In Season | Winter Squash

English: Cucurbita pepo (butternut squash). Lo...

English: Cucurbita pepo (butternut squash). Location: Maui, Foodland Pukalani (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here in Arizona, pumpkins and winter squash came into season a couple weeks ago.  (Basil, too, if you’re counting)

While most of the country has to wait until September or October*, anyone who had the foresight to plant  earlier this summer is coming into a tasty garden crop right about now. Here are a few tips on how we made use of these seasonally available beauties last autumn/winter.

Butternut Squash

What the heck do I do with this?

Whimsically referred to as Squatternut Baush, we’ve gotten these in our CSA-share  and sorta scratched our head at first.  Last winter I incorporated sweet potatoes into the chili recipe from the Hungry for Change book in order to bulk it up and make the “broth” more substantial. After the initial success, I branched out to Butternut Squash, mainly because we had one sitting on the counter from our Chow Locally box. A quick bit of peeling and cubing later, and they were ready to be softened up and added to the chili. Sure, it wasn’t a traditional chili at that point, more of a spicy, flavorful stew-ish thing, but it certainly did the job of something warm and filling for the winter months.

Spaghetti Squash

Noodle-free Italian

The Spaghetti Squash may be the easiest winter squash to figure out considering the go-to dish is built into the name.  We’ve used this big yellow lug as a noodle alternative with several sauce and pesto combinations when a craving for Italian hits.  Cutting through the husky squash is the hardest part of prepping, which makes this a pretty easy win.  While there are multiple tips and methods a simple Google search will provide, our go-to is cutting the squash in half length-wise, scooping out seeds, lathering with olive-oil/salt/pepper, and roasting cut side down on a sheet pan for 45-minutes at 350 F.  Once cooled, scrape out the flesh with a fork and use in place of pasta however your heart desires.

Pumpkin

Everyone’s Favorite Fall Treat

Last summer/autumn we grew our own Sugar Baby Pumpkins in our front flower box. The plants were incredibly easy to take care of, very resilient through-out the long, scorching summer, and produced a ton of fruit. In the end, whether we were delayed in planting, or the water/sun/shade combinations were a little off, the pumpkins weren’t fully ripe until Thanksgiving, but it was still a great experience to tell everyone that they were eating something that was extremely locally grown. (13 Mile Crepe? Please, 13 Foot Pumpkin Pie!)

From the three saplings that we bought at the Central Farmer’s Market (N Central & Northern, not the Public Market on McKinley) we grew three robust plants that yielded enough crop that Anie was able to make pumpkin pies, pumpkin soup, and we still had plenty to give away to friends/neighbors. I’d thoroughly recommend this for anyone looking to dabble in home-grown foods, it’s so easy even I didn’t kill it.

* excluding Pumpkin Spice Lattes and obnoxiously marketed, not-at-all-pumpkin early seasonal beers.

Quick Bites | Go Bayside!

Let’s talk beets (and 90’s references, B-B-B-B-BEAT Go Bayside, etc.)

I never really ate beets growing up, but in the last 2 years I’ve fallen in love – red, gold, candy cane, raw, roasted, or juiced – I’ll take them all.  Below is a round up of beet dishes I’ve had my eye on.

beet butter by dishing up dirt

beet & blood orange by martha stewart

beet burger by refinery 29

ricotta sage beet ravioli by sunday suppers

{click each image for source | recipe}

Are you a fan of this root veg?  I think the beets currently sitting in our crisper are destined to become butter, if for nothing else that color is gorgeous!

Phoenix Burgers | Preseason Rankings

Instagram_RoguePepper_Hula Burger

This blog wouldn’t be much of a love letter to food if I didn’t include my favorite places in town to get a juicy, meaty burger.  Over the next several weeks and months, I endeavor to write about, what I feel, are the best burgers in Phoenix.  This week we will focus on the foundation of what I’m looking for and what I’ve thought to be the best so far.

What Makes a Great Burger?

