‘Breakfast for Dinner’ Ricotta Omelet with Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette

America’s Independence Day is right around the corner, and even if you’re not one of the lucky few with a long weekend ahead to relax and enjoy extra leisurely breakfasts on a holiday weekday, you can still rock a “fancy breakfast” for dinner with today’s recipe. Last week Cameron and I were looking for a low-prep dinner that used ingredients left over in our fridge or on hand in our garden. Bon Appetit magazine came to the rescue with this ricotta omelet.

I usually shy away from omelets because I’ve had a poor track record when it comes to keeping the omelet intact from pan to plate. At some point between the egg turner sliding under the omelet and the omelet ascending from the sizzling pan to make its way to a nearby plate, all of my good intentions to keep filling where it belongs go by the wayside as the omelet breaks or the filling slips out of the carefully constructed folded eggs.

This omelet recipe was a game changer for me in the cooking arena, though. From the well-buttered pan to the minimalist approach to ingredients, I was able to make two of these omelets in less than ten minutes and top with the easy-to-prep Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette before chowing down. No disasters reported.

Fortunately, the tomato topping yields more than enough to save for other dishes that need a sweet, tangy, and lightly zesty condiment to balance their flavor profile. And with a balsamic vinaigrette-dressed green salad on the side (our lettuce survived the hail storms here!), you can have a filling dinner that also happens to be low on the carbs.

Ricotta Omelet

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Ricotta Omelets with Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette
(from a Bon Appetit recipe)
Serves 2

– 2 TBS unsalted butter, divided

– 4 large eggs, beaten to blend, divided

– Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

– 4 TBS ricotta, divided (If you can splurge, I highly recommend whole milk fresh ricotta. The creamy texture is way better than the grainy ricotta that’s often on offer at supermarkets.)

– 2 TBS grated Parmesan, divided (We didn’t have Parmesan and used leftover feta cheese. Two thumbs up for its tangy addition.)

– 2 TBS chopped fresh basil, divided

– 1 TBS chopped fresh chives, divided

– Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

1, Melt 1 TBS butter in an 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Season eggs with salt and pepper.

2. Add half of eggs to skillet. Cook eggs, stirring gently with a heatproof silicone spatula, until eggs are lightly scrambled and almost cooked, about 3 minutes. Spread eggs evenly to cover bottom of skillet.

3. Top eggs with half of ricotta, Parmesan, basil, and chives. Using spatula, fold up one-third of omelet. Roll omelet over onto itself, then slide omelet onto a plate. Repeat with remaining ingredients to make a second omelet. Top with Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette.

Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette
(a Bon Appetit recipe)
Makes 1 1/2 cups

– 1 pint cherry tomatoes

– 3 TBS olive oil, divided

– 1 medium shallot, finely chopped

– 1 TBS (or more) red wine vinegar

– Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

– 2 TBS chopped fresh chives

1. Cut half of cherry tomatoes in half. Heat 1 TBS oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallot and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 4 minutes.

2. Add halved and whole tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to release juices, 4–6 minutes. Mash some of tomatoes with a spoon.

3. Add 1 TBS vinegar and remaining 2 TBS oil; season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or room temperature; add chives just before serving.

DO AHEAD: Vinaigrette can be made (without chives) 2 days ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature and stir in chives.

Descent Into Homemade Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream

Last weekend I overcame my fear of a freezer stuffed with ice cream that tempted me every time I passed through the kitchen. I didn’t padlock my freezer. Instead, I decided to embrace my food anxiety and took the leap into ice cream maker ownership. It’s not a lack of love for ice cream that’s the problem here. With a need to monitor my sugar intake, ice cream is one of many sweet treats that I’ve had to enjoy in moderation during the last few years.

Will owning an ice cream machine lead me down a dark path to sugar coma? Only time will tell, but with our home’s indoor temperature hovering at 80 degrees F, I’ve been in the market for crafty ways to complement the heat with some cold refreshments. I could install an air conditioner, but they don’t taste nearly as good as a bowl of ice cream. Besides, if you’ve read my posts from earlier this year, an a/c is not a necessity for Front Range Coloradans since most of the time, it’s an ice box here.

After a week of product research, I settled on the Cuisinart ICE-21 Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker. With gift card in hand, I headed to a nearby Williams and Sonoma and snapped up one of the last ice cream makers on the shelf, ensuring my salvation or doom for under $30. If you’re buying your first ice cream maker completely out of pocket, you may want to start with a less expensive model. (If you have a $30 or less ice cream maker that you love, please share in the comments section for homemade ice cream making newbies.)

My ice cream maker includes two freezer bowls so that if you’re feeling reckless, you can make two consecutive batches. I did need to freeze the bowl for 24 hours before making the recipe shared below, but that wait afforded me time to seek out the number one super best ice cream recipe to make.

