From the Fridge: Spanish Quesadillas

I grew up in a family where virtually nothing was wasted. My mother would save the tiniest sliver of Breyers ice cream that used to come in a square container, and sometimes, oh my God, we’d even take leftovers to amusement parks. I of course wanted those horrible hot dogs rolling around on those metal tubes all day. I often think how almost criminal it is that we have three refrigerators in our house that are so stuffed with food we can’t even see what’s growing in the back of each of them. Yes, I teach cooking classes so there’s always a lot of ingredients needed for classes and testing recipes, but it’s still no excuse for wasting precious food.

 

Spanish-Inspired Quesadillas, featuring Smoke Prosciutto and Iberico Cheese | The Road Home

 

I decided that instead of dreading the monthly clean-out of moldy bits and pieces and the slimy gook from spilled jars, I should stage our own version of Chopped, where contestants are given a handful of secret ingredients and they have to come up with some brilliant dish. The difference of course is that I won’t try to make a four star dinner out of cheese doodles, octopus, gelatin and some sort of spiky fruit. I’m challenging myself to search the freezers and fridges each week for several ingredients and to figure out a dish in one hour. This kind of self imposed contest forces you to use a variety of skills – it could be searing, braising, frying or roasting, or whatever – in new ways and to really work the spices you have on hand.

 

Spanish-Inspired Quesadillas, featuring Smoke Prosciutto and Iberico Cheese | The Road Home

 

Okay I admit, this first week I had a head start. I just finished doing a week of cooking demos on back to school healthy snacks and lunch options on Fox News (link to avocado video) and had great lime jalapeno guacamole left over. I had also had a huge package of 12 inch tortillas from making low fat baked tortilla chips on air. Quesadillas anyone? So I searched the fridge and found perfectly ripe yellow heirloom tomatoes, Iberico cheese and smoked prosciutto (similar enough to Iberico ham). Perfect ingredients to make a Spanish-ish Quesadilla. Here’s the recipe:

 

Spanish-Inspired Quesadillas, featuring Smoke Prosciutto and Iberico Cheese | The Road Home

 

Spanish-Inspired Quesadillas, featuring Smoke Prosciutto and Iberico Cheese | The Road Home

 

An Italian Sugar Rush

The last article I posted was all about forgetting about time. It was about leaving that sauce on the stove until it was good and ready. This post, however, is the complete opposite. Making torrone is one of the rare moments where I can be seen moving quickly, almost rushing. It’s such a rare event, that my family doesn’t know what to do with me. They laugh as I buzz around the kitchen, impatient while the sugar is melting and having a mild-panic attack as the hot candy hardens while I cut it, little stands of sugar freezing mid-air.

 
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This kind of torrone is not the typical variety that most people are accustomed to. It is not the white, nougaty candy that comes packaged in a pretty box. For years, I didn’t even know that type existed. All I knew was the dark, honey- colored, almond candy topped with “dottie sprinkles” that my great Aunt Mary made every year for Christmas. Maybe, like me, Aunt Mary got a kick out of the hustle and ‘danger’ of making torrone and that is how it became a family tradition that hasn’t been skipped in what I can imagine is well over 50 years. Torrone di mandorle e miele (as it is formally known) is a sweet adventure in what toasted almonds, honey, and sugar can be capable of doing. An adventure in how three ingredients can transform into cheerful, little bites of holiday bliss and memory.

 
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Almond and Honey Torrone

From: Christina Esposito

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups toasted, slivered almonds
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tbs honey
  • 1 orange
  • Dottie sprinkles (rainbow non-pareils)
  • Greased (buttered) glass/marble/pyrex cutting board (a non-wooden surface that can withstand high temperatures without breaking)
  • A wooden or metal mold

Directions:

  1. Before you begin, make sure that everything is ready to go. Grease your cutting surface and candy mold, get out the dottie sprinkles and orange, and pour your glass of drinking wine (optional). In French, gathering all of your cooking materials and ingredients before you actually start cooking is known as having your “mise en place”. Most of us don’t cook at home with everything carefully thought out and prepared ahead of time, but for torrone, having your mise en place is essential.
  2. Now, put the two cups of sugar in a medium to large sized pot over medium-low heat. Be sure to stir the sugar even at this beginning stage. Keep stirring until the sugar is melted. This might take a little while. First, the sugar will start to clump together. Then, it will darken in color and melt.
  3. When all of the sugar is melted and there aren’t any clumps, add the honey. The honey will make the sugar bubble and fizz a little- this is normal.
  4. Next, take the sugar and honey off the heat and quickly stir in the almonds. This will be a bit messy, but that’s okay. This is also the point where mild chaos might ensue because you need to work quickly from here on out!
  5. Pour the mixture into the greased candy mold. Being VERY careful, use the orange (which acts like a greased spatula) and roll it over the mixture to flatten it out. The candy will be super, super, hot.
  6. Once the mixture is flattened, liberally shake on the sprinkles. Use the orange once again to push the sprinkles into the candy.
  7. Continue to work quickly and carefully and begin to cut the candy into little squares. This must be done with haste because as you will find out, the candy is fast to harden and might even freeze in little strands in mid-air. Also be sure to eat a few pieces while the torrone is still kind of hot. You’ll regret it if you don’t!
  8. Once all the candy is cut and cooled, store in an air-tight container. Torrone lasts for a good three or four weeks so you can enjoy it during the entire holiday season!
  9. Note: cleaning the pot that you melted the sugar in will look impossible and menacing. I promise it isn’t. Just fill the pot back up the water and heat on the stove. The hard sugar and almonds will melt off into the water.

Easy Ghoulish Treats

Most people think I’m a little bit strange when I tell people that Halloween is my favorite holiday. It’s really simple. I adore the foods of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Easter, not to mention all the glorious casual picnic foods from Memorial Day through Labor Day, but I just love the theatre and whimsy of Halloween.

 

Witches Brew Punch with Dry Ice – epic halloween trick/treat | The Road Home

 

This great holiday, after all, is not about gifts or how perfect the table looks for relatives. It’s about fun, and magic, and theatre. It transcends age. We will have 8-year-olds and 16-year-olds side by side at our house all enjoying the same silly food and wearing goofy costumes. What could be better? I get to take my apron off and think solely about what would make kids of all ages happy. The pressure is off to be perfect. All anyone cares about is that the offerings are funny, maybe a little “scary” and of course colorful.

 

Clementine Pumpkins | The Road Home  – cancels out the candy right?

 

So here’s part of our line-up for All Hallow’s Eve at our house. We’ll offer our friends and fellow trick-or-treaters Mad Scientist Bubbly Brew, followed by cauliflower brain dip, and darling little “pumpkins” made of clementines and celery. There will be other things, but these are my favorites. I hope this sampling of our Halloween inspires you to think like a child even for just one day. Happy Halloween everyone!

 

Witches Brew Punch with Dry Ice – epic halloween trick/treat | The Road Home

Halloween Cauliflower Brain with Guacamole - gruesome but great | The Road Home
Witches Brew Punch with Dry Ice – epic halloween trick/treat | The Road Home

Have you got any special halloween foods you make at your house? We’d love to hear about them! Comment below to let us know!

 

 

Clementine Pumpkins

From: Heide Lang

Ingredients:

  • One dozen or more Clementines
  • Several stalks celery

Directions:

  1. Peel Clementines and place on a fun Halloween platter.
  2. Cut a stalk of celery into small pieces for the pumpkin stem. Stick a celery piece into the top of each peeled Clementine and serve!

Creepy Cauliflower Brain Dip with Guacamole

From: Heide Lang

Ingredients:

    Guacamole

    • 4 ripe avocados peeled and pitted
    • ½ cup chopped onions
    • 1/8 cup fresh lime juice
    • ¼ cup cilantro (optional)
    • 1 4 ounce can finely chopped seeded jalapeno chilies**
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • ¾ teaspoon pepper
    • 1 cup of tomatoes, diced and seeded (or canned diced tomatoes in the winter)

    Brain

    • 1 large cauliflower
    • 1 package of red licorice string

    Directions:

    1. Place all guacamole ingredients but tomatoes in a food processor or in a medium sized bowl. Puree in the food processor or puree in bowl using an immersion blender until very smooth.
    2. Drain tomatoes thoroughly through a sieve and gently blend into the avocado mixture using a spatula.
    3. Remove all of the leaves from the cauliflower and remove the stem so that there is a hollow area, but most of the florets are intact. (Use toothpicks to hold the sides together if it starts to fall apart).
    4. Put the hollowed out cauliflower into a snug fitting bowl. (For a really scary presentation, wrap the bowl in cheesecloth stained with red food coloring.)
    5. Fill in with the guacamole and decorate the florets by weaving the licorice between the florets to make the veins and arteries.  You may also sprinkle a bit of red food coloring on the “arteries” as well but be careful not to overdo it.

    Mad Scientist Bubbly Brew

    From: Heide Lang

    Ingredients:

    • Clear glass container or punch bowl
    • Artificial green or red drink, such as Gatorade or Hawaiian Punch (You may also use a clear liquid like seltzer or Sprite, died with food coloring, if you want)
    • Gummy worms, plastic spiders or any other creepy creatures you wish
    • Dry ice

    Directions:

    1. Fill container or punch bowl with a green or red beverage.
    2. Place gummy worms, spiders, etc, on the edge of the bowl.
    3. Add a few small pieces or pellets of dry ice, just enough to get the brew bubbling and smoky. If it comes in a big brick, you will need to chip pieces off of it. (Do NOT pick up dry ice with your bare hands. Use tongs to handle it or protective rubber gloves if you must pick it up with your hands.)
    4. Serve immediately, adding additional pieces of dry ice every 10 minutes, or as needed.

    Caramelized Shallots

    I was a bit of a rebel at cooking school, which was kind of surprising considering I was pretty much a nerd in high school. I was always asking a lot of questions, especially ones that began with “Why do we have to….?” One of the hallmarks of great French cooking, I learned very quickly, was that shortcuts were pretty much a no-no. We learned, for example, how to prepare mayonnaise and whip egg whites stiff by hand instead of using mixers or hand blenders just so we would know how if we needed to in the future.

     

    Easy Caramelized Shallots – the latest, greatest kitchen cheat | The Road Home

     

    For chefs in a commercial kitchen this may come in handy on occasion, but I think every minute home cooks spend in the kitchen should be enjoyable. This means you should take shortcuts and even cheat a little sometimes. Otherwise, I know for a fact you will avoid certain ingredients, like shallots, which are tedious to peel since you need so many more them than onions, and slicing or dicing may them burn your eyes. You should never avoid such a wonderful ingredient such as shallots since they add so much flavor, being a little less bitter than onions and really sweet when caramelized.

     

    Easy Caramelized Shallots – the latest, greatest kitchen cheat | The Road Home

     

    So I’ve come up with a an easy way to caramelize massive amounts of shallots with very little labor after being inspired by a  12-Hour Rabbit Bolognese recipe in Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Great Britain (a book by the way everyone should own). He just puts all the ingredients whole into this rabbit stew and the onions just fall apart and assimilate during braising. So smart. I thought that perhaps I could achieve the same results with shallots if I just peel large shallots, quarter them and slowly cook them in a bit of oil. It works!

     

    Easy Caramelized Shallots – the latest, greatest kitchen cheat | The Road Home

     

    So what, you say?  Shallots cooked this way are a great replacement for onions in stews, or in pureed soups, mixed in with vegetables or mashed potatoes (see Stoemp). You could also add these to a pot pie, fill puff pastry cups with shallots and add a bit of goat cheese for a easy elegant appetizer, or again really use them anywhere you use cooked onions. Today, for example, I used them for a meatloaf. First I added a bit of cognac to the shallots, and let the alcohol burn off. Then I pureed them before adding them to the ground beef and other ingredients (you can also just chop them – fine or coarse – or leave them just the way they are).  There’s really no end on how you can use them.

     

    Easy Caramelized Shallots – the latest, greatest kitchen cheat | The Road Home

     

    Do you have any go-to ingredient or spice that adds pizzazz to everyday meals? Let us know in the comments, below!

