Target + Neiman Marcus

Though past collaborations between high-end designers and Target have taught me to keep my expectations fairly low, I am interested to see how this one plays out: Target and Neiman Marcus have tapped 24 fancy designers like Tory Burch, Marc Jacobs and Carolina Herrera to create 50 gift items for the holidays. All items will be sold at Target, Neiman Marcus and online starting Dec. 1.

I’m encouraged by:

>> Higher prices, which hopefully means the quality will be better. We’ve all been burned by these collabs when we see the $24.99 blouse in person and become fairly certain that it will dissolve in water.

>> Each label contributed just two or three items, which means the designers didn’t have to stretch to come up with a broad capsule collection that would likely have some poorly executed fillers.

>> Neiman Marcus throwing its good name and coveted sales floor into the deal.

Target’s stores and web site are notoriously overloaded on the day that a designer collection debuts, but many times these lines fly under the radar at my Target. So, there’s a good chance that I’ll nab a few things. Here’s what I’ve got my eye on:

For me: Lela Rose dress, $99.99

For my sister-in-law: Marc Jacobs pouch, $69.99

For a holiday party hostess: Tracy Reese dessert plates, $39.99

For a cocktailing couple: Altuzarra glasses, shaker and tray ($49.99-$79.99)

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Breadcrumbs from frozen bread

I learned a really clever kitchen trick last night…

It’s really easy to make breadcrumbs starting with frozen bread.

I’m more likely to have bread in the freezer than breadcrumbs in the cupboard, so this is essentially the best news ever.

Grab a roll or loaf straight from the freezer, and drag it across a box grater or a microplane. Toast the crumbs in a 350° oven for 10 minutes. That’s it.

Last night’s bread crumbs led to this:

Which turned into this:

And then this happened:

Followed by this:

And finally, this:

A bowl of meatballs with marinara sauce is so good, you won’t even miss the carbs. When I lived in Phoenix, there was a restaurant with a dish called “Bowl of Balls” — 3 large meatballs nestled underneath sauce and cheese. Finally, I thought, someone gets me.

There are a million ways to make meatballs. Here’s how I made last night’s version: In a bowl, combine 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, 1 pound ground pork, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan (I used a non-Parm white cheese, unidentifiable due to its lost wrapper, that was in the fridge, and nothing bad happened), 1 lightly beaten egg, 2 tablespoons water, some chopped flat leaf parsley, salt and pepper. Mix gently but quickly with your fingertips, just until the ingredients are combined. Shape into 2-inch balls.

Heat a cast-iron skillet on medium to medium-high, and when it’s hot, add enough canola oil to coat the bottom surface. When the oil is hot, place the meatballs in the skillet, making sure they’re not touching one another. Brown for 2-3 minutes on each side, turning them using tongs.

When they’ve browned, place them in a pot of slowly bubbling marinara sauce. The meatballs will finish cooking here.

Ladle into a bowl and top with grated Parm. Bowl of balls!

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How to make and freeze fresh pesto

This spring, I planted four basil plants with one purpose: Pesto!

These basil bushes were giant … even one was more than enough for daily picking for caprese salads and pasta. Harvesting the leaves and making pesto throughout the summer would have been the smart thing to do — that was my plan, but you know how it goes.

So yesterday was the day. I stripped two of the plants and made two batches. I froze the pesto in two-person portions using muffin tins, so I can use them over the next several months on veggies, pasta and more. Remembering that these are in your freezer in the middle of winter is a tiny treasure.

Each batch made enough to fill 12 muffin cups about 1/2 to 2/3 full — each portion is one to two servings. Once they’re frozen, pop out the little pucks, individually wrap them and store them in freezer bags.

     

I trust Ina Garten’s pesto recipe, which calls for pine nuts and walnuts. It’s really garlicky, which I love, but if that’s not your thing, use half the amount. Also, I omit the 1 teaspoon of salt — the nuts and Parm make the pesto appropriately salty.