Last summer I raved about the glory that is strawberry-vinegar caramel sauce. Drizzled over vanilla ice cream, the richness of the ice cream is nicely balanced with the tanginess of the sauce. As one of my ice cream bowls chilled in the freezer (I wasn’t feeling that reckless), I scrolled through online recipes that combined those flavors into a perfect ice cream. Bi-Rite Creamery’s Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream recipe to the rescue.

Making homemade ice cream will almost always take you more than 20 minutes from start to finish (Cuisinart marketing ploy be damned!), but after prepping the ingredients, the actual churning was a breeze. In the not-so-distant past, if you wanted homemade ice cream, you were going to get an arm workout. Now, with a flip of a switch, the machine takes over and does a better job than I ever could. (May it never gain artificial intelligence.)

Once the ice cream has churned, I transferred it to an airtight container and slid the container in the freezer for a couple of hours to firm up. Unless you’re up for buying high-end ice cream at the store, you’re not going to get commercial-grade big brand ice cream with the same freshness and quality as your homemade version. Seriously, this ice cream is delicious.

Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream

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Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream
(a Bi-Rite Creamery recipe)
Makes about 1 quart

For the strawberry purée:
– 1-1/2 pints strawberries (3 cups), preferably organic, hulled and halved or quartered

– 2-1/2 TBS white sugar

– 2 tsp balsamic vinegar

For the base:

– 5 large egg yolks

– 1/2 cup sugar

– 1-3/4 cups heavy cream

– 3/4 cup 1% or 2% milk

– 1/4 tsp kosher salt

– 2 tsp balsamic vinegar

Cook the berries:
1. Combine the berries with the 2-1/2 TBS sugar and 2 tsp vinegar in a large nonreactive skillet. Put the skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the strawberries are soft and the liquid they release has reduced somewhat, 6 to 8 minutes.

2. Let cool slightly, then transfer the berries and their juice to a blender or food processor. Purée until smooth, and refrigerate until ready to use.

Make the base:
3. In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the yolks just to break them up, then whisk in half of sugar (1/4 cup). Set aside.

4. In a heavy nonreactive saucepan, stir together the cream, milk, salt, and the remaining sugar (1/4 cup) and put the pan over medium-high heat. When the mixture approaches a bare simmer, reduce the heat to medium.

5. Carefully scoop out about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture and, whisking the eggs constantly, add the cream to the bowl with the egg yolks. Repeat, adding another 1/2 cup of the hot cream to the bowl with the yolks. Using a heatproof rubber spatula, stir the remaining cream in the saucepan as you slowly pour the egg-and-cream mixture from the bowl into the pan.

6. Cook the mixture carefully over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it is thickened, coats the back of a spatula, and holds a clear path when you run your finger across the spatula, 1 to 2 minutes longer.

7. Strain the base through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean container. Set the container into an ice-water bath, wash your spatula, and use it to stir the base occasionally until it is cool. Remove from the ice-water bath, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate the base for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Freeze the ice cream:
8. Whisk the strawberry purée and the remaining 2 tsp. vinegar into the chilled base.

9. Freeze in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. While the ice cream is churning, put the container you’ll use to store the ice cream into the freezer. Enjoy right away or, for a firmer ice cream, transfer to the chilled container and freeze for at least 4 hours.

‘Summer’s Here!’ Fingerling Potato Salad

Over the weekend we welcomed summer by busting out the grill and lighting charcoal on fire. It’s the American thing to do, people. While we grilled kabobs and garlic bread and coal-roasted corn on the cob, our summer dinner plates weren’t complete without some sort of hearty salad.

Until recently you couldn’t have paid me to eat coleslaw or potato salad. As a kid, barbecues and picnics were ideal events for me to try out new excuses for why I could definitely not eat mayo-based salads. One glance toward the section of the picnic table cordoned off for “salad”, the bowls of slaw and potatoes moldering in the stifling Alabama heat, and I was feigning a sudden need for a bathroom, my hamburger and chips in tow.

Fortunately, I’ve since learned the value of salad in all its permutations, and while I still turn down gloopy picnic salads that threaten food poisoning, I’ll scoop well-chilled salads on my plate if the vegetable-to-mayo ratio tips in the vegetable’s favor.

Below you’ll the recipe for fingerling potato salad. Despite its fancy potato name, this salad is surprisingly quick to pull together. The potatoes are boiled until tender, and the dressing uses a homemade mayonnaise that promises freshness. I’m always cautious when dealing with raw egg, so I recommend serving this salad as soon as possible after making it or to keep it chilled. However, don’t let the raw egg spook you. All mayo is made with raw eggs, and you’ve managed to survive long enough to read this post.

