Sunday, August 24, 2014

Lemon-Orange Pancakes with Prickly Pear Syrup

As you saw in my last post, I recently got the chance to harvest and process a whole lot of prickly pears. Which means I now have the exciting challenge of figuring out how to use up 3-1/2 gallons of prickly pear juice! To kick things off, I whipped up a simple but stunning syrup to adorn some citrusy pancakes. The flavors paired beautifully together, creating a sweet, bright, fluffy, sticky breakfast. And aren't the colors just so inviting and energetic?

If you don't have access to prickly pears (or the inclination to process them yourself for juice), I would recommend using raspberries or blackberries for the syrup. Raspberries are probably the closest in flavor (and color) to the prickly pear. For suggested directions, see my notes in the syrup recipe.

I admit I was a little weirded out by the ricotta in these pancakes. I associate ricotta with lasagna, and I definitely don't associate lasagna with pancakes. But ricotta is actually pretty neutral-flavored, so it added some substance to the pancakes, and they turned out fluffy and delightful.

Lemon-Orange Ricotta Pancakes
Adapted slightly from Prevention RD
Yield: 4 servings (3 pancakes each)

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3-1/2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 cup milk (I used 2%)
3/4 cup low-fat ricotta
3 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Zest of 1 navel orange (about 1 Tbsp.)
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Whisk together all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl--flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, ricotta, eggs, vanilla, orange zest, and lemon juice. Add the melted butter, whisking as you add it. It may curdle a little as bits of the butter re-solidify. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and whisk to combine, being careful not to overmix.

Toward the end of measuring and adding ingredients, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. If desired, spray lightly with a neutral-flavored cooking spray.

Scoop a scant 1/3 cup of batter onto the skillet for each pancake. Cook 2-3 minutes or until bubbles develop on the surface of the pancakes. Flip and cook another 2-3 minutes until cooked through and nicely browned.

Tip: As you finish each skillet of pancakes, stick your plate of finished pancakes in the microwave to keep them warm. Don't turn on the microwave or anything--but the small enclosed space will keep the pancakes nice and warm.

Prickly Pear Syrup
Yield: About 2/3 cup syrup

1/3 cup prickly pear juice
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1-1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. cornstarch

Whisk all ingredients together in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium to medium-high heat. Cook for 5-10 minutes at a relatively low boil (my burner was probably on medium), whisking fairly often. The goal is for the syrup to reduce in volume and thicken without scorching. The flavors will develop as it it thickens and reduces. Remove from heat and serve.

This syrup would also be great on waffles or french toast. The prickly pear and lemon make this a very brightly flavored syrup, and I could see it pairing beautifully with the kinds of flavors that would go well with raspberries. Perhaps with some slight modification, this could be lovely as a glaze on blueberry or lemon poppy seed muffins.

If you don't have access to prickly pears, try this syrup with raspberries or blackberries. I'd suggest starting with 2/3 to a full 1 cup of fruit. Puree it well, then strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds and pulp from the juice. Then use 1/3 cup of that juice in the recipe above.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

If Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Prickly Pears . . .

I've lived in Texas for 21 years and, as of this weekend, 11 of those years have been in west Texas. In those 21 years, I cannot tell you how many prickly pear cacti I've seen. Only within the last few years did I learn that both the fruit and the cactus pad are edible (for humans). And earlier this week, I got to help pick and process fresh prickly pear fruit for the first time in my life!

Some of my friends own a good chunk of land that is bursting with prickly pears. They've harvested and processed several batches, and this week invited me to come along and pick with them.

It was so much fun! For this gal who is much better at driving to the grocery store than growing or hunting her own food, there was something so invigorating about harvesting produce from the earth's bounty. I felt industrious and accomplished. And the juice I brought home seems all the more special because it was mine and my friends' hands who picked, chopped, boiled, mashed, and strained the fruit that produced it.

So today I bring you a prickly pear photo story / instructions for making your own prickly pear juice. At the bottom, I'll provide some ideas for ways to use prickly pear juice.

1. Gather up your tools. For harvesting, you'll need bucket(s) and long-handled tongs. Sturdy rubber gloves will also come in handy (no pun intended). For processing, you'll need a rake (like you use to rake leaves), at least two large pots, cutting board and knife, a colander, a potato masher, a ladle, a funnel with a strainer (or a funnel plus a small fine strainer), and jars to hold and store the juice.

