Pickled pink (or blue?)



homemade dill pickles 5



Hello my wonderful readers, are you still there? I’ve been MIA for a couple months, but I think I have the best excuse of them all:

I’ve got a bun in the oven … and it ain’t sourdough : )



bun in the oven



We’re over the moon! But the nausea, food aversions and fatigue wreaked havoc on my blog activity—not to mention Dave’s dinner. In the first trimester, most of the time I could barely bring myself to eat, let alone cook something. And while the morning sickness has subsided, I still find myself disgusted by many foods, and turned off entirely by the act of cooking for myself (short of microwaving a burrito or throwing some mac’n’cheese on the stove).

If I do cook, the thought of documenting the meal often seems exhausting. So there you have it: A tiny human is stealing my energy, brainpower and resources. And I’m loving every minute of it.

So what better post to return with than homemade dill pickles? While aversion is more of a theme for me these days than craving, I have had a weakness for that old pregnancy cliche (hold the ice cream). So I thought I’d try my hand at pickling some cukes—quickly of course.

Quick, homemade dill pickles

You’ll need:

10 or so Persian cucumbers (regular will do if you can’t find these, but go for smaller ones)

1 tbsp dill

1/8 tbsp garlic

1/8 tbsp mustard powder

1 cup water

1 cup distilled white vinegar

1/4 cup sugar

salt

Cut cucumbers in thin slices (about 1/8-inch thick) and set aside in a colander. Sprinkle generously with salt and dill and let sit while you prepare the brine.

In a saucepan, mix remaining ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat.

Put pickles in a jar and pour brine over them. Allow to cool to room temp and then chill in the fridge for a half-hour or so.

I sanitized a jar by boiling it in hot water for several minutes, but these quick pickles—assuming you plan to eat them within a week or so—should be fine in the fridge without that step.



homemade dill pickles 6



Greens on greens on greens



green pasta salad



My garden is filling in nicely, and all this green has me inspired. This pasta salad is a little taste of spring—exploding with nutritional superstars. There are enough greens to make it healthy, but enough pasta and cheese to make it a treat.

Dave devoured it, so you can trust that it’s delicious in spite of itself.

Don’t skimp on the lemon—it brings the taste to the next level.

Go green pasta salad

You’ll need:

1 lb pasta

1 cup peas

3 cups baby arugula

12 stalks asparagus

12 large brussels sprouts

4 green onion stalks, chopped

Juice from one whole lemon

A block of pecorino or other hard italian cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

For pea pesto:

1/2 cup peas

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1-2 large cloves garlic

1/2 cup baby arugula



greens



Blend all ingredients for pea pesto until smooth.

Cook pasta to al dente. Strain and then toss with pea pesto (add gradually—you might not need all of it). Set aside and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to a boil over high heat. Chop asparagus and brussels sprouts into small, bite-sized pieces and cook in boiling water until slightly tender. You’ll want to remove the veggies from the heat before they lose their green color (and all their nutrients) so have an ice bath ready. When they begin to get tender, strain the veggies and add them straight to the ice bath.

When the pasta has cooled, add brussels sprouts, asparagus, chopped green onion, peas and arugula. Finish with a generous shaving of cheese, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.



green pasta salad



Ravishing radishes



Radish



Spring has not quite sprung here in Chicago, and the natives are restless.

We’re all ready for it, and the husband is ready for the plants to go outside. My seedlings—now more like full-fledged plants—are spilling out of their containers, straining toward the windows and begging for fresh air. Despite less-than-balmy temps, I’m willing the warmth to arrive—and maybe some fresh seasonal recipes will help.

I don’t ever cook with them, but these radishes caught my eye last weekend, and just seemed very springy: fresh, dewy, earthy.

I suspected the fatty, creamy richness of avocado might complement the crunchy spice of the radishes, and after paging through my trusty Flavor Bible, I got some affirmation. The resulting recipe would be perfect for a spring picnic, a tea party or an afternoon snack.



radish avocado crostini by Better with Butter



 

Radish, avocado and herbed goat cheese baguette

(Makes about 2 dozen slices)

You’ll need:

1 french baguette, sliced thin

8-10 radishes

8 oz goat cheese

dill, sea salt and pepper to taste

2-3 avocados, sliced thin

Slice radishes paper thin with a sharp knife or madoline.

Spread a baguette slices with a thin layer of goat cheese.

Layer on sliced avocado and top with a generous amount of sliced radish.

Sprinkle with dried or fresh dill, course sea salt and pepper to taste.



radish avocado crostini by Better with Butter





radish avocado crostini by Better with Butter



 

Getting in the mood



strawberry balsamic salad_small



One of my biggest blog goals for 2013 was to step up my photography. It’s one of my absolute favorite parts of food blogging—sometimes even more than the actual cooking—so it’s been a fun, exciting and inspiring journey.

