Adventures in Making Mincemeat

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“As many mince pies as you have at Christmas, so many happy months will you have.”–Old English Saying

Were you ever threatened by your parents as a child to be turned into mincemeat? I was. Not very often, but the threat has stuck with me. That was a threat reserved for when either my sisters or I were being particularly obnoxious. It was either get ground into mincemeat or be sold to the gypsies. Given the option, I would rather be sold to the gypsies.

Mincemeat pie is, in fact, as old as the Crusades, and it dates to when soldiers were returning from the Middle East to Europe with new foods and cooking methods. It became a way of preserving meat without smoke or salt. Salt was a commodity that only the wealthy could afford, and smoking meat used fuel—firewood—that could otherwise be used to heat your home.

The three spices added to the pie—cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg—were considered symbolic of the three gifts of the Magi—the three kings—think of the song We Three Kings (not the one about the cigars exploding). The pie was oblong shaped originally instead of round, to symbolize a manger. It was considered lucky to eat mincemeat pie for all 12 days of Christmas.

Then came Oliver Cromwell a few hundred years later. Man, what a party-pooper that guy was! No singing, no dancing, no laughing, no drinking, and he outlawed Christmas! What a jerk! If anyone needed to lighten up, it was that guy. I think he was the original Grinch.

Because of outlawing Christmas, mincemeat pies were outlawed as well. Even in what was then the American Colonies, where the Puritans had settled, Christmas was not celebrated; mincemeat pies were prohibited from being eaten as part of the Christmas tradition. In Boston during the late 1600s, you could be fined if you were caught celebrating Christmas. And you think your neighbor complaining about your twinkle lights is bad!

I never considered eating mincemeat pie growing up. It was never part of our Christmas tradition, nor was it ever offered to me by anyone else. It was the foodstuff of old nursery rhymes and Shakespearean tales. To be perfectly honest, it sounded gross. Who wants to eat a pie with meat in it when it’s sweet? Ick!

Well, I finally plucked up the courage to try it, and I was pleasantly surprised by the result. I am extremely glad that I never stooped to buying the canned mince mixture they sell at supermarkets. Promise me that if you do decide to have mincemeat pie on your Christmas dessert table, go the distance and make it yourself.

I had gotten a recipe book from a gift store at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts many years back, but I was intimidated by the types of ingredients (beef heart, anyone?) and lack of measurable temperatures for the oven. For example, the mincemeat pie recipe says to bake the pie in a brisk hot oven. What does that mean?? That is when my baking and culinary skills came in to play. To be a decent baker or cook, you need to be able to improvise and roll with what you’re given. Also, Internet searches help. I used ground beef instead of heart or tongue (doesn’t that sound delicious!), and honey crisp apples instead of pippins. I took a recommendation for the baking temperature from another recipe.

The recipe I took from the book I used calls for suet, which is beef or lamb fat. Most grocery stores don’t carry suet, and the only suet I could find was for feeding birds. So, I got lard instead. And I will tell you now, no regrets on that decision! I believe it may have been a life-changing choice. It worked almost like butter, but with a slightly lower melting point, and made the pie crust the flakiest, butteriest (yes, I am inventing a word there), most melt-in-your-mouth pie crust I have ever made. I can’t come back from that. I am changed. I now know what I have been missing all my baking life!

Another substitute I made in this recipe was Madeira wine. The recipe itself claimed white wine was used. Madeira is technically neither white nor red, but it can be made with either red or white grapes. But upon doing some research into other more modern twists on old mincemeat recipes, I noticed that rum, brandy, and white wine were used, depending on what was available. Cider is an acceptable alternative to alcohol, but who wants to bother with that?