2. Use the tongs to pick the fruit. Look for fruit that is darker in color--deep purpley red more so than bright pink.

3. Fill up as many buckets as your heart desires. Each gallon of fruit will yield roughly a gallon of juice.

4. I didn't get a picture of this step. To remove the small hair-like prickles from the fruit, dump them in batches onto your lawn. Use a rake to rake over them, jumble them up, etc. The idea is to knock most of the prickles off the fruit in the process. Some people recommend removing the prickles by burning them off with propane, but that sounds quite complicated. Also, just know that you're probably not going to get ALL of the prickles off. So wearing gloves in the next steps will result in fewer prickles going into your hands. Return the fruit to a bucket, trying to minimize the amount of grass and dirt that wind up mixed in with the fruit.

5. Rinse off the fruit, and cut it in half long-ways. Isn't it purty?

6. Fill up a pot with the halved fruit, then add enough water to just cover the fruit.

7. Bring to a boil over high heat, then boil for 10 minutes.

8. Toward the end of the 10 minutes of boiling, use a potato masher to mash up the fruit

9. Place a colander over a second large pot, and pour the fruit/water/juice into the colander. (As you can see, we used a large bucket since all of our pots were full of fruit.)

10. Use the potato masher to press the fruit well, squeezing out as much juicy goodness as possible. Discard the solids. You'll end up with some seeds in your juice; that's okay because we're about to strain them out.

11. Use a ladle and funnel (and fine strainer) to transfer juice into jars while straining out the seeds. If you plan to use the juice right away, feel free to fill each jar to the brim. However, if you plan to can or freeze the juice, be sure to leave about an inch at the top of the jar to allow for expansion.

So! Now for some ideas on what to do with the 3-1/2 gallons of prickly pear juice currently hanging out in my fridge and freezer.
  • Frozen treats like sorbet and popsicles
  • Today for breakfast I made Lemon-Orange Pancakes with Prickly Pear Syrup (recipe coming soon!).
  • Various prickly pear-infused beverages, whether spiked or not. I've tasted prickly pear lemonade, and am told the juice is also excellent in iced tea, margaritas, and mimosas.
  • Smoothies--paired with fruits like orange and banana
  • Jelly
  • Glazed roasted pheasant from this site (could easily be made with chicken or Cornish game hens)
  • Salad dressing
  • I found a wealth of prickly pear juice recipes on Yummly. Two of the recipes there that most intrigue me are the Prickly Pear Lemon Bars and the Coconut Tarts with Prickly Pear Sauce.
How about you? Got any favorite prickly pear recipes you'd be willing to share?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Smoked Paprika Potato Breakfast Bowl

I don't have a whole lot to say, but here's a yummy breakfast recipe! This could be easily adapted--use a whole grain other than bulgur, throw in some black beans or bacon, add some onion before roasting, change up the cheese, leave out the eggs . . . you get the idea. Enjoy!

Smoked Paprika Potato Breakfast Bowl

Adapted from Naturally Ella
Yield: 1-2 servings

1/2 to 1 lb. red potatoes
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
1-1/2 Tbsp. half and half
1 cup cooked bulgur
1-2 eggs
1 oz. feta cheese crumbles
2 Tbsp. sliced green onions

Preheat oven to 400. Wash the potatoes and cut into bite-sized cubes. Spray a glass baking dish with cooking spray (or line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper). Combine the potatoes, garlic, paprika, sugar, turmeric, salt, and half and half; toss to coat well. Spread the potatoes evenly in the baking dish or cookie sheet, and bake until tender, about 25-30 minutes, stirring halfway. When the potatoes are done, toss them with the cooked bulgur so it all gets nicely coated with the spices.

Toward the end of the potatoes' baking time, boil your eggs: Place eggs in a pan and submerge with cold water. Bring the water to a rolling boil over high heat. Remove the pan from the burner, cover it snugly, and set a timer

  • 4 minutes for slightly runny yolks, 
  • 6 minutes for firmer yolks but still soft boiled, 
  • 10 minutes for hard boiled. 