I’ve also been insatiable when it comes to finding new resources that can help me take my blog to the next level, and I love that there are so many great bloggers out there who share their secrets on photography, blog monetization, post layout inspiration, etc. I’ve been saving these tips on Pinterest, and plotting my own series of posts to pay it forward (stay tuned!).

One of the many tutorial posts that has inspired me lately is this one on “moody” food shots. I didn’t follow the tutorial step-by-step, but rather was inspired by the images in the post, since I’m working with an already decent understanding of photography, lighting, editing, etc. Here’s what I came away with …



Dark moody lighting photography tutorial by Better with Butter



Important things to remember:

  • Dark background. This is crucial, and it’s easier than you think. I bought two pieces of cheap, thin wood from Home Depot, and stained them dark. Cost me less than 10 bucks. For the shoot, I grabbed a chair and slid it up against my sliding glass door. The “countertop” board laid flat on the seat of the chair, and the “wall” board was propped up against the back of the chair. In many of my photo setups, I’ll use a big white foam board to bounce the light and eliminate shadows, but in a “moody” shoot you probably won’t need it since, 1) shadows would actually be desirable and 2) the background will likely be so dark that the shadows won’t be an issue anyway. This brings me to the next tip …
  • Diffused light. Moody shots require diffused light. Assuming you’re setup near a window, clouds can act as a natural diffuser, but if it’s fairly bright out, you’ll need something to prevent harsh lighting. I use either a white sheet or a slightly transparent shower curtain liner (tacked up against my sliding glass door/window). Works like a charm.
  • Exposure 1 to 2 stops below standard exposure. You can play around with this, but I found that anything higher was just too bright for the “moody” vibe. Keep in mind, if you don’t have anything light-colored or reflective in the photo, such as a white dish, brighter ingredients, etc. (and in my case, a silver platter) your photo will be underexposed, so you may have to compensate for this with your exposure settings or in post-processing.
  • Shallow depth of field. I shot at 1.4 aperture to get a nice dreamy, blurry background.
  • Good photo editing software. I use Lightroom 3, and with this shoot, my VSCO presets helped me get the film-like coloring/grain/etc. You don’t need a preset, of course, but it can help make editing quicker and more effective, especially if you’re like me and don’t have a formal education in digital editing software.

I’d love to see your “moody” shots—link away in the comments.

And, for those who could care less about food photography and just wanted the damn salad recipe …

Balsamic-roasted strawberry salad with crispy pancetta



strawberry balsamic salad



You’ll need:

3-4 handfuls spinach

6 oz. thinly sliced pancetta

1/3 cup almonds

1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese

For dressing:

8-10 large strawberries, sliced

2 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons high-quality balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Mix sugar and balsamic vinegar and pour over strawberries. Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, roughly chop the pancetta and cook in a skillet over medium-high heat until crispy. Drain on a paper towel and let cool.

While the strawberries finish, toast the almonds on a baking sheet until golden and fragrant (about 10-15 minutes). Remove both from oven and let cool.

Reserve a few balsamic-roasted strawberries for garnish, and mix the rest, with the balsamic vinegar sauce and olive oil, in a blender until the strawberries are pureed. Refrigerate.

Once chilled, toss all ingredients and dressing until fully incorporated (you may not need all the dressing). Top with strawberry garnishes and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.



strawberry balsamic salad by Better with Butter



Take me back to Tuscany



cannellini and artichoke spread



The weather in Chicago is seriously wearing on me. These days, I’m checking the 10-day forecast obsessively, waiting for the day that breaks 50 degrees. Come on 50. Fifty and sunny.

And I’m dreaming about travelling, far, far away …

… back to Tuscany and its rolling hills, dotted with grape vines, olive trees and medieval castles.

Alas, a European vacation is nowhere in the foreseeable future, so I’ll have to settle on giving my mouth a vacation.

Hmmm … that didn’t sound quite right. But you get my point.

This cannellini spread is quintessentially Tuscan—simple, rustic, peasant food from the old country. And since we’re talking a little stay-cation of sorts, let’s do it up right with some apt kitchen props.



A taste of Tuscany



 

Doesn’t this collection make you feel like you’ve wandered into a rustic Italian farmhouse?

  1. Chef’s planet 30-oz. oil pourer
  2. Sagaform wine carafe with oak stopper
  3. Provence Ploughman’s platter
  4. Flax tea towel
  5. Cantaria round casserole
  6. Viertri rustic planter

And to complete the experience …



white bean goat cheese crostini_small



Rustic cannellini spread

You’ll need:

1 cup cannellini beans

5-6 artichoke heart quarters (canned/jarred)

2 tbsp fresh oregano

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 oz. goat cheese

salt and pepper to taste

french baguette, sliced thin

melted butter for brushing baguette slices

Blend all ingredients minus the bread in a food processor or blender until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Slice baguette as thin as possible and brush slices generously with butter. Toast under the broiler on a cookie sheet until golden and crispy.

