Bruschetta Sauce with Balsamic & Fresh Fennel

The other day, I bought fresh fennel at the grocery store.

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Fresh fennel, if you’re not familiar with it, is awkward and big, not unlike many of us were when we were back in junior high. Undeterred by the way my two bulbs wouldn’t fit inside a standard produce bag, their dill-like fronds poking out on top, I carried those towering bodies proudly to the checkout line, along with the other items in my cart. Then, I took them home to Tim, laying their bodies across our cutting board, where, together, we deconstructed them, like vegetable surgeons working as a team: The tops, we chopped for garnishes. The stems, we boiled into broth. The bulbs, we cut to wedges and sidled along onions to cook slowly on the stove. An hour or so later, in return for all these efforts, we ate the braised bulbs for dinner, and, as we did, I made a discovery. This past week, or specifically, this particular moment sitting across from Tim at the table with plates of fennel as our meal, I learned I hate, and I mean, hate, cooked fennel (or, at least, cooked fennel that tastes anything remotely like the version we made). Since there are weeks, nay, entire months, of my life where I can’t remember learning anything notable, particularly between the high school years of 1996 and 2000, I guess you could say this was not a complete waste of time.

Besides the cooked fennel, our kitchen has seen a revolving door of new recipes this last week: sesame tahini cookies, chocolate banana smoothies as thick as ice cream, homemade honey mustard with roasted sweet potatoes and a seriously unusual raw lemon tahini pie. Nothing was as shockingly memorable as that batch of fennel. Nothing was as good as this bruschetta.

bruschetta with no-cook tomato sauce, balsamic and fennel

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Megan Fleiner’s 5-Ingredient Thai Curry in a Hurry

curry in a hurry | foodloveswriting.com

I should start off by telling you my blog friend Megan doesn’t call this recipe curry in a hurry. Curry in a hurry is what I call it—because, my friends, this is a curry that can be on the table in 10 to 15 minutes flat. If the rice and vegetables are cooked ahead of time, or, at least, cooked while you’re off doing something else, dinner prep is barely dinner prep. Dinner prep is as mindless as reheating leftovers or buying one of those ready-made things you dump into a pan on the stove. Dinner prep takes less time than it takes to go pick up takeout, watch an entire sitcom or, you know, blowdry my thick head of hair (which is why I rarely do).

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Sara Forte’s Buckwheat Harvest Tart + The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook

Sara Forte's Buckwheat Harvest Tart | FoodLovesWriting.com

If you haven’t already heard of The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook, named for the blog Sara and Hugh Forte keep by the same name, you’re probably not a food blogger (nor someone who follows The James Beard Awards, for which it is a recent nominee). Last summer, when the book first launched, I only slightly exaggerate that about nine out of ten food blogs I followed featured the book at one point or another. And it’s not hard to see why.

Like the blog, the Sprouted Kitchen book is gorgeous, filled with colorful, crisp images on every spread. The recipes are focused on whole foods, from lentil meatballs in lemon pesto (the closest thing to non-meat meatballs I’ve ever had!) to flourless chocolate-banana pudding cakes (souffle-esque and wonderful). While, true, we’ve mentioned this book briefly here before, last fall when we had Sara’s mashies n’ greens (our kale mashed potatoes), we wanted to highlight it again, partly because we love how kind and approachable Sara is—something anyone who’s interacted with her can see—and partly because of one recipe in particular that has blown us away: this buckwheat harvest tart.

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Cauliflower Enchiladas with Poblano Cream Sauce

(Psst… Did you hear Google Reader is retiring? Follow my blog with Bloglovin)

Cauliflower Enchiladas | FoodLovesWriting.com

As promised, here I am again, on another Tuesday, with another recipe—only, after reading your comments on that last post, today doesn’t feel like just another Tuesday. In the time since we last spoke, I’ve received kind emails and comments full of wise words and advice, and I’ve found myself stepping back a little, at least internally, asking myself what exactly this space should be. (I’ve also found myself breaking down crying in a Trader Joe’s parking lot, but that’s just me being real.)

Today, while I’m bringing you a recipe for the craziest, creamiest cauliflower enchiladas that Tim and I made last week and ate again for two more meals (it serves four to six, just note that now), I’m also bringing you a few more thoughts, as they likewise come pouring out of me, and not in the abbreviated way I’d originally planned.

