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Sour Cherry Picking with Cecilia and Laetitia

Last Saturday, Cecilia, Laetitia and I headed out to pick sour cherries at Butler's Orchards. The weather was pretty much perfect, the sour cherries were plentiful and easy to pick, and we had a great time hanging out, lunching out and shopping at Ikea and Costco afterwards. What a perfect day with fun girls!

Below are photos from our adventures. I ended up picking 10 pounds of sour cherries: I gave 2 pounds to my friend Cindy, froze about 6 pounds and made cherry compote from the rest of the cherries. Let's just say there was a lot of pitting involved.

PS here's a post about blueberry picking I did last year at the same place with Mary and Jenna.


Grilled Vegetable & Havarti Pita-nini

Sunday was a busy day. I was baking mango, pistachio & crystallized ginger muffins, pitting nearly 10 pounds of sour cherries (I promise to post photos from the cherry picking and one of the things I did with them so far soon), making a berry/fruit/yogurt trifle, taking photos and avoiding doing the laundry.

Yes, avoiding doing the laundry counts as an activity.

Amongst all of my cooking projects, I also had to come up with a quick lunch idea. I had some adorable patty squash in my refrigerator from a farmers' market trip, red peppers, pita and havarti cheese. I thought I should make something with all of them...and thus came up with the idea for Grilled Vegetable & Havarti Pita-nini.

What's a pita-nini? Well, I just came up with this word...hope it's not as annoying as some of the cutesy words RR invents {y'all know who I'm talking about, right?}. Instead of using bread to make a panini, I used a pita!

You can obviously use any grilled vegetables you like and experiment with different kinds of cheeses. This is just an idea, not an exact recipe.

Grilled Vegetable & Havarti Pita-nini (for 1)

2-3 patty squash, sliced across {of course you can use regular zucchini}
1/2 red pepper, cut into large chunks
salt & pepper
olive oil to drizzle
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 slices Havarti cheese
1 wholewheat pita
1 ripe tomato, sliced
4-6 basil leaves

1. In a bowl, combine your vegetables with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Marinade for at least 30 minutes.
2. Grill your vegetables till they have softened and formed gorgeous grill marks. I used my panini maker for this: no need to turn your vegetables since they are being grilled on both sides at once! {about 7 minutes}

3. Using scissors, separate your pita into top and bottom pieces.
4. Build your pita-nini: pita, cheese, grilled vegetables, tomatoes, basil, more cheese, pita.

5. Cook your pita-nini for about 3 minutes on your panini grill just till the cheese melts.

I really liked the flavors in this dish, and it's simple to make and is not only colorful, but is super healhty! You can obviously make the same dish in a pan if you don't have a panini maker: just be careful when flipping the pita to cook it on both sides.

What are some of your ideas for a quick lunch? Peanut butter & jelly sandwiches do not count.

PS: for my other panini grilling adventures, take a look at Caprese Panini.


Mango, pistachio & crystallized ginger muffins

When I read Monica Bhide's tweet about baking mango bread, I knew I'd have to do it. Monica adapted her recipe from from Sweet Hands by Ramin Ganeshram. But you know me: I had to make a few changes myself!

Instead of making a mango bread, I decided to make mango muffins: cuter and easier to control the portions. Plus, they make a great portable breakfast or snack.

I thought that just using a mango puree wasn't enough: why not add chunks of mango {I used champagne mangoes} into the muffins themselves?

Monica's recipe used nutmeg, cinnamon and walnuts, but those are not my favorites. I thought pistachios and crystallized ginger would provide a better contrast to the sweet and relatively mild mango flavor.

As I was making the batter, even before I added mango chunks, pistachio nuts and crystallized ginger, the batter was incredibly thick. Perhaps my champagne mango wasn't large enough. I should have followed the cup measurement instructions in the recipe instead of going with the number of fruit. I panicked. What to do? I opted to add an extra egg and 1/4 cup of a Mangue Vinaigre I had left over from the shrimp & mango recipe I made for Robyn.

At the end, everything came together beautifully and the muffins were even a success with my friend's 2 year old son. What more can I ask for?

Mango, Pistachio & Crystallized Ginger Muffins

1.5 cups peeled and cubed mango
zest of 1 lime
1 teaspoon lime juice
1 teaspoon water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 champagne mango, peeled & diced
2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
3/4 cups shelled pistachios, chopped
optional: 1/4 cup orange juice, mango puree or Mangue Vinaigre to use in case you need to thin out the batter

{This is what my kitchen looks like when I cook. I told you I'm a messy cook!}

1. Preheat the oven to 350.
2. In a blender, puree 1.5 cups of chopped mango, lime juice and water. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda.
4. In a small bowl whisk together 2 eggs, oil and lime zest. Add to the dry ingredients and incorporate well. Use additional mango puree, orange juice or Mangue Vinaigre if the batter is too thick.
5. Mix in 1 chopped mango, crystallized ginger and pistachios.
6. Using an ice cream scoop, divide the batter among 12 lined muffin cups.
7. Bake for 20 minutes. Let the muffins cool slightly before eating.

