Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Creamy Pasta with Mushrooms and Ground Beef

This recipe, from my husband's Aunt Sally, yields a dish so yummy and comforting that a mere photo would not do it justice. Moreover, I don't have a photo. But imagine a white sauce-covered pasta studded with chopped mushrooms and small crumbles of nicely browned ground beef. Mmmm. So tasty. So creamy. So what if it's incredibly fattening? I guess you should probably serve small portions with a huge supply of green vegetables, but that might not stop people from taking second or third helpings.

1 box angel hair pasta
some pasta water reserved
1 1/2 c. sour cream (use nonfat!)
1/2 cup chicken or veggie stock
1 c. each, grated jack and cheddar cheeses
1 pkg. mushrooms, sauteed
1 lb. ground beef, cooked and drained thoroughly
1/2 tsp onion powder
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta according to package directions and drain, reserving about 1 cup of the water just to keep the pasta wet while adding other ingredients. Brown the ground beef in a skillet. Drain the beef in a colander over the sink. Saute the mushrooms in the fat left from the beef. Drain mushrooms too!

Add pasta, 1/2 cup pasta water, stock, cheeses, sour cream, and spices together in a large pot. Stir thoroughly. Add mushrooms and beef. Add more pasta water or stock as necessary to keep sauce from getting too thick. When it's at the consistency you like, taste and season with salt and pepper as necessary. You might want to add a bit of crushed red pepper too, for a little kick.

You can also add red sauce to this, but I don't think it's necessary, and I can't comment on how it tastes because I didn't try it that way.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Creamy Cauliflower Soup

As usual, I have lots of random veggies in the fridge and no plan of how to prepare them, or for what part of the meal. Since we are going away for about a week, I wanted to use them up before they rot, and a veggie-rich spaghetti sauce is the best way to do that. However, cauliflower does not go well in red sauce, so I had to come up with something else. I was reading the New York Times and saw a recipe for cabbage soup that looked good, so I adapted it for cauliflower. It came out very well, and is very comforting without being too heavy.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow onion, grated
1 head cauliflower, chopped
1 russet potato, grated
about 1/4 cup water
1 quart veggie broth
2 cups low-fat or skim milk
3/4 cup grated Manchego
1/2 tsp celery seed
salt and pepper

First, in a small dutch oven, saute the onion in the oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the potato, and drizzle enough water to prevent the potato from sticking to the bottom. Cook about 3 minutes. Add the chopped cauliflower and the veggie broth. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cook covered about 30 minutes. You want to make sure that the cauliflower is thoroughly cooked so that it is soft.

Remove cover, add milk, cheese, celery seed, and salt and pepper to taste. Using an immersion blender, process thoroughly until there are no chunks and the texture is smooth. This should not take longer than about 3 minutes.

Taste again, and add more salt & pepper as needed. If you like the slightly smoky, dark vegetal flavor of celery seed, by all means add a bit more. It is one of my favorite spices (if a seed can really be considered a "spice"), and I am trying to incorporate it into more recipes lately...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Obsession: Lunessa

OMFG. I have discovered a new love.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I were in Manhattan celebrating a day off (I think it was the day after Thanksgiving) and we had decided to browse the sales. After a couple of hours of finding nothing we really wanted, we started to head for home. It was raining, we were cold, DKNY wouldn't budge on the price for a brown tweed coat, and my daughter had fallen asleep. Matt got behind the wheel and we started chatting about our weekend. But before we swung eastward towards Brooklyn, Matt stopped the car in the middle of Thompson Street, and asked me to get out. I was shocked! In the rain!?

He pointed to a gilt door unobtrusively marked by a small sign with a butterfly imprinted on it. "Go in there," he said, "and find things you like."

A mistake, to be sure.

The store was a paradise. It was wonderful. It was like Christmas, except no corny music. I enlisted the salesgirl's aid in compiling a list of "things I like" that was about 5 pages long. It must have been weeks later when Matt finally came in to retrieve me, agog at all the lovely, delicate, handmade gold and gemstone baubles. Champagne jewels wrapped in dainty strands of spun gold. Clusters of teardrop shaped garnets fashioned into earrings that resembled tiny bunches of grapes. Fragile-looking leaves made of precious metals dangling from thin, precise chains. Rings that looked like birch bark touched by Midas, sprinkled with miniscule crystals that could have been just-melted snow.




Go there. Buy. Remember: a thing of beauty is a joy forever.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Orange Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

My husband's favorite cake is a homemade orange cake, and it's really easy. Take one box of yellow cake mix and where they tell you to add water, substitute orange juice. Also, add one tablespoon of orange zest to the batter before baking.

I think that this recipe would work for any citrus, too.

For the frosting, things get only slightly more complicated:

1 pkg cream cheese (8 ounces), room temperature
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
3 tbsp orange juice
2 tsp orange zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp orange essence
1 tbsp Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur
5 cups confectioner's sugar

With a hand mixer, beat together all ingredients except sugar. Mix until smooth and fluffy, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.

In two batches, add confectioner's sugar. Beat until creamy. Add more orange juice or more sugar to attain the consistency you like.

It's nice to decorate the frosted cake with more orange zest or sections of mandarin oranges.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tomato Bread Soup

My husband just made this recipe for dinner this evening in an attempt to use up some stale baguette we had left over from last night. It was delicious and I want him to make it again! It's adapted from a meal we had in a restaurant several weeks ago.

3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
1 large can crushed tomatoes
salt & pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups water
1 tsp sugar
about 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
1 andouille sausage, cut into 1/3 inch coins
1/2 baguette cut into 1/2 inch slices
shredded parmesan cheese to garnish

Saute chopped onions in oil in a small dutch oven until translucent. Add garlic and saute about a minute. Add sausage and cook about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add water and bring back to a boil. Add bread slices. Cover and simmer approximately 10 minutes. Add chopped basil and cook until basil is wilted. Add sugar, and salt & pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls and garnish generously with parmesan cheese.

Note: in the summertime, you can get fresh, ripe tomatoes in season, and I bet this recipe would be even better by using about 3 pounds of roasted tomatoes. Just halve the tomatoes, place in a roasting pan (with sides, so the juice doesn't drip!) brush with a little olive oil, and roast until skins start to peel off and tomatoes are very soft. Remove skins, and use an immersion blender to get the consistency you want. I think that little chunks of tomato would be lovely for this rustic soup, so don't overblend. You might need to add less water too.

A wine that is delicious with this soup is an Argentinian torrontes. This is a white grape varietal exclusive to Argentina and is sturdy enough to stand up to the spicy meat and acidic tomatoes in this recipe. It is slightly reminiscent of a viognier with some peach scents, so it is also nice with any spicy or garlicky foods and intense cheeses.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Instead of Mashed Potatoes

What do you do when you have a giant pile of roasted vegetables that you can't bear to eat one more night? Throw it into the food processor! This is another one of those recipes that I created in an attempt to find something my toddler would eat (she refused), and discovered something that I would not be surprised to see on a plate at an elegant restaurant. I don't cover mine with foie-gras stuffed poached prunes and a port wine reduction sauce, however...

2 fennel bulbs
1 med. red onion
2 shallots
4 parsnips
4 carrots
spray olive oil
kosher or coarse sea salt
1/2 can chick peas, drained
1/4 cup water (or more)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp parmesan cheese

Wash and chop all the raw vegetables. Arrange in a large roasting pan, and spray with olive oil. Toss to make sure veggies are thinly coated in oil. Sprinkle with a little salt. Roast about 30 minutes on the 2nd highest rack in the oven on broil, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Onion and fennel should have caramelized, and the parsnips and carrots will be quite soft.

Working in batches, transfer roasted veggies to food processor. Ad chick peas. To ensure an even distribution of all ingredients, divide the chick peas in commensurate amounts to the veggie batches. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides and adding drizzles of water and olive oil to attain a smooth consistency. Just before serving, stir in parmesan cheese.

I recommend serving this as a side dish alongside a nice steak or lamb chop, with a dark leafy green such as kale.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Obsession: Quirky Knife Block

Is this hilarious or what? If I didn't already have a full set of good knives I would buy this right now. I'm trying to think of someone I know who needs knives just so I can get this.

I found it on http://aplusrstore.com/

Monday, December 1, 2008

I'm a Genius

Dear Readers,

I have devised a brilliant plan to continue posting delicious homemade recipes on this blog without having to actually create them myself.  What is my secret?  My students.  As an extra credit assignment, I asked them to email me a favorite recipe, in particular ethnic recipes from their home countries.  Many of them are not American-born, so I figured I would get a lot of different cultures' recipes, and I was right!  I received recipes for Indian chicken, Nigerian soup, Guatemalan shrimp hors d'oeuvres, Jamaican chicken, cheese empanadas (no country given), Trinidadian mac & cheese, a concoction called Rasta Pasta that looks great, etc., etc.  I am thrilled!