For me, a great burger has to start with the meat.  Exceptionally flavorful, a joy to bite into, and never bland, grey, or tiresome. Of course, if you’re going to offer my choice of done-ness, the expectation is that the request is fulfilled (don’t offer Medium if you’re only going to bring out Well Done), and I’d hope that the staff can provide solid recommendation if there’s really one best way to eat it.

After the beef, the bun is the next most vital ingredient.  Keeping your hands dry-ish is just the beginning.  A good bun adds to the mouth feel and pairs perfectly with any spread/sauce/aioli in use.

As for toppings, cheese is almost always mandatory in my book. When it appears though, the cheese should play a significant role, adding sharp notes or a sense of balance to the proceedings, not just a creamy way to hold it all together.  With the rest, I’m open to experimentation/variation, so long as it all contributes to an amazing product. Gruyere, peanut butter, avocado, eggs; all have been ingredients in a successful burger experience. Usually, however, I draw the line at pickles and tomato. The tomato umami does something weird where it interrupts my sandwich experience, and typical pickled cucumbers really kill my vibe.

That last item on my list is bacon.  On this one, I’m going to take a potentially controversial stance and say that adding bacon is not always a good move. Economically, if I’m paying extra to put bacon on the sandwich, it cannot be a contribution in name only. In the kitchen, using bacon as a “get out of jail free” card is always a tragedy.

What’s my starting point?

Of course, this kind of highly scientific research will require some time and a lot of hard work on my part. Therefore, in the interest of providing a reference point before we get underway, here are my Top 5 Burgers in Phoenix for the last year.

  1. Delux – Delux Burger
  2. Hula Modern Tiki – Hula Burger
  3. Matt’s Big Breakfast – Butter Burger
  4. The Turf – Patty Melt
  5. The Habit* – Double Charburger with Cheese

Fond memories go out to The Turf’s patty melt, which along with their oddly great quesadilla, seem to have been removed from the updated menu.

Honorable mentions go out to The Stand & Welcome Diner. I can’t give them a proper ranking yet because I’ve only been to each once, which is surely a good reason to double-check this flavor science with a return trip. Also, while not strictly a burger, the Naco at Gallo Blanco is always a good time with a unique take on very similar ingredients.

*Yes, I know The Habit is a chain and not a local place, but the location I’ve frequented on 7th Ave & McDowell always has great, friendly service and makes me feel like they are much more than your usual chain.

Pinterest Chicken with Cauliflower & Parsley

If I took at a look at the number of recipes I have pinned vs. what I’ve actually made, the results would be shameful.  In an effort to change that, here’s a dinner we ate last week that came straight from my Chicken Pinterest board.

The Pin:

The Attempt:

We had 2 bone-in, skin-on leg / thigh pieces from Double Check Ranch that we picked up at the farmer’s market recently, about 8oz. each.  I followed the recipe above with a few minor notes:

  • While it suggests not putting any oil in the pan, I did add a smidgen of  olive oil before browning since I was using a cast-iron skillet.
  • My skillet isn’t huge and the chicken took up more room than Martha shows, so after adding the cauliflower, there wasn’t much room to coat in the pan juices.  This didn’t seem to be a big deal or effect the amount of flavor.
  • I substituted white wine vinegar for sherry vinegar because it’s what I had on hand.
  • Bonus:  dinner was Whole30 compliant

The result was super easy and really tasty!   You could certainly try it with chicken breasts, but skin-on is pretty key to recipe, even if you don’t eat it.  You can’t beat a 1-pan meal for clean up, and while Ryan isn’t the biggest fan of meat on the bone, I would definitely make this one again.  Are you as addicted to pinterest as I am?  You can follow all my boards at aniephx, leave your profile in the comments so we can check it out!

Quick Bites | Neighborhood Favorites Revisited

As with anyone who’s lived somewhere for a period of time, we gradually make a list of places that we enjoy visiting regularly.  These are the neighborhood favorites, the places you tell your friends and visitors about, or maybe they’re your guilty pleasures that you don’t share with anyone else.  Either way, here’s a quick list of places we’ve revisited and recommend time and time again, all located just off Central Ave in Phoenix.