Serve dip with baguette slices.



white bean goat cheese dip | from Better with Butter



Salad art



greek salad art



I’m thrilled by the inherent beauty in freshly picked herbs, shimmering with dew; cracked pomegranates with glowing crimson seeds; rustic french bread, steam billowing from an airy interior; and the list goes on—I could wax poetic about edible inspirations (did I borrow that from a fruit bouquet company tagline?) for hours. And capturing this beauty in a photo is almost as satisfying as devouring the finished product.

So imagine my delight when I had the opportunity to pair up with May van Millingen—an artist who takes as much pride in documenting a plate of food, in all its fleeting glory, as I do—to work on a photo/illustration collaboration.

I loved the colors and simplicity of these Greek salad sticks, and May did them proud.



greek salad on a stick 4_large





greek salad 2



You can see more of May’s beautiful work on here website, mayvanmilligen.com.

Oh yeah—and the recipe isn’t too shabby either.

Greek Salad on a stick with homemade tzatziki sauce

Makes about two dozen skewers

You’ll need:

1 head butter lettuce

1/2 of a red onion

1 hothouse/English cucumber

4 oz. feta cheese

toothpicks

For sauce:

7 oz. plain, full-fat Greek yogurt

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon dried dill

1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tablespoon lemon juice

3 tablespoons minced cucumber

salt and pepper to taste

Tear lettuce into small pieces (about the size of a business card); cut cucumbers and feta into 1/2-inch cubes; roughly chop onions into 1/2 inch pieces. Assemble skewers with a piece of lettuce, a cucumber piece, a piece of feta, another cucumber and a piece of red onion.

Mix all ingredients for tzatziki. Chill skewers and sauce for 10-15 minutes and then serve immediately.



greek salad on a stick 3_large



 

Eat your brussels sprouts (no really, they’re fantastic)



brussels sprouts 3



Why brussels sprouts (and broccoli, for that matter) get a bad rap is beyond me. When prepared well, they’re a fantastic accompaniment to just about any meal. Also, it’s a fallacy that you have to add bacon to make them taste good. Of course, a little bacon never hurt anyone. Take it from my new fave paleo blogger and partner in crime, Nicole over at BaconIsHealthy.com.

I digress. To prove to you all that brussels sprouts are amazing—and don’t need to be studded with pork fat to shine—I whipped up a recipe, and it couldn’t be simpler.

Inspired by a delicious dish at my favorite lunch spot, I added parsley root. Truth be told, I was aiming for parsnip. I thought I bought parsnip. I was wrong. Using it anyway proved to be a wise decision, though—it added something really special to the finished dish.

Brussels sprouts with parsley root

You’ll need:

1/2 lb brussels sprouts

1/2 yellow onion, chopped

2 parsley roots, chopped

2 tbsp butter

3 tbsp mayonnaise

Salt and pepper to taste

Squeeze of lemon

Remove any outer leaves from sprouts. Boil water and add brussels sprouts. Cook for three to five minutes, then remove and promptly shock sprouts in cold water.

Cook onions and parsley root in butter over medium-high heat until tender, several minutes.

Add brussels sprouts just for a minute or so, or until they’re cooked through (tender). Drain any excess liquid and allow to cool for a few minutes.

Add mayonaise, lemon and salt and pepper. Serve warm.



brussels sprouts 2



 

Tortilla soup and tostadas, part dos



chicken black bean tostadas_7



It’s the end of the month and I’m falling off the paleo wagon. Still committed to a healthier diet, but God help me, I’m having some damn grains already. Corn and flour specifically. So here we go …

The best kinds of recipes are highly adaptable. Take my tortilla soup. It’s a thick, blended, stew-style concoction that’s not for traditionalists, but delicious all the same. Beans, tortilla chips, vegetables, spices and chicken stock—in almost any variation—blended and topped with shredded chicken, cheese and tortilla strips, will yield something fantastic. It’s so thick and flavorful, it makes for good enchilada filling, nacho dressing and in this case, tostada topping. The first tostada tortilla soup combo was great, but this one might be even better.



chicken black bean tostadas



Chicken tortilla soup

You’ll need:

3-4 cups chicken broth

1/2 yellow onion, roughly chopped

1 dried ancho chile, roughly chopped, seeds removed

1 red pepper roughly chopped

2 yellow squash or zucchini, peeled and chopped

1/4 cup bacon fat (this is optional–I happened to have it lying around from breakfast that day and it added an extra oomph)

1 can pinto beans, drained of half the juice 

1/4 tsp chili powder

1 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp cumin

3 cups crushed tortilla chips

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 lb cooked chicken, shredded (I cooked a whole chicken and used a mix of the dark and white meat)

Shredded mexican cheese, sour cream and extra tortilla chips for topping

Put all ingredients (start with 3 cups of chicken broth and add the additional cup as needed while cooking), minus the chicken and toppings in a crock pot. Cook on high, covered, for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally.