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Cajun Salmon & Garlic Parsley Mashed Potatoes

cajun salmon & parsley garlic mashed potatoes :: foodloveswriting.com

If you had stepped into our kitchen at around 4 p.m. a few Wednesday afternoons ago, you would have seen our side door, the one that exits to the driveway and our upstairs neighbor’s black iron stairs, flung wide open. You would have seen smoke wafting from the stove through that door, intermingling with the 50-some-degree weather and bright blue skies of Nashville February. And you would have smelled the sea, not the dreamy, refreshing scent of ocean tides, but the pungent, unfortunate odor of smelly, gamey raw fish. Tim and I were testing a recipe.

cajun salmon :: foodloveswriting.com

The idea of fish for dinner is nothing new in my family. My parents eat it once a week, at least. When we take my dad to restaurants, he looks for fish on the menu and asks the waiter, looking the guy in the eye and flashing a smile, if the chef might be able to blacken the salmon? And if you really could do that, boy, that would be great. While it’s true I didn’t grow up sharing my parents’ love of fish—nor their ability to treat perfect strangers as confidantes—thanks to their influence, blackened fish entered my palate early in adolescent life. Turns out, I learned as a teenager, cover something with enough powerful spice and cook it until it forms a crust, and even the fishiest fish tastes halfway okay. Now, as an adult, I freely admit I delight in a blackened, crusted tilapia and the way it sits light in my gut (not to mention, now also, the way that my dad values every waitress, businessperson or child he meets). And as far as how I feel now about fish, I think I like it best of all the meats—and yet, strangely, it is the kind I buy and cook least.

cajun salmon :: foodloveswriting.com

Standing over our smoky, steaming skillet, Tim and I wondered where we’d gone wrong. We’d followed a recipe I’d found on Pinterest, brushing Dover sole filets in lemon juice and coating them in a paprika-heavy spice mixture before sautéing them in oil. The resulting filets were fine, edible even. They were spicy, for sure, practically Cajun and the kind of food to leave you reaching for a water glass. But they weren’t fun to eat. I disliked them as much as I disliked the way our kitchen smelled for hours afterwards.

So that night, discouraged, I emailed my mom.

“Could you send me your recipe for blackened fish?” I typed and clicked send. That was all I said. Our correspondence, which, since I’ve lived in Nashville, relies more on emails than phone calls, typically plays out this way.

“Use whatever spices you like,” she responded. “Cayenne, Old Bay… there’s no real formula.”

“But what about technique?” I shot back. “Any tips?”

Her eventual response wasn’t lengthy—four sentences of instruction at most—but it gave me hope:

Put EVOO and butter in a pan and let it get hot, but not smoking. Place fish in pan and sprinkle on your seasonings. Let the fish get good and cooked, and flip it to the other side. It only taks a short time. Enjoy!

Directions like that imply that even a child could cook salmon well, so two weeks later, Mom’s email open on my laptop, her instructions are exactly what Tim and I followed, and here is the result:

cajun salmon and parsley garlic mashed potatoes :: foodloveswriting.com

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Spicy Sweet Potato Quesadillas

sweet potato quesadillas | foodloveswriting.com

A few Saturdays ago, wearing red lipstick and riding boots, I took a free Mexican cooking class with my old Nashville roommates, Sara and Sarah. We met in a bright, sunny space dubbed the grocery store’s “community room,” where the tall ceiling stretched as high as a church building’s and the kitchen featured two portable stoves. While Sara asked questions and Sarah sipped iced coffee with sunglasses perched atop her head, all three of us leaned forward from our third row seats to get closer looks as a man named Michael flashed through a handful of demonstrations, beginning with tortilla soup and ending with fried avocados on sticks.

Michael, who looked a little like a stoic Ron Howard, gave constant tips and tricks to our little, informal group of around 16 as he worked. He explained how to chop an onion (sort of like this), why he likes polenta as a soup thickener (the flavor), when to add spices (to oil, before liquid, as most are fat-soluble). When he completed a dish, we tasted—and, no one is more surprised than I am to say this, but the taste I liked best was the quesadillas.

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Cauliflower Stuffed Peppers

Cauliflower Stuffed Peppers | FoodLovesWriting.com

Like businesses, music, vacations and books, most meals begin as ideas—but as ideas that come more quickly down the mental conveyor belt than sonatas or summer getaway plans. A conversation at the office jogs a memory of Grandma’s butter cookies, and the kitchen finds you rolling dough; a blog post inspires dessert and you’re beelining for the pantry; or, unexpectedly on a weekday afternoon, a hunt through the refrigerator, opening drawers and crispers, fills your hands with bright red peppers and cauliflower and recalls a possibility you’d almost forgotten—and then, that quick, momentary thought, incubated right away in discussion and action, becomes a recipe you test twice in one week with your husband, the two of you lost together in discovery, in watching the abstract become something you hold in your hands and eat.

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