So here is what I did in very basic steps:

  1. Make the pie dough. Put in the freezer to chill.
  2. Make the mincemeat filling; combine the ground meat, salt, and fat (lard) first and mix it well together. Cut up the apples, add those. Add the currants and raisins, add the booze, add the orange zest and juice from one orange. Add the one cup of powdered sugar (next time, I won’t use even that much—maybe ½ a cup). Add the candied citron. Give everything a good stir.
  3. Roll out the cold pie dough. Work quickly so it doesn’t stick to either the rolling pin or the counter. The butter warms up quickly out of the freezer and then being whacked and rolled and pushed by a rolling pin.
  4. Place the first piece of pie pastry in the bottom of a well-greased pie tin. Fill this with the filling.
  5. Roll out the second piece of pie dough to fit over the top of the pie. Seal the pie together by pinching the top and bottom together with your fingers or a fork. Cut a slit in the top of the pie to allow it to vent while baking. You can also decide on either a lattice design if you’re feeling ambitious, or go crazy and don’t even bother with the top part. If you really want to be fancy, take a cookie cutter and cut out a hole in the top in the shape of a heart, a star, a leaf, anything at all!
  6. Place in the oven on the bottom rack at 450 degrees F for 10 minutes.
  7. Take the pie out of the oven. Egg wash the top of the pie, and then replace it on a middle rack for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown.

You can also cook the filling separate from the pie, store it in jars, and then bring it back out for making pies when you’re ready. I still have plenty of filling left over from this batch.

I recommend waiting for the pie to cool for about 10-15 minutes before eating it. All the flavors need a minute to blend after they’ve bubbled together in the oven. The first thing to hit my palate was sweet. I ate a piece a little too soon after baking, and none of the flavors had settled down. But once they did and I could taste all of them together, wow! If you are a fan of anything with a lot of spices in it, namely cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, etc. and fruit of the fresh and dried kind, this is a really good pie. And those of you who stick your noses in the air at the mere mention of raisins have no idea what you’re missing!

 

Sites I used:

https://whatscookingamerica.net/History/PieHistory/MincemeatPie.htm

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17610820

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/pennsylvania-dutch-cuisine-the-real-deal/2014/05/12/7f961844-c975-11e3-93eb-6c0037dde2ad_story.html?utm_term=.cb6fd10ea4fb

http://quotes.yourdictionary.com/mince

 

 

 

 

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“Little Miss Muffett” Makes Curds and Whey!

How’s it going out there? I hope no one has a case of the Mondays. My Monday is tomorrow. Yaaayyy. One thing that gets weird about working retail or in a non-typical 9-5 job is that days off tend to change from week to week, and are not always consecutive. Actually, if you do get two days off in a row, celebrate!

Anyway, today I decided to make cheese! No whey! That was a pun by the way. I decided to do this with milk that had just expired in my fridge, and I didn’t want to just pour it down the drain. I don’t like wasting things, and I always feel especially bad about spoiled milk. I always buy milk for a recipe and try to make an effort to use the rest of it somehow–and end up keeping it for far too long. I don’t put milk in my coffee…bleh. I like my coffee hot, strong, and straight up. No sugar either. Just pure brain juice.

The two by-products of cheesemaking are curds and whey. The curds are the milk solids that will be turned into cheese. This is where the lactose resides.

Whey protein is very healthy. It is considered a complete protein, as it contains all nine amino acids–don’t make me recite them all. Whey protein is used in exercise drinks and smoothies. Some people use it as an alternative to milk if they are lactose intolerant, and it can also be used as a dietary supplement.

A quick Google search for whey protein will bring up sites that sell huge jars of this dehydrated, synthesized powder for $30 or more (plus shipping and handling)! What?! Why buy it when you can make it at home for whey cheaper! (See what I did there? Puns are fun!) The organic whole milk I had bought was $3.99. A large jug of white vinegar is $2.99. It takes nothing to store the liquid form in your fridge. It will last for months!

