Friday, December 19, 2008

Mushroom-Barley Soup with Kale

This is what you need for those between-party days during the holiday season. These are days when your meals are not comprised of hors d'oeuvres, cocktails and cookies. No, these are the days when you have the luxury of cooking a simple, healthy homemade meal to get your body rested and ready for the next festivity.

The kale gets a head start in the pot before quick-cooking barley is added. In the meantime, I saute a whole lot of mushrooms and add them to the soup at the very end. This helps maintain their texture and flavor--mushrooms really don't benefit from being simmered for any length of time. It's as simple as that.

And just in case you are on the Christmas-Cookie Diet, there was a great article in the New York Times on Wednesday about how to handle your butter for better baking. There are some great tips, so check it out!

Mushroom-Barley Soup with Kale
You could certainly throw in meat or beans to add some protein. Try chicken or crumbled turkey sausage.

Serves 4

2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
1 onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Pinch of chili flakes, or to taste
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2 cups water
12 oz. chopped kale
1 heaping cup quick-cooking barley
8 oz. white mushrooms, sliced
8 oz. portobello caps, sliced and chopped into bite-size pieces
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil on medium-high. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until tender and browned. Add garlic and chili flakes and cook 1 minute.

Add the broth and water. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and add the kale. Cover and simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the barley, cover and cook 15 minutes or until barley is tender. (If the package directions call for a longer or shorter cooking time for your barley, adjust accordingly.)

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook until they release their liquid, stirring often. Raise the heat to high and continue cooking until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are tender and lightly browned. When barley is finished cooking, add the mushrooms. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Gifts for Foodies

I heard that today could be the biggest online shopping day of the season. If you're still looking for gifts for your favorite foodie friends, I have some ideas. Everyone loves books, so I've suggested three of my recent favorites. Plus, there are some cool kitchen goodies and eclectic eats. And if you're thinking this is the year for homemade gifts, you'll find my picks at the very end. Happy gifting!


The Art & Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet, $32.00. This weighty, impressive book with plenty of full-color photos will delight your favorite baker. It's a well-rounded, comprehensive reference, and it's full of tips revealing "what the pros know." With plenty of sweet and savory recipes, it's a great collection. Get a taste of Mushet's familiar-with-a-twist style with this recipe for Butterscotch Pie on Gourmet.com.


The Spice Merchant's Daughter by Christina Arokiasamy, $19.77. Quite the opposite of the previous book, this is a small little jewel full of specialized recipes. Arokiasamy's mother ran a spice shop in Kuala Lumpur, and she weaves her stories in with her recipes with are tailored for American home cooks. A great gift for the cook who loves to dive into a particular cuisine and explore it in depth.


Fat by Jennifer Mclagan. $21.45. What a great idea...Mclagan tells us everything we ever wanted to know about fat, including how to exploit all its unique properties for our culinary enjoyment. There are tons of great recipes, from pâté (pork fat) to shortbread (butter). This is a book any cook, short of the truly fat-phobic, can enjoy. To learn more, read this interview with the author by fabulous food writer, Monica Bhide, on Salon.com.


File Folder Chopping Boards, $85.00. These are pricy, but I think the design is so cool!



Cuisinart Handheld Blender, $49.99. The kind of gadget you don't know you need until someone gives it to you as a holiday gift. It is so nice for pureeing soups--no more transferring to your blender in batches. And this model comes with a mini chopper--bonus!


Nigella Lawson Salt Pig, $16.95. I received this from my lovely husband last Christmas. I have no idea why it's called a "pig," but it's so cute, stylish and useful!


Rose Petal Preserves, $6.99. I love rose petal preserves, jams and jellies. They are popular in France, the Middle East, Greece and more, I'm sure. Unfortunately, they're tough to find in the United States. Definitely a fun stocking stuffer for foodies who always want to try new tastes.



Mustapha's Moroccan Harissa, $7.99. For heat lovers! A dollop of this spiced chile sauce can perk up tagines, roasted lamb, flatbread, and plenty of non-Moroccan dishes too.



Koeze Cream Nut Peanut Butter, $8.50. Sold through fab specialty foods retailer, Zingerman's, this natural, artisan peanut butter is described as "velvety" and "intense." I'd wrap it up with some of your favorite chocolate bars for a sort of d.i.y. chocolate-peanut butter experience.

Make it Homemade:

These chocolate capuccino cookies with cinnamon chips are my new favorite easy drop cookie since making them a couple weeks ago. Big shout out to Cookie Madness--these are keepers!

Russian Tea Cakes, Pecan Crescents, Mexican Wedding Cakes...I call my version of these easy, soft, buttery cookies Pecan Balls. They freeze well and are sturdy enough for gifting.

Spiced nuts are such a simple idea, it doesn't seem like they could be so addictively good. Make a few batches and package them in mason jars with pretty ribbons and you'll have a gift that will be well-appreciated.

Spritz cookies! Do you have a cookie press? I just bought one and I'm going to use this recipe. Just think about how much better your homemade butter cookies will be than anything your friends and loved ones can buy. And so cute!

Bacon Brittle. Enough said. That link will take you to the recipe, and I wrote about it here.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Apple, Pomegranate and Honey Salad


Did I mention that I made two Thanksgiving dinners before Thanksgiving? If you've read the last few weeks' posts, you know that I wanted to try out new side dishes and roast my own turkey at home before I went to have the real holiday with my family in Connecticut.

So, instead of making a huge spread just for me and Mike at home, I had one meal consisting of turkey and a couple of other dishes, and another meal of substantial sides like cornbread-chorizo stuffing and this seasonal salad.

If a side salad requires any effort at all, I save it for a special occasion. Our stand-by everyday salad is just baby greens, red onions and diced tomatoes dressed with a splash of olive oil and either balsamic or lemon. This is definitely a bit more special. I think this would be a beautiful addition to a Hanukkah spread--I know honey and pomegranates often pop up on Jewish holiday menus. Replacing the apple with avocado would also play up the Hanukkah theme.

The honey dressing here adds a nice sweet note. I used raspberry vinegar, but if you only have red wine vinegar in your pantry (or Sherry vinegar), use that by all means. The type of lettuce you use is flexible too, although I wouldn't go with anything too peppery, like arugula. One thing you shouldn't substitute or skip is the fresh mint. I'm a fan of this herb in many dishes, but even a little bit adds a wonderful bright hit of flavor that complements the pomegranates and apples. Even if you don't make this part of a holiday meal, it's a great way to use in-season pomegranates in a tasty, healthy way.


Apple, Pomegranate and Honey Salad


Cut the pomegranate in half crosswise and submerge one half in a bowl of water while you remove the seeds by hand. The seeds will sink to the bottom so you can lift any flesh out of the bowl, then strain the seeds. This method also keeps the juice from staining your work surface.

Serves 4

For salad:
2 small heads Boston lettuce, or other mild-tasting lettuce, leaves separated and torn into bite-size pieces (about 6 cups leaves)
1 Fuji apple, thinly sliced
1/3 cup very thinly sliced red onion
1/2 pomegranate, seeded
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

For dressing:
2 tablespoons canola
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
1 tablespoons honey

In a large bowl, combine lettuce, about 3/4 of apple slices (save the rest for a snack), onion and pomegranate seeds. Combine all dressing ingredients in a small jar with a tight lid and shake well until emulsified. Drizzle about 3/4 of the dressing over salad and toss. Season with salt and pepper. Add additional dressing if necessary. Add the sunflower seeds and mint and toss again. Arrange salad on individual plates and serve.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Oat Bran-Banana Muffins with Raisins

Another Thanksgiving weekend is behind us. I hope yours was as much fun as mine! I got to spend it in Connecticut with a big bunch of family and tons of great food. The cranberry sauce with pears and ginger I posted last week turned out great. The pumpkin-cranberry bundt cake I made for the 2nd year running was also fantastic...it would be a good one throughout the holiday season.

