Sometimes a roll just isn't going to cut it. Every now and then you just want something besides a muffin or a bagel. For dinner or for breakfast, we think popovers fit the bill. And we make them in the "semi-homemade" style, that is, we use Stonewall Kitchen Popover Mix as a base and then add shredded cheese and/or chopped fresh herbs to the batter to give them a little something extra. We've done rosemary-cheddar, basil-sundried tomato, and parmesan-sage, to name a few, with dinner. Plain hot popovers with a little butter and strawberry-balsamic jam in the morning are a nice way to start the day.  Even a few restaurants around our area have "popped" on the popover bandwagon. Although we make ours in a regular old muffin tin, there are special popover pans (here or here) out there waiting to be filled with these crisp, airy, pastries. Try 'em. They are simply delicious.


Olive Oil (in a can)

Is there anything worse than rancid olive oil? It smells bad. It tastes bad. It's just bad. And it goes bad faster in the heat of a kitchen, in the heat of summer. That's why we buy ours in a tin can and not in a clear plastic bottle. Clear bottles allow light in, making the oil go bad more quickly. Also, buying the larger container saves us money, and we tend to use olive oil quite a bit. However, if you aren't a bulk-shopper, another way to solve your oil storage problem would be to buy a pretty oil can like the one shown here: http://www.foodbuzz.com/daily_special. Isn't that schmancy? Save your money by saving your olive oil. Go tin!


Me and My Chef's Knife

As my friend Joanne would write, I [heart] my chef's knife. It my favorite and the single most important, most used, kitchen tool I possess. With its six-inch high-carbon stainless steel blade (full tang, naturally), it is so well-balanced that it feels like an extension of my right hand. Chris gave it to me as a gift the first Valentine's Day we were dating, and I thought it was so romantic (although most of my girlfriends thought it was weird). Good husband he is, he keeps it sharpened for me and never, not even when I'm most tired, allows me to put it in the dishwasher. This baby gets hand washed (usually by Chris - I told you, he's a good husband). It's not a "name-brand," and any etched writing that was on it at one time has now disappeared. Nor is it the most expensive knife we can afford -  in fact, he got it at a local restaurant supply store. But it is the perfect knife, and I hope you have one just like it. Check out Foodbuzz for other knife tales (and a sale!).


Limoncello Shrimp

A few weeks ago, we made homemade Limoncello, and somehow, we have some left. We've sipped, and we've shared, and still there was a little bit left, so we decided to cook with it. We made Limoncello Shrimp. They were sweet, to be sure, and since we served them with a strawberry salad, perhaps the overall sweetness factor was too high. Maybe next time, we'll serve them over rice to even out the flavor. However, they were good. Really good. Like sop-up-that-sauce-with-the-nearest-hunk-of-bread good. Anyway, here's what we did.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup Limoncello
2 teaspoons butter
1 tablespoon heavy cream
In a saute pan, mix the oil, garlic, zest and herbs. Then heat the pan to medium-high. Cook, stirring, until the mixture becomes aromatic (less than a minute). Then add the shrimp. Toss the shrimp and the herb mixture well, and cook until the shrimp become pink, 3-4 minutes. Remove the shrimp from the pan and set aside. Carefully wipe out the pan with a paper towel and then return it to the stovetop. Add Limoncello to the pan and cook over medium-high heat until it is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter and cream. Pour this over the shrimp. Serve with bread and a nice salad from a light summery meal.


Rosemary Balsamic Duck Breasts

Duck. Rich, dark meat and crispy skin - one of Amy's favorite things to eat out, but we haven't really tried cooking in. When we saw a couple of gorgeous-looking duck breasts at our local butcher, we decided it was time. Many people are put off by duck, intimidated by cooking it or not wanting such a fatty protein, but our recipe (below) was quick and easy, and hey, fat means flavor, folks. And these had great flavor. (We served them with plain steamed broccoli so we weren't adding more fat to the meal. Everything in moderation, right?)

It was only the next day, poking around online, that we realized the mistake we made. Amy found a cooking tip written in 2007 by someone with the screenname "logicalmind" that summed it up best: "I find that placing the duck in an already heated pan causes the skin to brown before enough fat has rendered. Allowing the duck to heat from a cold pan renders much more fat and makes the skin crisp nicely...And a bonus tip, save the rendered fat in a pan and use it to cook some potatoes. Unbelievable." We had, unfortunately, heated the pan first (and it was a cast iron pan!) and had that exact problem - overly browned skin that wasn't as crispy as we would have liked, and little fat to use for cooking something else. So duck lovers, take note! (Note also that we made the adjustment in our recipe - what we should have done versus what we did wrong).

2 duck breasts
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Score the fatty duck skin with a sharp knife, taking care not to cut down to the meat. Pour the balsamic vinegar into a shallow dish and add the chopped rosemary. Add the duck to the dish, meat side down, and allow to marinate at room temperature for 20-30 minutes. Place the duck fat side down in a pan, turn the pan to medium-high heat and cook the duck until the skin crisps up (6-8 minutes). Remove the breasts and carefully pour the rendered fat from the pan; set aside for later use. Place the duck back in the pan, flipped so that the meat side is down, and return the pan to the heat. Cook an additional 7-8 minutes for medium-rare. When it is cooked to your liking, allow the duck to rest on a cutting board, then slice thinly against the grain and serve.


Blackberry-Vanilla Cheesecake Ice Cream

Amy's mom is a clipper-sharer. Everyone gets clippings - articles, recipes, coupons - from her vast collection of newspapers and magazines. Last weekend, we got an article on homemade ice cream from the June 2010 Country Living magazine. Now, we make homemade ice cream quite often, so we didn't necessarily need more recipes, but it was nice to get some fresh ideas. One we liked was "raspberry cheesecake ice cream." It was a great idea, but we made it better with a few adaptations and a dash of very good vanilla.

Vanilla is one of those ingredients we take seriously. No imitation extracts for us, only real, natural vanilla extract. And our particular favorite is Nielsen Massey Madagascar Vanilla. It gives our ice creams, and other dishes both sweet and savory, a smooth, intense vanilla flavor. In this particular ice cream, we used only a teaspoon, so as to not overpower the zip of the berries nor the tang of the cream cheese. It was just enough - this cool creation was sweet, tart, and silky - pure summer in a bowl.

2 tablespoons whipped cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
6 ounces blackberries
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup whole milk

In a large bowl, whisk cream cheese and sugar into a crumbly mixture. In a food processor, puree the blackberries (you should have about 3/4 cup's worth of puree); strain out seeds. Whisk the puree into the sugar mixture, followed by the cream and the milk, until full incorporated. Pour mixture into ice-cream maker and follow manufacturer instructions.


Strawmato Caprese Salad

Strawmato, eh? Intrigued, we made the $2.99 (for a dozen on the vine) purchase. Shaped like a strawberry? Kind of. Sweeter than a regular cherry or grape tomato? A little bit. Delicious tossed in a salad with fresh mozzarella, torn basil, salt, pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar? Yeah, but it's hard not to be. As good as homegrown? Heck, no. We'll wait, patiently.