Sunday, September 5, 2010

Summer Round Up, Part II

Bread and butter pickles.

Jimmy Bradley's Mulligatawny Soup with homemade naan.

Thomas Keller's Crispy Braised Chicken Thighs with Olives, Lemon and Fennel, on a bed of sauteed broccoli rabe.

Ina Garten's "grown-up" mac and cheese.

It was a delicious summer!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Summer Round Up, Part I

A round up of all the meals I was too hot, or too tired, or too cranky, or too hot to write about:

Making raspberry jam on a 95 degree day...

Yes, I am a glutton for punishment.

The jam was tasty, if a little seedy. 

My little helper shelling a stubborn cranberry bean.

Caponata and ciabatta bread, one of many sandwich-like meals I ate this summer.

I ate an awful lot of this too.  Newman's pineapple salsa.  It's really amazing.  And no dishes to wash.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Not Guilty!

All summer long, I have suffered from Vegetable Guilt.  It happens like this: it's one of those rare days when the mercury falls short of 90 degrees.  The farmer's market is in town.  I show up, and tempted by all the spanking fresh produce, I load up my basket.  No sooner do I get it home when I learn the forecast calls for eight days in a row of "unseasonably warm" temperatures. 

What to do when each day seems more stupefyingly hot than the one before? When you are still wiping away sweat at 10 p.m.? When the kitchen reaches inferno-like temperatures by mid-afternoon, and the thought of turning on even a burner at dinntertime is as appealing as belly flopping into a pool of lava?  Order Chinese, of course, and try to ignore the faint cries coming from the direction of the vegetable bin.  The droopy carrots, wrinkled beans, limp lettuce, and softening shallots are clamoring for your attention and all you can do is eat an egg roll? 

Well, not this time.  For the past week, a small bunch of rainbow chard had been accusing me of neglect every time I opened the refrigerator door.  It was a balmy 82 degrees and overcast, and I could actually imagine turning on the oven.  I would make potato and swiss chard enchiladas, the most ambitious project I had tackled in weeks. 

The homemade enchilada sauce was startlingly delicious, and by far the best part of this dish.  It was really easy to make, too.  My Dad had foisted four pounds of ripe-to-bursting tomatoes from his garden on me (no Vegetable Guilt for him!).   I chose two of the largest from the windowsill, split them in half, and broiled them, along with some garlic, until slightly charred.  Then, into the blender they went with a large chipotle pepper.  A little salt and pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, and that was it.  This was a sweet and smoky concoction that would also make a great smooth salsa for chips. 

Tomato Chipotle Sauce

2 large tomatoes
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 large chipotle pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Core the tomatoes and cut them in half.  Put the tomatoes, cut side down, along with the garlic cloves, on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil.  Broil for about five minutes, or until lightly charred.  Put the tomato halves, garlic cloves, and chipotle pepper in a blender and puree until smooth.  Add salt to taste and a drizzle of olive oil. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

At Last

In the life of a teacher, the first day of summer is as glorious as it gets.  The yammering students, sniping administrators, the months and months cooped up in airless, windowless rooms still hover around the consciousness like a persistent bad dream.  But the days ahead, days and days and days (71 to be exact), are filled with promise.  Whole books will be read, projects completed, day trips taken, meals planned and made.  Anything is possible, especially after a couple of these watermelon margaritas! 

This recipe makes two drinks, but can easily be doubled or tripled.  Heck, quadruple it.  It's summer at last!

Watermelon Margaritas

2 oz. top shelf tequila
2 oz. triple sec, Cointreau or Gran Marnier
Juice of one lime
1 cup of ice cold watermelon chunks, no seeds
A hanful of ice cubes

Put everything in the blender and blend until smooth.  Strain into chilled martini glasses.  Garnish with watermelon slices.  Add a squeeze of lime juice to taste. 

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A New Green

I finally made it to my farmer's market this morning, with summer just two days away.  I had in mind a recipe by Mark Bittman from the June 16 edition of the Times for Pasta with Peas, Proscuitto and Lettuce.  Bittman's emphasis was on using small quantities of meat--in this case, crisped prociutto--as a garnish, as opposed to it being the star player in a dish.  Great idea, but what really struck me was the use of lettuce in a hot preparation.  Sure, I've wilted my share of spinach and arugula, even watercress, but lettuce?!  I grabbed a bowling ball sized head of Boston lettuce and some handfuls of fresh peas, determined to try it out. 