Fortunately my holiday travel was a breeze, and I’m back in Fort Lauderdale. Besides going to the gym and doing laundry today, I haven’t done much. But I did make these muffins.

I planned it all out last week. You see, I spotted this recipe on Cheaty Kitchen when I was just clicking around some food blogs, and immediately realized it was the perfect answer to a problem. I had exactly 3 too-ripe-to-eat bananas, and as time passed I feared they would go to waste. When I realized I not only had the 3 bananas the muffins called for, but also every other ingredient, I got baking!

I liked them so much, I bought more bananas before I took off for the holiday so they would get nice and black while I was away. If you’re in the same boat after your Thanksgiving travels (or just bought too many bananas), give these a try. They’re really quick, so it’s no problem to do them in the morning. They are also very healthy, full of whole grains and no processed sugars. But don’t even worry about that—they’re just really tasty. The bananas and canola oil make them moist and the just-right level of sweetness comes from raisins and maple syrup. The whole grains make them hearty and dense. If you use non-dairy milk, they are vegan. If you’re feeling like me, a healthy homemade goodie should be just perfect right now.

Oat Bran-Banana Muffins with Raisins
Adapted from Cheaty Kitchen. Original recipe from Nutrilicious by Edith Rothschild

These are vegan if you use soy, rice or almond milk. Once these muffins are completely cool, they freeze very well. Defrost at room temperature for an hour and a half or so.

Makes 12 muffins

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup oat bran
2 Tbs. ground flax
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup raisins
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup milk (regular or soy)
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
sunflower seed, for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Fill a standard muffin pan with 12 paper liners, or coat with butter or cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oat bran, flax, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Stir in the raisins.

In another bowl, whisk together the bananas milk, canola oil and syrup. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until no more dry bits remain. Scoop batter into the muffin pan, and sprinkle sunflower seeds over muffins. Bake 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean and sides of muffins are golden. Cool in pan for a few minutes, then transfer muffins to a rack and cool completely.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Green Beans with Meyer Lemon Sauce and Hazelnuts

Here is my final Thanksgiving side dish. I was floundering about how to prepare this vegetable side. I love to do green beans, or even Brussels sprouts, with Pancetta or bacon--it's a holiday, so bring on the pork, right? But, I also appreciate balance. I already had stuffing with chorizo sausage, so I though the vegetables should go in a different direction.

I didn't know what direction that should be, however, until we were wandering around the produce section of Whole Foods and found beautiful, reasonably priced Meyer lemons. I don't ever remember seeing them this early; their peak is January and February. Once they were in my hot little hand, I knew exactly what to do with the green beans.

This simple pan sauce doesn't involve any real tricks, just textbook flavor-building. You slowly saute a pile of shallots in butter, then add wine, lemon juice and your blanched green beans. I had hazelnuts on hand and they were very nice here, but you could easily go with almonds or pecans. If you aren't lucky enough to stumble on Meyer lemons this week, use regular lemon juice. Just taste and add a generous pinch of sugar if you think it's a little tart.

Before I come to the end, I must mention my turkey. Jennie-O sent me an "Oven Ready" homestyle turkey to try. I was excited by the prospect of fool-proof, perfectly moist and delicious turkey with practically zero effort. I love the fact that it was mess-free and virtually no-maintence, BUT it wasn't as fool-proof as I'd hoped... I roasted the turkey for less than the 3 1/2 hour cooking time required, and it came out on the dry side. I think it would have been done in about 2 hours and 45 at most. Lesson: Even fool-proof turkeys must be watched closely! Don't be lured into complacent turkey roasting like me! And use a meat thermometer...

Have a wonderful week and enjoy the holiday wherever it takes you. I'll be back after Turkey day.

Green Beans with Meyer Lemon and Hazelnuts

Toast the hazelnuts in a dry, heavy skillet on medium heat until golden brown.

Serves 4

1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts, toasted
1 pound green beans
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup sliced shallots
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup white wine
Juice of 1 Meyer lemon (or 3 tablespoons regular lemon juice)
Zest of 1 Meyer

Blanche the green beans: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the beans and boil 3 to 4 minutes, or until crisp-tender. Drain and immediately plunge beans into a bowl of ice water to stop cooking and retain color. Leave beans for a few minutes, drain and set aside.

Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet on medium-low. Add the shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook until very soft and golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add the lemon juice and simmer until reduce by about half. Add green beans and toss to coat with shallots and lemon sauce. Stir until heated through. Season with salt and pepper and add lemon zest. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts. Serve immediately or cover and reheat in microwave.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Silky Chestnut Soup

The next Thanksgiving recipe from last weekend's cooking extravaganza is this easy, healthy chestnut soup. I love chestnuts, and now that they are easy to find pre-roasted in jars, cans or vacuum packs, you can enjoy them without the doing the roasting yourself.

Several years ago, I got the notion to roast some fresh chestnuts and nearly blinded myself. I forgot to cut slits in the skin to let the air out, so the nuts exploded in my face when I took the baking sheet out of the oven. It was harrowing (and really funny, after the shock). Suffice it to say, I don't roast chestnuts anymore.

But I love them as much as ever. They go in one of my favorite stuffings and they are great with Brussels sprouts. A lot of recipes for chestnut soup use cream, but this one gets a silky texture simply from pureeing the chestnuts with onions, leeks and chicken broth. There are a few other ingredients but that's basically it.

We had a lot of ideas about how to play around with this soup. Instead of brandy, you could use sherry or fruit brandy. You could add milk to give it some creaminess and lighten the color. You could garnish it with creme fraiche (as much as I love using Greek yogurt as a garnish, the creme fraiche would be just right in this particular case). Speaking of garnish, the chopped chestnuts that turn crispy from a quick saute are delicious, so don't skip that step!

Silky Chestnut Soup
Adapted from this recipe by Alex Urena for Food & Wine magazine

Serves 4 as a first course

3 tablespoons canola oil
One 14-ounce vacuum-packed jar of cooked and peeled chestnuts (2 1/2 cups)
1 medium onion, minced
1 leek, white and tender green parts only, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 teaspoons honey
4 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth (or vegetable broth)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon Cognac or brandy
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add 7 of the chestnuts and cook until crisp and browned, stirring often. Remove from pan and cool. Finely chop and set aside.

Add the onion and leeks to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook until vegetables are tender and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the honey and stir well. Add the broth and remaining chestnuts, cover, and simmer 10 minutes.

Puree soup in a blender, working in batches. Taste for seasoning. May be covered and refrigerated at this point for 24 hours. To serve, return soup to the pot and reheat. Add the brandy or Cognac, and garnish with reserved chopped chestnuts and parsley.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cornbread-Chorizo Stuffing

I've talked about my love of cornbread many, many times, but this is my first ever cornbread stuffing. Why? Because all the recipes I came across seemed too rich, too bread-y, just too much. Then Mike put the idea for cornbread stuffing in my head last week, and a couple days later I saw this recipe in Gourmet.

This stuffing is straightforward, incredibly tasty and a lot less heavy (read loaded with butter) than most stuffing recipes of any kind. You absolutely need to make the homemade cornbread, which is a snap. It's also one of the nicest southern-style cornbreads I've tried.