I really liked these! And was really happy that they came out despite the fact that I had to make a few adjustments to the recipe. The muffins turned out moist on the inside with great bursts of sweetness from the incorporated mango chunks, a bit of spice from crystallized ginger and some bit and gorgeous green color from pistachios.

As if sharing my messy kitchen with you wasn't enough, click on the image above (the one on the right) to see what my recipe notes look like! {Also, notice the new green background: DIY project!}


What will I find at a farmers' market?

It's Friday and I'm feeling tired and a little lazy. So I'll simply share with you a few things I picked up at a local farmers' market last week.

When I go to a farmers' market, I rarely have an idea of what I want to buy. Instead, I stroll around, try a few samples, and see what sparks my interest.

Last week, instead of strolling from one stand to another, I was walking really quickly, holding an umbrella, and trying not to get drenched by the horrendous rain.

In the end, I picked up three different things: patty squash, little strawberries and red tomatoes.

What did I do with them? Well, the patty squash I thinly sliced and sauteed with onion and garlic, added some black beans, feta and fresh herbs: a lovely quick dinner.

I still have a few of the patty squash left in my refrigerator and will think of another dish to make with them this weekend. Growing up in Russia, my  mom used to marinade and can them: delightful!

When it came to the little strawberries, they were overflowing with juices! I made a quick concoction of sour cream and sugar, and used it as a dip for the strawberries. That's something we used to do in Russia. Some people find it an odd combination, but trust me: it's divine and simple and sweet and slightly tart all at the same time. By the time I finished eating the strawberries, my fingers were bright red from the juices.

And then there were the tomatoes! One of them I sliced, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper and ate straight up. Others went into simple salads with cucumbers and dill. I might have eaten one whole like I eat an apple. What can I say? I  tomatoes!

What have you picked up at the farmers' market lately? Any weekend cooking plans? I'm planning on going to a pick-your-own-produce farm with Cecilia and Laetitia, and spending some quality time experimenting with a mango bread recipe on Sunday.


Savory Oatmeal for Breakfast

If Penny De Los Santos and Mark Bittman had a baby, this would be it. Confused!? Of course you are. I'm talking about breakfast ;)

A while ago, there was a recipe by Bittman going around the blogosphere that used leftover rice, combined with ginger, leeks and topped off with a fried egg. I made it. I loved it.

Then, last week, my friend Cecilia tweeted a recipe by Penny De Los Santos for Sexed Up Savory Oatmeal. I just HAD to try it.

And so, I combined some of the ingredients from Bittman's recipe with the ingredients from De Los Santos' recipes, and came out with my own little version of Savory Oatmeal for Breakfast.

{Note: check out the oh-so-pretty bowls my friend Jenny gave me for my belated birthday: love!}

oatmeal, cooked according to the directions on the can/box/etc {I used instant oatmeal, but think regular one would work better}
olive oil
1 leek (white part only), sliced in half, washed, sliced across thinly
1 inch ginger root, peeled, chopped finely
salt & pepper
1 egg
tamari or soy sauce

1. Heat oil in a skillet. Add leeks and ginger, salt & pepper and cook till leeks and ginger have softened and browned.
2. In a separate pan, fry an egg.
3. Mix cooked oatmeal with most of the leek/ginger mixture. Spoon into a bowl. Top off with a fried egg and the remainder of the leek/ginger mixture. Drizzle with tamari.

Honestly, forget the oatmeal. You could use rice, potatoes, noodles or even polenta. The star in this dish is the combination of leeks with ginger, the runny yolk of the fried egg and the saltiness of tamari. I absolutely loved it.

Do you like an unconventional breakfast? If yes, what is it?


DYI dessert: Mango, White Peach & Crystallized Ginger Frozen Yogurt

One of the coolest things about having a twin sister is that you get to share friends. What does this have to do with a recipe for Mango, White Peach & Crystallized Ginger Frozen Yogurt?

Well, Anna introduced me to her friend Erica about 3 years ago. We took a trip to Montreal together and had a great time. All of us love food, fashion exhibits at museums, botanical gardens, etc. When Erica moved to DC about a year ago, we got to know each other a little bit better.

One of the facts that Erica found out about me is that I like red appliances :) So a few weeks ago she emailed me asking if I'd like to have her 1.5 quart ice cream maker because it's red and because her husband encouraged her to de-hoard and make room in their apartment for their baby!!!