So here is what you need:

1 Gallon Milk–any milk, but whole milk will give you more flavor

1/2 Cup White Vinegar, Apple Cider Vinegar, or Lemon Juice

1 T Salt

1 T Chopped Herbs of your choice–optional

Cheesecloth

Something Heavy to weigh the cheese down

  1. If you are going to be saving the whey protein, place a large bowl in the sink. Set a strainer or colander over the bowl, and drape the cheesecloth over the strainer.
  2. In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat the milk over medium heat. Stir the milk often to keep it from burning or scalding, until it starts to boil.
  3. Take the pot off of the heat. Add the vinegar or lemon juice. The curds and whey will separate almost immediately.
  4. Pour the curds and whey into the strainer with the cheesecloth.
  5. The curds will be hot, so be careful. Carefully, squeeze out most of the remaining liquid from the cheese. Add in your salt and chopped herbs and stir around using a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon.
  6. Gather the ends of the cheesecloth, twist them together, and knot them. Place your “something heavy” on top of the ball of cheese to weigh it down as it cools. Leave the cheese like this for about an hour to an hour and a half.
  7. Unwrap the cheese from the cheesecloth. The cheese will still have a crumbly texture, but it’s yummy! Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

So that is a basic cheese recipe. There are other more elaborate recipes and methods out there, but this is great for beginners, or for those looking to save money rather than throwing old food out. And as I said before, it’s so much more economical to make whey protein yourself rather than buying a pricey commercialized product.

Also, a shout out to Colleen, writer of the blog Lean Cuisine! I used her recipe Spanish Chicken and Potato Roast today, and it came out amazing! I added rosemary to the potatoes, but other than that, it was entirely hers. Great job! Here is the link to her post:  https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/48447071/posts/1506553659

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Inspiration comes from everywhere! Enjoy, everyone! Until next time!

 

 

Stuffed Pepper Adventures and Shampoo Trials

Hi, everyone! Hope everything is going well with you all!

I decided to make stuffed peppers the other day. They’re super easy to make, and yes, they are healthy. Most importantly though, they’re delicious! What is the point of eating healthy if it doesn’t taste good, right? And excuse my lack of images of the finished product. I got too carried away with eating them that I forgot to take a picture first.

There are hundreds of variations of the recipe for stuffed peppers; I decided to go slightly TexMex on this one. I used ground turkey meat instead of ground beef, but either one works just fine.

You need:

6 Bell Peppers (color doesn’t matter, I just like red ones because they’re sweeter)      Note: make sure that the bottom of each pepper is level so it can stand on its own.

Note: make sure that the bottom of each pepper is level so it can stand on its own.

1-2 Pounds ground turkey or beef

2 Cups Brown Rice

1 8 oz Can Black Beans

1 6 oz Can Tomato Paste

Spices: Cumin, Paprika, Cayenne Pepper, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Chili Powder and Salt, all to taste

Cheddar, Pepperjack, or Monterey Jack Cheese for the topping

  1. Set the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Slice the tops of the peppers off and scoop out the seeds. Place the cleaned peppers upright in an oven-safe pan.
  3. Cook the rice according to the package directions.
  4. In a separate pot, cook the meat with the spices for about 5-8 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Stir in the black beans. Add rice to the meat and mix together well.
  5. Portion out the meat and rice mixture into each hollowed-out pepper using a spoon. Fill each pepper to the top. Don’t put the cheese on yet.
  6. Place the pan of peppers in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Add cheese to the top of the peppers and place back in the oven for  more minutes, or until the cheese bubbles and turns slightly brown. Serve hot.

You probably won’t use all the meat and rice filling, so keep it as leftovers–or get more peppers and fill them.

I am not a huge fan of beans, I must confess. I’ve never really liked them–any of them. They have a gritty texture that I just don’t find appealing. But I have learned to tolerate them, because they are wonderfully good at assisting good health, as they help prevent against inflammation, diabetes, and certain cancers–colorectal cancer among them.

I do love sweet bell peppers! They are sweet and crunchy and refreshing! They are high in vitamin C and fiber, and like carrots, are very good for eye health.

In the news of DIY, I attempted to make my own shampoo. I used a little of the soap that I made the other day along with a few teaspoons of olive oil and some castile soap. I used it the other day and although my hair felt clean afterward, there was very little lather.  20170704_203734

It is an experiment in progress. I will be attempting to make my own conditioner next–my hair feels like it needs it. You would think that with all the humidity in the air lately, my hair would be soaking that moisture right up! Oh well.

Stay tuned for further adventures! Until next time!