Ina Garten’s PESTO 

1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup pignolis (pine nuts)
3 tablespoons chopped garlic (9 cloves)
5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups good olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Place the walnuts, pignolis, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process for 15 seconds.

Add the basil leaves and pepper. With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly pureed.

Add the Parmesan and puree for a minute. Use right away or store the pesto in the refrigerator or freezer with a thin film of olive oil on top.

 

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Gin and tonics, and a secret ingredient

I really loved seeing this story on The Kitchn where 25 food writers revealed their safety drinks — you know, the drink you order when you’re unsure about the bar or the bartender. But I loved this story even more when gin and tonics appeared again and again in their responses.

A G&T is not only my safety drink, it’s my favorite drink. In the booze universe, my stars align, I guess.

Until last year, all gin and tonics I’d ever had were clear. But this summer at home, I’ve been adding a secret ingredient that turns a decent gin and tonic into the best one ever. It also turns it a really pretty amber color.

Curious about this thing that makes a G&T so special?

   

It’s called John’s Premium Tonic Syrup — a great find from a stellar restaurant in Phoenix called the Tuck Shop, known for its G&Ts. The syrup is packed with botanical goodness and made in small batches, and it works like this: instead of adding tonic to gin, you add this syrup to soda water and gin.

It’s not the G&T you’ve always known, and yet, you won’t want to go back. It gives the drink that craft cocktail taste without you having to boil down syrups or muddle herbs or dab on aromatics with a eye dropper or what not.

The bottle even instructs you to bring the syrup with you to bars, you know, to avoid drinking a lesser G&T. Order a gin and soda and add a few drops of the syrup.

I’m not quite that obsessive … but I do use John’s syrup at home, always.

Other preferences: Hendrick’s gin is my favorite because it’s bright and herbal and great with cucumbers from the garden, which is a garnish that I like in my G&Ts. If I’m making it at home, I’ll squeeze in a quarter of a lime, maybe more … because I love lime and hate scurvy.

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A peek at Edible Indy’s fall issue

I run a magazine called Edible Indy that publishes quarterly. We work so far ahead that my work life is forever one season ahead of reality. Today, it’s 90 degrees and I’m thinking about what kinds of Indy-made sweets would make great holiday gifts. For our photo shoots, I’m scrambling to locate corn in March and pumpkins in June and ramps in December. Thank goodness for our screwed up food system that makes so much of what I need available in grocery stores year round (except ramps – those really are a local, farmers’ market specialty with a very short window of availability).

Working that far ahead means that when an issue is finally on racks, it’s kind of like an newly expired gallon of milk. I don’t want to open it or smell it or even look at it. It seems so old. Let’s just buy a new jug and move on, shall we?

But you — you! — should definitely open it. To you, it’s fresh, and that’s the best.

The new fall issue of Edible Indy is online, but I wanted to point out some of my favorite parts. Think of this as your companion guide to the fall issue.

This cover! I love the simplistic styling and the color of the cranberry dish. Photo by Kelley Jordan Heneveld; shot at Late Harvest Kitchen. I brought the linen towel and the swing-top water bottle from home. The other props came from the restaurant.

I got to try some food styling for this issue, which, turns out, is difficult. I wrote this story on burgers with locally-made toppings, then I bought the ingredients and made the burgers at home. Jeff did the grilling and Grant Heger took the photos.

I was sad that this adorable outtake didn’t make it in the issue, but maybe it’ll turn up in a future one:

I also really loved this spread on cooking with fall fruit. I interviewed Ryan Nelson, the talented chef-owner of Late Harvest Kitchen, and asked him to share autumn recipes with fruit, but nothing sweet — no tarts, pies, crumbles, etc. Kelley Jordan Heneveld took the photos, and we styled them together using a mix of props from my kitchen and from the restaurant.

Recipes are in the magazine, and it’s worth noting that although we focus on Indy places, people and food, the recipes can be made in kitchens everywhere.

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Pasta with arugula pesto

For my next trick, I will show you how to make this super quick and easy spaghetti with arugula pesto and shaved asparagus. The whole thing comes together while the pasta is boiling, and you really can’t make anything more delicious with such little effort.