My go-to skillet cornbread uses a combo of stone ground cornmeal and flour for a tender, not too crumbly texture. I had tried all-cornmeal versions, but they were just too quick to fall apart. In this recipe, an extra egg and plenty of buttermilk solves that problem, resulting in an all-cornmeal bread that you could eat on its own with butter.

So, my first cornbread stuffing was hugely successful, although I think it could be the centerpiece of a meal by itself--who needs turkey? Be sure to read the recipe headnote regarding chorizo. I would have just included links to the original recipes, but I liked these so much, I wanted to record them here for easy retrieval! One last tip: the leftovers were great with a fried runny egg.

Cornbread-Chorizo Stuffing
Adapted from Gourmet magazine, Nov. 08 (original)

The success of the stuffing utterly depends upon the homemade cornbread. Luckily, it’s easy and may be made a day or two ahead. Spanish chorizo is cured and ready to eat, as opposed to Mexican chorizo, which is fresh and must be cooked. Failing to find Spanish chorizo at our supermarket, we used Niman Ranch fully cooked chorizo from the refrigerator case. It’s not authentic to either country, but because it is such a lean, high quality product, it worked wonderfully—probably better than the real thing! If using a product like this, there’s no need to remove the casing.

Serves 6

Skillet cornbread (recipe follows)
1 Tbs. canola oil
5 oz. Spanish chorizo, casing removed and sausage chopped
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped (about 3 cups)
3 celery ribs, coarsely chopped (2 to 2 1/2 cups)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbs. chopped garlic
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and coat a 2 to 3-quart shallow baking dish with cooking spray. Cut the cornbread into approximately 1/2-inch pieces and spread them out in a single layer on 2 sheet pans with sides. Bake for about 20 minutes, or bread is dried out, switching positions of the pans and tossing the bread about halfway through. Cool and transfer to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add chorizo and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add onions and celery, season with salt and pepper, and continue cooking until vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and oregano and cook 2 minutes more. Add to cornbread.

Whisk together broth and egg, then pour over cornbread mixture and toss well. Transfer to baking dish. Coat a piece of foil with nonstick spray and cover baking dish tightly. Bake in upper third of oven for 1 hour. Remove foil and bake until top is golden, about 15 minutes more. Stuffing mixture may be prepared up to 1 day ahead; add broth and egg just before baking.

Skillet Cornbread
Adapted from Gourmet magazine (original)

If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, you can still make your own cornbread, but it won’t have the same crispy, browned edges. Just melt the butter in the microwave and bake the bread in a buttered pie plate.

1 1/2 cups stone ground yellow cornmeal, preferably medium-grind
1 tbs. sugar
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups cups well-shaken buttermilk (do not use powdered)
3 Tbs. unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and heat a 9- or 10-inch cast iron skillet in the oven for 10 minutes.

Whisk together the cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs and buttermilk.

Take the hot skillet out of the oven (careful, handle is HOT) and add the butter. Return to the oven until butter melts. It may brown a little, but watch closely so it doesn’t burn. Remove the skillet from the oven, swirl the skillet to coat the sides with butter, and pour the excess butter into the egg mixture. Whisk well.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and gently stir them just until combined. Pour into the hot skillet and return to the oven. Bake 20 to 24 minutes, or until light golden brown spots appear on top and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a rack, then remove cornbread from skillet.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cranberry Sauce with Pears and Ginger

I had a two-day Thanksgiving feast this past weekend. I'm going to celebrate the actual holiday in Connecticut with family, but since Thanksgiving food is so fun to cook (and eat), I like to do a meal for me and Mike. That way, I get to try out whatever recipes I want, and we get to have our own leftovers!

Of course, having this blog is also great motivation to do a Thanksgiving trial run. In the next week, I'll post all the recipes I tried this weekend. One fabulous cornbread stuffing recipe came straight from Gourmet magazine and another was an online find, but the rest are originals. Everything we made was delicious, and I'm glad I decided to go all-new, rather than repeating any old favorites (like this chestnut stuffing).


The first one I'm posting is this cranberry sauce that I put together after reading many other cranberry sauce recipes. None were quite what I wanted. This uses slightly less sugar than the norm, but it's not at all too tart. The sweetness gets balanced out by the savory flavors of diced jalapenos and garam masala. The prominent flavor of fresh ginger is fantastic and completes the slightly Indian vibe.

I'm not sure which recipe from the weekend is my favorite, but I have to say that we loved this cranberry sauce. It's my favorite ever. Mike said it was "really interesting," and he meant that as a big compliment--which I loved! It's also great on sandwiches or, honestly, just eaten with a spoon.

Cranberry Sauce with Pears and Ginger

The spice of the fresh ginger is the big flavor in this not too sweet cranberry sauce. If you don't like the taste of fresh ginger, use half the amount. Garam masala is a mild Indian spice blend that you can find at ethnic markets and large supermarkets; if yours is very fresh and potent, use the lower amount. This is a quick recipe, but it requires 3 hours of chilling time (you can always speed things up with the freezer though).

12 oz. fresh or frozen defrosted cranberries
1 large pear, cored and chopped into 1/3-inch pieces
1 Tbs. finely minced fresh ginger
2 small jalapeno chiles, seeded and finely diced
1/4 cup water
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1/2 lime (about 1 Tbs.)
1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 to 1 tsp. garam masala
1/4 tsp. salt

Add all ingredients to a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook 7 to 9 minutes, or until cranberries pop, pears soften and mixture thickens. Stir often to prevent sticking on the bottom of the pan. Transfer to a serving dish or storage container and chill uncovered for 3 hours. May be made up to 2 days ahead; cover after 3 hours. Serve chilled.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Quick and Easy: Spaghetti with Tuna-Tomato Sauce and Seared Scallops

I’m back from a long, fun weekend in New York City. We did tons of walking, including across the Brooklyn Bridge on a gorgeous sunny afternoon (needed to burn off those dim sum calories!). We also saw a well done exhibit at the Whitney museum on Alexander Calder, which I’d highly recommend.

I won’t bore you with more details, except for my three favorite food things on the trip:
1) duck prosciutto, and espresso-flavored Amber beer at Vintage Irving (plus a fantastic firm goat cheese). Sorry, that was 3 already.
2) Lamb with pita-yogurt sauce at Limon, the best Turkish restaurant ever (that it’s tiny, quiet and BYOB makes it even better).
3) Bacon-Caramel Pumpkin cupcake at Batch (and the lemon-yuzu was great too).
Oops, make that 4: fried baby artichokes at Morandi. No batter, no breadcrumbs, just lemon juice.

Now, it’s time to cook a few healthy meals after all that eating out, and gear up for Thanksgiving. This recipe accomplishes the first goal. It's so easy. Considering how tasty it is, the easiness defies logic. I was craving that fishy, salty je ne sais quoi flavor you get when you mash a few canned anchovies into your garlic when starting a sauce—the way you do for spaghetti Puttanesca. You’d never know it was anchovies, but the depth of flavor is wonderful.

Anyway, I didn’t want Puttanesca; I wanted something simpler. Then I though of just adding good, olive-oil packed tuna to prepared tomato sauce. I got exactly what I was hoping for. I enhanced the plain sauce with sautéed garlic, and added my tuna. It was the perfect amount of sauce to thoroughly coat the spaghetti without making a pool of watery red. Fresh flat-leaf parsley is mandatory for some herbal freshness, and that’s it.

You could eat the pasta just like that, but I latched onto the seafood theme and put fat, seared scallops on top. I love cooking scallops now that I know the secret to a good, golden sear: completely dry scallops (drain them, use a paper towel, do whatever it takes!) and plenty of oil in the pan. Unfortunately, you can't get a great look at the sear in that photo--Mike went crazy with the cheese! Restaurants probably use ample butter and/or oil to get that beautiful caramelization, but you really only need a couple tablespoons of fat unless you pan is enormous.