 

Between the Orange and the Green

Hi, guys! Hope you all are enjoying your Fourth of July plans, whatever they may be. I’m working tomorrow (waaaaaahhhh!!!), but some of us must keep the store open, am I right?

I am off today, however, and I took the opportunity to make a big pot of Colcannon! What is colcannon, you ask? Colcannon is a happy, magical combination of two foods that have become stereotypically Irish–potatoes and cabbage. I love potatoes in general. Is there nothing more comforting than mashed potatoes? That is my go-to comfort food.

It’s healthy, too! It does have butter and milk (and bacon, if so desired) in it, but let’s not get carried away here. Potatoes are excellent sources of vitamin C, potassium (more so than bananas), and iron. Cabbage is jam-packed with antioxidants and fiber. What’s not to love?

Colcannon is so terrifically simple! I became inspired after reading Mimi Sheraton’s 1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die, and even more so after taking a trip to Ireland last October. It’s such a beautiful country, and the people are lovely! I’m dying to go back!

There must be a wee drop of green in me genes! I am 30% Irish, and 48% British (no one is perfect). My Irish Catholic grandmother married my White Anglo-Saxon Protestant grandfather. My grandmother’s father was not too happy about it at first, but he warmed up to the prospect–or just realized he couldn’t do much about it. So you see, I’m caught between the orange and the green (but the green wins out more often).

I know I probably should be celebrating with burgers and fries and beer–I am drinking Yeungling–but what is more American than celebrating your roots? And today, Ireland be the theme.

A fun fact: potatoes are NOT native to Ireland! They originated in Peru and were introduced to Ireland and England by none other than Sir Walter Raleigh, a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, founder of the Lost Colony of North Carolina. Literally, it’s lost. No one knows what happened to the colonists after Sir Walter Raleigh returned to England for supplies. There is a multitude of theories out there–disease, hurricane, ransacked by the indigenous neighbors–but no real proof has been found as to what really happened to them.

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Here is what it is:

6 Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed

2 Quarts Chicken stock, or bouillon

1 Head green cabbage, sliced thinly

1/2 Package bacon

2 Tablespoons butter, unsalted

2-3 Tablespoons milk

Garlic powder, to taste

Onion powder, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

  1. Boil the potatoes in chicken stock or water with bouillon for 8 to 10 minutes, or until soft. Pour out the boiling liquid.
  2.  Add butter, milk, garlic and onion powders, and pepper to the potatoes. Mash the mixture with a masher or whip with an electric mixer. Set aside.
  3. Place a heavy-bottomed pot on medium-high heat. Cook the bacon until crispy. Set the bacon aside, and reserve most of the fat from cooking, keeping it in the same pot you cooked in. If you prefer not having bacon, use olive or vegetable oil.
  4.  Place cabbage in the same pot as the bacon fat. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the cabbage is limp but still crunchy.
  5. Take the cabbage off of the heat. Add the mashed potatoes to the cabbage. Mix thoroughly. Serve hot.

Note: The bacon fat adds salt to the dish. If you use oil instead, add salt to taste.

What I made today looks nowhere near what it would have looked like if this were the mid-1800s in a tiny stone cottage in County Cork. Hardly any of the poorer people of Ireland could afford to grow cabbage during that time, let alone having butter or milk, or for heaven’s sake, bacon. It was potatoes and potatoes alone that these people lived on. You’d be lucky if you had salt, which was also a sought-after commodity in those days.

When the potato blight hit in 1845, these people lost their only source of food–at least the only source of food that they were allowed to have. Any other vegetables or animals were used as payment to the landlords. They were too poor to afford such luxuries as pork or chicken.

What makes the Potato Famine so devastating was that there was plenty of food for rations–all packed up on ships bound for Liverpool, England. And nary a one in England blinked an eye at the widespread starvation occurring across the narrow channel from them (a good reason to kick them out–eventually–mostly). Which is also why people decided to abandon their homes and head across the Atlantic–to a land of opportunity, a land of hope. By the time it was over, Ireland’s population had fallen to nearly half of what it had been in 1845.

