Fresh tomato and blue cheese pasta

Cherry tomatoes from Martha's Farm

The farmers markets are currently bursting with tomatoes of all sizes and varieties, from big fat beefsteaks to pints of colorful cherry tomatoes. One of my favorite ways to use up a surplus of tomatoes is with a recipe I call “squish.” Or, if you prefer the more appetizing name, “fresh tomato and blue cheese pasta.” I love this dish because it highlights the fresh vibrant taste of raw tomatoes and it’s incredibly quick to make. The only cooking involved is boiling water for the pasta.

The sauce for this pasta uses only four ingredients: Tomatoes, as much blue cheese as you can stand, fresh basil and olive oil.

Blue Cheese

I usually use cherry tomatoes that I cut in half, although I’ve used larger tomatoes cut into smaller pieces as well. Once all the tomatoes are cut and placed in a large bowl, I use my hands (cleansed with handmade soap, of course) to squish all the amazing juice out of them. I don’t fuss with straining seeds or peeling off the skins or cooking the tomatoes down. On a busy weeknight, who has time? Plus, I love having nice chunks of raw tomatoes mixed in with the warm pasta and creamy blue cheese.

Once I’m satisfied with the amount of tomato juice at the bottom of the bowl, I drizzle in some olive oil and stir in crumbled blue cheese. (If you hate blue cheese, I’m not sure why you are reading this but in case you are still here, I think goat cheese would be equally wonderful.) Add some freshly chopped basil and Bob’s your uncle, you’re done with the sauce. It’ll look a little lumpy and, well, raw. But don’t fret, it’s about to be transformed.

Here’s the important part. Do not drain the pasta when it’s ready. Instead, use a pasta scoop to carefully transfer the pasta from the water, directly into the bowl of tomatoes. The heat from the pasta melts the blue cheese and the little bit of water that gets transferred with the pasta helps make the sauce creamy. Once you’ve transferred all of the pasta, give everything a good stir so the pasta is coated with cheesy, juicy goodness. If you feel the sauce is too dry, add a bit of the cooking water from the pot and stir again. If you seem to have a lot of liquid in the bottom of the bowl, use a spoon to drizzle it over individual servings.

Fresh tomato and blue cheese pasta

This recipe serves about 2 people and on the rare occasion that we have leftovers it reheats well.

Fresh tomato and blue cheese pasta (a.k.a. Squish)

The measurements below are a starting point. If you want more tomatoes, add them. If you want less cheese, use less. Want it to be a bit tangy? Add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. There are a lot of ways to tweak this recipe and make it your own. 

12 oz fresh cherry tomatoes (or any kind of tomato you have on hand)

4 oz container of crumbled blue cheese

3 tbsp olive oil

Chopped basil to taste

2 servings of angel hair pasta

Cook the angel hair pasta according to package directions.

As the pasta cooks, roughly chop the tomatoes. Place tomatoes in a large bowl and squish them with your hands until you have a nice puddle of juice at the bottom of the bowl. Add olive oil, blue cheese and basil and stir well.

When the pasta has cooked, use a pasta scoop to transfer pasta to the bowl of tomatoes. Stir until pasta is well coated. If needed, add a small amount of the pasta cooking water to make the sauce more creamy.

Serve immediately.

Tarragon, parsley and sunflower seed pesto

TARRAGON PESTO

 

A few years ago, I decided to plant a herb garden and one of the herbs I planted was tarragon. I love the way it smells and I have fond memories of a tarragon and red wine vinegar salad dressing my mother used to make. When I planted it, I had grand ideas for recreating that dressing. Sadly, I’ve never been able to duplicate it.

Every year my tarragon plant survives our harsh Cleveland winter and grows back bigger and better than the year before but I haven’t really put the herb to good use in my cooking. This year, all that changed when I stumbled upon the idea of using it for pesto.

I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical at first. Tarragon has a strong, anise-like flavor that can be extremely overpowering so highlighting it in a pesto seemed risky. As I researched different recipes, a common theme was to cut the tarragon with an equal amount of parsley, which has a fresh, bright flavor.

The result was surprisingly delightful. (Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take pictures but it looked like pesto.) Blending up the tarragon with the other ingredients helped to mellow out the flavor, while still giving a slight anise note. Since tarragon is part of the sunflower family I used sunflower seeds instead of traditional (and expensive) pine nuts and they gave it a nice nutty texture. You’ll notice the recipe doesn’t include garlic, which seems like blasphemy when talking about a pesto recipe. I left it out for fear of having too many strong flavors but I think you could add a clove or two and still have a wonderful dish.

Tarragon, parsley & sunflower seed pesto

1/2 cup tightly packed fresh tarragon

1/2 cup tightly packed parsley

4 tbsp sunflower seeds

2 tsp lemon juice

6 tbsp olive oil

Add the first 4 ingredients to a food processor or blender. Start blending on a low speed and gradually add the olive oil until the pesto is a creamy consistency. You may need more or less olive oil, depending on the consistency you’re going for. If needed, increase the mixing speed to fully incorporate the ingredients.