Now, I’m trying to decide what kind of Thanksgiving side dishes I want to try this weekend. Are you breaking with hallowed tradition and trying a new recipe this year? Is there something new that intrigues you? Let me know, and I’ll see if I can possibly work it in. I haven’t cracked open most of the November issues of all the food magazines, so I’m in for some fun research!

Spaghetti with Tuna-Tomato Sauce and Seared Scallops

The tuna makes this pasta a viable meal on its own, but it is also a really nice base for scallops, shrimp or steamed mussels. If the sea scallops at the market are really huge, you only need 3 per person; otherwise buy the greater amount. I can’t stress enough the two keys to golden, caramelized scallops: making sure they are completely dry and using enough fat in the pan. The sauce takes about 2 minutes to put together after you drain the pasta, so finish the scallops just before it’s time to drain the spaghetti. You can cover them with foil to keep warm, if you like.

Serves 4

For spaghetti:
3/4 lb. whole wheat spaghetti
Salt
1 Tbs. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1-8oz. can tomato sauce
1-5oz. can tuna in olive oil, gently drained
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

For scallops:
2 Tbs. olive oil
12 to 16 fresh sea scallops, thoroughly patted dry with paper towels
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, about 9 minutes. Drain in a colander and set aside. Reduce heat to low and add the oil to the same pot you cooked the spaghetti in. Add the garlic and cook until golden, stirring constantly. Add the tomato sauce and flake the tuna into the pot. Add the hot spaghetti and stir until nicely coated with sauce. Remove from heat and season with pepper. Serve with a handful of parsley and grated cheese.

While pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large, heavy (to maintain even heat) skillet on medium-high. Season one side of scallops with salt and pepper and place in skillet, seasoned side down. Sprinkle more salt and pepper over the unseasoned side and cook without moving the scallops until deep golden brown. Turn, and cook opposite sides until color is deep golden brown and scallops are just barely cooked through. They can be slightly pinkish in the center, but over cooking makes them rubbery. You can slice one to check until you get the hang of it. Serve over spaghetti.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Favorite Things: Blueberry-Cornmeal Pancakes

These are my favorite pancakes. While plain-jane buttermilk pancakes are okay, I really love them with just about any embellishment--fruit, whole grains, ricotta, citrus. But these are the absolute best. The recipe is simple, with buttermilk, stone ground cornmeal, whole wheat flour, lemon zest and a smattering of blueberries. Maple syrup is a must.

Like I said, this is a simple recipe. It's your basic buttermilk pancake formula, so to make sure they're as exceptional as they should be, use good stone ground cornmeal, like Bob's Red Mill. The medium grind is just right (this is the stuff I use for cornbread and biscuits, even cake, so buy a bag--it's versatile). Also use buttermilk rather than regular milk or milk soured with lemon juice. The buttermilk has a unique consistency and makes these pancakes, moist, tender and light, not heavy and dense.

Yet another great thing is that you can use frozen blueberries that have been thawed and patted dry. Of course you can use fresh ones too, but I love making these any time of year. Those are all the tips I can possibly offer--the rest is easy!

I did celebrate my birthday last weekend, by the way, but I decided to forgo a big, gooey cake and save myself for next weekend. We're going to celebrate my 30th with a little trip to New York City and do some serious festing. Skipping the cake worked out well because that left room for pancakes!


Cornmeal-Blueberry Pancakes
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated magazine
I prefer medium ground cornmeal for these pancakes. Whole wheat pastry flour helps with their light texture, but white whole wheat or all-purpose also work well. You can use fresh blueberries when they're in season.

Makes about 16 4-inch pancakes

2 cups frozen blueberries
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 cup stone ground cornmeal (132 g)
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (120 g)
2 Tbs. sugar or 3 packs Splenda
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 large egg
Zest of 1 small lemon
2 cups buttermilk
Cooking spray

Rinse the blueberries in a colander to help them thaw. Spread on a paper towel, pat dry, and set aside to finish drying.

Melt the butter and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, lemon zest and buttermilk. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Gently stir until moistened.

Preheat a large skillet on medium-low to medium heat. Coat generously with cooking spray. Pour 1/4-cup portions of batter into skillet, spreading slightly if needed. Dot pancakes with blueberries. Cook until bubbles begin to appear in batter and bottoms of pancakes are golden brown. Flip and cook until opposite sides are golden and pancakes are cooked through. Coat with additional cooking spray for each batch. Serve right away with maple syrup.

Monday, October 27, 2008

And the winner is...

Starre from Arizona! I only have time for a quick post today to announce the winner of the latest book giveaway. To enter the contest, I asked readers to leave a comment about what they like to eat for lunch, since I'm out of ideas for the midday meal.

The random number generator chose Starre to receive a copy of Mediterranean Fresh by Joyce Goldstein. Starre's lunch pick? An apple with peanut butter and some dates on the side. While I'm not a huge apple person, I love peanut butter, and I literally always have dates in my pantry--so she and I have some tastes in common.

Congrats, Starre! Send me an email and I'll have your book on its way.

So what's up next? I'm busy trying to figure out what kind of birthday cake/dessert I want for my birthday this week. If you have a fabulous suggestion, traditional or not, send it my way. When it comes to desserts, I am very good at crippling my decision-making abilities with far too many options!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

October Book Giveaway: Mediterranean Fresh


It's time to give away another book! As I write that, I realize my birthday is 1 week away. Turning 30 is...fine. I'm actually too busy to get philosophical about it. The closest I've come to deep thoughts on aging is carefully conducted research into my skin care options. Which is kind of fun.

Last week, a clerk at the grocery store gave me what I can only describe as a verbal sneer as she demanded my I.D. for a wine purchase. Like she was disgusted by this 14 year old in front her trying to buy alcohol. When she saw my driver's license, she apologized and went on and on about how I look young for my age (but not young enough to be sneered at, seriously). She may have been a little wacky--or rude, if you want to get technical--but I'll take it:)

Now about this book: Joyce Goldstein's Mediterranean Fresh: A compendium of one-plate salad meals and mix-and-match dressings --pausing to catch my breath-- has a long subtitle. But, it only sort of sums up the recipes. If you think a book of salad recipes would get old, you'd be right. Luckily, this book uses the most expansive definition of "salad" available. It encompasses salads like Baba Ganoush (the Middle Eastern eggplant puree), shredded carrot salad with citrus dressing, lentil salad with chorizo, and collard green salad with yogurt dressing.

These salads could be mains, sides or appetizers. Some are meatless, some aren't. Roughly the first two-thirds of the book is composed of the salad recipes divided into various categories. The remainder is a collection of dressings that will delight anyone who prefers their food with something drizzled on top. I like how she points out that some dressings double as dips and some start out as something else entirely--think pesto, tapenade, harissa. These three examples are actually sauces or spreads that may be converted into dressings.

As before, I'll be giving this book away through a random drawing. Here's how you enter:

1) Leave a comment telling me what you typically have for lunch on a workday. I have been so tired of lunch lately, and I want to know what other people do. Yesterday I had one and a half pieces of whole grain toast with butter, cottage cheese and black pepper. Sounds weird, really tasty. But not much of a lunch.

2) Tell me your first name and your city. You must be located in the continental U.S. to win. Sorry, snail mail is pricey!

3) Leave your comment by Sunday, October 26, at 6 pm eastern time. The winner will be selected at random and posted by Monday, so check back to find out if it's you! Then email me your address so I can send your prize.