CCN Fingerlling Potato Salad 1

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Fingerling Potato Salad
(adapted from a Bon Appétit recipe)
Serves 4 as a side

– 1 lb fingerling potatoes, unpeeled (halved if large)

– Kosher salt

– 1/2 large egg yolk

– 1 tsp white wine vinegar

– 1/4 cup vegetable oil

– 1 TBS spicy brown mustard

– 2 TBS chopped fresh chives

1. Place potatoes in a large pot and add cold water to cover by 2 inches; season generously with salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer gently until potatoes are tender, 20–25 minutes. Drain and let potatoes cool slightly.

2. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolk and vinegar in a large bowl; season with salt. Whisking constantly, gradually add oil, drop by drop at first, and whisk until mayonnaise is thick and creamy. Whisk in mustard.

3. Add warm potatoes to bowl with the homemade mayonnaise and toss to coat; season with salt. Fold in chives just before serving.

Summery Strawberry Cream Cheese Bread

As a mass transit user, I don’t particularly like the many months along the Front Range when I’m forced to wait in cold, windy weather for the bus or train to spirit me to the day’s destination. (You don’t have to remind me that I live in a state with some of the best skiing in the country. I got a concussion the one time I attempted snowboarding.) Late spring and summer are the few months of the year when I can put away my coat here and revel in long, sunny days and cool, dry nights, so earlier this month, after back-to-back hail storms that pummeled our garden, overfed neighborhood squirrels who wreaked additional havoc on our vegetable seedlings and destroyed our strawberry patch, and a flooded basement, I was more than happy to grab a flight to the East Coast and take a break from Colorado’s unseasonably sucky weather and urban pests. Hence, the radio silence over here at the Crafty Cook Nook.

After a whirlwind week and a half of traveling from D.C. to coastal Maine to visit friends, old haunts, and new favorite towns (Camden, Maine, you are dreamy!), I returned to our house to find that the sucky weather had been kicked to the curb and that much of our garden bounced back due to our house sitter’s able garden tending skills.

This weekend was the first in a few that I was able to get in to the kitchen for baking, and with late spring/early summer strawberries at their peak in our area, I scored a good deal on the organic strawberries I used in today’s recipe. Strawberries will always remind me of my Alabama hometown and its love affair with the juicy red berry. I’m determined to outsmart the squirrels in my neighborhood next year and bring in my own berry haul. Until then, I’m relegated to farmer’s markets and grocery stores to get my summer strawberry fix.

Below you’ll find the recipe for strawberry cream cheese bread, a quick-rise sweet bread that tastes best when the strawberries are at their ripest. I made this bread on Saturday to share with family and a friend who were passing through town, and they finished their slices in record time. Light and fluffy and not cloyingly sweet, I recommend a slice of strawberry bread alongside a cup of tea or coffee. A nice way to welcome in summer.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Bread 1

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Strawberry Cream Cheese Bread
(adapted from a Baking.Food.com recipe)
Makes one 9″ x 5″ loaf

– 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

– 1 cup sugar

– 3 oz. cream cheese, softened

– 2 eggs

– 1 tsp vanilla extract

– 2 cups all-purpose flour

– 2 tsp baking powder

– 1/2 tsp baking soda

– 1/2 tsp salt

– 1/2 cup milk (half and half)

– 1 1/2 cups strawberries, stemmed removed and berries chopped

1/2 cup finely chopped pecans (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degree F. Grease and lightly flour your 9″x5″ loaf pan. (I greased and floured my pan and also used a piece of parchment paper fitted width-wise to help the bread release more easily from the pan.) Set aside.

2. With electric mixer cream butter, sugar and cream cheese until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Mix in vanilla.

3. In separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Blend flour mixture with butter mixture just until blended. Add half and half and only stir just to blend — do not over-stir.

4. Drain strawberries and blot dry. Carefully fold in strawberries and nuts, if using. Batter will be thick. Transfer to your prepared loaf pan. Be sure to only fill the pan 2/3 full. If you have left over batter, then make a smaller loaf. I wound up making two additional mini-bundt cakes.)

4. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 50 to 60 minutes or until toothpick tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool, remove from pan, and serve.

Polishing off the Polish Pierogi

You may have noticed that my recipes have taken a definitive turn from salad to carb-heavy comfort food over the past few months. I’m still eating my veggies, folks, but I’ve been in need of serious carby comfort. (I’ll blame it on the lousy weather in April and May.) While I was heading out of the library a couple of weeks ago, my eagle eyes zoomed in on a brightly colored book displayed near the exit. Emblazoned across its cover was the promise of “COMFORT FOOD”. I was in. During my bus commute home that evening, I flipped through Jamie Oliver’s Comfort Food: The Ultimate Weekend Cookbook, marking the many recipes I wanted to try.