Just like any other pesto, you can serve this immediately on pasta, as a spread for bruschetta or as a fancy homemade pizza sauce. It also freezes very well. I plan to use my left-over pesto the next time I make my quick and easy pesto salad.

Have you tried making pesto with something other than basil? Share your experiments in the comments. I’m always looking for new recipes!

 

Easter Egg Cheese Ball (Hrudka)

Editor’s note: I’m taking some time for rest and relaxation. In the meantime, check out one of the most popular posts on this blog. I hope you all have a save and Happy Easter this Sunday! 

This post was supposed to be about coloring Easter eggs. When I was a kid, we made the coolest swirled Easter eggs. I had every intention of recreating them and blogging about how I did it but, apparently, the company who made the dye we used went out of business.

Who remembers Ruby’s Egg Deco Egg Dye by Tootsie Toy? It came in little glass bottles with bunny heads for tops. When dropped into a mix of water and vinegar, the dye suspended in little droplets and you could swirl your egg down into the water, swirl it back up, and your eggs would come out with beautiful designs that looked like pretty sunsets. By the time you were done, your fingers and the surrounding surfaces were covered in dye that had to be sandblasted off.

It was awesome.

So, armed with a dozen eggs and no dye , I decided to recreated another childhood memory. Using a recipe that was handed down from my grandmother, and who knows how many generations of Slovakian women before her, I decided to tackle the strange, sweet ball of goodness known as the Easter Egg Cheese Ball, also known as Hrudka.

Folks, this recipe is not for the faint of heart. Seriously, if you have heart issues, stay away. There’s enough cholesterol in this thing to drop a horse. But, as far as traditions go, this is one of my favorites.

In researching the origins of this Slovakian treat, I learned that it’s traditionally made on Holy Saturday, blessed with a basket of other Easter food and then eaten on Easter Sunday. I was surprised to learn that this is often eaten on a sandwich made with ham, beet and horseradish relish and something called paska bread. My family made a sweet version with cloves and sugar and we ate it plain. That’s how we rolled. It seems there are as many ways to make and eat this as there are Slovakian families.

Easter Egg Cheese Ball

12 jumbo eggs
1 quart whole milk
3 T. sugar
3-4 whole cloves broken up or a pinch of ground cloves
Cheesecloth
Twine

Get your cheesecloth ready to go. It’s easiest to spread it out over a large bowl in the sink.

Cheesecloth

Beat the eggs in a separate bowl. You can beat them with an egg beater or by hand. Transfer the eggs to a large pot and add all the other ingredients.

Cook the mixture over medium heat and stir constantly for about 30 minutes. Don’t get impatient and try to speed it along by turning up the heat or you’ll burn it. And for the love of all that is good, do not stop stirring. Get a helper with strong arms. If you stop, the mixture overheats and sticks to the pan and then Easter is ruined! You’re looking for the mixture to start curdling. After about 3o minutes, it will start to look like wet scrambled eggs and the liquid will start to separate out.

Eggs

You might want to wear rubber gloves to protect the skin on your hands from being burned off in this next step. When your mixture looks like wet scrambled eggs, carefully pour it into the cheesecloth.

Drain the eggs

Gather the sides of the cheesecloth together and let the majority of the liquid drain out of it. Holding the excess cheesecloth gathered at the top, start to twist, shaping the eggs into a ball as you go. This will squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Keep twisting until the dripping slows. Using a piece of twine, tie up the cheese like a bundle and hang, with a pot underneath it to catch the rest of the dripping liquid. Keep it hung up for several hours while it cools and dries out. If you are worried about little things like bacteria and disease, you can tie the ball around a large wooden spoon, suspend it over a pot, then refrigerate the whole thing. My mother hung hers up in the basement with a pot underneath it. I hung mine from a cabinet door handle over the kitchen sink.

Cheese ball

After a few hours, you’ll notice the cheese has hardened a bit. Take it down and refrigerate it overnight.

The next day, remove the cheesecloth, slice and serve.

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What are your favorite Easter traditions? Please share them in the comments section and if you’ve blogged about it, share your link!

P.S. If you have found a suitable substitute for Ruby’s Egg Deco Egg Dye, please let me know!

Traditional Costa Rican coffee

Traditional Costa Rican Coffee

Editor’s note: We’re taking some time for rest and relaxation. While we’re away, we’re reposting our Costa Rica getaway series. Enjoy!

I’ve never been much of a coffee connoisseur. I settle for a single cup in the morning to wake me up and after that, I don’t think much about it. That was until I discovered a traditional Costa Rican method for making coffee that changed my life.

While staying in Monteverde during my recent trip to Costa Rica, Matt and I took a walk through the town and stumbled across the Cafe Orchid Coffee Shop. This cute little coffee shop is one of the few places I found that makes coffee using a traditional “chorreador.”

A chorreador is a wooden stand that allows a cloth filter, called a “bolsita,” filled with coffee grounds to be suspended over a small pot or a coffee cup. Hot water is slowly poured into the filter and drips out the bottom.