Then submerge the eggs in ice water to stop the cooking process (you can do this by either pulling them out with a slotted spoon and sticking them in a bowl of ice water, or by draining the hot water out of the pot and filling the pot with cold tap water and ice). Let them chill out for at least a minute. Peel the eggs.

To serve, dish some potato and bulgur mixture into each bowl. Top with an egg, cheese, and green onions.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Summer Squash Ribbon Salad with Lemon Citronette

summer squash salad recipe
photo from
Can we not talk about how long it's been since I last posted? Life has been a little crazy, cooking hasn't been happening as much as I'd like for it to, and when it does happen it's usually for a meal I'm sharing with others. I know other food bloggers manage to photograph their food AND eat with people, but I haven't quite mastered that art yet.

Case in point: I'm borrowing this photo from the recipe author Cookie and Kate, because I didn't take pictures of my own creation.

I really liked this salad, and it got an overwhelmingly positive response from my friends who ate it. I liked the zing of the lemony dressing, the crunch of the toasted almonds, the creamy saltiness of the Feta, the cheerful yellow and green colors of the squash ribbons, and the overall freshness and brightness of the salad.

When I tasted the dressing on its own, the garlic seemed strong enough ward off a small army of vampires, but once it got mixed in with the rest of the salad components, it was fine. Still very garlicky, but much more balanced. However, if you're not a huge fan of garlic, I'd suggest using less--or sauteing it first to tame its bite.

My only mild complaint about the recipe is that it required getting quite a few dishes dirty--skillet, cookie sheet, colander, serving bowl, and cutting implements. But in the grand scheme of things, that's not a huge deal. And it went together fairly quickly--while the squash ribbons undergo their salt treatment, you can do most of the rest of the prep.

Fun fact: citronette is the same thing as a vinaigrette, but with citrus instead of vinegar as the acidic component.

Summer Squash Ribbon Salad with Lemon Citronette
Adapted from Cookie and Kate
Yield: 4 servings

Salad Ingredients
1 lb. zucchini
1 lb. yellow summer squash
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup Feta cheese crumbles

Citronette Ingredients
Zest and juice from 1/2 a lemon (about 1/2 tsp. zest and 1 Tbsp. juice)
1 large garlic clove, chopped
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Squirt of agave nectar or honey (I didn't measure but probably used 1-2 tsp.)
1-2 tsp. fresh mint, chopped
1-2 tsp. fresh parsley, chopped

Prep the squash: Rinse and trim the zucchini and yellow squash, then use a veggie peeler to shave them into ribbons. It works best to start on one side, shave until you start to get to the seeds, then rotate the squash a quarter turn and repeat with the next side. Reserve seedy cores for another use. Spread the squash ribbons on a cookie sheet, sprinkle liberally with salt, and toss slightly, then let them sit for 20 minutes (this draws out excess moisture). At the end of 20 minutes, transfer to a colander, rinse well, then drain well.

Toast the almonds: Heat a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the slivered almonds and toast, stirring frequently, until they're toasty and fragrant. Remove from skillet and allow to cool.

Make the citronette: Add the lemon zest and juice, garlic, olive oil, and agave to a mini food processor. Process until the garlic is finely minced. Add the mint and parsley and pulse until they're finely minced but not completely liquefied. Alternatively, mince the garlic and herbs by hand, then combine all citronette ingredients in a mason jar; shake or whisk well.

Assemble: If not serving right away, store components separately. When ready to serve, whisk/shake the citronette, then toss with the squash ribbons, almonds, and feta.


- Leftovers actually kept pretty well. The squash was a little more limp and the almonds less crunchy the next day, but the flavors and colors were still great.
- Kate also calls for fresh thyme. I didn't have that (my plant died!) so I left it out of the recipe, but I think it'd be great added back in. I could also see basil being a nice addition.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


My parents gave me fresh herbs for my birthday! Have I already told you this was happening? Well, Mom was in town last weekend, so we went shopping for plants and pots, and ended up with a nice little windowsill herb garden featuring dill, German thyme, sweet mint, and chives. In the week I've had them, I've managed to use the mint, chives, and dill, and I have another meal planned for tomorrow that uses more mint and dill. While I like thyme and thought I used it a lot, I'm not having trouble coming up with recipes to use the lovely fresh thyme that's hanging out on my windowsill. If any of you have ideas, please share them!