     

     

     

     

    Caramelized Shallots 1-2-3

    From: Heide Lang

    Ingredients:

    • 8 large shallots, or 12 smaller ones peeled.
    • 4-5 tablespoons canola or sunflower oil (or another oil with a high smoke point)

    Directions:

    1. Cut off the root of the shallots and quarter them
    2. Heat a medium size sauté pan and add 4 tablespoons of oil.
    3. Add the shallots and coat them with the hot oil. Break up the shallots with a firm spatula as they cook until all they have all fallen apart.
    4. Cook over a low-medium heat until the shallots start to brown, about 25 minutes. Add the last tablespoon or more of canola oil if the shallots stick to the pan
    5. Remove the shallots from pan and add to your favorite vegetable, stew, soup, or any place else you would use cooked onions. (You may chop or puree them as well.)

    This Cocktail Will Make Your Fall

    When most households say they have a secret ingredient, they generally mean something normal like love, mayonnaise or grandma’s special seasoning mix. But in my house, where we are not normal, I learned from a very young age that everything (every single thing) tastes better with whiskey. All of my favorite family standbys – Irish Whiskey Potato Soup, Jack Daniels Fudge Pie or Bourbon Sweet Potatoes – owed their indescribable special to what can only be considered the world’s greatest spirit. Some of these I grew up with, some of them were added over the years, but there’s a rich, nutty, I-don’t-even-know (is amber a flavor?) that has defined almost every food I’ve ever been obsessed with. And now that I’m 21, I’ll happily drink a well margarita, and only believe in cheap vodka, but even in my young age, I take my whiskey very, very seriously.

    Hot Cider with Irish Whiskey | The Road Home

     

    I could wax poetic for hours about cooking with whiskey – fun for all ages, and I have yet to find a food it doesn’t improve. But in my nearly 6 months of being 21 I have never yet written about a cocktail, so I’m going to celebrate my impending half birthday with a simple fall cocktail my friends and I dreamed up. I’ve actually wanted to make this for weeks but I decided to wait until it was seasonally appropriate. All it takes to make it is to heat up a cup of apple cider and add 1/8-1/4 cup of whiskey (afterwards, of course, so it doesn’t evaporate). And it tastes like a fall serenade swirled up your mind and heart and dropped them in… I don’t know, a fiery maple tree or something. Ireland wins my love all day every day so I used Bushmills but I bet this would taste amazing with Scotch too. Extra points if you mull the cider but I’m lazy so I won’t fault you if you are too.

     

    Hot Cider with Irish Whiskey | The Road Home

     

    Do you have a fall drink you make? Whether it’s spiked or child appropriate, we want to hear about it! Let us know in the comments below!

    Baked Potato Nachos

    I should note before I go on, that this is recipe is not just for lazy students – it’s a festive and delicious grownup lunch, too. I just feel like I have to explain where this recipe comes from, and the truth is that it comes from necessity. As every student knows, Sunday is perhaps the furthest thing possible from a day of rest. It’s actually the day you recover from the fact that you put off your homework all week and have to get it all done before class begins tomorrow. And of course when you’re doing all that cramming, you just get hungrier and hungrier and so you’re put in a difficult position: extreme hunger, and no time to cook.

     

     

    Baked Potato Nachos quick/easy/addictive lunch or study snack! | The Road Home

     

     

    I’ve weighed the benefits of many snacks, but few things cut it just right. Ice cream is cold, creamy and delicious but takes too much self control not eat the whole pint. Seaweed has almost no calories, but there’s only so much seaweed a person can eat. Ramen is quick and filling but… ew. I needed to find something delicious, something quick, something filling and most importantly something that would wake me up. And I found that in the Baked Potato Nacho. It takes no more than 30 seconds to melt Cheddar on a half a spud, top it with Crema Mexicana (I know, classy, right?) and sliced Jalapeños, which are spicy enough to remind you not to fall asleep.* Best of all there is no whole pack to eat, because you’d have to consciously go make another one, and you’d be too smart to go do that! And the sky is the limit in terms of what you can put on them – tomatoes, olives, salsa, tabasco sauce, chipotle mayo or ground beef if you have time on your hands. Next time you’re desperate for a quick lunch check these out – they’re ever so… wait for it… appeeling! (Sorry).