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The cloth filter allows all the smooth rich coffee taste to leach out and leaves behind the harsher acidic notes that sometimes bother my tummy. The filter is also reusable, which cuts down on waste. We had our coffee con leche (with milk) and snacked on a yummy chocolate brownie while taking in the beautiful decor of the shop.

Cafe Orchid Coffee Shop in Monteverde

I was immediately hooked on this coffee. So hooked that I bought two chorreadors as souvenirs. Every Saturday and Sunday morning, I make our coffee using this method and it brings a little something special to the start of our day.

Want to change a coffee lovers life? Why not share this traditional method with them? It’s easy to let them know, simply use one of the sharing buttons below (Note: If you’re reading this via e-mail or reader, you’ll need to link to our website to use the sharing buttons).

 

Celebrate apple season with 3 delicious recipes

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The leaves are starting to turn and the weather is cooling down here in Ohio. Fall is upon us and with it comes apple season! I’ve been an apple lover my entire life. As a kid, we used to go to an apple orchard near Mansfield called Apple Hill Orchards. There was nothing like munching on fresh picked apples in the back seat of the car on the drive home.

Occasionally, I’ll make the trek down to mid-Ohio just to get a gallon of their unpasteurized apple cider. The best part of the visit is filling my own jug from one of their spigots while dodging the ever-present bees and wasps that are trying to get a quick taste of the sweet juice. I’ve had a lot of cider in my life and none of it has ever come close to the complex flavor of Apple Hill’s cider. It’s a dark and cloudy cider with a tangy yet sweet taste. It’s pure unadulterated apple goodness!

Closer to home, I love going to Patterson’s Fruit Farm in Chesterland. I begin stalking their website in August to find out when their Honeycrisp apples will be available. This year, I noticed that they’re selling huge bags of “ugly” apples and I’ve been thinking about buying a bag. But, before I do, I need to form a plan for using them so I’ve been looking around for ways to use up a large quantity of apples.

Here are a few ideas I found:

How do you celebrate apple season? Share your ideas in the comments section or on our Facebook page. 

3 mouthwatering tomato recipes

Cherry tomatoes on the vine

Normally, late August is the time to lament the end of tomato season in my garden. But thanks to a late start to summer this year, my tomato plants are just now starting to produce. This past week, I ate my weight in cherry tomatoes. I’m a “pluck it off the plant and pop it in my mouth” kind of tomato eater but sometimes a few lucky tomatoes actually make into my house. When that happens, I like to try delicious ways to incorporate them into dinner.

There are around a eleventy billion tomato recipes floating around the internet and, while most of them are OK, they often lack the wow factor that homegrown tomatoes deserve. So, when I’m looking to cook up a delicious and easy meal with my homegrown beauties, I turn to one place: The Smitten Kitchen blog. It’s clear that Deb Perelman, the mastermind behind the blog, has a deep love for tomatoes. Search for the word tomato in her blog and you get around 2000 results. For me, three of those recipes stand out from all the rest. If you are dealing with a bumper crop of tomatoes this year, try one of these recipes. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

  • Scalloped tomatoes with croutons – This is, without a doubt, the best thing I have ever eaten. And to think, I almost let my phobia of wet bread stop me from trying it. The trick for me is spreading the mixture out in a thin layer in a large casserole dish so the croutons dry out while baking. Do not skip the poached egg! 
  • Mediterranean baked feta with tomatoes – You can use any feta with this recipe, but I recommend treating yourself to a high quality hunk of the salty Greek treat. You won’t regret it.
  • Roasted tomatoes and cipollini – Simple ingredients and easy to make, this dish packs a huge amount of flavor. I serve mine over black beans.

Now, please excuse me while I run out to the local Greek store for feta. In the meantime, feel free to share your favorite way to use homegrown tomatoes.

Dealing with a surplus of garlic: 3 tasty ideas

Garlic bunch

 

Last fall, I planted 40 cloves of garlic in my herb garden. I spent the spring binge eating garlic scapes and a few days ago, I harvested 35 bulbs of garlic. (Some of the plants didn’t survive the winter.)

If you are wondering what I’m going to do with so much garlic, you aren’t alone. I’ve been wondering the same thing since last fall. Of course, I’ll give some bulbs away and put a few in storage for winter use. But I’ll still have quite a lot of garlic left after that.

I’ve been searching for recipes for recipes that call for a lot of garlic and I thought I’d share some of my favorite ideas.

  • 44 clove garlic soup – Using 44 cloves of garlic would certainly use up a large chunk of my stash. And I should be safe from vampires after eating this.
  • Creamy Roasted Garlic Butter – I might have drooled a little at the thought of slathering this on a big hunk of bread.  Bonus: I can make a bunch and freeze it!
  • Garlic Powder – Anytime I can break out my dehydrator, I’m a happy woman.

Do you grow garlic or have you received a large supply of garlic recently? How do you plan to use it? Share your ideas in the comments, I’d love to hear about them!