Last weekend, I pulled out my ingredients for his Polish Pierogi recipe and set to work. First and foremost, don’t let the ingredients list intimidate you. The dough is easy to make (even more so if you have a stand mixer), and you’ll have more than enough filling to freeze leftovers so that your next pierogi-making adventure moves even more quickly.

That prep work paid off, though, with a big, majestic bowl of pierogis. I’m already a fan of dumplings in any form, and these pillowy dumplings filled with savory vegetables and cheese live up to all my comfort food needs. Surprisingly they weren’t the gut bombs you might expect from a wheat-based dumpling because the cheese and potatoes were balanced by the cabbage/onion/caraway combo. If you want to feel virtuous, use reduced fat sour cream for the dough and sauce. I went with regular sour cream and savored every bite.

Polish Pierogi 1

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Polish Pierogi
(a Jamie Oliver Comfort Food: The Ultimate Weekend Cookbook recipe)
(Serves 8 as a starter or 4 as a main dish)

– 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

– 1 3/4 cups sour cream, divided (you’ll use some for the dough and the rest for the delicious sour cream sauce)

– 1/2 tsp baking powder

– 2 large eggs

– 1 tsp salt

– 1/4 of a green cabbage (8 oz)

– 2 TBS white wine vinegar

– 1 lb Yukon Gold potatoes (or any smaller thin-skinned white potatoes)

– 2 tsp caraway seeds (you’ll lightly toast them in a pan before using them in the recipe.)

– 2 medium white or yellow onions

– Olive oil

– Unsalted butter

– 4 oz extra sharp Cheddar cheese

– white pepper

To serve:
– 1 bunch of fresh chives (about 1 oz)

– 1 lemon (Zest it, and then squeeze out its juice, discarding seeds that may have snuck into your juice bowl.)

1. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with 2/3 cup of sour cream. Sift in the flour, baking powder, and 1/2 tsp of the the salt, mixing until the dough comes together. (I used my stand mixer, and this step was done within one minute.) Knead on a flour-dusted surface until smooth, and then wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to rest until ready to roll out. (I’d let it sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.)

2. After you’ve put a pot of salted water on to get boiling, coarsely grate the cabbage into a medium bowl, toss with the vinegar and a pinch of salt, and leave to pickle. (I used my standard metal cheese grater to take care of business here.)

3. While the pot of water is heating, peel potatoes, and cut into chunks. When the water starts to boil, toss the potato chunks in the water, and cook for about 15 minutes, or until you can squish a potato chunk against the pot. Drain, and steam dry.

4. While the potatoes are cooling, place the caraway seeds in a cold frying pan, place on medium-low heat, and toast for a few minutes to bring out the flavor. Finely chop your onions, and grate the cheese.

5. When the caraway seeds are lightly toasted, add a glug of olive oil and the onions to the pan and sauté for about 5 to 8 minutes, until the onions are lightly golden, stirring occasionally. Then add the cabbage (with all its vinegar-y goodness) and a pat of butter, cooking for 5 minutes before mashing in the potatoes and stirring in the cheese and a pinch of white pepper. Remove from heat and season with salt and more pepper to taste, and allow to cool for about 15 to 20 minutes. (Keep in mind that the dough is not highly seasoned, so be sure to add enough salt to the filling so that you get a balanced pierogi.)

6. As the filling cools, wash and very finely chop the chives. Mix sour cream, chives, lemon zest and juice, and a splash of water in a small bowl. Season with salt and store in the fridge.

7. Prepare work surface with flour. Divide dough into two pieces, and then, one at a time, roll each half out to 1/16 inch thickness, dusting with flour as you go. Cut out as many circles as you can with a 3 1/2-inch cutter. (I used the top of a standard pint glass to get the size I wanted.)

Polish Pierogi 2

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8. Divide the cooled filling into heaping teaspoon portions on a tray, and then roll by hand into little balls. (You will likely have plenty of filling left over. I froze the leftovers to save time prepping the filling the next time I make these.) Place a pastry circle in the palm of your hand, put a ball of filling in the middle, gently fold in half, and pinch all the way around the half-moon shape, placing on a flour-dusted surface. Take them all to this stage, and then with a fork dipped in flour, seal and stamp around the outer edge and place on a plate holding zone.

Polish Pierogi 3

Image by author.

9. In batches, cook a few pierogi at a time in a large saucepan of boiling salted water for around 4 minutes, until they rise to the surface, then carefully scoop out, put them into a large medium-hot nonstick frying pan (I used my trusty well-seasoned and well-oiled Lodge cast iron skillet) with oil, and fry until golden on one side only. Serve the pierogi on top of the chive sour cream sauce for dipping.


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