I took some liberties with the recipe.  Crisping prociutto is blasphemous in my book, as its soft, satiny texture is what makes it so darn good in the first place.  But crispy bacon--who could quibble with that?  I also added some shrimp, tasty, wild caught, but sort of superfluous, as the lettuce stole the show.  Were you worried it would turn out limp and watery?  I'll admit, I was.  Instead, it was sweet and fresh tasting, and even retained a bit of its crunch at the ribs.  The splash of citrusy sauvignon blanc I used to green the vegetables woke up all the flavors, and tasted good in the glass alongside, as well.  It was the pefect way to welcome summer.

Pasta with Lettuce, Bacon and Shrimp

6 slices of smoky bacon, cut into batons
1 pound pasta (the gemelli I used were perfect)
1 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
2 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, minced
2 cups of peas, preferably fresh
1 head of Boston lettuce, cored, leaves cut into ribbons
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup freshly grated parmesan

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Meanwhile, cook the bacon batons until crisp.  Drain on paper towels and reserve.  Spill out most of the bacon fat.  Season shrimp with salt and pepper and saute in the fat until just cooked through.  Remove and reserve.  Melt butter in the same skillet and saute the shallot until softened, about 4 minutes.  Turn off the flame while you wait for the pasta to catch up.

When water boils, add pasta and cook until just tender. Drain pasta.  Turn the flame back on under the shallots, and add peas, lettuce and wine.  Cook until lettuce is wilted but still bright green, maybe 5 minutes.  Don't overcook!  Add pasta and shrimp back to pan and cook until just heated through.  Off the heat, toss with parmesan.  Taste for salt and pepper, garnish with bacon, and serve.

Serves 4

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Pesto's Cousin

As an apartment dweller, I am limited to growing things in containers--and not even very large containers either.  But that doesn't stop me from dreaming big dreams of pesto, like this one, which I clipped from the back page of Gourmet in August of last year, and just finally got around to making.  So what if I had to pit stop at North Shore Farms for a bunch of the not-so-homegrown stuff to supplement my meager supply?

With roasted almonds standing in for the pine nuts, a cloud of fresh ricotta cheese in place of most of the traditional parmesan, and a garnish of briny kalamata olives, I had a suspicion this would be great. 

I was right.  This was ordinary pesto's suave and sophisticated cousin.  The ricotta lent a velvety texture, and was a wonderful carrier for the basil and garlic flavors, mellowing and smoothing them out.  The olives provided a welcome salty sharpness with each bite.  It was a big bowl of comfort, summer weather style, perfect with a chilled glass of Savignon Blanc.  And the garnish is just-picked from my garden, thank you very much.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Philly Fresh

The first trip to the farmer's market is always a treat, even more so with my sister and her delicious child for company.  At the Glenside Farmer's Market, just north of Philadelphia, I couldn't resist a green corrugated carton of the juiciest just picked strawberries, as far removed from those ginormous, woody supermarket berries as apples are from oranges. 

Another salad: candy sweet strawberries, slightly tart dressing, creamy goat cheese and toasty walnuts--perfection!

Strawberry Salad
Serves 4

2 c. stawberries, hulled, divided
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1 T dry mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/4 c. mild flavored oil
1/4 c. walnut oil
1 5 oz. log of goat cheese, crumbled
3/4 c. chopped walnuts, toasted
6 oz. greens--baby arugula and spinach are nice

Blend 1 c. strawberries with next 5 ingredients in food processor.  With motor running, add oils.  Taste for balance and seasoning.  Slice remaining cup of strawberries.  Arrange greens on plates.  Top with goat cheese, walnuts, strawberries and dressing. 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Rainy Day Braise

Just when I swore off braising until next fall, the weather took a turn for the truly miserable--cold and blustery, with rain that meant business.  It was the perfect opportunity to try this recipe I had been eying for a while now.  Yes, it's a braise, but it feels lighter for some reason. Maybe because it cooks entirely on top of the stove?  Or could it be the abundance of sweet sour carrots?  Or the welcome freshness of a handful of chopped cilantro sprinkled on top? 