A copy of Mediterranean Fresh was generously provided by the publisher, W.W. Norton.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Popovers

If you've never had straight out of the oven popovers, you don't know what you're missing. With just eggs, milk, flour, salt and butter, you get big puffs with a crisp exterior and an airy center. Actually, if they work out for you, there isn't much substance in the center--just thinly stretched pieces of the eggy, cream puff-like dough. If you've had gougeres, that's probably the best comparison, but these are airier, thanks to that popping effect.

I used to make them according to a recipe in King Arthur Flour's Baking Companion, which calls for mixing in a blender. This is easy for sure, but the King Arthur bakers recently re-jiggered their recipe and discovered that whisking the batter by hand makes the puffiest popovers. I came across the King Arthur blog describing the results a few days after Mike and I screwed up a batch of popovers by inaccurately halving it and ended up with leaden shells rather than light, crisp puffs.

It was total serendipity that I came across the King Arthur blog on the topic, and we tried them again the next weekend, this time with the correct measurements and the whisking method. Perfect popovers! The picture above looks just like the ones on their blog, where you can see the difference in puffiness with 3 different methods.

But aside from all the little details of my popover adventures, I just want to make one thing clear--you have to try these sometime! Sure you could make homemade dinner rolls with yeast and hours of rising time and kneading and shaping. Or you could just whisk together 5 ingredients and get a really delicious accompaniment to your meal. I love these as a starch with steak and salad or fish and roasted veggies. And plan for 2 or 3 popovers per person--they are very easy to eat (with butter, naturally).

The only thing to consider is coordinating the rest of the meal so you don't have to open the oven more than once (quickly) while they cook. It helps the popovers reach their fullest potential. Otherwise, there aren't many simpler ways to make a dinner feel special. After all the great fall cooking ideas you guys suggested in the comments for my last giveaway, I figured I should contribute something too!

I'm linking to the popover recipe on King Arthur's website. I followed it as written, but was just a little heavy-handed with the salt--as I tend to be when baking. They specify King Arthur flour in the recipe, but I used another brand and it worked great (but I do generally recommend all the KA flours).

I'm going to do another cookbook giveaway this week, so stay tuned! Remember, you can always sign up to receive new post delivered to your email box, so you won't miss anything. Just type your email address in the box below my picture in the left sidebar.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Green Black Red Book Giveaway Winner!

Is everyone enjoying October, my favorite month? By the 67 comments in the last post on favorite fall dishes, it definitely sounds like you are! Thank you so much to everyone who left a comment to inspire me to get cooking!

I announced last week's book giveaway winner while watching the presidential debate (which was kind of a snooze, right?), and here I am again this week--except tonight, I'm going to vote! Did you know that anyone can vote by absentee ballot, whether you're away from your polling place on election day or not (at least you can in FL, and I think it's true in other states)? I requested my absentee ballot a few weeks ago, and now it's here and ready to go (it looks like a flashback to the SAT's, except with more folding involved).

I won't be traveling on election day, but I would like to miss out on the crowds, the waiting in line and the funny little curtained voting booths. It's definitely a bit of a thrill to vote in the traditional way, especially if it's your first time, but I'm over it. Requesting an absentee ballot from your supervisor of elections means you can vote at your leisure and not have to worry about being too busy on November 4. One more public service announcement: if you want to vote in person, many states offer early voting--even on weekends! So, there's no excuse not to cast your vote.

I'm officially done with my spiel and happy to say, we have a winner! By the grace of the random number generator, Lori from California--who blogs at The Recipe Girl-- wins a copy of Green Black Red, filled with fabulous ideas for cooking with grapes. Email me at aminglingoftastes @ gmail .com by Monday, and your book will be on the way.

I have another giveaway coming soon, since I've decided October is the month I'll give away as many free books as I can to you, my lovely readers. But, for my next post I actually have a recipe to write about. It feels very fall-ish, although I can eat this food anytime. Here's a hint: they blow up like balloons and are easy enough for the baking-impaired.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

October Book Giveaway: Green Black Red


Did you know that it's grape season? I didn't. Grapes are one of those fruits that always seem to be around. Like bananas. Even though apples are also available year round, most people associate them with fall, probably due to the popularity of apple pie and pick-your-own apple farms. But grapes don't really have an identifying season.

So, now that we know, we can make it a point to eat grapes when they're in season, and I have just the cookbook to help: Green Black Red: Recipes for cooking and enjoying California Grapes by Susan Volland. Most domestic grapes are indeed grown in California and are available July through December. In this very pretty book with lots of dreamy photos of grape-centric recipes, Volland provides ideas for drinks, appetizers, quick dishes, kid-friendly dishes and desserts. She also does a chapter of recipes for entertaining, and a chapter of "classic" recipes with a grape-y twist.

It's all very fresh, light, produce-focused food that has come to characterize California cuisine. I think Volland's green grape gazpacho looks lovely; the sauteed sweet potatoes with bacon, kale and grapes sounds like a perfect balance of good things; and her grape and Brie fritters are imaginative and casually elegant--very California.

What do you have to do to win? It's easy! But you must be located in the continental USA, so I can afford to mail your prize and still fund my Veuve Clicquot habit...kidding! Prosecco is much more affordable in these rough economic times. To enter the book giveaway follow these steps:

1) Leave a comment telling me your favorite fall dish made with seasonal produce, whether it's grapes, apples, cranberries, whatever. (I came up with this question for selfish reasons: I want to cook some new fall dishes and need inspiration!)

2) Tell me your name and where you live.

3) Leave your comment by Wednesday, October 15, at 8 pm eastern time. The winner will be selected at random and posted by Thursday, so check back to find out if it's you! Then email me your address so I can send your prize.

And remember, I'm giving away recently published cookbooks throughout October since it's my birthday month. So if you don't win this time, you'll have more chances to come. Good luck!

A copy of Green Black Red was generously provided by the the publisher, Chronicle Books.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

October is Book Giveaway Month! And the 1st winner is...

I love October. I think a lot of people do because of the beautiful fall weather, the chance to make soups and roasts, and the last moments of calm before the holiday season starts. I love it for those reasons too, but also because it's my birthday month.

After I posted the last book giveaway, it hit me that I should do this all month. My birthday's coming, so I'm going to give gifts to you. Sounds a little saccharine, I know, but I really do love October, and this just makes it more fun. I have a pile of recently released cookbooks that need to be reviewed, and I'll use the same method to give them away as I did for The Flavor Bible.

Speaking of which, the winner is Katelyn, who also blogs at Katelyn's Food! So send your mailing address to aminglingoftastes @ gmail .com (no spaces of course! just typed it that way to elude web crawlers) by Friday, and your book will be on the way. If anyone is curious, I used this random integer generator to choose the winner by assigning a number to each comment.

By the way, I absolutely loved reading everyone's tips and tricks for punching up flavor in your cooking. I learned a lot, and was impressed at the diversity of answers, from good old-fashioned salt and pepper, to pickle juice, to nutmeg in savory dishes. Check them out if you haven't yet.

Want to know what the next book giveaway will be? You'll have to wait for the next post. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up to receive new posts by email. Just use the box in the upper left sidebar, right below my glamour shot:) Your email address will never be shared or used for dubious purposes!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Book Giveaway: The Flavor Bible


There's nothing as sad as a dish that has no flavor. Well, pretty much all food has some flavor, but you know what I mean--big, bold, sometimes complex flavor that makes food tasty.