 

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Mass Grave for all those that starved to death during the Potato Famine of 1845-1849

Food is another medium through which one can honor the past, and celebrate the present. Like many immigrants past and present, the Irish immigrants sought refuge and freedom from the hardships and devastation of what used to be home. It’s easy to take our way of life for granted if we don’t take the time to reflect on what got us here in the first place.

So on that sentimental note, I am going to go watch a movie–Independence Day is calling my name! Enjoy, everyone, and stay safe! Until next time!

Dessert Improvisation

I decided to make ice cream today. Everything is going according to plan, except that my ice cream maker keeps thawing too fast, so the freezing process is taking a tad longer than I expected it to. No matter.

I made mint ice cream (surprise, surprise) since mint is a surplus at the moment. I found a chocolate syrup recipe on Pinterest http://goodiegodmother.com/easy-chocolate-syrup/. Upon looking in the cabinets, I didn’t have enough cocoa powder for the recipe, but I had a couple squares of baking chocolate. So I combined the cocoa powder and the chocolate instead of giving up–why not, right? Improvise!

Also, it was too sweet (since the amount of chocolate I had was still not enough for the recipe) so I added a little more salt (flavor enhancer) and what was left at the bottom of a bottle of Jameson–barely a shot’s worth. It turned out not-so-bad for an improvised chocolate syrup! Now, if only the ice cream would freeze! I really need to update some of my equipment.

Also, I’m keeping the Jameson bottle for another DIY. Stay tuned!

Man Cannot Live by Bread Alone…Except I’m a Woman

Bread has been undergoing a revolution, one I am so happy about! Going are the days that everyone is eating that pale white, flat, tasteless packaged stuff that can barely be called bread, and coming are the days of true knowledge and enjoyment of the crusty, warm, savory and sweet creations that artisans craft with their own hands.

I was at a farmer’s market today at the Government Center in Fairfax, Virginia, and Great Harvest was there, selling breads of all shapes, sizes, and flavors. Great Harvest is a chain known in a few places in Virginia that make their own breads in-house. They even grind their own wheat, which is an amazing feat for any bakery. If you love bread and other baked goods and you have one of these places near you, go visit. I promise you won’t be sorry!

This was my very late lunch today, along with an herbal tea made with dried peppermint and lemon balm leaves!

The lemon balm was a bit overshadowed by the peppermint, but the tea was nonetheless refreshing. It’s wonderful to reap the benefits of one’s labor!

I asked the farmer from whom I bought the cheese and a dozen eggs at the farmer’s market about how they’re faring with the weather being so hot. He plainly stated that rain is needed. There’s a tropical storm brewing, so I believe that he’ll get his wish.

So many people complain about it being too hot, and then complain again when it rains. I only ask for balance between wet and dry weather, for the sake of those that grow our food. If it’s too hot and no rain, everything withers, and dies. If it’s too wet, plants can become moldy or even drown. It is a very delicate relationship between farmer and crop and livestock.

So the other reason why I went to the farmer’s market was for fresh eggs. I’ve been dying to make pasta lately (I love my carbs!). I bought a pasta maker, and I went to work this afternoon.

Pasta is pretty easy to make. The basic recipe is flour, salt, eggs (there are eggless recipes out there too), water, and olive oil (I added a little fresh parsley and basil to my recipe). Mix all those together, then knead the dough on a floured surface for four to five minutes. Let it rest in the refrigerator for about one hour.

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Take it out and cut the dough into quarters. Flour the pasta machine, then roll your first dough quarter through it. Start on the largest setting, and work your way down from that until the dough is the consistency you are looking for. Then run the flattened dough through the pasta cutting side.

You can put the fresh pasta right into a pot of boiling water and cook it immediately, or dry it on a rack and save for later.

My drying rack is a pants hanger and each bar I covered in plastic wrap (less cleaning). I added roasted tomatoes and parmesan cheese to the pasta I cooked. It was simple but delicious! The rest of the pasta will be stored for later use. Self-sufficiency, here I come!

So, that’s all I have for you tonight! Enjoy the rest of your evening! Until next time!

 

 

More Plants, and Food!

Hi, everyone! A quick shout out to all my new followers! Thanks for reading, and thanks for deciding to follow me! I am honored!