HIM:

  • Lux Cafe – I admit I used to be a hater, but the expanded Lux has proven to be a life-saver since I started school. Turns out the hipster vibe isn’t off-putting when you really need to zone out and focus on homework.  If you’re here at the right time, their mac & cheese with jalapeños and bacon is very rewarding; if not, go for the M&M cookies.
  • Cheese ‘n’ Stuff – Terrific, family-owned deli, and an Uptown institution. May not be the healthiest place to eat, but you really shouldn’t be in a deli if you’re looking for health food.  DO come here if you want a flavorful sandwich and a Yoo-hoo. Say hi to Stan, and/or his wife & daughter.  My go-to here is the Doughboy (turkey, bacon, swiss cheese and avocado on sourdough).
  • Matt’s Big Breakfast – If you’ve been in the neighborhood any weekend morning, you will have undoubtedly seen the line outside of Matt’s. Even after moving into the space that was formerly Verde (damn I miss that green chili), the demand for this traditional breakfast spot never slows down. Ernie says to get there before 9pm to avoid a wait, even on weekdays.  I recommend going on Thursday morning for the Eggs Benedict special, but any dish you get with their bacon is guaranteed to change your life.
  • Honorable Mention: Clever Koi – Open less than a year, we’ve already gone there probably 7 or 8 times, and I’m not much of a noodle guy.  They were also cited as one of the reasons New Times named Central Ave as a Top 3 food neighborhood in the valley.  Truth be told, last weekend I wrapped up what I’d been working on at Lux and pedaled down the block to Clever Koi just to munch on their “slider” steam bun. Follow these guys on instagram to stay up with their monthly “Day Off Dinners” for a one-night-only menu and guest chef experience.

HER:

  • Gallo Blanco – Breakfast, lunch, or dinner. . . you can’t go wrong at Gallo.  Their guacamole is amazing, and the street tacos are my personal favorite tacos in Phoenix.  Don’t skip on a Paloma or Agua Fresca to wash it all down.
  • Public Market Cafe – Open for just over a year, I’m stoked to see this place remain successful in the space of the old public market store.  I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve ever ordered, but my go-to picks are the Rooster Booster, Chick Pea Pancakes, Chicken Salad Sandwich, and Rice/Bean Bowl.
  • Pane Bianco – the Caprese sandwich, enough said.
  • Giant Coffee – picking a top coffee shop in downtown / central Phoenix is a tough feat, but I’d have to go with Giant.  Their honey vanilla latte is always a welcomed treat.

#VeggieFEB

veggieFEB

In the spirit of #TBT or #FBF or whatever damn hash tag the kids are using these days, let’s talk about that one time we thought it was a great idea to go vegetarian for a month.

I think it was, in part, the “meatless Monday” concept flying around the internet that sparked the idea for a challenge. Around the same time, Ryan was also in the habit of humble bragging (something he does oh so well) on how easy it would be for him to eat vegetarian a few nights a week. With doubts of his resolve and my competitive spirit #veggieFEB came to be.

The rules:

  1. No meat / nothing with a face. (we still ate eggs)
  2. Meat substitutes and a diet of mac ‘n cheese + cheese pizza weren’t going to fly.
  3. All dairy was still in since we were only going vegetarian and not vegan.
  4. It goes without saying that it was no coincidence we picked the shortest month of the year to try this experiment.

The bad parts:

  1. For about 7 months prior to starting our vegetarian attempts, we’d both been losing weight slowly but consistently through eating whole foods, cutting out the crap (sugar, processed junk etc.), juicing, and moving more.  Quite the concept, right? Much to our dismay and surprise, the first 2 weeks of #veggieFEB brought weight gain and frustration for both of us.  We were making choices that were just as healthy as we had been plus we cut out meat, what gives?!
  2. Ryan only stuck with the challenge for about 2 weeks (see #1).  While I was bummed and annoyed, I understood why he stopped, seeing the scale move in the wrong direction is infuriating when you’re working so hard.  In retrospect, I think those first 2 weeks were our body adjusting to the new eating habits (my end result was a slight weight loss overall).
  3. A lot more effort, time, and planning were required to cook at home.  Cooking vegetarian isn’t hard, but because it wasn’t our norm, it took more work on our behalf to look up recipes and try new things.
  4. During the tail end of February we were up in Portland making the most of a business conference Ryan had to attend, and it was pretty difficult to pass on a couple of places we wanted to try that were known for great meat-included-dishes.  I suppose that just means we’ll have to go back.

