Ravenous Fig

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Cherry Tomato, Caper, and Balsamic Sauce

[caption id="attachment_387" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="Finished Cherry Tomato, Caper and Balsamic sauce on pasta"]Cherry Tomato, Caper and Balsamic sauce on pasta[/caption]

Not too long ago, I consumed copious amounts of frozen pizzas, pre-made salsas, boxed pastas with powdered sauce mixes, and various questionable meats marinated with reconstituted powdered "flavor packets" as part of my regular diet. I didn't have a need to keep a stock of whole foods — by which I mean foods that are unprocessed and unrefined (or minimally processed and refined), not the national grocery chain.

Once I discovered how easy it is to prepare simple, affordable meals from scratch rather than whipping out a meal-in-a-box, -bag, or -can every night, I started keeping a few things on-hand at all times. Eventually the "few things" became much more than that. Our pantry looks something like Alton Brown's pantry in the Good Eats kitchen. You don't need to go that far, but it is much less intimidating to prepare from-scratch meals when you already have a supply of most of the ingredients on the list.

[caption id="attachment_388" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Our pantry is stocked with most of the items on Jamie Oliver's list, as well as a "few" extra items we've picked up along the way."]Part of our pantry[/caption]

Jamie Oliver put together a wonderful, relatively exhaustive list of "Essential Cupboard Ingredients" in Jamie's Food Revolution. (If you're new to cooking at home and you want to buy one cookbook, that's it). From all-purpose flour to smoked paprika we've got nearly all of it. I'd add a few fresher items to the list as well, like lemons, butter, garlic, capers, a block of parmesan, and any seasonal fruit you like. They don't all meet the criteria of "sitting happily in your cupboard or freezer for months," but we go through them fast enough to always re-stock when we run out. Oh, and you can add bars of chocolate to that list… :)

[caption id="attachment_389" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Garlic prepped for this sauce."]Garlic[/caption]

Last night I whipped up a big-flavor sauce in the time it took me to boil water and cook linguine, using a few pantry staples and some of the last of the season's cherry tomatoes. I threw in some gorgeous, striped green heirloom tomatoes to add a dimension of color, but you could use a simple pint of red cherries if that's all your supermarket has on hand.

This sauce ends up looking and tasting quite impressive, but cooks up in less time than it takes to heat the oven and bake your average frozen pizza. No more excuses!

[caption id="attachment_391" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="The finished sauce, ready to serve."]Finished Sauce[/caption]

Cherry tomato, Caper, and Balsamic Sauce

We served this over some lovely garden (tri-color) linguine, but it would also be excellent spooned over another pasta, fish, or meat. This recipe is from Jamie's Food Revolution.

Ingredients

  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 pint cherry or

Pretzel Rolls

[caption id="attachment_92" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="Hot Pretzel Rolls, fresh from the oven."]Pretzel Rolls[/caption]

As Vance and I prepare for a week-long vacation in Portland, Oregon we've got street food on our minds. The city is a mecca for food carts, tucked into small food court-like clusters around the city. You're never more than a 15 minute walk from a food cart in Portland, it seems, and a visit to at least one is on our list of must-do's while we're there. One of my favorite food cart indulgences is the pretzel — chewy, golden brown, and perfect with just some coarse salt and a dunk in some simple yellow mustard.

My parents stayed with us one night this week on their way to another one of our favorite places: Brevard, North Carolina. We always cook at least one meal during their stays, and this time I thought we'd try a fusion of the pretzel and the beer brat, one of my favorite street foods and one of Vance's. He kindly prepared the whole meal while I caught up with the 'rents — reason #4,725 why he's a great husband.

Vance's pretzel rolls were huge, more like hamburger buns (the recipe below made 6 hamburger-sized buns). But you can shape them however you like. They'd also be great as a clever substitutes for the traditional dinner roll, or even smaller pretzel bites that could be served alongside some artisan mustard as a hand-held party snack. Or hot ham and cheese on a pretzel roll. Or maybe …

Pretzel Rolls

These really do end up tasting like pretzels, but they're easier to make and you don't have to tie them into that fancy pretzel knot. Don't skip the boiling step — that's the secret to their incredible texture. Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit, January 1994.

Ingredients (use organic whenever possible)

  • 2 ¾ cups bread flour
  • 1 envelope quick-rising yeast
  • 2 teaspoons celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot water (125°-130°F)
  • Cornmeal
  • 8 cups water
  • ¼ cup baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 egg white, beaten to blend
  • Coarse salt

Preparation

Measure out the first five ingredients; use a digital thermometer if you have one to get the water temperature just right. Combine the first four ingredients (not the water) in the food processor and blend. With the machine running, gradually add the hot water by pouring through the feed tube, until a smooth, elastic dough forms. Process 1 minute to knead. Grease a medium bowl with non-stick cooking spray or some olive oil. Turn the dough out into the bowl and turn it to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, then a towel. Let it rise in a warm, draft-free environment until doubled in volume, about 35 minutes.

Flour a baking sheet. Punch down the dough and knead by hand on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Divide into eight pieces (I use a soap or pastry cutter

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