So, look for some fun and exotic recipes soon.  I'm not sure which one I want to make first!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Gripe of the Day: Stomach Viruses

It started with my daughter. Soon after we put her to bed on Wednesday night, she began throwing up. She continued being sick just about every 90 minutes until about 4am. I did four loads of laundry that night and got about 2 hours of sleep. My husband stayed home with her the next day while I went to work (and barely made it through the day, even with 5 large cups of coffee). That night I started barfing, my husband took care of the baby, who was also barfing, and we all were exhausted and miserable. Finally, on Friday morning, my husband succumbed to this virus also and now we're ALL sick.

On the bright side, I might lose a couple of pounds from not eating.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Shrimp Tomato Stew

I just made this up and it's delish!

1/2 white onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
2 med. zucchini, diced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 pint button mushrooms, chopped
pinch saffron threads
1 bay leaf
3/4 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper, more to taste
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1 cup hearty red wine, such as tempranillo
16 oz. frozen peeled & deveined shrimp
2 cups pasta, rice or noodles

Saute the onion and garlic in 2 or 3 tbsp olive oil. When translucent (about 5 minutes), add mushrooms. Cook down until completely soft. Add zucchini and bell pepper. Saute another 5 minutes. Add dry spices and stir thoroughly. Add wine, stir, and add tomatoes. Let simmer at least 15 minutes.

Prepare pasta (or whichever starch you prefer) according to package directions. While this is cooking, get out the shrimp and run warm water over to separate them and to remove excess ice/frost.

8 minutes prior to serving, toss the shrimp into the stew, and stir occasionally. Make sure all shrimp are soft and pink before serving! Finish with a drizzle more olive oil (about 2 tbsp) and stir to blend in.

Ladle stew over pasta, and sprinkle with parmesan shavings. Serve with more of the wine you cooked in the stew. Yum!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Best Vegetarian Chili Ever

1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 each: red and yellow bell peppers, chopped
3/4 yellow onion, diced
2 tsp minced garlic
2 cans crushed tomatoes
1 sm. can tomato paste
1 carton mushrooms, chopped
1/2 medium zucchini, diced
1/2 medium yellow squash, diced
10 baby carrots, chopped
1 head broccoli, chopped
1-1/2 cups sweet corn
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
crushed red pepper
2 cans beans (I like one each of black and kidney), drained
heaping tbsp cumin
2 tbsp chili powder
1 chipotle pepper in adobo, mashed to a paste, more if you like it very spicy
salt and black pepper
pinch sugar

Heat oil in a large stockpot. Saute garlic and onions until translucent. Add mushrooms and cook down. Add chopped tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, squash, carrots and broccoli. Saute about 10 minutes, then season with Italian seasoning, crushed red pepper, salt, and black pepper. Pour in one can of crushed tomatoes, and cook until hot. Then add the corn, tomato paste, and the other can of crushed tomatoes. Heat through, then add drained beans and chipotle paste. When everything is hot and bubbling, add cumin and chili powder. Finally, let simmer about 10 - 15 minutes to let flavors meld. Taste one more time and season again with salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar.

Serve with rice, tortilla chips, or a dollop of sour cream.

Chili Cheese Dip

This is soooo bad for you, but so yummy. Chili recipe is up next.

2 pkgs cream cheese
16 oz. shredded Mexican cheese blend
3 cups chili

Preheat oven to 375. In a casserole pan, spread the cream cheese across the bottom until it's about one inch thick. Then spoon over the chili. Top with shredded cheese and bake 30 minutes until hot and bubbly. Serve with tortilla chips.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wish This Were My Lasagna

This is based on a gorgeous lasagna that my friend made for me several weeks ago. She, at first, based it on my original recipe, but couldn't resist changing things to suit her palate. I think it is a superior lasagna to mine, and I only wish I had another one sitting in my fridge right now. I also wish I'd taken photos before it was devoured.

The essential difference between hers and mine is fresh, farmers' market tomatoes picked at the height of ripeness at the end of the season. I generally use canned or even (gasp!) a jar of spaghetti sauce, mixed with a few fresh, pureed tomatoes. However, she used 4 pounds of the reddest, ripest, most burstingly perfect tomatoes I have seen in a very long time. The tomatoes didn't even come from NJ -- they were grown in northern California! Additionally, what also may have contributed to the intense flavor was the fact that she chopped these tomatoes very slowly while chatting outside, inadvertently allowing the tomatoes to warm somewhat in the sun. I think that she and the tomatoes were out sunning on the deck for about 45 minutes in total, but I have no scientific proof that this additional sunshine changes the recipe any. I believe, however, that chopping while having a leisurely chat at least improves the cooking process.

3 boxes no-boil lasagne noodles
28 oz. ricotta
2 eggs
1 c. parmesan cheese
handful fresh italian parsley, chopped fine
4 cups shredded mozzarella

for sauce:

1/2 small onion, minced.
2 cloves garlic, pushed thru press
4 pounds fresh, very ripe tomatoes.
5 leaves or so fresh basil.
1 sprig fresh oregano
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350.

For the sauce:

First, cut tomatoes into 8ths, set aside. Saute the onion in olive oil over low heat, season with a sprinkle of salt, wait a few minutes, and add garlic. Saute until onions are translucent and a tad brown. Add tomato paste and cook till brown and thick- 5 minutes.

Pour in a bit of the juice from tomatoes and scrape up the sides. Sprinkle with more salt and add a grinding of pepper. Add tomatoes and let simmer, stirring, for about 5 minutes.
Get out the stick blender (or put half of the sauce in a blender then put back) and give it a few rounds; taste for salt and pepper. Cook another five minutes. Chop up the basil, it's best to do it right before and tear apart the thyme. Add to sauce; cook 5 more minutes. Finally, add two or three tablespoons of really good olive oil and stir well.

Meanwhile, mix together ricotta, eggs, parsley, parmesan, salt and pepper.

The single most important thing to do when making lasagne is this: first spray your lasagne pan with spray oil (preferably olive oil). Then spoon down a layer of tomato sauce, and to make it even better, follow that by a layer of thinly sliced tomatoes. This ensures that the noodles don't stick to the bottom of the pan (and then burn).

Layer the pan this way:
noodles (do not let noodles overlap - break them to fit)
ricotta mixture
ricotta mixture

Finally, top with more parmesan and a thick layer of shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake covered for about 45 minutes, at 350. Remove cover and continue baking another 15 minutes, or until cheese is browned and bubbling.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Roasted White Vegetable Soup

I would love to include pictures of this soup, but it seems that I have packed up my card reader, so I have no way of transferring photos from my camera to the computer at the moment. Sorry!

4 parsnips
2 large potatoes
3/4 head cauliflower
5 cloves garlic
spray olive oil
1 pkg thawed winter squash
1-1/2 tsp celery seed
4 strands saffron
1/3 c. grated parmesan cheese
3 tbsp butter
1 cup milk
3 cups chicken or veggie stock
1/3 c. dry white wine or vermouth
1/2 tsp sage
handful fresh parsley, chopped
sea salt and black pepper

Chop raw veggies into bite sized pieces. Arrange on a roasting pan with garlic and spray with olive oil, and toss to coat. Roast in oven on broil, turning occasionally, until veggies are golden brown and soft.

Working in batches, transfer veggies to food processor and add milk and stock to liquefy. Add the thawed squash (this will turn the soup more yellowish, but whatever.) Process till smooth. When all veggies, milk and stock have been blended, pour into a large pot to heat. Stir in wine, parmesan, herbs, butter, and saffron, and allow to simmer 10 minutes. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Better Flank Steak Marinade

Dare I improve on my grandmother's recipe? Indeed, I do. And with impressive results, methinks.

3 oz. soy sauce
3 oz. rice wine vinegar
1 oz. orange juice
1 inch grated fresh ginger
2 heaping teaspoons honey
3 cloves garlic, pushed thru press

Combine all ingredients in a jar and microwave for 25 seconds on high to melt the honey and to help flavors blend. Seal tightly (I like to use old, clean jam jars for this purpose) and shake vigorously. Let sit in refrigerator overnight.

When ready to marinate meat, shake marinade again. Rub meat with olive oil, then sprinkle lightly with salt and black pepper. Place meat in a pan, pour marinade over, cover with foil, and let sit on counter four hours. If marinating overnight, place in fridge.

This is less salty and less overwhelming than my other recipe.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Elbows with Spinach, Mozzarella and Tomato Sauce

1/2 pkg elbow noodles
1 pkg chopped spinach, thawed
8 oz. shredded mozzarella
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pushed thru press
olive oil
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/2 small white onion, diced small
salt & pepper

For the sauce, begin by sauteeing onion and garlic in about 1 tbsp olive oil for about 5-7 minutes, long enough for the onion to turn translucent. Add red pepper and tomatoes. Mash the tomatoes up a bit in the pan with a potato masher. Add another 2 tbsp olive oil, and cook at a low simmer about 1/2 an hour. When tomatoes are very soft and mushy, stir in half the spinach. See how it goes - you might like it with less, you might prefer more. I like the whole package. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions. When pasta is ready to eat, stir the shredded mozzarella into the sauce, and toss with the pasta. Yum!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Shame, Shame, Shame

Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned. It has been many weeks since my last post.

Things have been a bit hectic for me lately: my daughter started daycare, we decided to leave our tiny apartment, and have been spending a lot of time looking for a new place. We finally found one, and will be moving next week! As a result, my home is a mess, I'm up to my ears in packing materials, and I'm already out of tape... Of course, we have been ordering delivery a lot lately. But since we have only one week left in this place, and lots of food left in the cupboards, I will be forced to cook it up!

Therefore, I anticipate a cooking (and hopefully posting) blitz over the next week. Wish me luck.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bolognese a la Sianessa

I had a craving for bolognese sauce tonight, something I rarely eat, but when I do, it's so satisfying and tasty. This recipe combines my toddler-fooling veggie puree with roasted garlic and red bell pepper to make a reasonably healthy and flavor-packed meat sauce.

1 lb ground chuck or sirloin
1 jar spaghetti sauce (I like Classico sweet basil)
2/3 cup veggie puree
2 red bell peppers
3 cloves garlic
spray olive oil
1/4 cup red wine (syrah is nice)
1 small can tomato paste
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes or more to taste
salt & black pepper to taste
1/2 box elbow noodles, cooked according to pkg directions

On a cookie sheet, place peeled garlic cloves, and halved and seeded peppers with the skin side up. Spray liberally with olive oil, and sprinkle a bit of salt on top. Broil about 5 minutes, watching carefully. The pepper skins should blister and get a bit blackened, but not totally charred. The garlic will brown deeply. Remove from oven and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, peel skin from peppers -- it should come off easily. Then chop the pepper into 1/2 inch pieces, and mince the garlic. Refrigeration will help the garlic to solidify enough to allow chopping -- if it's too warm it's still mushy. But mushy is ok too.

Next, break up the meat into a deep saute pan. The one I use has sides that are about 3 inches high and is about 10 inches wide, which is a perfect size for thick sauces like spaghetti sauce. Brown the meat in its own fat until no pink is left. While sauteing, add the wine, and sprinkle on a bit of salt and pepper, then add the roasted garlic and red bell pepper.

When all ingredients are hot, add the veggie puree and the jar of spaghetti sauce. When all that is incorporated, add the tomato paste, the crushed red pepper and stir until fully incorporated. Simmer, letting all flavors meld, about 5-10 minutes. If the sauce is too dry for your taste, add a bit of water.

Ladle out over pasta of your choice and serve with grated parmesan cheese and more of the red wine. Voila!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Roasted Corn Salad

You can do this the easy way, or if you want to spend more time in the kitchen and feel all virtuous and authentic, you can do it the hard way.

2 cups roasted corn
1 diced English cucumber
1 diced red bell pepper
1 diced very small white onion
1 can rinsed and drained black beans
1 tsp cumin powder
cayenne pepper powder to taste (about 4 shakes)
juice of 1/2 a fresh lime

The hard way: Soak 2 ears of corn in water for at least one hour. Grill over medium heat about 7 minutes, turning every 2 minutes to cook each side. Let cool, then shuck and slice corn kernels off the cob.

The easy way: Buy a bag of Trader Joe's frozen roasted corn. Scoop out 2 cups corn, and don't bother to thaw.

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. The frozen corn will chill the other ingredients. If you use fresh roasted you will need to chill the salad for an hour.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Alfredo Sauce with Secret Veggies

Yet another toddler-fooler, which is rich and delicate enough to impress adults. I'm a fan of pouring it over spinach-cheese ravioli.

8 ounce container low-fat ricotta cheese
1 cup whole milk (you could use heavy cream for better flavor, but it is fattening)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups baby carrots
1 head chopped broccoli
1/2 green bell pepper
1 can chick peas

In a saucepan, saute garlic in olive oil. When golden brown, remove and set aside. In same saucepan, combine ricotta, milk, and parmesan cheese. Add milk as necessary to thin out.

Steam carrots, broccoli and bell pepper until just tender, but NOT MUSHY. It's important not to overcook this, or the texture of the whole sauce gets mealy. Shock with ice water to stop the cooking process. Then place in food processor, add drained chick peas, and garlic. Process all together until it forms a smooth paste.

Add about 1 cup of the veggie mixture to the ricotta sauce, and whisk gently until incorporated. Save the remaining veggie mixture for other "veggie-secret" recipes.

Heat the sauce through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over ravioli and serve.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Classic Chicken Soup

I love this soup at any time of year, and now that the temperature is finally starting to decline a tad, I just couldn't resist the urge. The picture shows the bed of veggies in the pot before adding chicken and water.

1 split chicken breast, on bone, with skin
5 stalks celery, halved lengthwise and chopped
2 cups baby carrots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, pushed thru press
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 bay leaf
1 heaping tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Possible starches:
1/2 box penne or other bite-size pasta
1 cup white rice
1/2 bag egg noodles

In large stockpot, make a bed of herbs & veggies: onion, carrots, celery, garlic, bay leaf and oregano. Place the chicken breasts on top. Pour in enough water to just cover the chicken.

Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for at least 45 minutes. Take pot off heat, and with a tongs, remove chicken breasts. Place chicken on a plate and allow to cool enough so that you can touch it without burning yourself. Once cooled, remove and discard skin. Slice chicken off the bones, and discard bones. Chop chicken into very small pieces and return to pot.

Some people like to refrigerate the soup to allow the fats to solidify on top, so you can scoop them off and get rid of them, but I don't. There is so little fat in chicken breast already that I feel you really shouldn't sacrifice the flavor this way.

Finally, cook the starch of your choice according to package directions. I like noodles, my husband likes rice, and my daughter is a pasta fanatic, and since all three work very well, I use them interchangeably.

When ready to serve, scoop a generous spoonful of your starch into a bowl. Ladle soup, including plenty of broth, on top. Voila!

Note: you can also make this with potatoes instead of a pasta or rice. Simply add about 1 1/2 to 2 cups peeled and chopped red potatoes to the pot just AFTER it has boiled (otherwise they get overcooked and mushy).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Today's Gripe: Fat

My mother always said, "never trust a skinny cook."

Unfortunately, she never said anything about cooking and tasting and eating so much you feel all your favorite jeans getting tighter!

Damn. Maybe I will start investigating portion sizing, and include some info about that in future recipes. I'm sure I'm not the only person who eats a bit more than she should while cooking something yummy.

Cheater's "Homemade" Pizza Snack

The next time you order a pizza, ask for a cup of extra red sauce on the side. Not the marinara sauce they serve with mozzarella sticks, but real pizza sauce. When you get home and have gobbled down all your pizza, you can spoon the sauce onto English muffins and top with shredded cheese from your regular supermarket, chopped veggies, diced ham, diced meatballs, anything. So easy! I would have added a picture but I ate my little pizza before it occurred to me to post this.

Friday, September 5, 2008

My New Obsession: Alex Sepkus Jewelry

It seems to me that this is becoming a cooking-and-jewelry website. I'm not sure where the two intersect, except that women do the lion's share of cooking in most families, and women also have a stronger fondness for jewelry than do men. Hm.

At any rate, my new favorite jeweler is Alex Sepkus. His work is intricate, organic-looking, and quirky. I love the spirally designs, and the use of lots of tiny stones.

Check his site out: www.alexsepkus.com

Easy Ratatouille

This dish is so simple to make and requires so few ingredients that it hardly bears the need to write the recipe down. However, there are a couple of reasons why it's helpful to have a guide, and the main one is that cooking eggplant can be a pain in the ass unless you do it right. I suggest par-baking to eliminate cooking time and also to cut down on the grease. Also, traditional recipes call for green bell pepper, but I think that this has too sharp a flavor, and prefer to use red, orange or yellow pepper for a bit more sweetness.

2 small to medium eggplants
1/2 pint grape tomatoes
1/2 to a whole red bell pepper
1 shallot, minced
2 - 3 cloves garlic, pushed thru press
1 medium zucchini
14 oz. (1/2 large can) crushed tomato
olive oil
pinch of rosemary
large handful of fresh basil, shredded

Preheat oven to 375. Slice the eggplant into thin disks. Brush both sides lightly with olive oil, and arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake on middle rack about 20-25 minutes, turning once midway through, until disks are tender and the oil has been absorbed.

While eggplant is baking, slice zucchini into thin coins, then quarter. Dice bell pepper, and halve the grape tomatoes. Mince the shallot and open canned tomato.

In a large, deep saute pan, saute shallot and garlic in about 1 tbsp olive oil until shallot is soft and translucent, about 7 minutes. Add another tbsp olive oil, then the zucchini, bell pepper and tomatoes. Cook about 4 minutes, stirring frequently. By now the eggplant should be done, so take it out of the oven, let cool a couple of minutes, and then cut up the disks into at least quarters, to make smallish, bite-size pieces.

Add eggplant to mixture and saute for about 2 minutes, then add the crushed tomatoes and rosemary. Stir frequently while cooking another 10 minutes. (This is the time to open the wine and pour the first glasses. I recommend a pinot noir, or even a muscly rose, if it's summertime.)

One minute before serving, stir in the shredded basil. You might want to reserve a tiny bit to throw on top when you plate the meal.

I like to serve this with mashed potatoes and roasted fennel. You can use the same cookie sheet for the fennel as you used for the eggplant, and use a little spray oil to keep it from burning. Roast about 15 minutes, and sprinkle a large spoonful over the mashed potatoes, but not on the ratatouille. The fennel and potato work beautifully together, especially if you mash the potatoes with heavy cream and a respectable amount of butter!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Salade Nicoise

Recently I ordered this lunch dish at Cafe Luluc in Carroll Gardens. The following recipe is roughly, but not exactly, based on what appeared on my plate. The restaurant served canned tuna and canned olives; I would prefer it as indicated below. Also, it is important to use fresh, not frozen tuna, as frozen fish does not have the same buttery consistency as fresh. This recipe serves four.

1 lb fresh ahi tuna, sushi grade, about 3/4 inch thick
1 to 2 tbsp olive oil
2/3 head Romaine lettuce, chopped into small bite-size pieces
4 hard boiled eggs, thinly sliced
1 cup brine-cured black olives
2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
2/3 English cucumber, sliced into thin coins
large handful string beans, trimmed and steamed tender-crisp
1 shallot, finely chopped
12 - 16 anchovy fillets, oil cured

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup light olive oil
1 tbsp parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, pushed thru press
salt and pepper to taste

For tuna, pour a small amount of olive oil into a saute pan and bring heat to high. Sear tuna on each side about a minute to a minute and a half, enough so that the outside is browned or even blackened, but the center is still pink and raw. Season with a tiny bit of salt and pepper.

Whisk together all dressing ingredients and reserve 4 tbps dressing. Toss remaining dressing with lettuce only. Take into account that your guests will be mixing in other salad components on their own, so it's ok to use slightly more dressing than you would use if it were just the lettuce.

Arrange a mound of lettuce at top center of plate. Place seared tuna directly on top of the lettuce and drizzle with a tablespoon of dressing. Create rows of the remaining salad ingredients, except for anchovies, in a radiant design, starting at the lettuce and extending to the edges of the plate.

Garnish tuna with 3 or 4 anchovy fillets.

Allow guests to combine lettuce and veggies to their liking on the plate.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Today's Gripe: Salmonella

As I write this, my husband is lying in bed half-convinced that he's dying. It's 2:25 AM and he's been extremely sick to his stomach for the past 4 hours. I've been awake too, helping him to and from the bathroom, bringing him ice chips, water, cleaning up a broken glass, bringing more water in a plastic cup, and now covering him in blankets to ease the chill he's feeling. I, on the other hand, am still feeling summer's last heat, and am a bit sweaty.

All this thanks to a lovely brunch this morning consisting of eggs Benedict. We went to a French bistro in Carroll Gardens this morning, a place that is usually so packed there's no point in trying to get a table unless you've got an hour to kill on the sidewalk. Matt had been wanting to go to this place for a while, and as we had secured a babysitter, he took me on a daytime date. Trying to watch my waist (although my mother always said never to trust a skinny cook), I ordered a Salade Nicoise. The salad was quite good and I'm sure a version of it will appear on this blog soon. But Matt ordered eggs Benedict, usually my favorite breakfast dish.

It was one of the more awe-inspiring and delicious plates of eggs Benedict I've ever tasted -- and perhaps I'm not sick because I had only one small bite. The eggs were just perfectly poached: soft, yielding whites and a hot, runny yolk that broke over the underlying ham and English muffin like spilled sunshine. The Hollandaise sauce was clearly homemade; it was tangy, creamy, and rich, the perfect foil for the yeasty muffin and delicate egg white. Delightful. Heaven on a plate.

But now I find myself Googling salmonella symptoms and pasteurized eggs. Ugh. But I guess de-germed eggs are the only solution to this awful affliction, unless we want to avoid Hollandaise and soft eggs for the rest of our lives. The horror!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Baby Likes Burrito!

OK, this is not food that I made, but it IS food I love. Around the corner from my apartment is a restaurant called La Tacqueria, and one side is a sit-down place with a swanky bar, and the other side is a take-out joint covered in bumper stickers and band graffiti. It's supposed to be authentic SoCal fare, and I love it.

At any rate, my husband and I usually order one small size burrito and because they are so enormous, we split it and both feel quite full. But this time, I split it with my daughter, who ADORED it. I'm so happy; clearly, she is truly my progeny.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Summer Bliss

Perfect Guacamole

2 ripe avocadoes
1 small tomato, diced small
1/2 yellow onion, diced tiny
2 cloves garlic, pushed thru pres
juice of 1/2 to a whole lime (to taste)
scant 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
kosher salt to taste

Mash together all ingredients except salt. Allow to chill one hour. Add salt to taste.

Perfect Margaritas

1 part Jose Cuervo Gold tequila
1 part Cointreau or Grand Marnier
1 part fresh squeezed lime juice

Pour all ingredients over ice in a shaker, shake to chill, and pour straight up into a martini glass. Garnish with lime or orange wedge.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Today's Grouse: Rental Kitchens

Ahhh, I am enjoying a much-needed vacation at the beach for a week. I'm sleeping well, eating well, slathering myself with SPF 85, and generally not wanting to go home. The sun rises over the Atlantic just beyond the deck, where I sip my morning coffee (honestly I would rather be asleep at 6:30 AM, but when you have a toddler that fantasy goes out the window), and I love watching the water sparkle. The other day I even saw dolphins frolicking!

Ahem. There is always a fly in the ointment. Here, it is the stove. I have attempted to make a few meals for the family here and have been thwarted by a capricious electric stove. Not even the old fashioned kind with real, spiral burners, but the creepy glass-surface kind that gets hot all over when only one so-called burner is on. The main large burner doesn't even heat evenly. The center gets extremely hot very fast, but the outer rings remain moderately toasty. Very frustrating when you're trying to make freshly caught halibut in butter and lemon, or when simmering a ratatouille for an hour while everyone showers off the sand. And my least favorite part: the whole thing stays hot for an eternity after the burner is turned off. I tend to use the stovetop as extra counter space -- a necessity in NYC kitchens that is handy anywhere. But with this monstrosity, where am I supposed to put the (cold) salad when I'm plating the fish and I'm out of counter space? Grrr.

However, I can still make excellent dishes that do not require cooking, and one of them will be my next post.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Pea-Potato Soup

This soup is actually quite light, due to the absence of dairy, but still feels rich and comforting because of the potato. It's very very simple to make and very tasty.

2/3 bag frozen peas, thawed
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
2 cups chicken or veggie stock
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 medium red potatoes, peeled
1/4 tsp salt
fresh ground black pepper
3 strands fresh thyme
1 tbsp olive oil

First, peel and chop the potatoes and boil until tender/soft, but not mushy. Then saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil 5 minutes, then add thyme. Saute another 3 minutes.

By this time the potatoes should be ready. Drain, and place in food processor. Add the thawed peas, onion mixture, wine, salt, pepper, and stock. Process until smooth, but not too long or the potato will get gluey. If you want it really smooth, you'll have to push it through a fine sieve by hand, but I don't have the patience for that.

Taste and add more salt & pepper as needed. Return to saucepan and heat through.

You might want to finish this with a splash of cream, or toss in a double handful of tiny cubes of Canadian bacon, but you might not. It's good as is.