Lately, I have been craving anything green and minimally cooked, and the idea for this dish came to me while planting lots of little green plants in my garden this weekend. I was thinking about how I can’t wait until the basil is big enough to make pesto—and then while flipping through Giada’s new cookbook, I saw a recipe for arugula pesto and thought: that’ll do. Below, the pesto part of the recipe is from “Weeknights with Giada,” which I’ve been enjoying very much.

The thin strips of raw asparagus twirl right on your fork along with the spaghetti, and the bright, peppery taste of the arugula make this a perfect pasta for summer.

PASTA WITH ARUGULA PESTO AND ASPARAGUS

Serves 2 (with a bit leftover, maybe)

1/2 bunch asparagus
1/2 pound spaghetti (half of a box)
2 cups packed arugula
1 garlic clove, peeled and halved
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

While the pasta water heats, prepare the asparagus. Cut off the tips and place them in a big bowl that will eventually hold the pasta. Using a veggie peeler, shave the asparagus stalks into strips and place them in the bowl. 

 When the pasta water is boiling, add a bit of salt and then the pasta. Cook to al dente.

Meanwhile, blend the arugula and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. With the machine running, gradually add the oil and process until well blended.  Transfer to a bowl and stir in the cheese, salt and pepper.

Add half of the pesto to the big bowl with asparagus and mix to coat. When the pasta is done, drain and add it to the big bowl. Let the hot pasta soften the raw asparagus for a minute.

Mix everything together with tongs, then add the other half of the pesto or as much as you want. Mix again to make sure the pesto is evenly distributed.

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What to do with ramps

It’s a tie between ramps and radishes for trendiest vegetable right now, don’t you think?

I’ll come back to radishes later. Let’s start with ramps. I spotted some at the farmers market on Saturday and planned a Sunday dinner around them. I wanted to taste the hype.

Ramps aren’t typically farmed or intentionally grown. They are gathered by foraging, the practice of finding edible plants that grow in the wild. Ramps are essentially wild leeks—they have a similar texture and mild garlicky taste.

Because you have to know where to look and what to look for, foraged food like ramps and the people who gather it are curiously popular at the moment. Ramps are available for just a few weeks in the spring, adding to their mystique.

The easiest way to prepare ramps is by sauteeing them—this lets the natural flavor shine. With their built-in garlic flavor, a little wine or vinegar is all you need to add. Ramps turned out to be an awesome side for last night’s dinner. Here’s a peek, and some notes on preparation:

RAMPS, TWO WAYS

The bulbs (at the bottom of the plate) were prepared separate from the leafy tops (at the top of the plate).

For the bulbs: Sautee in a pan with olive oil and butter on medium-high until the bulbs have browned and blistered, about 5 minutes. Mix a tablespoon or two of balsamic vinegar with a bit of agave nectar syrup to taste, and pour the mixture over the bulbs. Stir to coat, and cook for another minute or so.

For the leafy tops: Wilt in a pan with olive oil. Add a few splashes of white wine at the end and cook until the liquid has mostly evaporated.

FLANK STEAK

Heat a cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, pat ancho chili powder (dark and flavorful, but not spicy) onto both sides of the meat. Dry rubs are a great way to add flavor and it only takes two seconds, versus a think-ahead marinade. When the pan is hot,  add the flank steak. Cook, flip, cook. We added a few spoonfuls of salsa roja to the top for serving, but it could go without.

ASPARAGUS

Nothing fancy here. Just really good spears from a local farmer, tossed with olive oil and roasted for 20 minutes or so in a 350-degree oven.

MINTED GREYHOUND 

We have a craaazy amount of mint growing in the corner of our backyard, and I’m trying to figure out what to do with it. Using a few leaves at a time in cocktails is the current solution. Muddle mint and the zest and the juice of half a lime in the bottom of an old-fashioned glass. Add a shot or two of vodka, then fill the glass with ice. Top off with grapefruit soda (we used San Pellegrino’s Pompelmo) and give it a stir.

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