It seems that Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, the authors of The Flavor Bible, agree. Their new book is subtitled, "the essential guide to culinary creativity, based on the wisdom of America's most imaginative chefs." It's not a collection of recipes, but rather a tool to help you match, build and enhance flavor in anything you cook.

Two introductory chapters discuss the concepts and terms associated with taste and flavor, but the bulk of the book consists of charts. Nearly every food is represented and comes with a (sometimes long) list of ingredients or seasonings or cuisines that "work" with that particular food. On nearly every page, you'll also find musings, tips and advice from professional chefs, along with descriptions of dishes they serve at their restaurants highlighting that page's ingredient.

So, if you like the idea of a well-organized reference book applied to flavor, this is definitely for you. It seems like the kind of book you could flip open to any page and find some good ideas and inspiration. I particularly like the examples of chefs' dishes--definitely good creativity fodder!

So here's the deal: leave a comment telling me how you add flavor to your cooking, whether it's something you do when you make a favorite dish or a trick/ingredient you use to punch things up in general. Comment between now and Tuesday, October 7 at 8 PM eastern time, and make sure you leave your name (I don't need your full name, but "Sandra from Cleveland" is nicer that "baconlover34").

I'll draw a name at random on Tuesday night (While I'm watching the Presidential debate, naturally!) and announce the winner on the blog on by Wednesday. You'll have to check back next week, and if you're the winner just email me with your info by Friday, October 10. The only catch is that you must be located in the continental U.S. to win, since my postage budget isn't limitless. Sorry about that, international readers. Good luck!

A copy of The Flavor Bible was generously provided by the publisher, Little Brown & Co.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Food to the Rescue


In general, I think about food a lot. From what complicated recipe do I want to try this weekend, to what food and health trends would make good topics for a magazine article. All this thinking about food, and of course cooking it, tends to provide plenty of material for this blog.

In the past, I've had backlogs of recipes to post, but not now. Some reasons for that are summer travel and recipe development work for magazines that can't yet be shared with the world. But, one of the biggest reasons for the lack of blog material is that I've been really busy thinking about non-food related things lately. With presidential campaign mania and Wall Street insanity, how could I not be fretting about other things?

I've taken to spending my web-surfing time reading the New York Times - but the Politics and Opinion sections, rather than Dining & Wine. What the heck?! I've even been spending less times reading food blogs, and seeing all the numbers of unread posts on my feed reader going up each day makes me feel like I'll never catch up.

So, today I thought of a small, but possibly useful exercise to get food back on the brain. Here are the main things that have been consuming me lately and a corresponding food-related solution:

1) The national financial crisis - Cash is king so save money with budget-friendly meals like Smoky Lentils with Sweet Potatoes and Black-Eyed Pea Stew.

2) Splenda might be the antichrist (if a Sugar Association-funded study is to be believed) - Seriously, although actually food-related, this is not what I needed to see in the Times today. I love Splenda. Luuuuve it. It's not so hot for baking, but I've been dumping it in coffee, tea and oatmeal for years now. It can't be evil. But I am slightly more motivated to check out some of those supposedly more natural sweeteners I've heard about recently, like Sweet Leaf.

3) The Mediterranean diet is becoming obsolete in the Mediterranean - And according to the Times article, kids in Greece are eating mac n' cheese for dinner instead of grilled veggies and whole grain bread dripping with olive oil. Save one of the world's healthiest diets by serving Whole Wheat Spagetti with Swiss Chard, Red Onion and Pine Nuts.

4) Not doing enough blog care-taking - namely about keeping my recipe index up to date. It's so easy to do but I'm behind. You remember the recipe search feature, right? You can plug in a key work and/or search by course. Mike built it for me, and it's awesome! Solution: by the time you read this, it will be totally up to the minute!

4) And finally, The Big One - Who will win the smackdown on November 4 (you're registered, right?)? Will the next president fix health care, the economy and the housing market? Will moose replace turkey as the game meat of choice for a cherished American holiday? To remedy these fears, I won't wait till the holiday to support the Thanksgiving bird. I can make Turkey Lasagna with Eggplant and Spinach (seen above) or my Favorite Smoky Turkey Chili. And I'll be sure to enjoy them with a nice cold Sam Adams, one of favorite domestic beers, to dull my senses to the constant election media coverage.

So, are any other foodies out there finding it hard to focus lately? Has CNN replaced the food network as your must-see TV? And, like me, do you often turn to old favorites instead of trying new recipes when life gets crazy?

Monday, September 15, 2008

More Fig Recipes!

Since fig season is in full swing, I'm directing you to a story I wrote for National Public Radio online (npr.org), for their Kitchen Window Column. It's no secret that I LOVE fresh figs, so I was very happy to do a bit of research and write about them.

Of course, there are 3 brand new recipes that you'll only find on NPR, so head over for:
  • Fig and Chicken Kebabs with Rosemary
  • Fig and Wheatberry Salad
  • Fig Clafouti
All three are really simple, so they're a cinch to make, and the flavor of your fresh figs is the major focus. The kebabs are actually a take off on the nectarine kebabs I posted a few weeks ago, so try out this new variation. The clafouti is a really easy, yet prettily French, homestyle dessert you can make and eat anytime of day. It's often done with cherries or plums, but figs are a great new twist.

I also did a fun podcast to go along with the story, which you can download here.

What have you been doing with fresh figs this year? Leave a comment and let me know!


Monday, September 08, 2008

Quick Refrigerator Fig Jam

After I posted my last entry on Vietnamese Chicken and Cabbage Salad, I realized I did two cabbage recipes in a row. It's odd because the salad and the Cabbage-Radish Slaw are probably the only two cabbage recipes on the blog, if memory serves me.

And it's not as if we had a glut of cabbage and needed to find ways to use it. The back to back cabbage recipes were pure coincidence. But, I will admit that all this cabbage noshing has given me a greater appreciation for the vegetable. Try cooking it just like you would any hearty green, like kale or collards. I mixed some extra cabbage with some extra kale, blanched them, then sauteed the whole lot with garlic, soy sauce and fish sauce -- really tasty!

So, after that long introduction, I wanted to make sure to post a recipe that's totally unrelated to cabbage cuisine. I've done traditional canning before, which resulted in some delicious fig preserves, about two years ago. I almost did it again this year, but then I decided to make my life a lot simpler and go for quick and easy gratification.

Finding this recipe that Mark Bittman wrote for the New York Times a few years ago, got me motivated. That and a sale on figs at my supermarket. All you do is chop up your figs, add a little sugar and let the figs' own pectin work in your favor. The only difference between this quick jam and traditional preserves is that this one is fast to make, and should be consumed within about a week. One pound of figs will make about one and a half cups of jam. It's also a lot easier to get your hands on a pound of figs than on the four pounds or more you'd need to make the canning process worth it.

This makes a chunky jam that's great on bread or scones. You could also stir in some toasted nuts and serve it with cheese; add sauteed onions cooked with some red wine to create a sort of chutney for roasted pork or chicken; or spread it on a toasted prosciutto sandwich. Or eat it all by itself. If you've never made jam or preserves, this is the can't-possibly-be-easier method for you!

Quick Refrigerator Fig Jam
Adapted from Mark Bittman's recipe in The New York Times

Bittman gives a few good suggestions and variations in his story, plus recipes for other summer fruit, so give it a read. I used a mixture of Black Mission, Brown Turkey and Calimyrna figs for my jam. Use a single variety or any combination you want. While I hate to cook a perfect fig, jam is an ideal way to use fruit that may have been left on the tree too long, or not long enough.

Update: You can scale up this recipe easily. I made a version with all Calimyrna figs, which needed a longer cooking time to account for their firmer skin. If the pot gets too dry, add small amounts of water, and try covering the pot for a little while to soften the fruit.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 pound fresh figs, stemmed and chopped into sixths or eighths
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (optional)
1/8 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a small or medium saucepan (figs should come one to two inches up side of the pan). Bring to a simmer over low to medium-low heat. Stir often, until figs begin releasing juice, in order to avoid sticking on the bottom of the pan.

Adjust heat to maintain a simmer, using higher heat if fruit is very liquidy. Cook, stirring frequently, until jam is thickened, but still juicy, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool, transfer to jars or airtight containers, and refrigerate. Jam will thicken further as it chills. Keeps refrigerated at least one week.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Vietnamese Chicken and Cabbage Salad

This is it. A totally healthy, refreshing and easy end-of-the-summer meal.

Here's why: It's a crisp, clean and substantial salad; it involves one of those sweet-spicy-umami dressings that are a trademark of Vietnamese cooking; and it involves one super-simple cooking step (poaching some chicken), and a little chopping. And, technically, you could make it even easier by using purchased rotisserie chicken, or cooking yours ahead of time.

Whenever we want something different like this, one of our favorite sources of inspiration is a Williams Sonoma Southeast Asian cookbook. Sometimes we simplify the recipes or substitute for hard-to-find ingredients, but this one was pretty much good to go as is. You can't really ask for anything simpler than a big plate of crunchy salad to dig into with your chopsticks. Credit goes to Mike for picking it and doing all the cooking. I poured the sake--also a very important job.

Vietnamese Chicken and Cabbage Salad
Adapted from Williams Sonoma Savoring Southeast Asia by Joyce Jue

Most Serrano chiles aren't very hot, so we used the seeds and all. If you can get Thai chiles (or bird's eye chiles) and like heat, use those; jalapenos work too. You can chop an extra chile and pass at the table for the real heat lovers.

Serves 2 as a main course with leftovers (may be doubled)

For dressing:
2 Serrano chiles, minced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3 Tbs. lime juice
2 Tbs. fish sauce

For salad:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, poached and chopped
1/2 head cabbage, thinly sliced
1 carrot, shredded
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, julienned
3 Tbs. fresh cilantro, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup peanuts, chopped

To make the dressing, combine all ingredients in a small bowl and stir until sugar dissolves.

In a large bowl, combine chicken, cabbage, carrot, mint and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper (you shouldn't need more than a pinch of salt). Add about two-thirds of the dressing and toss. Add additional dressing as needed. Transfer salad to plates, sprinkle with peanuts and serve.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Chicken Tacos and Cabbage-Radish Slaw

My husband makes the best tacos. He's not opposed to a little chopping and marinating, making sure every component is tasty to create an excellent total package.

Speaking of tacos, have you seen the new flat-bottomed, "stand n' stuff" taco shells? They're ingenius, and I can't believed no one came up with this sooner (no one's paying me to say that). But Mike would never use those for his tacos. He does them south-of-the-border style, by which I mean Mexico, not Taco Bell. When you get an authentic Mexican street vendor taco, it's on a soft tortilla.

There's no recipe for our favorite chicken tacos because Mike does them a little differently every time. The main components are as follows:

1) Marinated, grilled chicken breasts (thanks, George Foreman grill)
2) Beans - Black beans with seasoning, or pintos simmered with a chunk of cheese and mashed
3) Salsa - This could be homemade pico de gallo, jarred salsa, or just some chopped up tomato
4) Something leafy - This is often julienned spinach leaves, but most recently Mike did a great spicy cabbage, radish and jalepeno coleslaw (see recipe below)
5) Something creamy (optional) - Good choices are avocado, cheese and sour cream; one or two of these is especially nice if you aren't doing coleslaw
6) Lime wedges - Squeeze over everything
7) Tortillas - I like corn, Mike likes flour; any size is fine

Spicy Cabbage-Radish Coleslaw
This is a smallish batch to generously feed about 3 people eating tacos. Double to serve more.

1/4 head cabbage, thinly sliced
4 to 5 radishes, halved and thinly sliced
2 jalapenos, cored and thinly sliced lengthwise
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (packed)
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine cabbage, radishes, jalapenos and cilantro in a plastic container with a lid or a large bowl. Add sour cream and vinegar, cover and shake vigorously to combine (or toss in bowl). Season to taste.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Blueberry-Peach Cobbler with Cornmeal Biscuits

This is exactly what you want to make this weekend, am I right? It seems to me that blueberries have been fantastic this year. In early summer, we got Florida and some North Carolina berries, which were great. Then, by early August, the stores were full of New Jersey berries, most of which have been excellent too. The past couple blueberry seasons seemed kind of short and disappointing, so I've been loving this year's crops.

Unlike my blueberry pie earlier in the season, a cobbler like this is hardly any work at all. If you're a biscuit person like me, the cobbler is your go-to dessert. Not excessively sweet, and wholesome in its own way, you shouldn't seek out an occasion to bake one. Double this recipe and use a 9 x 13 dish if you have a crowd, or make it as written for just two of you since it reheats fine.


If cobblers don't happen to be your bag, how about a (frankly fabulous-sounding) chiffon pie, tangy whole wheat pancakes, fresh blueberry scones, buttery blueberry crumb bars, or better-for-you muffins? And if those recipes from other wonderful bloggers aren't enough, check out the Sugar High Friday blog event round up here. The theme was berries! I totally missed this one, but there are about 85 tasty berry desserts from food bloggers for you to peruse. Enjoy!

Blueberry-Peach Cobbler with Cornmeal Biscuits

I combined and adapted two recipes from cooksillustrated.com to create this dish. Serve with whipped cream, ice cream or sweetened Greek yogurt. It makes a nice breakfast too.

Update: I've also made this using 1/2 cup of buttermilk in place of the yogurt. If you have fresh ginger, you can throw in about a tablespoon (finely chopped) with the fruit.

For fruit filling:
3 large firm-ripe peaches
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbs. cornstarch
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups fresh blueberries

For biscuits:
1 cup minus 3 Tbs. AP or white whole wheat flour
3 Tbs. cornmeal
3 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. sugar, divided
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled
1 (6-oz.) container flavored yogurt, such as honey, vanilla or lemon

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and place oven rack in lower middle position. Remove peach skin with a vegetable peeler, halve, pit and remove any dark flesh from pit area (If your peaches are on the soft side, it’s better to peel them by blanching instead). Cut each half into 4 to 6 wedges, toss with sugar in a large bowl and set aside for 30 minutes. Transfer peaches to a strainer set over a bowl and drain thoroughly. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup of drained peach juice (discard extra), cornstarch, lemon juice and salt. Toss with peach slices and blueberries and transfer to an 8 x 8 baking dish. Bake 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the biscuits: whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, lemon zest, baking soda and salt. Add chilled butter and work it into the flour mixture with your hands to create a loose, shaggy mixture. Fold in yogurt until flour is moistened (will still appear rather loose). With floured hands, form dough into 6 equal lumps. Arrange biscuit lumps on top of hot fruit, spacing them close together, but not touching, about 1/2-inch apart. Sprinkle remaining teaspoon of sugar over dough. Return to oven and bake 17 to 20 minutes, or until biscuits are lightly browned and cooked through. Cool on a rack for 20 minutes and serve warm.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Chicken and Nectarine Kabobs with Rosemary

I hope all my lovely readers are enjoying the summer! You may have noticed that I took a short, but much needed break from posting. I've been doing a ton of recipe development freelance work, but also just enjoying some time away. And no one wants me telling them to hang out in a hot kitchen right now anyway, right?!

I'm really happy to be posting today's recipe because it's something I've made for myself and others several times in the past month or so. It takes so little time to throw together; it serves one or many; and it can be done under a broiler or on your outdoor grill.

I absolutely love how summer stone fruits work here. Use semi-ripe peaches, nectarines or plums that are still rather firm. They should be a couple days away from ripe-enough-to-eat. When you skewer and blast them with heat, they become intensely sweet and syrupy. This is also a nice way to do boneless, skinless chicken breasts, which are not always the juiciest cuts of meat. Here, they stay quite tender, and one chicken breast yields two fruit-packed skewers. It's a very healthy, low-cal, low-carb meal that doesn't feel at all like you're skimping.

Chicken and Nectarine Kabobs with Rosemary
I can attest to the sweet, syrupy results you'll get with peaches and nectarines, but I think plums will work well too. I also rescued some not-so-soft figs with this recipe, so give that a try too! Multiply to serve as many as you want.

Serves 2

1 tablespoon olive oil plus a few drops
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar plus a few drops
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, divided
Pinch of dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into large chunks
2 firm nectarines, each cut into 8 chunks
Coarse salt

Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 1 1/2 tablespoons rosemary, thyme, a generous quantity of pepper and the chicken to a shallow bowl; toss to coat thoroughly. Add the nectarines to a smaller bowl; sprinkle with a few drops of oil and vinegar, the rest of the rosemary and pepper. Marinate at least 25 minutes.

Preheat broiler. Slide chicken and nectarines, alternating, on 4 metal skewers (or wooden skewers soaked for several hours), and place on a foil-lined baking sheet or broiler pan. Season with salt on both sides. Cook 5 minutes per side or until cooked through. Broilers can vary, so take into account how hot yours runs. You can also cook skewers on a grill. Let rest for a minute and serve.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Coconut Cake with 7-Minute Frosting

I've been wanting to make a coconut cake for Mike's birthday for a few years now. But in the recent past, he's asked for German chocolate and carrot cake. They both contain coconut, but that does not put them under the category of "coconut cake." Not even a little bit.

So this year, Mike said a straight-up coconut cake would do, and I knew exactly where to turn for a recipe. All I wanted was a great cake - light, moist texture; two layers; filling; and good frosting. With no designs whatsoever on reinventing the wheel, I knew I'd use a recipe I pulled out of Good Housekeeping magazine a few months ago. The issue had Paula Deen on the cover, and inside she was noshing merrily on this cake. If it was good enough for her, I figured I couldn't go wrong.

Then, the funniest thing happened. One of my regular blog reads, Cookie Madness, posted an easy coconut cake that was rated very highly by Anna, who I believe more than the things I read in Good Housekeeping (no offense to GH, but you know...). So I decided to make her recipe, which she sourced from recipezaar.com, instead. But, before I baked, I took a quick look at the Paula Deen recipe to see how they differed. Want to guess what happened? They were exactly the same. Now I had a cake with glowing endorsements from all fronts.

This is a great cake. It's easy. I will never tell you to crack your own coconut in the interest of purity, and neither does this recipe. Simple canned coconut milk flavors the cake. A tangy filling made from sour cream, sugar and shredded coconut adds an interesting tangy note. And finally, there's the 7-minute icing. This is an old recipe. I don't know its origins, but it's the one that's kind of like marshmallow fluff, only better. There's no butter - just sugar and egg whites - so it's not as dense with fat and calories as buttercream.

I followed Anna's version of the recipe, which she cut in half to fit 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Paula's version is for 3 (9-inch) pans, and I had no interest in having that much cake in my house (plus, I only have 2 cake pans). Here is Paula's full recipe on the Food Network site, if you do want that much cake (nothing wrong with that). And here's the 7-minute frosting.

As I said, Anna baked her cake in 2 8-inch pans, and that's the ideal size. I thought I could get away with my 2 9-inch pans and just have thinner layers. Once I made the batter, however, I knew it was not enough to respectably fill both pans (and I'd already buttered and floured them, darn it!). So, I just poured all the batter in one pan, baked a little longer and cut the cake in half horizontally with a large serrated knife. I had never performed this cake operation before, but it was wonderfully easy. Just like the rest of the cake.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Summer Squash

I wanted to post this last week, but the deadline fairy keeps visiting me. AND this past weekend was Mike's birthday, so fun took precedent over most things. There was cake, however. I'll tell you about that later.

For now, head over to NPR's Kitchen Window column and check out the article I wrote on summer squash. You'll also find my recipes for Warm Squash Salad with Mint, Whole Wheat Zucchini Pancakes, and Fettucine with Squash Ribbons. It's such an underrated, yet versatile veggie, and if you have a garden, you might just have a lot of it on your hands right now.

I also did a little video demonstrating a really fun way to do squash - peeling it into ribbons. The texture is great, and this technique lets you make a really easy and pretty salad or a unique pasta dish.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Cinnamon Chipotle Brownies

These brownies came from a line of three distinguished bakers. The original version is from Alice Medrich's book, Pure Dessert. Cheryl of 5-Second Rule made a cinnamon-white chocolate version, which Charmain of Christie's Corner turned into a chocolate-chipotle brownie.

I've been wanting to do a brownie with chipotle for awhile, and seeing Charmain's excellent recipe finally motivated me. Knowing it came from a chocolate expert like Medrich and got the thumbs up from two trusted blogging buddies-slash-food writers made me feel certain that I'd have great results. I kept Cheryl's cinnamon, left out Charmain's walnuts and got my ideal cinnamon-chipotle brownie. I cut out the seeds and ground up some whole dried chipotle peppers in a spice grinder. Their sweet, smoky flavor is a natural with cinnamon.

This is a simple brownie loaded with chocolate. I like that it doesn't go overboard on butter and sugar (it's not light by any means; just not overly heavy); rather it uses plenty of richly flavored bittersweet chocolate. You've heard this before, but I'll say it anyway--use the good stuff.

The texture is moist and fudgy. On first look, the brownies appeared dense, but they feel light on your tongue and, yes, they melt in your mouth. I still love my Guinness Brownies and these easy peanut butter brownies that get their chocolate punch from Dutch process cocoa, but this one is a bit more nuanced and adaptable, as you can play with different types of fine quality chocolate. It is going into my permanent repertoire.


Cinnamon Chipotle Brownies
Adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich
I used the 70% cocoa bars by Lindt. Use any good-quality chocolate you like, but I would recommend staying over 60% cocoa. Whether you grind the chipotle chiles yourself or use a powder, heat levels vary. Taste your chile powder and use more or less depending on your preference. If you use flaky sea salt or other coarse salt for baking, use the higher amount.

Makes 12 or 16 brownies

8 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons butter, cut into 12 pieces
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 x 8 baking dish with nonstick "release" foil or parchment paper (or use regular foil, then coat with cooking spray), letting at least 6 inches hang over two of the sides like handles.

Put chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on medium-low power 45 seconds. Stir and continue to microwave in 15-20 second intervals, stirring each time, just until chocolate is smooth; be careful not to over heat. You can do this in a double boiler if you prefer. Set aside to cool slightly.

Combine the flour, cinnamon, chile and salt in a bowl and whisk thoroughly. Set aside.

In another bowl, beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer on high speed until thick and light-colored, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the chocolate. Gently fold in the flour mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 30 to 35 minutes (mine took exactly 32) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with little or no chocolate; toothpick should come out clean when inserted near the edge.

Cool completely on a rack. To serve, use the foil handles to lift brownies out of pan. Cut into 12 or 16 pieces. Brownies freeze well.