The good parts:

  1. I did it, all 28 days, no slip-ups!  The biggest surprise for me was the lack of cravings.  While I was happy to see beef on March 1st, I didn’t have any strong cravings or dreams of meat.  This made it much easier to stick with the challenge.
  2. We convinced a few siblings to join us for #veggieFEB.  It was fun to follow along with each other on social media, and several other friends and family members reached out to me to share great recipes.
  3. This recipe was hands down my favorite, go make it, thank me later.
  4. Normally when we go out to eat I rarely, if ever, opt for a vegetarian dish. Man, I was missing out!  Any restaurant you go to will have a veggie friendly offering, and if it’s a good place, chances are it’ll be just as great as their chicken or steak.  (The quinoa cakes and winter veg dish at Red Star Tavern in Portland was killer)

Soo. . . would I do it again?  YES!  I think it’s fun to challenge yourself and mix things up.  That means you have 5 months to get on board and join us for #veggieFEB 2015.

The Scavenge | Celery Scramble

Celery

Celery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’ve all had those times when we get hungry and stare at a fridge or cupboard full of food and somehow cannot for the life of us figure out what to make.

Maybe it’s the hunger clouding our normally astute minds. Maybe it’s the plethora of choices that prevent us from seeing a few ingredients that obviously go together. This is also the time when our brains can easily make us lose our resolve and just elect to go get something less-than-healthy as a reward for being too lazy to do the math.

When I find myself in this predicament, the clearest path to a solution that I can find is to start pulling out ingredients and then let the creative process take over from there.  None of these were planned to go together. Surely when we went to the store we had a list and at no point did these things reside in the same menu, but here we are, about to make something that could be delicious.  I like to call this “the scavenge”.

Celery + Sausage + Eggs

In the Mix:

  • Left-over chicken sausage from last night’s Zuudles (I assume that’s how you spell zucchini noodles)
  • Eggs
  • Green Onion (both ends)
  • Garlic
  • Mushrooms
  • Celery
  • Spicy Sprouts

Currently the GF is in the early days of doing Whole30, and I’m doing the best I can to support that within the house. For this specific meal that meant ignoring the cheese and tortillas in the back of the fridge. Also, I didn’t think chopping up a whole onion would be worth it for just me, so I went outside the box on this one. I figured that since mirepoix contains onions, carrots and celery, there had to be something good to be captured from sweating the celery on its own.

Threw the chopped celery, scallions, mushrooms, and garlic in for a few minutes to unlock the flavors, then added slices of the chicken sausage and some chili powder for taste. Poured on the huevos and added the chives and spicy sprouts right before removing it from the heat. That’s how you make a celery scramble.

I didn’t take a picture because scrambled eggs are rarely a particularly attractive plating, but I give this one a thumbs up for color.  It was also a terrific texture, with the celery providing a nice bite without being stringy or cumbersome.  This one was also pretty filling, as I ate it at 1pm and was sufficiently un-hungry enough to coast right past the pastries on display when we went for coffee at 5:30.

Rogue What Now?

Just when you thought the interwebs didn’t need another blog, enter our humble attempt: Rogue Pepper

The truth is, starting this site has been a long time coming. We threw around the idea a few years ago and just never acted on it. With higher frequency, food related conversations or experiences kept circling back to how appropriate they’d be to share on a blog. So finally, fueled by jet lag and impatience, Ryan got us going.