I thought about it and said YES.

And then I started thinking: what should I make in the ice cream maker? After spending some time browsing Jessica's Frozen Fix site, I decided I simply must make something with a mango.

But that would be slightly boring. I decided to add a white peach (because they were on sale at the grocery store) and crystallized ginger (because I had some in my pantry and thought it'd add a nice texture contrast). I used this recipe as a template, but changed a few things to fit my taste.

Mango, White Peach & Crystallized Ginger Frozen Yogurt

1 champagne mango, peeled {roughly chop 1/2 of the mango and nicely dice the other 1/2}
1 white peach, peeled, roughly chopped
32 ounces plain yogurt, drained over night
1-2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
{Note: Jessica used sugar in her recipe, but I thought mine was sweet enough without it}

1. In a blender, puree 1/2 of the mango, the white peach and the drained yogurt.

2. Add the mixture to your ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer's directions. I churned mine for about 15 minutes and when the mixture was getting pretty solid, added the nicely diced half of the mango and crystallized ginger and churned the yogurt for another 5 minutes.

3. Transfer the frozen yogurt to a glass container and put it in your freezer.

If you look at the photo above (the one on the right), you'll see that some of the yogurt got pretty stuck to the inside of the bucket. I just let it melt and ate it with a spoon: it was incredibly good. And the color! Seriously gorgeous. I loved the bright orange chunks of champagne mango in an otherwise orangey-yellow yogurt. And the bursts of crystallized ginger added a bit of spice to this mild yogurt.

So it looked and tasted great. And it was incredibly simple to make. The only problem? It was too frozen. Is that possible? I had to let the yogurt sit out for about 10 minutes before being able to scoop it out. My friends gave me a few possible reasons for that:

1) My yogurt did not have enough fat in it
2) I really should have used sugar because it helps with the chemical process of making frozen concoctions
3) I should try liquid glucose

What do you think?

Also, please notice my DYI white-washed board I will now be using as my background. Huge thanks to Cindy and her family for taking me to Home Depot to get supplies for this project and to Lori of Recipe Girl for the inspiration.


Recipe for beet lovers: beet dip and spiced bread

Last Saturday I surrendered control. Now, if you know me, you know this is not something that I do easily. I'm a control freak when it comes to many situations: I freely admit it. However, when my friend Wendy joined me in the kitchen last weekend (we made pistachio cookies and borscht together), I actually let her create two snack dishes all on her own. After all, she did go to the CIA and has quite a solid experience when it comes to mixing flavors together.

Wendy created a beet dip and a spiced bread completely on a whim: the only thing we picked up at the grocery store was the package of flat bread. Everything else she managed to find in my pantry and refrigerator.

Spiced Bread
Mix together about a tablespoon of each of the following: Merken Chile Mapuche spice, Marash Pepper Spice, Santo Domingo Pimenton de la Vera and three tablespoons of olive oil. Brush the mixture on the flat bread and bake in a 375 degree preheated oven until crisp. This bread packs quite a bit of heat! {I had all these spices from various recipes I've made for Robyn Webb.}

Beet dip
Roast four small beets drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper in a 375F preheated oven wrapped in aluminum foil for about 35-40 minutes. Rub off the skin. In a food processor, add the beets, 2 tablespoons pomegranate concentrate, 2 teaspoons Moroccan dulcet mustard, 1 teaspoon sour cream, salt and pepper, and a small hand full of walnuts. Puree till smooth.

I'll admit that the beet dip did not look incredibly pretty. But it tasted oh so awesome, and I kept on thinking: it reminds of something. You know what that something was? Charoset! Beets have a similar sweetness and texture as apples, and then you have the nuts! In fact, I think this dip would be a fun dish to add to the next Passover menu.
How do you feel about surrendering control in the kitchen? Do you cook well with others? Or is the kitchen your own kingdom?

What's cooking this weekend? I'm planning on christening my new ice cream maker (thank you, Erica), possibly making a savory oatmeal breakfast, and turning one of Domenica's pasta sauces into a breakfast dish. And then of course there are two dishes to make for Robyn. BUSY!

And I'll be teaching yet another knife skills class tomorrow!

And because this weekend is Father's Day, Happy Father's day to my dad! In this photo I'm on the left and Anna is on the right. God, I still remember those tshirts: they were bright yellow with black hearts on them that said Fiata {no clue what that meant}...or something like that. And those checkerboard skirts? Our mom sewed them...wish I had a color version of this photo.


Thanks, papa, for setting such a great example of what a good man should be. Of course, you also set the standards really high!!! Oy.

Not in the photo: our brother Misha who was born 9 years after Anna and I. And I'm guessing the photo was taken by our mom.

and a few years back: I'm still on the left: