Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas (or New Year's) Egg Bake

Who wants to spend Christmas morning making breakfast for a house full of people? Or for that matter, waking up after a night of ringing in the new year and putting together something to soothe your aching head? Usually after a night of a few too many cocktails (at least when I was able to drink!) we make a run to Panera to load up on bagels, eggs and pastries. Isn't it so much nicer to eat your own food? I am asking a lot of questions here, but the answers are simple. You don't want to cook after a night of wrapping presents. You don't want to cook after a night of drinking. And you DO want to eat a homemade breakfast!

This egg dish has been adapted over the years from a recipe my father-in-law gave me. When we would spend Christmas at his house this was always on the menu. When we started hosting Christmas at our house 4 years ago, I made sure to include this in our tradition, but changed up the original recipe. I think each year I make it, I do it differently. It is all about what ingredients you have around or suiting the tastes of your guests. My mother is a vegetarian, so every year I make two of these dishes. One full recipe that I include meat in, and one half recipe with just vegetables. I actually preferred the way my vegetarian version came out this year.

This recipe can be really really simple, or you can make it a bit more eleborate. All depends on how much time you have and how fancy you want to be. The options are endless on this all in one egg bake. Really any ingredient you would use to make an omelet with would work in this recipe. This recipe is a base for your own creativity!

Christmas Morning Egg Bake

serves 6-8

7 pieces white bread, torn into pieces (the original recipe has you remove the crust, but sometimes I just leave it on. I like it either way)
8 oz shredded cheese (the original recipe uses cheddar, I usually use "Fiesta blend" from Whole Foods for my Southwestern version, and for my veggie one this year I used crumbled feta)
6 extra large eggs
3 cups whole milk
1/2 tsp salt (or to taste. I like my food well seasoned, but it also depends on the salt level of your other ingredients)
1/4 tsp pepper
6 strips cooked and crumbled bacon (this is the original recipe... for my Southwestern version I use 1 1/2 links Spanish chorizo- chopped that I cook in a bit of olive oil along with a chopped red pepper, and a small diced onion until softened)

For the vegetarian version (remember, I did a half recipe) this year I added (in lieu of the bacon or chorizo, peppers and onion) 1/2 cup chopped sun roasted tomatoes (off the Whole Foods olive bar.. the BEST!), and about 1/2 cup+ of defrosted, drained, frozen spinach.

Butter a 9x13 baking dish
Toss bread pieces and cheese together in dish

In a large bowl, beat eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Add meat and/or vegetables to bread and cheese and toss lightly with your hands. Pour egg mixture over bread.

Cover and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, preheat the oven to 350.
Bake 55-60 minutes until dish is puffed and golden.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

'Tis the Season for all things baked!

There is something about the combination of cold weather and the smell of baked goods that gets me all excited. I usually avoid baking in the warmer months, then try and make up for it once the weather turns chilly. From Thanksgiving through the end of year I give myself a pass for baking whatever I want, regardless of the butter content of it. My excuse is that I'll give my creations away and all that butter won't end up on my hips. Most of it makes it out the door, but it is my duty to taste-test everything first, right?

I'm always looking for new things to try and have a bunch of blogs that I read for inspiration on a daily basis. Sometimes, recipes are found in less conventional spots, like the Today Show. A few weeks ago while at the gym (probably working off some other sugar laden masterpiece) I found myself glued to the Martha Stewart segment on Today. What drew my attention from my US Weekly, was her mention of the word "pumpkin." I LOVE pumpkin and anything that contains it or the flavor. Pumpkin Spice Lattes, pumpkin pancakes (my husband makes THE BEST!!), pumpkin ice cream (run to Whole Foods and get some!), pumpkin pie, and when Martha mentioned that she was making pumpkin donuts (!!!!!!) I was hooked. After watching the segment I realized that these are not your run of the mill donuts. Instead of them being plopped into a vat of hot oil, these are BAKED in muffin tins. No grease, no special equipment. Are you sold?

The other part of this recipe is that we found that they actually tasted better the next day. Thrown in the microwave for 22 seconds they bounced back to a nice donut consistency, and make the house smell delish. Oh, and they look really pretty sitting in a big bowl...maybe a holiday centerpiece??

Martha Stewart's Pumpkin Donut Muffins
makes 12 muffin donuts

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
3 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 1/4 cups pure pumpkin puree (from a 15-ounce can)
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs

3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 12 standard muffin cups.

Make batter: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and allspice. In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk and pumpkin puree. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down bowl as needed. With mixer on low, add flour mixture in three additions, alternating with two additions pumpkin mixture, and beat to combine.

Spoon 1/3 cup batter into each muffin cup and bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean, 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine granulated sugar and cinnamon. Let muffins cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Working with one at a time, remove muffins from pan, brush all over with butter, then toss to coat in sugar mixture. Let muffins cool completely on a wire rack. (Store in an airtight container...Martha says for up to one day, but we found they did great for a few, just needing a little warm up in the microwave)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding

What to do with a loaf of challah bread? If asked that question, the first two things that come to my head are french toast and bread pudding. Maybe I need to expand..but I am happy with these options since I don't tend to make them too too often. That was until this school year started... I now have a loaf of challah bread coming home with my son every three weeks from his school. Whew! Need to get creative here! So far I have only had one loaf to deal with and since I had company over for dinner the day I received my challah I decided to share (aka not get stuck with a loaf of bread to nosh on!).

Not everyone loves bread pudding. I happen to think it's pretty great. If you have a basic recipe for bread pudding you can pretty much add anything to it that you like. Nuts, fresh fruit, dried fruit, chocolate can all make a really delicious dessert. On this particular night I knew my guests were dark chocolate lovers so that's the route I went. I didn't need to look far for a recipe. I have watched enough Food Network to know that my girl, Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) has made a few bread puddings in her day. The recipe I based this one off of was for rum raisin, but I ended up transforming mine into a dark chocolate version. This recipe is just a jumping off point. You can add more chocolate than I did, use different bread ( I think Ina's recipe originally calls for croissants), or add some nuts to the mix. Whatever you fancy!

Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding
Serves 8-10

Adapted out of "The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook", Croissant bread pudding

3 extra-large eggs (Ina always uses extra-large eggs. So do I. I don't question greatness.)
8 extra-large egg yolks (after this rich dessert, won't it feel good to wake up in the morning and make yourself an egg-white omelet??)
5 cups half and half
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 loaf challah bread, sliced or cubed or torn
1 cup (or more) dark chocolate chips (I like Guittard's Extra Dark Chocolate Chips which are 63% cacao)

Preheat the oven to 350

Whisk together the eggs, half and half, sugar and vanilla. In a baking dish (about 2 1/2- 3 quarts or whatever will hold all the bread and liquid) place a layer of the bread, top with chocolate chips, then top with the rest of the bread. Pour the egg mixture over the bread and allow to soak in for at least 10 minutes (I let it sit for about an hour), pressing down to get the bread to absorb the liquid.

Place the pan in a larger one filled with about an inch of hot water. Cover the entire thing with aluminum foil, making sure that the foil doesn't touch the pudding. Cut a couple holes in the foil to allow steam to escape. Bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 40-45 minutes, until it is puffed and custard is set. Allow to cool a bit before serving. Really good with a little vanilla ice cream or whipped cream!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Easy Lunchtime Pizza

Who doesn't want an easy lunch option when they have been running around all day long? I get sick of sandwiches, and picking through the refrigerator isn't the most exciting option, unless you are able to turn random items into a masterpiece. This is what I do when I make pizza in my house. Dig though the produce and cheese drawers and create a delicious pie. Making pizza can be simple, though making the dough, and rolling it out can take a little more time than one wants when eating midday.

My inspiration for this quick pizza came from a bite that I had at our close friend's house last month, grilled figs wrapped with prosciutto and stuffed with fresh mozzarella. In my opinion, the flavors in this combination hit a home run. Sweet, salty, creamy. As I was eating this, I kept thinking how good all these items would taste on a pizza (this is what I do with almost everything I eat..anything can be turned into a pizza.) On my next trip to Whole Foods I stocked up on the ingredients, but instead of grabbing yeast to make the dough, I bought a package of naan. Naan is an South Asian flat bread, popular in countries like India and Pakistan, that mimics that of a thin crust pizza dough when cooked. And the fact that a piece of naan is the perfect size for a personal lunch-size pizza made it my choice on this shopping trip.

The longest part of this meal is preheating the oven. I like to cook my pizza at 500, so waiting for the oven to heat can take a while. I cook it so high because it keeps the ingredients from getting mushy and overcooked but makes the crust charred and crisp. Just the way I like it. If you would rather cook your pizza at a lower temperature, no problem, you'll just have to cook it longer so the overall time may end up being the same. Take my advice...wait for the oven!

Use this recipe as a starting off point for inspiration. You can make any pizza on one of these little naans... even following the same cooking times regardless of the ingredients you use. Get creative, this is the perfect opportunity to create your perfect bite!

Fig & Prosciutto Pizza
serves 1

1 piece naan (I buy mine at Whole Foods)

extra virgin olive oil

salt & pepper


1-2 small fresh mozzarella balls, sliced thinly (this makes all the difference for pizza. Don't buy the rubbery stuff!)
1 slice good quality prosciutto, torn into bit size pieces (I like to use San Danielle if I am cooking with it...go for the really good stuff if you are eating it cold)

3 fresh figs, sliced in half ( I like the green Kadota's since are softer and sweeter than Mission, but use whatever you can find. Figs are still in the grocery stores right now, at least they were earlier this week, but if you can't find them you can use fig preserves instead. Dab it on in about six spots- I like the Dalmatia brand sold at Whole Foods).

Preheat oven to 500. If you have a pizza stone make sure it in in the oven before turning it on. I prefer to use a pizza stone since it helps create a really crisp crust. If you don't have a pizza stone, drizzle a cookie sheet with olive oil and place in the oven before turning it on and heat it with the oven. Once the oven is preheated, place the pizza directly on the sheet. This will help you achieve the crunch without the stone!

To assemble your pizza:

Drizzle naan with a little oil. Rub it all over the bread with your hands (the best tools!) Sprinkle with a little kosher salt and freshly grated pepper. Finely grate some Parmesan, creating a fine base layer. Scatter mozzarella slices, figs and prosciutto on top and pop in the oven. This will take about 5-7 minutes to cook. After 5 minutes keep an eye on it so that it doesn't get too charred (unless you like it that way!)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Shrimp Saganaki

I know there are a lot of you out there that are looking for a quick, delicious weeknight meal. A lot of what I cook doesn't fall into the "quick" category, but I wouldn't cook something more than once that wasn't delicious. I've made this dish a bunch of times and everyone who I've served it to has been a fan.

This dish is simple because it only has a few ingredients. The flavors are fresh and bright and you can really taste each and everyone of them. The prep work is simple, just a few things to chop. If you use peeled and deveined shrimp that really cuts down the time you spend preparing to cook this meal. I made this tonight and prepped it while my son ate dinner, then cooked it while my husband put him to bed. 10 minutes of prep, 15 minutes of cooking. In my book, that's fast.

Oh, by the way. Fall in on and so is the cooking in my house. Stay tuned for lots of yummy recipes. Hopefully I'll be back here weekly to share them with all you food loving blog followers!

Shrimp Saganaki
Food & Wine March '09

Serves 4

2 TBS each olive oil and canola oil
1 large yellow onion, sliced
6 plum tomatoes, chopped
salt to taste
Hot pepper flakes to taste
1 1/2 lb peeled, deveined and sliced in half lengthwise
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, sliced in half lengthwise
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
3 oz crumbled feta

Hot crusty bread for serving

Heat oil in a large saute pan over med/high heat. Add onions and cook for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper flakes. Cook for another 5 minutes, crushing the tomatoes with the back of a spoon. Add in shrimp and olives. Cook another 3 minutes. Add in dill and feta and cook 1 more minute. Serve hot with the bread to soak up all the delicious juices!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pumpkin Raviolis with Sage Brown Butter Sauce

The season of food is upon us!! Once the leaves start to change and the nights are cool, I know it is time to cook again! Fall and winter cooking are so very different than summer and even spring cooking. Now that it is dark and chilly when it's time to sit down for dinner, I want something comforting on my plate. No more of the salads of summer... bring on casseroles, stews, soups and pasta.

October through March are my favorite months in which to cook, and I have a entire arsinal of tried and true recipes to pull from, as well as many new ones to experiement with. September, October and November are the months where I can't get enough winter squash into my diet. I love cooking with all varieties, but especially love pumpkin. Not many people think to cook anything besides pies with this squash, but I love many ways. One of my favorite pumpkin recipes is this homemade ravioli recipe that my sister and I created last fall. We experimented by adding a bit of this and that until we were happy with our filling. The night we were serving them, we were feeding 9 people so we also came up with a short cut for our ravioli pasta.....wonton wrappers!!!!! No kidding, and they make the best raviolis! They are so light that the pumpkin filling really shins in this dish.

So, since we aren't making our own pasta for this recipe, why not make our pumpkin puree?? It is so easy to roast your own sugar pumpkins to create your own puree rather than buying it in a can. All I do is split the pumpkin in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and rub it all over with a bit of olive oil. I then put it open side down on a cookie sheet and roast it at about 400 degrees for about 25-30 minutes (I find that if you leave your pumpkin face down the entire cooking time, you will loose a lot of the moisture making your puree less watery.) Once the pumpkins are cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and either mash it with a fork or potato masher, or if you like yours baby food smooth, you can throw it in the food processor. I prefer to do mine by hand to leave some texture and also less dishes to wash! Voila! Homemade puree that tastes a million times more like pumpkin than the stuff in the cans, which is what you want in this recipe since you will really taste the filling.

This recipe makes a lot of raviolis, but the great thing is that you can make them all, then freeze them in ziplock baggies. Now you have an easy weeknight meal that can be ready in less than 10 minutes.

Homemade Pumpkin Raviolis with Sage/Brown Butter Sauce

Serve 6-8 raviolis per person

2 cups pumpkin puree (from probably 1 large or two small sugar pumpkins)- or you can use 2 cans of pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin PIE puree)
1 1/4 cups whole milk ricotta (I use whole milk in all my cooking, and I think it works best here since it lack the water content of part-skim ricotta)
2 tsp salt (if you think this is too much for you, wait to add the salt last after tasting)
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg (if you have fresh nutmeg and a grater, even better!)
2 tsp brown sugar
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2-1 tsp dried sage
2 eggs- lightly beaten

1-2 packages of wonton wrappers

Sage brown butter sauce (recipe to follow)
Salted, roasted pumpkin seeds or pepitas
Freshly grated parmesan

Combine all ingredients (pumpkin through eggs) in a large bowl.

Brush wonton's with water and place about a teaspoon of filling in the center of each one. Fold into a triangle and pinch edges closed with your fingers. I then usually follow that with using the tongs of a fork to seal the raviolis even more ( to ensure they don't come apart in the cooking process, though there will always be at least one that doesn't come out intact!)

Place raviolis on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and chill in freezer for 30+ minutes (at this point, you can put in baggies and freeze). While raviolis are chilling, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook for 3-4 minutes. Remove and top with sage brown butter sauce, a grating of parmesan and a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds. Serve immediately (these tend to cool down really quickly.)

Sage Brown Butter Sauce

1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter
20-30 fresh sage leaves

In a heavy bottomed saute pan, cook butter over medium- high heat. Once melted, add sage and continue to cook until butter is brown and sage leaves are crisp.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Crumb Bars

I have been a slacker in the kitchen this summer. Over the past month I can count the number of meals I have made for my family on two fingers. That's two fingers people. Not hands. Blame it on the heat, the travel or just the lazy days of summer. I'll take lazy. We have been existing on a handful of menu staples from local restaurants, cereal and boxed mac & cheese. All I can say is I am sure my boys are looking forward to fall, cooler weather and less excuses.

I have not, however, completely neglected my oven for the month of August. The oven has been turned to 350 degrees and my counters have seen their fair share of flour. My baking has consisted of breads, cakes, muffins, bars, and cookies. This has been a necessity, seeing that I have been on many a fruit picking spree this summer. If we grow it here in Glastonbury ( and the farms in this town grow just about everything you can think of) then I have picked it. One of the biggest crops here in town are berries and we have picked pounds and pounds of them. Right now we have enough frozen blueberries to get us through until the 2011 crop arrives.

What I love about this recipe is that you can use any kind of fruit. Berries are the easiest, but you could also use apples, peaches or plum (I would cook them down with the sugar and cornstarch before layering onto the bars). With the start of school coming (and already started in the South) who doesn't need a good snack recipe?

Blackberry Crumb Bars

1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cold unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
Zest and juice of one lemon
4 cups fresh blackberrries (or blueberries, raspberries, etc)
1/2 cup sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees P. Butter a 9×13 inch pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and lemon zest. Use a fork or your hands (I find they work the best!) to blend in the butter and egg. Dough will be crumbly. Pat half of dough into the prepared pan.

In another bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Gently mix in the berries. Sprinkle the berry mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. (This took an extra 5 to 10 minutes in my oven.) Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Friday, August 6, 2010

BLTs (with or without Salmon)

Okay, so I'll admit I needed to change things up around here. I have fallen into a zucchini rut. I have so much of it growing that I have felt the need to eat it everyday. Since I have found some great recipes that made good use of them, I have been eating the same things pretty much each week, hence not having anything new and exciting to write about.

Luckily that changed this week (both for you and me!) I had a lovely package of Vermont Smoke and Cure bacon sitting in the fridge and my first heirloom tomato ready in the garden. Add in some center cut salmon filets (love that Whole Foods has precut 5oz portioned pieces), garden lettuce, avocado, and a slather of mayo and you have a fantastic SBLT.

Bacon makes everything better in my opinion (I know you vegetarians don't agree... though I know some who would concur.) I love a good BLT... thick artisanal white bread, juicy backyard tomato, silky bibb lettuce, and crisp thick oven baked bacon. Are you drooling yet, because I am. The additional of salmon turns this summer lunch staple into a hearty dinner and gives you a good dose of Omega 3s (to counteract the artery clogging bacon). Adding avocado might be overkill, but these days I am putting it on every sandwich I make, and I love salmon and avocado together.

Because this is such a simple sandwich I must stress the importance of using really good ingredients. They will make all the difference in the flavor and texture. Get good bread, best if you get an uncut loaf and can hand slice your pieces nice and thick. Go to the farmer's market and get a really great tomato. Make sure you are using quality, thick bacon. All of these things will elevate this simple sandwich to star status and make it something you daydream about (okay maybe you won't, but I do!)

SBLT (or BLT if you omit the S)
makes 1 sandwich

2 slices good artisanal bread ( I used Pain Au Levain from Whole Foods)
2 or 3 slices tomato
2 slices thick cut bacon ( I love VERMONT smoke and cure)
4 lettuce leaves (bibb or whatever you have in your garden or in your fridge)
Mayo (as much or as little as you like!)
5oz center cut salmon filet (optional)
Avocado (optional)
Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil

For Bacon:

Preheat oven to 425 - I like to cook my bacon in the oven on a cooling rack set over a baking sheet for 12-15. This makes the bacon really crisp and maybe a little healthier. I save the bacon fat in a jar for cooking!

Drizzle bread on both sides with a little olive oil and grill (or you can throw them in the toaster if that's easier and you aren't making the salmon) until lightly browned or to your liking.

Assemble sandwich: Spread mayo on both pieces of bread. If you are using avocado, I like to mash is up and use it as a spread in lieu of or in addition to the mayo. Layer lettuce, then tomato slices, and finally the lovely bacon.

If you are using the salmon:

Heat grill to med/high (about 425 on a regular oven). Rub salmon with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a piece on aluminum foil (for grill) or a baking sheet for oven. Cook on grill, with lid closed, or in oven for 10 minutes. Salmon should be moist.

Add salmon between the tomato and bacon (my preference). Be warned that this is a very messy sandwich. Salmon will be falling out the sides, tomato juices will be dripping down your hand. Don't hold back.... you'll be licking your fingers when this sandwich is gone!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

"Straight from the Garden" Pasta

I get quiet excited when I see the first red, orange or yellow cherry tomatoes in my garden. I have lots of different vegetables planted, but tomatoes are the star of my backyard. Tomatoes and zucchini overlap for just a few weeks, and this pasta dish is one of my very favorites so the second there are enough tomatoes on those vines, I pick them just for this dish. This recipe gets completely elevated with the use of fresh tomatoes, from your garden, the farmer's market or from a generous friend. It makes all the difference in this dish so hunt them out if you need to!

Another highlight of this summer meal is that there is no cooking involved. The only thing you need to know how to do is boil water. Seriously. Even if you think you can't cook, you CAN make this dish! And it is really good. Dinner party good. Make it.

Tomato and Zucchini Linguine
adapted from Food & Wine Magazine July 2009

Serves 4-5

1 zucchini or 3 baby zucchini sliced thinly
3/4-1 lb cherry tomatoes (I try to use orange, yellow and red to make the dish more colorful)- chopped (the amount is whatever I can pick)
2 cloves garlic- minced
handful of basil- chopped
handful of parsley- chopped
1 small hot pepper- minced (I use whatever I grow... usually jalapeno)
2 tsp kosher salt (it sounds like a lot, but if you don't trust me on this, you can do 1 first, then add more as you see... but once you add the pasta it all comes together.)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
12-16 ounces linguine (or other long strand pasta..whatever you have in the pantry, as you can see from my picture, I used fettuccine the last time I made this)

Combine all ingredients (except pasta) in a large bowl.

While the flavors of the sauce come together, bring large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to box directions.

Drain pasta, combine with sauce, toss and plate! If you like, you can shave Parmigiano-Reggiano on top, though I like to leave mine cheese-less. I think the flavors come through best on their own.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Stuffed Zucchini

I don't know about you, but I am drowning in zucchini. My garden is producing in overtime this summer and every day I am picking 2-4 zucchini and summer squash. This past week I had gotten to the point that even with giving away a fair amount, one of my produce drawers was full. With no where left to turn, I sat down with recipe book, cookbooks and my laptop and decided this would be the week when we finally used up all these courgettes.

Of course I was excited about a challenge involving one vegetable over the course of six meals, though I can't say the same for my husband or child. Michael was never a huge fan and Jack isn't exactly a lover of vegetables at this stage in his life. This didn't stop me. By the end of the week (though at this time I still have the sixth and final recipe to go) I think I made a zucchini lover out of my husband and my son. The one night that we ate out this week, Jack actually asked the waitress if they had zucchini pizza and proceeded to order and eat it. Score one for me!!

This particular recipe was my husband's favorite of the week. He has actually already requested that I make it again. Jack's favorite was a pasta dish with raw tomatoes and zucchini and mine was a grilled cheese. In honor of the abundance of this vegetable over the season, I'll post another recipe soon. This stuffed zucchini dish is the best way to use up those extraordinarily large ones hiding in the garden or that are sitting at the farm stand waiting for someone to buy them, but any size zucchini will work.

I love this dish because I feel that you can't go wrong with Mediterranean flavors. The combination of shrimp, dill and feta is classic Greek. You could even throw in some chopped calamata olives to the mixture to add another layer of flavor. Just adjust the seasoning accordingly.

Feta and Shrimp Stuffed Zucchini
adapted from Food & Wine Magazine, July 2009
serves 3-4

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 large white onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 fennel bulb, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
4 plum tomatoes, chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound shelled and deveined large shrimp, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped dill
3-4 zucchini, halved lengthwise (I made this with only 1 large zucchini and had extra filling for another meal, I would say 1 zucchini per person for a dinner)
1 1/2 cups crumbled feta

Preheat the oven to 425°.

In a skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the onion, bell pepper, fennel and garlic and cook over medium high heat, stirring, until tender, about 6 minutes. Add the tomatoes and crushed red pepper and cook, mashing, until thickened, 5 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper. Remove from the heat; let cool slightly. Stir in the shrimp, parsley and dill.

Using a spoon, scoop out the flesh of the zucchini, leaving a 1/4-inch shell all around. Rub with oil. Season the zucchini shells with salt and pepper and stuff with the filling. Transfer to a lightly oiled roasting pan and roast for 30 minutes, until the filling is cooked through and the zucchini is just tender.

Preheat the broiler and position a rack 6 inches from the heat. Top the zucchini with the feta and broil for 5 minutes, until the feta is melted and golden. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Chard & Gruyere Quiche

You know you have a winner when all plates and platters of a certain dish are left with only a few crumbs and your guests are asking where the seconds are. I am not usually a quiche person, but this week I have made this dish twice. That's how good I think this is. I found that you can make this tart a day ahead and warm it in the oven before serving it, taking pressure off cooking right before you have company over. Big bonus!!

So this week was my son's 3rd birthday and I decided it would be fun to host THREE birthday parties for him. Well, not only host, but COOK for THREE birthday parties. I'm a sucker for punishment. One way I stayed sane was to make the same dish (this quiche) for a couple of the parties. To not make things terribly boring for myself and my repeat guests, I changed up the flavors of the quiche. One day it was spinach, another it was chard. One day it was cheddar cheese, two days later it was gruyere. Scallions and then Spanish onion. You really could have a bunch of different combinations for this to keep it fresh.

As the title of this entry implies, the chard, gruyere and Spanish onion version was my (and my repeat guest's) favorite. Feel free to mix and match to appease your taste buds! Make this and serve with a big garden salad and you have a perfect light dinner.

Chard Quiche
Adapted from Bon Appetit (Spinach Quiche), October 1991

My go to tart shell recipe follows this one. If you don't feel confident or have the time to make your own crust you can use pre-made (though this recipe is pretty fool proof!!)

3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup half and half (or milk)
3 eggs (I always use extra large eggs for baking because Ina says so)
10 ounces chard, stems removed, chopped, steamed until fully wilted, cooled then squeezed dry (or you can use 10 ounce bag frozen spinach defrosted and squeezed dry)
1/2 cup grated gruyere (you could use cheddar instead)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup finely diced Spanish onion (you could also substitute any type of onion here- scallion, red, white, shallots)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 425°. Beat cream cheese in medium bowl until smooth. Gradually beat in half and half and eggs. Mix in remaining ingredients. Pour mixture into prepared crust. Bake until crust is golden brown and filling is set, about 20-25 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before serving.

Simple Savory Tart Shell
adapted from an Ina Garten recipe (I have been using this for a while and don't use the recipe anymore so don't remember what book I got it out of!)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp kosher salt
12 TBS unsalted butter- diced, very cold (keep in refrigerator up until you are ready to throw in the food processor)
3-4 TBS ice water

Place flour and salt in bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to incorporate them together. Add in butter and pulse 8-12 times until butter is the size of peas. With the machine on, add in the water (I do 3 TBS first, then add an extra if I need it). Once the dough comes together in a ball you can remove from food processor and dump it out onto a floured surface. Form into a dish, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350

When ready, roll out dough to about 1/8" thick and place in a 9 inch tart or pie plate. Fit to plate being careful not to pull or stretch the dough, otherwise it will shrink when it cooks. Cut off excess and place a piece of tin foil (with a thin layer of cooking spray on the side that will touch the dough) in the tart pan and then fill with bean or pie weights to ensure the crust doesn't puff up (this is called blind baking). Cook for 20 minutes. Remove the tin foil and beans, prick he bottom of the shell with a fork and cook for another 10 minutes. At this point you can cool completely before filling or finish immediately with the rest of the quiche recipe (don't forget to increase the oven temperature!)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Cherry Clafoutis

I know I owe you all a savory dish at this point, but I couldn't move on until I shared this recipe. Cherry season doesn't last forever so you'll need to jump on these delicious fruit before they are gone. Basically a clafoutis is fruit topped with a pancake like batter and baked until puffed and golden. VERY simple. Traditionally this French dessert is made with cherries, and after my first experience making it, I would say that there is a reason for that.

Last Sunday I went to the Chester Sunday Market. It is by far my favorite farmer's market here in Connecticut. There are so many amazing vendors and I always feel very inspired while walking around. Last week was no exception. In addition to buying my first whole fish (a post for another day!), I purchased a half pound of tart cherries grown here in Glastonbury. I had never had fresh sour cherries, and they definitely put a pucker on my face. I was very excited about how they could be transformed.

So that was last Sunday. The entire week flew by and before I knew it, it was Friday and those darn cherries were still sitting in my refrigerator starting to go bad. It was 9 PM when I decided on my plan of action. A little late for starting a recipe but I was afraid that if I waited a few more days they would go to waste. I thought I would make them for a BBQ I was attending the next day (though clafoutis and BBQ don't really sound like they go together....). Well it turns out that I didn't have enough cherries to share, so I halved my recipe and made just enough for me! I also didn't finish getting everything together until 10 PM and decided that I wouldn't be up until 11 waiting for dessert to cook, so took the risk in placing the uncooked clafoutis in the fridge and then baked it off the next morning. Well obviously we know how the story ended (otherwise I would be writing about pasta salad or zucchini). Clafoutis will be my new go to dessert. Maybe not for a BBQ, but definitely for a nice intimate gathering. This is best served a bit warm with some fresh cream, gelato or just some powdered sugar sprinkled on top. Or, if you are like me, you can just eat it out of the fridge between holiday weekend outings!

Cherry Clafoutis

Serves 6-8

(As I mentioned in my post, I halved this recipe for myself and used 4 individual pie plates. I simply divided the cherries and batter among the plates and baked for 30 minutes instead of 40.)

1 pound tart cherries, pitted
6 plus 6 tablespoons granulated sugar (if you can only find sweet cherries, half the amount of sugar, or if you like it less sweet, adjust the sugar as you like)
1 tablespoon brandy
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons melted butter, plus more for pan
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 10-inch pie dish.

Combine the pitted cherries with brandy and 6 tablespoons sugar. Let macerate for 10 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, remove cherries to the baking dish, reserving the liquid.

In a bowl, combine flour, remaining 6 tablespoons sugar, salt, milk, eggs, butter, vanilla, and liquid from cherries. Beat until incorporated, scraping down the sides if needed. Pour batter over cherries. Bake for 40 minutes until batter is set and golden brown. Let cool a bit before serving. Serve with fresh whipped cream or ice cream or a dusting of powdered sugar.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Strawberry Retraction

Okay, so I make mistakes sometimes. I get excited about something and my blinders come on. I have in the past month made two statements I no longer find true.

1. I love a strawberry rhubarb pie, but have really fallen in love with the flavor of rhubarb on it's own.

Yes, I still love rhubarb, but have decided it is truly the best when paired with strawberry (Sorry Martha!!) I came to this conclusion when vacationing in Maine this past week and found that the rhubarb and strawberry seasons here overlap (!!!!). We were at the farmer's market and I decided I need to make something with both. Hence I ended up adapting my "Rhubarb Crisp" recipe to include strawberries. It was DIVINE!!! Which leads me to retraction #TWO:

2. I am a strawberry purist. If I am going to eat a strawberry during it's season, I am not cooking it.

I cooked it. With the rhubarb. In the crisp. I can not get enough. PERIOD. If you can still find rhubarb make this dessert before both they and the strawberries are gone again until next year.

Strawberry/Rhubarb Crisp

serves 6-8

1 1/2 lbs rhubarb- cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 pint GOOD strawberries, hulled and cut in half
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

for the topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup light-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 TBS unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375

For the filling, combine rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, and flour in an 3-quart baking dish. Let macerate (the reaction between the sugar and the rhubarb will make the rhubarb start letting out its juice) for 15 to 20 minutes.

For the topping, combine flour, oats, sugar, cinnamon, and butter in a large bowl. Work dry ingredients with fingers until all butter is absorbed.

Spread topping over rhubarb. Bake crisp until top is golden brown and filling is bubbling, about 40-50 minutes.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

What to Eat Where You Are

I'll admit I am not like most people when I travel on vacation. Usually people like to get away from the domestic chores that they are obligated to at home. Vacation is the time to let someone else do the cleaning and cooking. Not for me. When I travel (within driving distance mind you..) more than half my car is loaded up with food and cooking equipment. I never know what type of wonderful food I am going to find at my destination, especially with the bounty of summer upon us in the Northeast. This held especially true for my most recent vacation to the Southern coast of Maine. Known for their bountiful seafood selection, I couldn't wait to get there and get cooking.

I actually already had a plan before we even left Connecticut. I knew that I wanted to make something with lots of different types of seafood. I also knew that this dish needed to be easy (I was on vacation...) and impressive and quickly decided on Paella. Paella is a very adaptable dish. You can pretty much make it with anything you have laying around or access too. I obviously knew that I would have fresh lobster, clams, mussels, shrimp and scallops readily available. All I needed was a quick trip to Whole Foods before leaving for vacation. There I picked up basmati rice, Spanish onions and chorizo, then grabbed a few pantry staples (garlic, saffron and olive oil) and freezer basics (chicken stock) from home. I was ready to travel! (I did forget my paella pan, but luckily remembered before my in-laws had left LI and brought one for me.. WHEW!! Close call!! )

We made the Paella on a Saturday, and spent most of that day scouring the Maine roadside for my fresh ingredients. My husband Mike and I were quite a sight on our bikes, peddling around picking up our seafood. We found the lobsters at the farmer's market and had them cooked right there for only $1. Into my bike basket. Next stop was finding a good fish market to pick up the rest. After finally getting a tip, we almost ended up getting killed while biking down a main 4 lane road. After arriving and picking our littleneck clams, mussels and scallops (all locally caught), we had them packed on ice and in they also went into my basket. The bike ride back to the house left the top half of my body drenched in sweat and the bottom half drenched in the ice melting out of my basket. I was quite a sight, but the trip was well worth it. Dinner turned out amazingly and we now have a great tradition to repeat again next summer.