Fantastic Flank Steak

OK meat fans, here's the best damn flank steak marinade you'll ever have the good luck to come across. This was the top-secret recipe created by my grandmother's next door neighbor, with a few changes of my own. It is easy and totally delicious.

3 cloves garlic, put thru press
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp grated ginger
3 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp white wine
3 oz. tamari or soy sauce

Combine all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake well. Rub flank steak with a little olive oil and ground black pepper, and tenderize with a meat pounder (I like to place meat between 2 sheets of saran wrap to keep things clean).

Place unscored flank steak in a flat shallow pan. Pour over it 1 recipe of marinade and let stand at room temperature (covered) at least 4 hours, or overnight in fridge. Turn the meat over a few times to make sure the marinade fully coats it.

When ready to cook, pour marinade into a bowl or saucepan, and slide a grill rack under the meat to keep it up off the bottom of the pan. Broil on top rack 4 minutes each side for medium rare.

Remove from oven and allow meat to rest 5 minutes. Slice on the diagonal (across the grain of the meat). Serve hot or cold.

Meat juice may be blended with remaining marinade to serve as sauce for meat and rice. Bring to a quick boil, then just simmer until ready to serve.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


OK, people. My birthday is coming up in less than two weeks. Get your acts together! I like jewelry. It doesn't have to be expensive, custom-made baubles from a boutique jeweler. There is plenty to please me at places like overstock.com, zales.com, and even ebay.com. Here's a hint: green amethyst. Ring. Size 7. Love you!

Zucchini-Potato Latkes

This is a great side dish for summer, especially if you serve a cold soup such as gazpacho with it. You can amp up the protein quotient of the soup if you throw in a bunch of chick peas, and then you have a complete meal!

2 glasses good red or white wine, depending on the season and heat of the day
1 med-large zucchini, grated
2 med. red potatoes, grated
½ med yellow onion, finely diced
1 sm handful fresh parsley, minced
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
about 1/3 cup seasoned Italian bread crumbs (Progresso)
salt and pepper to taste
spray oil (preferably olive oil – I use Pam)

Pour a glass of wine. Drink it while grating and mixing. Grate the zucchini, sprinkle with salt, toss, and let sit 7 minutes. Press liquid out through a sieve. Grate the potatoes and rinse with cold tap water. Sprinkle with salt, toss, let sit 7 minutes, and press liquid out thru sieve.

In a medium bowl, beat eggs, yolk, and parsley, plus some salt and pepper. Mix zucchini, potatoes, and egg mixture in a large dry bowl. Resulting mixture should be pretty wet and gloppy. If it isn’t, add another egg. If it seems too wet, sprinkle in more breadcrumbs.

Pour another glass of wine. Drink while cooking. Heat a nonstick skillet and spray liberally with oil. Form patties in the pan with a spoon. Each should be no more than about 3 inches in diameter. Fry about 4 minutes over med to med-high heat, then turn and cook another 3 minutes. Check occasionally to make sure it isn’t burning. You want to fry it slowly enough so that the potato is cooked through; this might be aided by covering the pan. Collect all patties in a heated dish in the oven until all the mixture is used up. Serve with salt and sour cream or applesauce.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Asian-ish Veggies with Almond Sauce

This recipe is incredibly easy to make, and incredibly healthy for you.

2 heads baby bok choy
1 head broccoli
1/2 bag baby carrots
1 pkg sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 cup chopped red cabbage
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 pgk firm tofu, cut into 1/2" cubes
2 tsp vegetable oil
2 tsp sesame oil
1 pkg soba noodles

1 can light coconut milk
3 heaping tbsp almond butter
2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce, plus more to taste
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Wash and chop all veggies to bite size.

First, prepare soba noodles according to package directions. To make sauce, combine all ingredients in a saucepan over med. heat, and stir frequently to prevent sticking. Play with the ratio of soy sauce and cayenne to suit your taste. Once combined, turn heat to low, just enough to keep warm.

In a very large saucepan or deep frying pan, saute the tofu in a little veggie oil, and add some sesame oil for flavor. Maybe dash a few drops of hot sauce over the tofu (I find tofu pretty flavorless). When tofu is getting slightly golden, slide into a bowl and set aside. In same saucepan, pour a little water, maybe 1/4 cup, and then toss the remaining veggies in. Turn flame to high, and steam/saute until tender-crisp.

Serve in a bowl, with noodles at bottom, then veggies, then ladle sauce over everything. Yum!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Veddy Veddy Important

Nothing tells a guest you care about them like a well-set table. I am in favor of flower-and-fruit combo displays. If you put them on a large platter, you can easily remove it when the food is served. I like a color theme (in this case, yellow and green), and of course, WINE!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Today's Grouse: My Tiny Kitchen

This kitchen sucks.
It's only 5 1/2 feet by 13 feet.
My total counter space is less than 3 feet wide.
Sometimes I really don't like New York that much.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Lettuce-less Salad with Divine Dressing

This is derived from a salad I've had in many French bistros. All veggies should be very fresh and of course, washed and dried thoroughly.

1 large bulb fennel, diced
2 heads endive, halved lengthwise and then sliced thinly
1 head endive, leaves separated for serving
grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1/3 cup broken walnuts
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 firm pear
(if you do not have a good pear, you can use 1/2 an English cucumber, cut into coins and then quartered, it will give the same cooling, neutralizing effect)

2 tbs warmed honey
1 tbs country dijon mustard
small handful fresh parsley, minced
1/4 c. olive oil
about 3 tbs canola oil
1/3 c. rice wine vinegar
3 tbsp white wine
salt & pepper

First, heat the honey so it is easier to incorporate into the dressing. Whisk it together with the rest of the dressing ingredients. It should be thin, sweet and slightly tart from the wine & vinegar. Let stand on the counter for a couple of hours so the flavors meld.

Peel and quarter pear and remove center and seeds. Slice each quarter on an angle so you get bite-size pieces that are about 1/4 inch thick. Grill the raw pear slices in your toaster oven about 2 minutes per side. If you are in a rush, don't bother to grill it, raw is delicious too.

Chop fennel, tomatoes, and endive as directed above and toss with walnuts, pear slices, parsley, and dressing. Arrange 5 whole endive leaves on plate in a star pattern, leaving a space in the center, and fill each leaf with dressed salad. Mound additional salad in center of star. Garnish with blue cheese crumbles.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Today's Grouse: Lettuce

I hate lettuce.

Well, ok, I don't actively despise it; it's more like a low-level antipathy. I don't like all the washing and chopping, and I get irked by its short shelf life. Too many times I have gingerly lifted a soggy bag of liquified lettuce out of the so-called crisper and into the trash.

So I have decided to just make salads without lettuce! What a huge relief to let other people bother with lettuce (which I will eat when someone else does the work) and happily chomp on my tangily dressed raw veggies that actually stay crunchy.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Dutiful Eater

Dutiful eater, I cook it for thee,
Sauces and baked goods are waiting for thee;
Sounds of the rude world, heard in the day,
Lull'd by the stovetop have all pass'd away!

(My apologies to lyricist Stephen Foster...)

There is a great little blog post in the NY Times (my favorite news source) about the top 11 foods we should be eating for our health. I want to make some dishes using these items as the main ingredient -- or at least the main flavoring, since one is a seed and one is a spice.

It will be a bit tough for me to do some of these. I have never liked cinnamon, but perhaps there is a recipe out there that uses other spices as well that I can use to mask that particular flavor. I know I can't get my husband to eat sardines, no matter how artfully I present them. And pumpkin seeds are hard to get fresh, unless I'm willing to carve a pumpkin (and it's not yet the season for that). But I'm going to try. If you know of any great recipes for the 11 foods on this list, please email them to me!

Chicken a la Sianessa

I made this recipe up based on what was in my fridge, and when I served it, I didn't think about plating it in a pretty way -- I had been tasting it throughout the cooking and I was too impatient to eat a plateful to bother with art. So no picture. But trust me, this is really yummy: rustic, comforting, and vaguely Germanic.

5 or 6 med red potatoes, chopped
1 pkg portabello mushrooms, stems removed and reserved
1 pkg chicken stock
sea salt
1/2 tsp or more black pepper (critical!)
olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 yellow pepper, diced
1/2 tsp celery seed (critical!)
small handful fresh parsley, minced
3 or 4 strands fresh thyme
1 sm. onion, diced
1 1/2 lbs skinless boneless chicken breast fillets
cooked bite-size pasta, such as gemelli or rotini

Toss mushroom caps and potatoes with about 1 tbsp olive oil. In a casserole pan, pour about 1 cup stock, and add the chopped potato, mushroom caps, 1/2 the yellow pepper, salt & pepper, thyme and about 1/2 the onion. Cover loosely with tin foil and put in a 350 oven till potatoes are soft.

In a saucepan, saute the remaining onion, the garlic, and mushroom stems. Add the remaining yellow pepper. When onion is translucent, add about 1 cup stock and the celery seed, parsley and more thyme. Bring to a boil, then bring down to simmer. Reduce to about half.

Pour mushroom stem mixture into the food processor, add 1/2 cup cream and puree until very smooth. Push through a fine sieve. Pour back into saucepan and add more salt, celery seed, and black pepper to taste. The celery seed and black pepper are particularly lovely flavors in this dish, so don't skimp!

With a slotted spoon, remove potatoes, mushrooms and bell pepper from casserole dish; set aside. Pour remaining liquid into the sauce. Bring to a low, gentle simmer and allow to reduce a bit to intensify flavor.

While sauce is simmering, cook pasta according to package directions.

Now bring out chicken fillets. Place in casserole pan and cover with heavy cream, turning to coat. Sprinkle with black pepper and thyme. Cover loosely with tin foil and put in oven about 14 minutes, turning at least once. To finish, turn oven to broil and remove tin foil. Allow chicken to brown on the outside and get a bit crackly at the edges.

When you're ready to eat, put the potatoes and mushrooms back in the casserole dish with the chicken and put back in the oven about 4 minutes (not on broil!) to heat. When hot, remove all solids and set aside for plating. Quickly pour the remaining liquid from the casserole into your food processor. Pour all the sauce in as well, and process the lot for about 30 seconds.

Because most of this dish is a not very gorgeous beige color, I recommend plating it in an artful way. Toss the pasta in the sauce and make a flattish pile of pasta in center of a plate. Mound potatoes and mushrooms in the middle of the puddle. Then lean the browned chicken with a small drizzle of sauce on top. Garnish with parsley or snipped chives. There should be plenty of extra sauce, and I recommend making it available via a gravy boat, so that it can be sopped up with pasta, bread, fingers, or whatever. My husband literally licked the plate when I made this!

I think this would be really nice with a cold roasted red beet salad. Just roast beets in a 425 oven for about 40 minutes (more or less depending on size). The skins should just slip off, then chill, chop, and dress with a light, tangy, dijon vinaigrette and toss with some diced red onion and maybe a bit of watercress. Yum!

Woefully Remiss

Hi everyone,

I know it's been days since I last posted; I apologize. I spent the weekend in the New Jersey countryside sunning by a pool. But now I'm back, and will have more fabulous recipes and grouses within mere hours. Hang in there!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Veggie-Rich Red Sauce

One of my favorite things to both make and eat is homemade pasta sauce. I don't really adhere to a particular recipe because each time I tend to open the fridge and use whatever I have on hand as ingredients. Lately I have been sneaking extra vegetables into the sauces I make because my toddler is utterly dead-set against consuming any green vegetables, so I have to disguise or hide them from her. The best way I have found to do this is to use the food processor! Here's my toddler-fooling pasta sauce:

1 large can crushed tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
1 pkg portobella mushrooms, chopped
1 sm/med zucchini or summer squash, chopped
1 head broccoli, chopped
1 sm onion, chopped
1 cup baby carrots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
olive oil
1 scant tsp oregano
salt & pepper
1 bay leaf

Saute onion, garlic, and mushrooms in a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, and oregano until onion is soft and slightly golden and mushrooms have cooked down to about 1/2 their regular size. Dump into food processor. Add 1/2 can crushed tomatoes and puree until smooth. Transfer from food processor to large saucepan.

In same saute pan, add a bit more oil and saute zucchini, broccoli, carrots, and bell pepper with a tiny bit of salt and pepper until broccoli is tender. Carrots should be getting soft, but definitely not mushy. Dump into food processor. Add remaining 1/2 can crushed tomatoes and puree until smooth. You may need to add a drizzle of olive oil to get a better consistency. Transfer from food processor and combine with onion/tomato mixture. Add bay leaf.

Heat tomato sauce to bubbling, stirring to prevent it from burning or sticking to the pot. Add tomato paste and mix thoroughly. Let simmer for at least 15 minutes so all flavors can blend. If you prefer a thinner sauce, add water. If you like it thicker, let it simmer down on the stove.

Serve over the pasta of your choice, and smile to yourself as your family eats their veggies without even knowing it!!!

Note: sometimes I will leave some of the sauteed veggies out of the food processor for the adults who like them. In the pic above, there are visible pieces of red bell pepper and mushrooms.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Grouse of the Day: Bloodletting

Dammit, I HATE cutting myself!

Where can I take a class on knife skills?

Would a vegan still eat the food if they cut their finger and bled on the food?

Non-Traditional Moroccan Dinner

I am basing my recipe on several Moroccan dishes that I've read on epicurious.com, the back of the Fantastic Foods cous-cous box, and my own American Family Cookbook. This is a major deviation from all those sources, but it utilizes foods that are commonly found in my pantry/fridge, and which I think are also commonly found in most people's kitchens too (at least in summer!). I hope you like it!

cous-cous, cooked with veggie stock (or chicken stock) instead of water, enough for 4 people
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 large shallot, diced
1 head broccoli, diced
1 small zucchini, diced
1 cup chopped baby carrots
1 can chick peas, drained
1/4 cup sultanas or golden raisins
olive oil
1/4 c. white wine
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. cumin powder
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Make cous-cous according to package directions, substituting stock for water (to add flavor). In a separate pan, saute shallot in olive oil about 5 minutes. Add carrot, broccoli, and zucchini. Saute till broccoli turns bright green but not soft (about 4 mins) and add white wine as necessary to keep pan moist. Add spices slowly, mixing continuously with a wooden spoon.

Slowly add cous-cous to this pan in batches, about 1/2 cup at a time. Add more stock to keep everything moist, and adjust seasonings as needed. You may need more cinnamon and cumin, depending on how intense you like it. Toss all ingredients well, and mound on plate. Garnish with parsley, mint, or chopped chive.

You can also grill chicken breast, seasoned with cinnamon and cumin, and add diced to this dish, or serve whole on the side.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Grouse of the Day: Green Beans

I know that green beans are really good for you and all that, but they just don't taste particularly good. Plus, trimming the ends is tedious. I don't want to eat them. I want cupcakes.

Mama's Got a Brand-New Bag

Starting in September I will be teaching a poetry workshop. I'm very excited about this!!! I have been writing poems since high school, and have gotten published in a few prestigious journals, and am nearly finished with my book manuscript. I've taught a bunch of composition classes, but this is the first time I get to lead a class in an exploration of what I love. Here's the blurb:

Poetry Writing Workshop: Releasing the Voice Within

Each one of us has our own unique voice, and many of us don’t have the opportunity to express ourselves with the written word. In this workshop, students will examine and discuss poems written by contemporary poets, referring to poems in a variety of styles as jumping-off points for their own experimentation. Each class meeting will include a lecture on writing craft, literary devices, form, and interpretation, yet the focus of the class is the students’ own writing. While exploring the art of making poems, students will engage in exercises both in and out of class that are designed to provoke thought and stimulate the creation of original poems. This class is a safe space for creative play, experimentation with form and voice, and giving and receiving feedback in a small community of empathetic and honest fellow poets.

Classes begin Wednesday, September 10th at 7:30pm and run for 10 weeks. Students need bring only a notebook and pen. Location: First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, 124 Henry Street.

Please contact me if you are interested in this class, and also please send this info to friends of yours who write! Thanks...

What Kind of Cook are YOU?

A while back, a friend and I were discussing what kind of cooks we are. She and I both felt that we are stew/soup cooks, meaning that those are the kinds of dishes we gravitate to and feel most comfortable cooking. I like being able to throw a bunch of ingredients into one big pot and have the result be something hearty and filling. My favorite dishes to make are gumbo, chili, chicken soup, and quiche. My husband is definitely a saucier (French pronounciation, please!) who loves to make delicate, time-consuming and labor-intensive sauces to be ladled over something relatively simple like steamed lobster or grilled steak. Another friend excels at fancy salads of all kinds, my stepmom is a saute queen, and some people I know have the "baking gene."

What kind of cook are you? Have you ever thought about this? Let me know; I'm interested to see what most people like to cook!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Mmmmm, soup!

This recipe may be better suited for a fall or winter's evening, but I happened to make it tonight and it was so good I just had to share it. I had a bunch of things sitting around that I wanted to use up, and just kind of threw them all together to see how it would turn out. It's an absolutely delicious, soothing, rich soup. I love it.

1 13-oz pkg defrosted winter squash
1/2 onion, diced
2 or 3 cloves garlic, chopped
thyme (about 3 strands if using fresh)
1 pkg white mushrooms, chopped
1 tsp butter
olive oil
salt & pepper
3 tbsp heavy cream (plus a bit more)
about 1 cup chicken stock

First, saute the onion and garlic in butter, and a little oil to raise the smoke point. Salt to soften the onion faster. When onion is very soft and slightly golden, remove from heat and set aside. In the same pan, saute the mushrooms with a tiny bit more olive oil and the thyme. Salt and pepper liberally.

When the mushrooms have cooked down and are quite soft, transfer to food processor, add the onion mixture, the squash, about 1/2 cup chicken stock, and about 3 tbsp cream. Puree for about a minute, then add more stock and cream to get a thick, creamy soup. It should not take more than another 1/2 cup of stock, and perhaps another 2 tbsp cream.

When pureed to your liking, pour soup into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Immediately turn down the heat and simmer about 5 minutes.

I would serve this with roast chicken and an endive/fennel/blue cheese salad.

Grouse of the Day: Wine Snobbery

There is a very nice wine and spirits shop around the corner from my apartment I frequent mainly because of its proximity, but also because their wine selection and prices are pretty good for a medium sized neighborhood shop. However, the owner of the store is never especially friendly, doesn't remember me even though I shop there regularly, and when I mention that I heard about a cheap wine that gets good ratings (for example, a $7 Barefoot chardonnay that got an 85 in Wine Spectator) he not only expresses minimal interest, but also makes me feel that I must have an amateur palate if I am tasting $7 bottles of wine.

What a snob! Perhaps if I were regularly dropping over $40 per bottle he would remember me, but that's not fair. Most of the people in Park Slope are interested in wine, and I'd venture to guess that a bargain white would warrant at least a taste-test bottle for them as well. I have decided to boycott this shop. There is another shop a bit farther down 7th Avenue called Shawn Liquors (even its name is auspicious!) that is smaller, but everyone who works there, including the blue-haired chick at the register, is very friendly and helpful. They will get my business from now on, dammit.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Frozen Fruit Rules

I know you're probably all getting your panties in a knot already at the thought of frozen fruit at the height of summer. BUT. When you have a toddler whose palate preferences change as frequently as the wind, it's so much more convenient to have fruit you can store for more than two or three days than have to worry it will sit in the fridge and rot if it isn't eaten immediately.

We made pancakes this morning with frozen blueberries, and they were great. My husband made a quick compote of blueberries and strawberries simply by heating and slightly mashing them, and adding the barest sprinkling of sugar. The other day, I took a small handful of frozen strawberries and put them in a Ziploc bag in the baby's lunch sac. By the time she wanted them, they were thawed and soft. She gobbled them down without a second thought. Perfect!

Plus, if you feel like a super-quick dessert, you can thaw one 12 or 16 ounce package of berries in the microwave (or in the fridge overnight), throw them in an oven-proof pan and top with a basic crumble mixture:

1/3 cup softened butter
1/2 cup flour
2/3 cup rolled oats
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup crushed nuts (pecans, macadamias, walnuts, almonds, etc)

Mix all these ingredients with a fork, and sprinkle evenly over the berries. Bake in a 350 oven for about 25-30 minutes. Easy-peasy.

Friday, July 25, 2008

NEW ITEM: Grouse of the Day

Those of you who know me well are intimately acquainted with my preferred method of blowing off steam: the fine art of bitching and moaning. I have decided to officially catalog my bitching so that everyone can see what irks me (helpful, eh?). Today's grouse is this:

I really really hate not having a dishwasher. Sometimes I just want to throw the plates out the kitchen window just so I won't have to wash them. The next apartment we move into MUST have a dishwasher, or else I'm going on strike.

So there!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Poor Little Vegetarian Girl

So there was this blog entry on the New York Times the other day written by a college student who is taking her junior year abroad in Paris. Lucky duck! I wish I'd done that. She explains that she has been a lacto-ovo vegetarian from the age of 8 for ethical reasons. She goes on to say that while in Paris, she has learned that due to the strong adherence to tradition in France, French livestock are slaughtered humanely, do not spend their short lives trapped in miserable feedlots, and aren't treated abominably as they are on giant American industrial farms. So she decided to try eating some flesh.

What shocked me was not that she started eating meat, it was not her ultimate return to vegetarianism, and it was not even the fact that someone's meat vacation was considered newsworthy. It was the vitriol spewing from people leaving comments on her blog! My god, people, don't you have anything better to do than castigate some woman who is simply reconsidering a decision she had made 12 years ago? Don't you ever change your minds?

At one point in her post, the author says, “meat-eating facilitates a sense of connection with other people that tempeh just doesn’t. Taking the life of an animal for food is a morbid, ironic affirmation that we are alive.” This makes sense to me, and I do like to eat meat. I have never gotten excited or nostalgic about a slab of tempeh the way I (and plenty of my friends) will wax rhapsodic over delicate lobster tail dripping with melted butter, a hamburger oozing melty cheddar, or a tender, rare steak. And it's simply the truth that as omnivores, in order to live we must kill. That is by definition a morbid irony. Life = death. Get it?

However, one loser said in response to this that he "cannot express how deeply I disagree with both these statements, and how profoundly offensive I find them." This you find offensive? Wow. I guess you live in a large community of people who have tempeh traditions (where DO you live?), and are incapable of seeing irony. Maybe you should get out more. Or get therapy.

Nonetheless, I found her blog post to be entertaining and, shall we say, food for thought.

Purists Will Hate It

There is nothing easier to make, more nutritious and filling, or comforting and tastier than hummus. I dislike the taste of tahini, however, so I substitute mild nuts such as walnuts or pecans. The result is a creamier-tasting, slightly sweet hummus that doesn't overwhelm the palate. Here is my way of making it:

about 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans
1 can chick peas, drained
about 1/3 cup really good olive oil, more if you want a smoother spread
4-6 cloves garlic, plus a drizzle of olive oil over them
+/- 1 tbsp cumin powder
+/- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2-4 teaspoons LIME juice (not lemon), depending on how tart you like it
salt & pepper to taste

First, peel and roughly chop the garlic. Place in a ramekin or other small, oven-safe vessel, drizzle with olive oil, and bake at 350 for about 45 minutes. You can also put them in the toaster oven on broil, covered, for about 25 minutes.

While garlic is roasting, grind nuts in food processor with a bit of the olive oil to form a grainy paste. Add cumin, cayenne, and lime juice. Add chick peas. When garlic is done roasting, throw that in too. Process while slowly pouring in the olive oil until you have the consistency you like. Add salt and pepper as you see fit. Serve with pita, toasted bagel chips, or make into a sandwich with cucumber, tomato, feta, and grilled chicken. Delish!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I am obsessed with green amethyst. I desperately want a large (I mean LARGE) green amethyst solitaire ring with side accent stones set in yellow gold for my birthday. A square or rectangle cut stone with some interesting swirly gold, something maybe vintagey looking. Or maybe a severe, architectural design with modern angles and arty etching in surprising places.

Ring size 7 will do nicely. Hint, hint.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dinner for Picky Kids

I was babysitting a couple of kids yesterday while their mom had a late doctor's appointment, and I needed to make them dinner. These kids are picky (although their mom SWEARS they will eat anything, every time I try to feed them, they don't like it!), so I was a bit anxious about what to make them. In the end, we made roll-your-own burritos. SO EASY. Here's what I did:

1 package of tortillas (the large ones)
2 packages of shredded jack or Mexican Mix cheeses
2 cans of refried beans
1-1/2 cups cooked white rice
1 jar salsa
1 package of chicken breast, thinly sliced
spray oil
sour cream or plain yogurt
shredded lettuce
chopped tomatoes
chopped avocado

First, cook the rice according to package directions. While it's simmering, cook chicken breast in a hot grill pan with the spray oil. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil (you don't want it to be "slimy"!). Cut chicken into small (1/2 inch square) pieces, and place in a serving bowl. Dump refried beans into serving bowl and microwave till hot. Stir through.

Place 1 tortilla on a plate. Sprinkle with shredded cheese. Microwave on high for 45 seconds, or long enough for cheese to melt.

Set table in an assembly line: plates with cheesy tortillas, rice, beans, chicken, chopped veggies, sour cream/yogurt, salsa. Have kids place fillings in center of tortilla (not all over) so the tortilla can be rolled up and the melted cheese "seals" it shut.

If you want to make it more flavorful for an adult palate, season the chicken with chili powder, cayenne, and cumin before grilling, and cook the rice in a chicken or veggie stock. Mash the avocado with diced tomato and onion, season with lime juice and coarse sea salt to make it into guacamole.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Anchovy Crostini

OK, so we had half a container of that tofu-based, creamy spinach spread left over from dinner the other night. I had been wondering how to use it (it doesn't taste good enough to me to spread on a bagel), when I came up with this:

lightly toasted slices of baguette - served warm
smear generously with the tofu florentine - cold
top with one or two alici fillets - cold

Alici is Italian for anchovy, and I was surprised when I looked this up on Wikipedia because I had thought that they were sardines. The ones I bought at Blue Apron on Union St. in Park Slope are already boned, and cured in a light, lemony olive oil. Slightly tart, slightly salty, they counter well the bland creaminess of the tofu. Just delicious.

I recommend a Sterling Vineyards chardonnay to drink with it. Yum!

Um, oops...

We had our neighbors over for dinner last night, and I was excited. I am primarily friends with the woman, whom I'll call Jane. She is currently a stay-at-home mom who is taking a break from a career in architecture, and is very smart, laid-back, and funny. She isn't obsessed, as many moms are, with the minutia of her son's life: she doesn't regale me with anecdotes about his feeding or bowel movements, doesn't want to compare diaper rash cream or trade pregnancy and nursing stories. It's a relief! We chat at length when we run into each other in the laundry room, gab on the phone fairly frequently, and have made many plans to go out for strolls together, plans which are always cancelled due to our kids' erratic nap schedules. I have only barely met her husband "Dave," but he seems pleasant and nice. Their son is a cute 7 month old who is cheerful and bouncy, a good playmate for my 15 month old curious and social daughter. I wanted to get to know them as a family, so last week I invited them all over for dinner.

I made the easiest thing I could think of, because it was a mid-week meal -- marinated flank steak with rice and a cold chopped salad. It takes about 20 minutes total to prep, 10 minutes to cook, and is a perennial crowd pleaser. Jane and Dave brought wine and dessert. Everyone sat down and talked comfortably together while the babies played on the floor, and my husband more or less held up our side of the conversation while I buzzed back and forth between the living room and kitchen, bringing out the cheese and bread, opening the wine, etc. It's the sacrifice a host must make, missing out on much of the conversation in favor of making sure the plates get to the table, I suppose. At any rate, I entirely missed the part where Dave explained what he did for a living, but I figured my husband would catch me up on everything when the night was over.

When we sat down to dinner, the conversation turned to our children's eating habits and food preferences, and how they relate to parental eating. We joked about their son becoming a vegan, and how horrible that would be, since both Jane and Dave are enthusiastic (though quite slim!) omnivores who eagerly took second helpings of my steak. I then upped the ante by saying, "which would be worse, your son becoming a vegan or a Republican?" Jane hesitated, and said, "well, I really love meat, so..." I continued on to say something else vague about how awful I think Republicans are, along the lines of vegans only restricting themselves while Republicans stick their noses into everyone else's lives and ruin it for everyone. There was some hemming hawing, mostly about how delicious meat is, and then my husband turned the conversation more fully onto food, expounding on various meats and fish he loves and would not want to give up.

Later, after a lovely, creamy pannacotta and offers to help us clean up, they took their son home to bed, and my husband and I sat down to digest and procrastinate. He gently poked me in the ribs and said, "Nice one about Republicans." I was mystified and gave him a confused look. He explained: "Dave went to a famously conservative college, and works for a major financial firm managing really rich people's money. Do you think he might be a Republican?"

Oh shit...

I really hope that I didn't offend them. I don't think that all Republicans are evil, just the ones who run for political office. In fact, in my experience, most people I know who claim to be Republicans are embarrassed by their party's leaders, and since New York is so liberal, I tend to assume that most people feel similarly to me about the Republican party.

But I guess that's why they say Never assume. It makes an ass our of you and me. I guess I'll find out if they hate me if Jane starts ignoring my calls!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Veganism, Mangoes, and a Truce

I recently offered to cook a meal for a dear friend of mine who recently lost her mind and gave up ALL animal products. She has been vegetarian for years, and I have many other friends who are also vegetarians -- indeed, for a few self-righteous years in college I myself was a strict vegetarian. Now, however, she is vegan, and that posed a serious challenge to me as a cook. I understand the ethical and moral issues behind the decision to give up meat, fish and poultry. I see the hypocracy inherent in many people's "don't kill the cute animals, but gimme a steak" version of animal rights. I agree with the reasoning behind avoiding the consumption of creatures that have been depleted to near-extinction, and/or whose acquisition harms the planet. I am horrified by the beef industry's inhumane and unsanitary killing practices, and am pained at the idea of debeaked chickens. I am waiting breathlessly for someone to invent in vitro fur so I can finally wear a gorgeous coat without being responsible for the death of many furry beasts. I get it; I get it!

However, anyone who knows me is aware of my burning antipathy for vegans (no bacon I can understand, but no eggs? no butter? no CHEESE? what a pain in the ass! how inconvenient for everyone else! what disappointing baked goods!) and can understand the trepidation with which I approached my culinary hurdle. Initially I thought, "shit, I've got to make tofu and veggies over pasta or rice; how boring." I turned to The Artful Vegan, the cookbook from the famed Millennium restaurant in San Francisco, and discarded it based on the intricacy of the recipes and the amount of time each would take. I leafed through several Indian and Thai cookbooks and drew the same conclusion: buying all the necessary ingredients that I don't have on hand would put me in the poorhouse. I made a mental run-through of all the recipes I know by heart, pondering what proteins I could omit or substitute with tofu or beans, and rejected all possibilities as dull or yucky. Finally I checked in with an old friend: Molly Katzen. Her Moosewood Cookbook is one that I've had since college (and those bygone veggie days), and it has always served me well. The recipes are simple, rich, and delicious. She includes handy notes about prep and cooking times, and also cute little drawings of what the food should approximately look like.

She offered a colorful little salad composed of cucumber, mango, and red bell pepper seasoned with lemon and lime juices, a little brown sugar (unnecessary, in my opinion), and garnished with plenty of chopped cilantro. It was divine! A perfect cold summer salad. But there was still no protein for this meal. I figured I would make my old standby: lightly sauteed chopped veggies and tofu with a sauce of almond butter, coconut milk and soy sauce over soba noodles. It's tasty, easy, time-consuming (all the chopping), and I'm kind of tired of it. But it works.

Then my husband made me leave the house. It was a good idea, but I needed my coffee. He took me to Ozzie's, a coffee shop on our corner that serves iced hazelnut coffee and they don't charge extra for soy milk (see? I don't always drink cowmilk!). He walked me to the park to watch our pugs frolic with other leashless doggies. Finally, we all headed over to the greenmarket at Grand Army Plaza here in Park Slope in hopes of finding inspiration. The bok choy was wormy, the baked goods looked a bit soggy in the muggy weather, and the berries were totally overpriced (we bought some blueberries anyway). However, we did chance upon squash blossoms, which I have had only rarely, and view as a somewhat flavorless but visually appealing oddity. My husband, however, grew up in the Bay area with a father whose idol was Julia Child; he snapped up a large box of the blooms with alacrity and proclaimed, "here's our main course." I looked at him dubiously, but as I am used to indulging him, I said nothing.

He then dropped me and the baby off at home for naps (thank god for air conditioning) and headed back out to the local bodegas. He returned with some lovely, bell shaped pink flowers for me, and a creamy tofu-based spinach-herb spread that tasted a bit like those sour cream-based dips you use for crudite platters, but was thick like cream cheese. I was surprised -- most tofu based faux cheese products taste rather plastic-y or have a weird slimy texture, but this was pretty good. He said that he was planning to stuff the blossoms with the spread, batter them, and then fry them, based on a chevre stuffing and egg batter recipe that his dad had made years ago. I wouldn't have been fooled in a blind tasting, but I figured that as an ingredient in a bigger dish rather than the main flavor, it would be quite nice. After a brief cool-down in front of the a/c, we threw a bottle of chardonnay into the fridge and got to work.

My hubby made a light batter of rice flour, wheat flour, and club soda with which he coated the tofu spread-stuffed squash blossoms, and deep fried them in veggie oil. We laid several fritters on top of homemade bruschetta: lightly toasted sourdough bread rubbed with raw garlic, and heaped with diced tomato, onion, garlic, and basil tossed in a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with coarse sea salt. Served with the bright orange, red, and green salad and a deep glass of chilled chard, we feasted until we were stuffed. My vegan friend was impressed, I was relieved, and all three of us were thrilled by the gooey-inside, crispy-outside squash blossoms. If only all vegan fare were this exciting, fresh, and tasty, I might even consider ditching cheese myself....