A great way to use fresh mint is in tabbouleh, a terrific middle-eastern side dish made with bulgur, mint, parsley, lemon juice, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Tabbouleh is filling but light, and tastes incredibly fresh and bright thanks to the fresh herbs and lemon juice. Because of all the chopping, it can take a little while to make, but it's not hard at all--just chop things, cook bulgur, and stir it all up. 

Tabbouleh tastes best when it can sit for a few hours to let the flavors blend together. I prepped my ingredients Thursday night, stirred it all together Friday morning, served it Friday night, and it was great. The leftovers were also great today (Saturday) for lunch. Though the herbs darkened (as in the pictures here), the flavor and texture were still quite lovely. 

The recipe below calls for 1-1/2 cups each of parsley, mint, and scallions/green onions. I used closer to 1 cup of each but think it would be excellent with the full 1-1/2 cups. Some recipes I saw called for far more parsley than mint, but I like this ratio, especially since the cost of store-bought fresh mint is no longer a consideration.

Adapted from Ina Garten
Yield: 12 servings

1-1/2 cups bulgur
2-1/4 cups water
4 roma tomatoes, diced (2-3 cups)
Juice from 3 lemons (about 3/8 cup juice)
1/4 cup + 1/8 cup olive oil, divided
3-5 tsp. kosher salt
1-1/2 cups sliced scallions (both white and green parts)
1-1/2 cups chopped fresh mint leaves (stems removed)
1-1/2 cups chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 medium to large cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 to 1-1/2 tsp. black pepper

Cook bulgur in water according to package directions.* When cooked, stir, remove from heat, and allow to cool completely. Chop the tomatoes and set them in a colander to drain while you chop the rest of the vegetables and herbs.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except 1/8 cup olive oil, and starting with just 3 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper. (I used a 4-quart Pyrex bowl, and it was the perfect size.) Use a rubber spatula to mix gently but very well. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors meld. Before serving, add the last 1/8 cup oil. Taste; add more salt and pepper if needed. 

Serve chilled or at room temperature. Leftovers keep very well.

*Most tabbouleh recipes I read said to pour boiling water over the bulgur, then let it stand (off the stove) for 30 minutes to 1 hour. I wasn't sure why, and the bulgur I buy only takes 15 minutes to cook, so I opted to follow the package directions.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Quick Shiitake and Green Bean Stir-Fry with Coconut Rice

A couple weeks ago, a friend brought me these stunning shiitake mushrooms from a bigger city with more Asian markets than where we live. When I saw how giant and utterly gorgeous they were, I knew I needed to use them in a dish where they could shine. So I adapted a beef stir-fry from the Green Mango Cafe & Bakery Cookbook, subbing in shiitakes for the beef.

This stir-fry was quick, simple, and wonderfully delicious with a delightfully balanced flavor. The brown sugar made it slightly sweet and sticky, the fish sauce added just a hint of funk, and the shiitakes were meaty and earthy. If you don't have access to shiitakes, I'd recommend portobellos, baby bellas, or crimini, as they tend to be meatier and earthier than the basic white mushrooms.

I also highly recommend making coconut rice instead of plain rice. It doesn't take any longer to make, but the coconut milk puts the rice on a whole 'nother playing field. As I've written the recipe below, the coconut flavor is fairly pronounced. But if you prefer a more subtle coconut flavor, use less coconut milk and more water.

My green beans were a little on the crunchy side. I'm keeping the recipe with the steps I followed. But for more well-done green beans, either toss them in with the mushrooms and shallots, or steam them for a bit in the microwave before adding them to the skillet.

I think this stir-fry would be great with beef or chicken--perhaps switch out half the mushrooms. For beef, follow the directions exactly as they're written; for chicken, you may need to add a bit extra cooking time in the first step to ensure it gets fully cooked. For added crunch and protein, some sliced toasted almonds would be lovely sprinkled on top at the end.

This dish reheated well, but be careful not to cook it too long in the microwave, as the mushrooms can get kinda rubbery if they get zapped too long.