These meaty chicken thighs cozied up to a pile of mashed potatoes, but buttered egg noodles would work too.  And while this was easy, no-mess, one-skillet cooking at its best, this dish would be perfectly welcome at Passover, or any other "special occasion." 

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Lighten Up

I am officially sick of soups, stews, braises and baked goods of any kind.  Like everyone else, I am longing for spring and the lighter, fresher eating it brings.  Unfortunately, opening day at my farmer's market is months away, and there isn't much inspiration at my local indoor market either.  Except for blood oranges which, happily, I can't seem to get enough of.  While they used to be something of a novelty, I've been treated to a fairly steady supply over the whole duration of winter.  They really shine in this salad, which is chock full of "things" the way I like my salads to be--medjool dates, roasted almonds, shards of parmesan, and those tart, refreshing orange segments. 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Meatball of My Youth

The last really good meatball I remember eating was at the home of my Italian American neighbor Angela Vita when I was about 15 years old.  I've made meatballs since, all of them dense, heavy disappointments, no matter how hard I tried mixing with a "light hand."  This time, when the craving for meatballs hit, I remembered recipes I've seen lately that incorporate ricotta cheese right into the meatball.  These ricotta balls were made with pork, veal, or a combination of both.  Would it work with beef? 


It did!  The meat mixture with the fresh ricotta folded in was so light it was almost mousselike, yet, after baking, the meatballs held together remarkably well.  The finished balls were incredibly light and juicy, rich and flavorful.  Served in a quick tomato sauce, with some extra ricotta dolloped on top, they were almost as good as Angela's. 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Manhattan Vacation

Question: Name the most densely populated city in the United States, the one that boasts over 40 million visitors annually, about a third of them from other countries?  Answer: Manhattan.  Just 22 miles from my home, and I never go.  Well, on the last day of a pretty underwhelming Presidents week off from work (Sunday doesn't count), I hopped on the LIRR with the idea of taking a mini-vacation to Manhattan. 

First stop was the Hell's Kitchen Flea Market, where fashion models apparently converge to try on vintage furs and hand-me-down boots.  Then I was off to Chelsea Market, a paradise for food-lovers.  I had cappuccino at Ninth Street Espresso with half a Chocolate Sourdough Bread Twist from Amy's Bread...'s the other half.

Then I shopped until I was hungry again, and refreshed myself with a cup of scallop and bacon chowder at The Lobster Place.  On my way out I bought some smoked peppered mackerel for an at-home treat. 

I can't seem to get enough of those oily fish.

My feet were seriously killing me at this point, but I wasn't ready to call it day.  Plus, believe it or not, I was actually getting hungry again!  I left Chelsea Market and happily stumbled into Cafe Riazor.  The awning boasted tapas, so I took a seat at the bar and ordered a glass of rioja and croquetas de jamon.  The friendly barmaid was softly singing along to Spanish music emanating from the jukebox, the wine was warming, and the croquettes, served piping hot in a cast iron skillet, were the perfect combination of crusty and creamy.  I kept one eye on the Women's Ski Jumping on the television, and the other on passing tourists outside, and I felt like I was a million miles from home.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Something New


I owned a bamboo steamer for ten years and never once got around to using it.  When I finally decided to break it out the other day, it was full of spiderwebs and smelled faintly of mildew--one too many years in the basement, I guess.  So I treated myself to a new one--at $9.95, I figured I couldn't go wrong.  I had bookmarked the Steamed Cod with Caramelized Onion, Ginger and Scallions from Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges.  It's a book I've had in my Amazon "saved items" queue ever since I discovered it at the library.  One day my finger will slip and it will end up in my "shopping cart items--to buy now" queue, but until then, I'll keep trying not to splatter up the pages of the library copy. 


I'm not sure if I rigged this up correctly, but it seemed to work just fine.  I lined the baskets with parchment paper--if you have lettuce leaves, use those.  I set the steamer in my cast iron pan, filled it halfway with water, brought the water to a boil, then steamed for 10 minutes or so, adding water when necessary to keep the level up. 

The finished dish, served with a stir-fry of baby zucchini, shitake mushrooms, and snow peas, was clean and light, the fish was exceptionally moist, and the flavors were surprisingly nuanced despite the few ingredients and ease of preparation--this is by far the easiest recipe in this cookbook.  I'll be using this steamer again in the very near future.