I have added a few new plants to my collection. I was killing time yesterday at a nursery before joining my friends somewhere, and I bought peppermint, yellow yarrow, and rosemary. I am super excited! Yarrow is supposed to be very good for you and has the capability of healing cuts and sores. I took a couple small samples from the plant that I bought, and I’m drying them so I can add the cuttings to oil for another essential oil. I’m drying some more spearmint as well, and I will store that in an airtight container once it’s completely dry.

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Health is a major reason why I am doing what I’m doing. I am actually in amazing health (aside from the cold I just finished getting over), and I intend to remain healthy throughout my life. My family has a history of heart issues, diabetes, and colon cancer. No thanks, I say to that! When I die, it won’t be because of any of these problems.

My mom has always been a major advocate for healthy eating and living a healthy lifestyle. The other day, we were talking about how we both discovered that a more alkaline blood pH is less likely to become cancerous.

What is pH you ask? It’s a scale which determines how alkaline or acidic something is. The scale goes from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Anything with a pH higher than 7 is acidic. Anything with a pH lower than 7 is alkaline. Examples of food with high acid would be carbonated water, wine, chocolate, and vinegar. Examples of food with more alkalinity would be broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach.

According to what both my mom and I were reading, carboniferous vegetables like spinach and cauliflower will help your system maintain a healthy blood pH. Blood that is too acidic can cause many problems. Her explanation of Diabetic Ketoacidosis was more than a little disturbing. This is where the blood has become so acidic due to having too many ketones in the blood (which are released to counteract too much glucose in the blood) that the blood literally boils. Yuck! No thanks! I will eat the leafy greens to keep that from happening. Cancer can take a hike too.

So my mom shared a fantastic recipe with me for broccoli rabe. I have never cooked broccoli rabe before, but I’m always game for experimenting with food. So here is what it is:

1-2 Pounds chicken thighs

1 bunch broccoli rabe

5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

1 package rice and red beans (I used Zataran’s)

1 bell pepper, chopped

Olive Oil (use the one specifically for sauteeing, it will say so on the bottle)

Salt (I used Kosher salt, but it’s up to you)

Pepper

For Marinade:

5 Tablespoons Olive Oil

1 lemon, juiced and zested

1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 Teaspoon dried oregano

Salt and pepper, to taste

  1. In a resealable bag, add chicken and all marinade ingredients. Seal the bag and mix everything around until the chicken is well coated. Allow the chicken to marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour in the refrigerator.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare rice according to the package directions. Add bell pepper to the rice 5-8 minutes before it is finished cooking. Pour rice mixture into a rectangular pan to cool. Set aside.
  3. Prepare an ice bath for the broccoli rabe (this stops the cooking process). Add salt to the ice bath (salt lowers the temperature of the ice).
  4. Cut one inch off the bottom of the broccoli rabe. Divide the rabe into 2 portions. Set a large pot on the stove over medium-high heat. Pour in a generous amount of olive oil (the broccoli rabe absorbs a lot of it, so don’t be shy). Once it’s hot, add garlic to the oil.
  5. Add the broccoli rabe to the pot. Add salt. Use tongs to stir it around. Add more oil if needed. Cover and cook for about 1-2 minutes.
  6. Using tongs, put the broccoli rabe into the ice bath. Once cooled, transfer it out to either a colander or a plate with a paper towel to dry.
  7. Replenish ice and salt in the ice bath and repeat steps 4-6 with the second batch.
  8. Using the same pot, add the marinated chicken thighs two at a time. Cook for about 7 minutes on each side, or until the meat is white all the way through and the outside is browned. Let the meat rest on a plate for 10 minutes.
  9. Place broccoli rabe over top of the rice. Add chicken over the top of the broccoli rabe. Pour remaining pan juices from the pot over the top of everything. Serve warm.

It’s so good! Adding more olive oil takes out some of the bitterness from the broccoli rabe, and it is absolutely delicious! Come one, don’t tell me you don’t want to try this!

20170615_122635 That’s all that I have for you today! Enjoy the rest of your day, stay cool! Until next time!