Quick Shiitake and Green Bean Stir-Fry
Adapted from Green Mango Cafe & Bakery Cookbook
Yield: 4 servings

Coconut rice (recipe below)
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 lbs. shiitake mushrooms, thickly sliced
2 medium or 1 large shallot, minced
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 birds eye chili, thinly sliced (optional; more or less to taste)
10 oz. fresh green beans, rinsed, trimmed, and sliced into 2-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 dashes fish sauce
3 Tbsp. reduced sodium soy sauce
3 green onions, thinly sliced

Start the coconut rice. If it finishes before the stir-fry is done, simply remove it from the heat, fluff with a fork, and re-cover. Then prep all the veggies. For a stir-fry like this where you add ingredients every couple of minutes, I find it helpful to pre-measure everything, including the sauces and spices, and line them up on my counter in the order that they'll go into the skillet.

Heat the sesame and canola oils in a large wok or skillet over high heat. Add the mushrooms, shallots, salt, pepper, and bird's eye chili (if using; I didn't). Stir-fry for about 3 minutes. Add the green beans and stir-fry for another 3 minutes. Add the garlic and stir-fry for 10-30 seconds.

Add brown sugar, fish sauce, and soy sauce; stir to coat evenly. Continue to stir-fry for another minute or two, until everything is cooked through. If needed, add water 1 Tbsp. at a time.

Serve with coconut rice and garnish with green onions.

Coconut Rice
Yield: 4 servings

1 cup coconut milk
3/4 cup water
Pinch salt
1 cup basmati rice

In a small saucepan, combine coconut milk, water, and salt. Bring to a boil. Add the rice. As soon as it returns to a boil, reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, stir, and re-cover until ready to serve.

Some varieties of basmati recommend rinsing the rice before cooking it (to remove extra starch) and/or adding the rice to the liquid(s) before bringing it to a boil. Also cooking times may vary. So check the instructions on your rice and adjust my directions accordingly. The main thing is to use coconut milk for a hefty portion of the water measurement.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Apple, Leek, and Gruyere Grilled Cheese

Apple, Leek, and Gruyere Grilled Cheese
Adapted from Eats Well With Others
Yield: 4-6 servings

1 loaf fancy bread of choice (I used a rustic french bread)
2 large leeks, white and light green parts only
2 oz. gruyere, shredded
1 granny smith apple, cored and sliced
Pinch nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
Butter, softened, for pan and for spreading on bread
Swirl of olive oil

Prepare the leeks: Chop off the dark green tops; discard or reserve for another use. Remove the very end of the bulb. Cut the white/light green stalk in half lengthwise, then slice thinly. Fill a large bowl with water and place the sliced leeks into it. Swirl them around with your fingers to help loosen any dirt on them. Remove the leeks to a colander, then dump out the dirt-infused water and rinse out the bowl. Repeat until you're not getting any dirt in the bottom of the bowl. Let the leeks drain in a colander while you grate the cheese and slice the apple.*

Heat a pat of butter and a swirl of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes, until leeks are softened. Add the apples and cook for a few minutes more, until apples are also soft. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, set bread slices in pairs, and butter the outsides of what will be each sandwich. When apple and leek mixture is ready, build each sandwich: Lay apple slices on the un-buttered side of a slice of bread. Top with some leeks, then sprinkle on some gruyere, then top with the other piece of bread (buttered side out).**

Transfer any leftover apple-leek mixture into a bowl or storage container; wipe out the skillet. Return skillet to medium-low heat. Once it's hot, carefully add sandwiches to the pan. Cook for about 3 minutes on each side, turning carefully, until each side is crusty and golden. Remove each sandwich to a cutting board and, using a good bread knife, slice each sandwich in half.

Joanne (the original recipe writer) called for 4 large leeks for 4 servings. I used 2 large leeks and got 5-6 servings. Perhaps my leeks were bigger than hers, or her bread slices were bigger than mine? Her pictures don't look like she filled her sandwiches fuller than I did.

*At this point, Joanne said to blanch the leeks (boil for two minutes, then dunk in ice water). I did that, but didn't think it accomplished much other than getting another pan dirty and making the process more complicated, so I'm leaving that step out of my instructions.

**On this step, it's best to use your fingers so you have maximum control over your ingredients. Just let the apple-leek mixture cool enough for you to handle it. For more cheese throughout the sandwich, do apple, cheese, leek, cheese. I tried it both ways and liked them about equally.