     

    *30 seconds if you already have a baked potato. If you don’t, you will have to wait for one.

     

     

    How about you – what are (or were) your favorite study snacks? Let me know in the comments below!

    Baked Potato Nachos

    Ingredients:

    • 1 baked potato*/**
    • 2-3 oz Cheddar cheese, grated or broken into small pieces
    • 2 dollops of crema Mexicana*** or sour cream
    • 8-10 slices hot pickled jalapeños

    Directions:

    1. Cut your potato in half, and sprinkle cheddar evenly over the top.
    2. Microwave for about 30 seconds.
    3. Top with crema/sour cream, and evenly distribute the jalapeños
    4. You’re done. If that felt too easy, that’s because it was.

    Smoked Basmati – No Ordinary Grain

    I don’t know about you, but I often become obsessed with one food. I’ll suddenly make carrot soup every week or try salmon 10 different ways in a single month. Right now, I’m on a rice kick, which is surprising since I didn’t love rice growing up – we ate mostly meat and potatoes.  When we had rice, it was always plain without much seasoning, so it was kind of boring. For years, I avoided making rice, and when I was forced to, it was almost never fluffy and flavorful.

     

    Smoked Basmati – a perfect way to add flavor (but not calories!) to any rice-based dish | The Road Home

     

    I forced myself to learn how to make perfect rice now that I cook so many Indian, Middle Eastern and Asian dishes. Many cultures prepare rice in many different ways – one day soon I’ll show you how to make Persian jeweled rice (if you beg me enough and maybe make me cookies) – but there is very simple fool-proof way of making any long-grain rice that is perfect every time. The key is that every grain must be coated in some sort of oil or fat.

     

    Smoked Basmati – a perfect way to add flavor (but not calories!) to any rice-based dish | The Road Home

     

    We are lucky enough to live near Sayad (http://www.sayadmarket.com), a great Middle Eastern grocer and a great place to buy ingredients, including many types of basmati rice. I came across this smoked rice – which apparently Persians love – called Scheherazade Black Label (I know, right?  You’d think we were talking Scotch!). The rice is grown in India, but smoked in Germany with a special blend of woods. It smells like the best bonfire ever. It almost looks like pasta and the aroma of burning timbers hits you immediately when you open the bag. Fortunately, I you can also get this extraordinary rice online at Kalamala (http://www.kalamala.com/products/basmati-rice-black-label), a great resource for Middle Eastern products, and it is also available at Amazon in smaller quantities. This amazing rice is also the longest in the world with the grain averaging nearly 20 mm (almost ¾ inch) long. And on top of everything else, it is incredibly fluffy. The grains curl but they don’t break. It isn’t everyday I would describe rice as beautiful, but it really is.

     

    Smoked Basmati – a perfect way to add flavor (but not calories!) to any rice-based dish | The Road Home

     

    So go buy this rice online or visit a Middle Eastern store, and use this fool-proof recipe to make this any basmati rice you like. And then make Khoresh-e Fesenjan Ba Jujeh, Persian Chicken Pomegranate stew we told you about earlier this week (if you do, please let us know!)

     

    Smoked Basmati – a perfect way to add flavor (but not calories!) to any rice-based dish | The Road Home

     

    Do you know of any other unusual rices or do you have an unique preparation? Let us know so we can share the joy of rice with others!

    Cardamom Scented Basmati Rice

    From: Heide Lang

    Ingredients:

    • 2 cups basmati rice*
    • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
    • 3 ¼ -1/3 cups water (depending on the brand)
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 ½ – 2 teaspoons cardamom**

    Directions:

    1. Rinse the rice in a fine mesh colander 4-5 times until the water is no longer cloudy. Drain well.
    2. Melt the butter in a 4-6 quart heavy bottom pot over medium heat.
    3. Add the rice and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for about 2 minutes until all the grains are coated with butter.
    4. Stir in the water and salt and bring the rice mixture to a boil.
    5. Mix one more time, and then reduce heat to low.  Place a sheet of parchment paper between the lid and the pot and cover.
    6. Let rice cook for 18-20 minutes (depending on the brand of rice) until the liquid is absorbed.
    7. Take it off the burner and let the rice stand covered for 10 minutes (Do not lift the lid or stir!).
    8. Uncover rice and add cardamom. Fluff rice and serve.