Rogue Pepper really is our love letter to food. We’ve been fortunate enough to share in some great food memories over the past few years coupled with our evolving philosophy and lifestyle of what we eat at home. Together, we hope some kind folks will enjoy following along. . . or if nothing else, it’ll make for a lovely way to reminisce about some damn good eats.

Thanks for stopping by!

xx
Stephanie

Europe 2014 | Best Thing I Ate

As mentioned previously, we just got back from a few weeks on the road, so I thought the easiest way to kick things off is with a quick run down of our favorite food experiences from the adventure. To give things a little structure, we’ve broken it out by city. Though we certainly had more time and more meals in some cities than others, and these are far from any sort of proper review, we hope you’ll enjoy sharing in our food memories.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Him: For a single bite, I’d have to give a nod to Tapa Del Toro at Torvehalle. The few selections we made before our canal-side picnic were packed with flavor. For the best meal I didn’t get to eat, check out Noma.

Her: We ate and drank so many lovely things in Copenhagen (the benefits of traveling with food people) but my best award has to go to our family style meal at Atelier September. Walking in as a group of 6 Americans, the chef took one look at us and said “sit down, 160 dkk per person, and I’ll take care of it” Having not received a recommendation for the cafe from THIS GUY, we may have been sceptical, but it was completely amazing: skyr yogurt with stone fruit, granola, strawberry, and fresh lavender // croissants and rugbrød with butter and rubarb jam // several cheese options including a burrata I’d sell my granny for // a beet dish with snap peas . . . every bite amazing

Atelier September Copenhagen SkyrJust the first bits of the Atelier September feast

Malmo, Sweden

Him: This one is easy, given we only had one meal there, but it was still a pretty notable experience and one I’d imagine as tough to beat. The hakken biff was on special at Buffen, and was a semi-blind pick for me. Rich and flavourful, it was just the right meal to reward me for bravely trying the herring starter.

Her: Asking for a recommendation of traditional Swedish food from one of the local hotels paid off big: authentic swedish veal meatballs, mashed potatoes, lightly pickled cucumbers and lingonberries. (Let me proactively answer the obvious: this meal made Ikea’s offering taste like a shoe after stepping in dog crap)

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Him: Probably the hotdog I had outside the Rijksmuseum while waiting for our canal tour to start. This city has such a rich street sausage culture, it’s hard to deny…. Alright, all jokes aside, I’d have to vote for the chocolate cake from The Lobby on Nesplein. I’m pretty sure no actual cake was involved, but rather two types of fudge, dense and packed with cocoa flavor, layered on top of a crushed cookie crust, with orange toffee sauce, blueberries, sweet greens and a raspberry sorbet. It was seriously so good that even the second time I ordered it I didn’t get a photo until after the sorbet was toast.

Her: Ditto that cake, it was so nice we ordered it twice.

Paris, France

Him: First thing first, the prix fixe menus in this town always seemed like a good deal. Secondly, this is a place where the duck confit costs less than a cheeseburger. Pretty easy decision here. I’ll eat duck confit nearly anytime it’s offered, but this one was so well prepared that the meat slid right away from the bones but didn’t taste at all overcooked. If I could get a second vote, I’d also recommend the pistachio macaron from Pierre Hermes. Not a ton of pistachio flavor here, but the cream ratio is cranked up and almost resembles a more study whoopie pie.

Her: The macaron challenge (Pierre Hermes v. Laduree) is most memorable from this trip and the coffee flavor from Laduree gets my best in show. (A close second is the baguette + fromage spread enjoyed on the Champ de Mars.)

Brussels, Belgium

Him: Chocolate, no waffles, no chocolate, no…. Honestly, I was underwhelmed by both the frites and the waffles in Brussels and Bruges, but I cannot deny the excellent quality of chocolate. Even though we can find many of the Belgian brands in the U.S., getting them fresh from the factory seems to have made a big difference. For this leg I’d say the Framboise truffle from Godiva wins it.

Her: The chocolate, all of it . . . Neuhaus or Galler, take your pick. The actual food on the otherhand, waffles included, was meh.