Steamed Cod with Caramelized Onion, Ginger and Scallions
From Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges
1/4 c. plus 2 T peanut oil (or any neutral flavored oil)
2 medium onions, sliced
One 1-inch piece fresh ginger, julienned
Four 6-ounce thick cod fillets (or any white-fleshed fish)
Cayenne pepper
2 T sesame oil
1/4 c. slivered scallions
1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro
Soy sauce

1.  Heat 1/4 c. of the peanut oil in a large skillet over medium high heat until almost smoking.  Add the onions and brown, but do not cook through, about 2 minutes.  Toss in the ginger and remove from the heat.
2.  Prepare a steamer.  Season cod with salt and cayenne pepper, then top each piece with the onion-and-ginger mixture.  Steam until a thin-bladed knife pierces through the flesh easily, about 10 minutes.
3.  Meanwhile, heat the sesame oil and remaining 2 T peanut oil in the same skillet in which you cooked the onions, until the oil smokes (watch this one--I burned my first batch of oil).  Transfer the cod from the steamer to serving plates.  Top each piece with some scallions, then pour on the hot sesame-peanut oil mixture.  Top the fish with cilantro, season to taste with soy, and serve.

Serves 4

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Feeling Blue

Blue cheese makes me feel like a grown up.  Until very recently, I couldn't even look at a hunk o' blue without surpressing a shudder.  You see, blue cheese is riddled with mold, and I've been phobic of mold ever since I unwittingly popped a piece of pre-cut supermarket canteloupe into my mouth only to find--after I began chewing--that it was covered in four layers of fuzz.  But somewhere, somehow, I recovered from my trauma, my tastebuds matured and I overcame my aversion.  Oh happy day!  Now I lick blue cheese off my fingers like it was frosting.  I'd rather have blue cheese than ice cream.  And this blue cheese dressing satisfies my every craving.

Easy Blue Cheese Dressing
Serves 2

2 T mayonnaise
2 T plain yogurt
1/2 tsp. cider vinegar
few dashes of hot pepper sauce
2 oz. blue cheese, more or less

Whisk together the first four ingredients.  Stir in blue cheese.  Pour liberally over salad greens and sliced tomato.  Crumbled bacon would taste good too.  Sprinkle with additional blue cheese and freshly ground black pepper.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Trio of Tastes

Crostini are one of my dinner party staples, served either as hors d'oeuvres, or as a first course.  Tonight, they were my dinner, and a tasty one, too.  They are: Goat Cheese Crostini with Blood Orange and Black Pepper Marmalade, zucchini and almond crostini (isnpired by the fabulous Red Cat recipe), and roasted garlic and white bean puree with smoked paprika.  The white bean puree was just okay--the splash of sherry vinegar I added in lieu of lemon juice just didn't work.  The zucchini and almonds were begging for shards of pecorino on top--I forgot to pick it up at the market.  But the blood orange marmalade was divine, truly the best thing you will make in ten minutes.  I am already looking forward to having it for breakfast tomorrow on toast.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Beating the Blahs

Every year, right around February, I start wishing I was anywhere but here. I don't even know how I got to work this morning, so lost was I in a fantasy about swapping my apartment for one in Barcelona. Let's see, a stylish, fully equipped and furnished luxury duplex with a sunny, private terrace overlooking Plaza Catalunya for my two bedroom filled with cat hair overlooking a gravel parking lot.  I don't think so.

That's when it's nice to be a cook. I pulled my copy of Patricia Wells' Bistro Cooking off the shelf, et voila, I was on my way to Provence. "For decades, this has been the Monday special at La Mere Besson, a traditional family bistro in the sun-drenched city of Cannes," Wells writes about the recipe for Estouffade Provencale, or Provencal Beef Stew. Take me there! Please!

Provided you plan ahead, this is the easiest recipe you will ever make.  For me, it began with a beautiful boneless beef chuck roast from Eight O'Clock Ranch

After cutting it into chunks, add a bottle of red wine--from Provence, of course. Go ahead, squander the
entire bottle on just one recipe.  After an entire month of tedium punctuated by boredom you will feel sort of wanton and extravagant and maybe even a little...French!