    *This recipe works for jasmine scented rice as well.

      **You may also leave out the cardamom if the dish you are serving is complex and does not need a boos of additional flavor.

        The 30 Second Side Dish

        *Disclaimer: there is no such thing as a 30 second side dish, but this does come as close as you can possibly get.

         

        As any friend, acquaintance or probably even stranger could tell you, I have a slight tendency to overprogram. I can’t stand the idea of letting a single moment of any day go by without it being used in the most efficient way (and yes, that includes efficiently watching How I Met Your Mother). This should be a relief for you, because if I’m making anything on a weeknight, you better believe you have time to make it too. But it did lead to a slight panic moment this past Thursday when I left babysitting, had to be at a Rosh Hashanah potluck more or less immediately, and it was too late to make even the simple string beans with crispy shallots I had intended to bring. With no idea what I was wearing, let along making, I called my mom in a tizzy from the supermarket.

         

        Cauliflower

         

        Granted, I could have probably been late to the party and the hidden truth here was that I really hate chopping shallots, but thank goodness I’m a lazy bum! Because rumor has it involved side dishes among friends are a waste of everybody’s time. My mom let me in on the best secret I’ve heard in a long time – if you set an oven to 350°F, and chop up some broccoli and cauliflower, all you have to do is toss it with a little canola oil, a lot of salt, and whatever herb or spice you like, bake it for 45 minutes and call it a recipe. And you can brag about it too because it’s freaking awesome! I claim no credit for this one, but I thought  you should be in the know. I’m planning to make this on a weekly basis probably for the rest of my life, and it’s vegan and gluten free and kosher and EVERYTHING so you should bring it to every party. Try this – you won’t be disappointed.

         

        How about you? If you had to be at dinner in, say, 1/2 an hour what would you bring? Bonus points for shorter prep time!

         

        And Update – Apparently this isn’t a secret at all, because the 13-year-old I babysit made this for me last night. Granted, Zoe is kind of a superstar of everything, but even so, I guess the cat has been out of the bag for a while.

        Ice Cream is the Best Medicine

        Francesca and I have been reading Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events this summer, and we are trying to finish up The Miserable Mill before I go back to school next week. If you are unfamiliar with this series, it is a wonderful set of children’s books in which nothing good happens to anybody ever. But in this installment we have been learning, of all things, about optimism because there is a character named Phil and he is an optimist. It’s a timely lesson because Francesca and are both recovering from surgery and if your house is going to be an infirmary anyway, it’s best to look at it with the most positive attitude possible. So instead of focusing on what we’ve lost (our adenoids and wisdom teeth) Francesca and I are going to focus on what we’ve gained – the right to do nothing for a few days but watch The Flintstones and eat ice cream.

         

        Trifecta Shakes – A perfect combination of coffee, vanilla and dulce de leche | The Road Home

         

        Over the past two years of college I’ve been lucky enough to live with people who care a lot about Haagen Dazs, and would stuff the freezer with quarts of it whenever it went on sale every few weeks. Luckiest of all, these people introduced me to the Haagen Dazs trifecta of perfection – Coffee, Vanilla and Dulce de Leche – that Francesca and I are using to celebrate our recovery period. Usually we make these into sundaes, but since I can’t really open my mouth wide enough for a spoon, we’re going to go with milkshakes. We hope you enjoy our Trifecta Shakes no matter how you’re feeling. And we want to know – when you’re sick, what food cure works best for you? Comment below to let us know!

         

         

        Trifecta Shakes

        Ingredients:

        • 1/2 cup Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream
        • 1/2 cup Haagen-Dazs coffee ice cream
        • 1/2 cup Haagen-Dazs dulce de leche ice cream
        • 3/4 cup whole milk

        Directions:

        1. Blend everything in a blender on high
        2. Drink