before my dad figured out how to temporarily fix it (and we put a baking sheet with high sides underneath it), but for thanksgiving morning my family enjoyed coffee, fruit, and a pumpkin french toast bake that took about 10 minutes to make the night before. the photos on this wonderful blog are much prettier than this one, so give her lots of kudos for a great recipe and some beautiful images.

the appetizers. my apartment kitchen is surprisingly large, but it doesn’t matter – i like my space when i’m cooking. i don’t like people to hover, and i really, really don’t like people to stick their fingers in my food and taste it while i’m cooking. it bugs me. to encourage the family to munch on other things, we set up a table of appetizers before dinner would be served. it seemed to work pretty well. the highlights – my father’s incredible home-smoked salmon, my mother’s famous tapenade, a garlic and herb seasoned butter that my husband was determined to have on the table (though i made it and it was messy, but addictive),  brie baked in puff pastry with cranberry relish (more on that later), and deviled eggs with basil aioli and fried capers, otherwise known as the greatest deviled eggs of all time.

seriously, i’m not kidding. we were all positively raving over these eggs. don’t finish this post without clicking on the link and reading the recipe, because you might need to make them for yourself before you continue. molly wizenberg is a genius.

the turkey. turkey is not as hard to prepare as it seems, but there’s so much contradictory advice out there that it can feel incredibly overwhelming. i try to keep the turkey as simple as possible, and like to brine with various ingredients – i find that it gives the bird wonderful moisture and tenderness. this year’s turkey was brined with oranges, cloves, and a splash of bourbon. i stick it in the pan to dry out, put it into a roasting pan, slather it with butter, and shove it in the oven. i don’t cover it. i don’t baste it. i don’t do anything but check on it to make sure it’s not getting too dark – and if it does, i put a small piece of folded aluminum foil on top of it. after the appropriate amount of time (my turkey was 15 pounds so i roasted it at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, then 350 degrees for 3 1/2 hours), i take it out and let it rest for a full hour before carving. and it came out delicious.

yes, it’s dark. no, this is not my best turkey photograph. but it seems wrong to not include a shot of the whole bird. and it was so, so delicious.

yeah, my mom carved it.

i’ve used turkeys from the grocery store before, but i think part of the reason that this bird came out so well is that i splurged on a fresh turkey from stonewood farm in vermont, through dave’s fresh pasta. it wasn’t cheap, but i truly think this is the best turkey i’ve ever cooked. it can’t be a complete coincidence.

(and by all means, don’t forget to make stock out of the bones. just throw it all in a pot, cover it with water, add some carrots, celery, and an onion, as well as some basic seasonings, and let it reduce for a few hours. freeze it in small containers and it makes delicious soups and sauces. so much better, and cheaper, than store-bought stock.)

the classic sides. there are certain dishes that you just don’t mess with on thanksgiving, and my family wasn’t afraid to vocalize their preferences. i think my brother and husband would happily live on mashed potatoes forever, and my father is very particular about the dressing. my mother eats better than the rest of us and likes to have several types of veggies on the table. and all of us love my mom’s refrigerator roll recipe, which she’s made at every holiday i can remember – and of course made for thanksgiving at my house.

i don’t really follow a specific recipe for mashed potatoes – i think i make them differently every time. but my potatoes this year were roughly based off this recipe for buttermilk-chive potatoes, though i used whipped cream cheese instead of buttermilk. the dressing was something that i agonized over, because it’s one of my favorite parts of the thanksgiving meal. if you forced me, i might have to say that it’s my favorite. but bad stuffing is just so awful – soggy and mushy, with no texture or flavor to speak of. it’s such a let down. i was determined to make my own, rather than just doctoring a box mix, and finally settled on bon appetit’s “simple is best” dressing. i used sourdough bread as the base and tons of fresh herbs and veggies, and i thought it came out really well. my mom’s rolls are a family recipe, and i’m a little hesitant to post it here for the world to see – but if she okays it, i’ll add it in later. we used whole wheat flour because over the course of the day, we managed to use up both bags of flour that i had on hand. whoops.

the new classic sides. the vegetables and salads that accompany the turkey and classic sides always seem to rotate, and i wanted to try a few new dishes for this year’s feast. green beans or brussels sprouts always make an appearance, but this year i wanted to keep them simple. i chose a roasted brussels sprouts recipe that used a garlic aioli as a garnish, which worked out nicely – we also served the garlic aioli with my dad’s smoked salmon and the amazing deviled eggs. i also wanted a more traditional salad, but one that still had seasonal flavors, so we put together an arugula, pear, and goat cheese salad with pomegranate vinaigrette. it gave a bit of lightness to the meal, and rounded out some of the richer flavors.

i also wanted to redeem a few dishes that don’t get a lot of love in our family holiday meals – sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce. none of us strongly dislike sweet potatoes, but we never seem to find a way to serve them that we all like. they’re either bland or undercooked, and i often find them unappealing. even sweet potato fries aren’t a particular favorite of mine. but smitten kitchen’s sweet potatoes with pecans and goat cheese was a big success, and i think it’s definitely a dish that i’ll bring back next year. i also made a cranberry-orange relish that was a surprise hit. tart and crisp, the relish was delicious stuffed into baked brie, served on top of turkey, and all on its own. and the best part? it wasn’t much more difficult than opening a can.

the dessert. my brother had initially declared that he would be in charge of making a pumpkin pie, and that he was going to make it entirely from scratch. it was an admirable goal, but after reading a little bit more about the process, decided that the end result might not be worth the time and effort necessary. we ended up making a bourbon pumpkin pie with pecan streusel. there were some difficulties with the pie crust (anyone else have trouble rolling out crust on granite countertops?), but it ended up being really yummy – almost like a coffeecake. i’m not much of a pie girl, but even i could get on board with this one. and, of course, we had a big cheese plate with jams, jellies, and a little more tapenade.

overall, i was really pleased with my first thanksgiving effort. and the patriots’ big win certainly gave us something extra to be thankful for. i hope that all of you had a wonderful celebration with your friends and family, and please share your favorite recipes (or disastrous stories!) in the comments.

my centerpiece.

happy holidays!