The meat, along with some vegetables, fresh thyme and bay leaves, "ripens" in the refrigerator for two days.  After that, you pull the pot out of the fridge, plop it on the burner, and allow it to percolate for 3-4 hours while you try to keep from fishing out chunks of it before its time. The best part is the orange zest you stir in right before serving--it turns this dark, delicious stew into something bright and a little exotic.

When it's finished, help yourself to a warm, satisfying bowl, and be sure to thank God for putting you exactly where you are.

Estouffade Provencale
From Bistro Cooking

2 1/2 lbs. stewing beef, cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 carrot, peeled and cut in rounds
1 celery rib, minced
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 bottle of red wine, preferable Provencal
1 bunch fresh thyme leaves
3 imported bay leaves
1 strip of orange zest, about 2 inches, chopped

1.  Two days before serving the stew, combine all of the ingredients except orange zest in a large enameled casserole.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.
2.  The next day, bring the mixture to a simmer over low heat.  Simmer gently, until the meat is very tender, 3 to 4 hours.
3.  Allow the stew to cool down.  Refrigerate until the fat rises to the top and can be scraped off, about 12 hours.
4.  At serving time, reheat until meat is heated through, 10-15 minutes.  Adjust seasonings.  To serve, remove bay leaves and thyme; stir in orange zest.

Makes 8 servings

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Supper

I've found myself drifting back to the basics lately, which brings me to Joy of Cooking, probably the first cookbook I ever read--and I do mean read--as in, cover to cover.  I have the 1997 edition, which still manages to maintain that quaint, coversational tone despite modern inclusions like Tomato Jalepeno Chilaquiles and Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup.  I bookmarked Sunday Supper Fishcakes because they sounded so delightfully old-fashioned, and because cod is cheaper than crab, and because--hey--it's Sunday, and I wanted something tasty for supper. 

All began well.  The fish mixture came together in a snap.  The accompanying horseradish sauce was cool and creamy, yet bracing.   Then it came time to "shape into 8 cakes, pressing the ingredients firmly together."  Well, I pressed and pressed and all I got was a pile of ingredients.  So I cursed Joy, and I cursed myself for ignoring the headnote recommending I use "some of a more oily fish,' and I cursed the fishcakes for good measure--and all this before church!  Then I turned two slices of white bread to crumbs in the food processor, added them to the mix, and taking a cue from the Bible, allowed the fishcakes to rest for ten minutes.

That did the trick!

Served with the sauce, they made a perfectly respectable Sunday supper.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rainbows and Peace Signs

It's Regents week, which means regular classes are cancelled, and no high school students are on the premises.  As teachers, our only job other than the odd proctoring assignment is to make ourselves scarce in our rooms.  There was a two hour stretch today where I did not speak. To anyone.  It was bliss. It was peace.  It was zen.  To honor the experience, I made my version of Nina Simonds' Rainbow Peanut Noodles from her excellent book, Asian Noodles, for dinner.

Here is the Chinese Peanut Dressing.  Doesn't it look serene? 

Here is the salad, made with soba noodles instead of the linguine Simonds suggests.  Did you know soba noodles are a whole grain?  They are made from buckwheat and are highly nutritious, full of fiber, protein, magnesium and many other nutrients.  And they don't have the taste and texture of cardboard!  They just taste sort of nutty.

Rainbow Peanut Noodles

1/2 lb. soba noodles, cooked until tender (four and a half minutes), rinsed in cold water and drained
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
1 persian cucumber, thinly sliced
1 small red pepper, julienned
1 handful of snowpeas, de-stringed and cut in thirds lengthwise
3 scallions, thinly sliced into rings

Chinese Peanut Dressing

1 1/4 inch thick slice of fresh ginger, peeled and cut in half
2 small cloves of garlic, peeled
1 tsp chile garlic paste
1/4 c. smooth peanut butter
handful of peanuts, if you happen to have them around
1/8 cup soy sauce
1 1/2 T sugar
1 1/2 T Chinese black vinegar or Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 T toasted sesame oil

For Dressing:

Finely chop ginger and garlic in a food processor.  Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth.  Add water to thin, if necessary.

For Salad:

Toss everything together with dressing.  Or make it pretty, like a rainbow, then toss it together with the dressing. 
Serves 3