Blend crock pot contents until pureed. Stir in chicken (reheat, if necessary before adding). Top with cheese, crumbled tortilla chips and sour cream.

For the tostadas, buy tostada shells, or make your own by frying small corn tortillas in vegetable oil until golden brown. Top with chicken tortilla soup, black or pinto beans and shredded cheese. Toast under broiler until cheese is melty and bubbling. Serve with sour cream.



chicken black bean tostadas_4



 

Beef at its best



braised beef short rib



A couple of Saturdays ago, I dragged my cooking club ladies down the paleo rabbit hole—with quite astonishing results. We gorged ourselves on shepherd’s pie, shrimp cakes, lettuce wraps, bacon-wrapped dates, meatballs, key lime pie, chocolate banana pie and last but not least, insanely rich, beef short ribs—bursting with flavor and piled high atop rosemary and bacon-studded sweet potatoes.

Dave eyed the feast from afar, then dove in for the kill as the girls distractedly lingered over paleo-approved palomas.

As for the short ribs, I hesitate to even call them paleo. Nothing is sacrificed, nothing left to be desired. The only thing that could possibly make this dish better is a loaf of crusty french bread to mop up the juices.

mmmm …. bread …

Sorry. Anyway, as I was saying, the recipe is slow, but you can feel the love in the finished dish—and the flavor is worth every minute.



beef short ribs braised



Short ribs after the oven, before finishing on the stovetop

Wine-braised beef short rib with rosemary and bacon sweet potatoes (shhh … it’s paleo!)

(adapted from Saveur)

You’ll need:

4 lbs beef short ribs, bone in

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

1 bottle (750 ml) tawny port

3 cups beef stock

3 cups water

1 cup chicken stock

Salt and pepper

For sweet potatoes:

three large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

4 sprigs rosemary

3/4 cup ghee (or butter)

8 slices bacon

1/4 tsp white pepper

salt to taste



beef short ribs



You can’t go wrong with the Whole Foods meat department

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Generously season ribs with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in large stove and oven-proof pot/baking dish over high heat (I used my big cast iron enamel Le Creuset—it will have to be large enough to hold all of the ingredients). Add ribs and brown on all sides. Remove and set aside.

Add veggies to the pot and cook for about 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Deglaze with port and cook for about 15 minutes, or until port is reduced by about three-quarters.

Return ribs to pot and add stocks and water. Bring to a boil, then cover with a lid or foil and put in the oven.

Bake for about 2 1/2 hours or until the ribs begin to break apart easily with a fork. Remove from oven and allow pot to cool. You can refrigerate overnight, or, like I did, let it cool for a couple of hours or so, then complete the next steps as your dinner guests arrive.

The next day or about an hour before you aim to serve dinner, transfer pot to stove and simmer over medium heat for about an hour, until the sauce begins to thicken into a syrupy consistency and concentrate in flavor. Spoon liquid over ribs every now and then as the dish heats and move the ribs around as necessary to make sure they don’t burn.

 

At the same time you put the ribs back on the stove, cook your sweet potatoes in a covered baking dish with butter or ghee and rosemary in a 375-degree oven for about an hour or until tender. When cooked through, add bacon and puree sweet potatoes (along with the rosemary and butter).

Serve short ribs over sweet potatoes and topped with a healthy ladle of sauce from the pot.



wine braised short rib



 

Hot, spicy and a little bit sweet







Where’s your mind going? I’m talking about the soup, people. While sweet potato fries usually get all the love, this soup deserves a little attention. Velvety, rich, sweet, savory—and with a sneaking heat that will warm on even the coldest days—you’ll want to keep a batch of this stuff on hand all winter long.

Sweet potato chorizo soup

You’ll need:

2 large sweet potatoes

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 yellow onion chopped

1 cup chicken stock

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp white pepper

8 oz chorizo

Sour cream for garnish

Crumble chorizo in a skillet and cook on medium heat until cooked through, stirring constantly—about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Peel potatoes and cut into small cubes.

Melt butter in stock pot over medium heat. Cook onions in butter for 2-3 minutes. Add sweet potatoes and 1/2 cup of chicken stock. Cook over medium to medium-high heat for 10-12 minutes, or until potatoes begin to get tender, stirring frequently.

Add the rest of the chicken stock and spices, cooking for an additional several minutes until potatoes are cooked through.

Puree soup in a blender or food processor until completely smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add more chicken stock. Stir in chorizo. Serve hot and garnish with a dollop of sour cream.







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