Beach Vacation Paella

Serves 6

3 TBS extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 package Spanish chorizo (cured), sliced
2 large Spanish onions, halved and thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 cups basmati rice
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 tsp saffron, crumbled
1/2 white wine (use whatever you plan on drinking with dinner! I like Albarino, a Spanish white more on the fruity side that goes great with seafood)
1 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
1 dozen mussels, scrubbed and debearded
6-8 sea scallops (you could also use bay scallops if that is what you had), sliced in half if really large
2 1 pound chick lobsters, steamed, and meat removed (or equivilant), cut into bite size chunks
2-3 TBS Italian parsley, finely chopped

Preheat over to 375

Heat 2 TBS oil in 15 inch Paella pan (brazier) or heavy bottomed roasting pan over medium heat. Add chorizo and cook 5-6 minutes, or until chorizo is browned on both sides. Add onions and garlic. Cook for 8-10 minutes or until onion are all softened. Transfer chorizo mixture to a bowl.

Add another TBS oil in same pan and add rice. Cook until lightly browned, 5 minutes. Add stock, chorizo mixture, saffron, seasonings and stir well. Bring to a boil, reduce and simmer for 15 minutes uncovered.

Meanwhile, bring wine to a boil in a small saucepan. Add clams and cook 3-5 minutes or until shells just open. Remove with a slotted spoon and repeat with mussels. Throw away any that do not open. Reserve cooking liquid.

Nestle lobster meat, clams, mussels and scallops into rice. Drizzle wine/shellfish liquid reserve over rice/seafood. Bake at 375 on lowest spot in oven for about 10 minutes or until lobster is heated through, scallops are cooked and all liquid is absorbed.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Fabulous weekend. Fabulous food. Two weekends ago I hosted and catered my BF's baby shower. Talk about pressure... didn't want to screw this one up!!! The smartest move I made was everything I served can be, and was, made in advance. The menu consisted of three types of tartines (open-faced sandwiches), my favorite Greek salad , watermelon gazpacho, and then mini lemon tarts. The piece de resistance was the most amazingly beautiful and delicious cake made by Caitlin's friend Dorothy. After the party was over I had lots of requests for my recipes, so thought this would be a great place to put them so everyone could get their hands on some good lunch ideas.

You can pretty much turn anything into a tartine. They are traditionally French breakfast fare, with either butter, jam or cheese spread on bread. If you go to a French bakery these days you can find tartines with pretty much anything you would normally put in a sandwich, which is where I got my inspiration. I love sandwiches, but who needs all that bread (though there are plenty of times I want or NEED two slices)! If you have a great topping you won't even miss that extra slice, or you can try different topping in the same meal! These make a great light lunch and are great for a party (as I found out!) You can make the topping a day or two in advance and then buy your bread the day of your lunch/party and assemble right before serving.

Mango-Cashew Chicken Salad

makes about 3 cups (can be double, tripled, etc I tripled it for 26 people and had about a 1/3 left over)

1/3 cup mayonnaise (SPECTRUM!!)
2 TBS apricot preserves ( I like Bon Maman)
1/2 tsp curry powder
juice of 1/2 lime
salt and cayenne pepper to taste
2 cups cooked chicken- cubed (I think it is best to do this part yourself, but feel free to buy a rotisserie)
1 mango, peeled and diced (make sure it is not super soft otherwise the mango won't hold up in the salad)
1/2 cup celery, diced
1/4 cup scallion, sliced
1 TBS chopped cilantro
1/2 cup cashews, toasted and chopped ( you don't need to toast if you want to make this quicker)

Combine mayo, preserves, curry, lime juice and seasonings in a large bowl.

Fold in chicken, mango, celery, scallions and cilantro. Add cashews right before serving.

Dilled Egg Salad

makes enough for 16-20 tartines

1 dozen eggs
1/3 cup mayonnaise (Hellman's is the best for this dish)
3 tsp whole grain mustard
1 TBS chopped fresh dill
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

Place eggs in a pot of cold water, making sure they are covered. Bring water to boil, lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Shut off heat and let sit in hot water for 5 more minutes. Place eggs (gently) in a bowl of cold water and let cool. Peel eggs and let cool completely.

Place eggs and rest of ingredients in bowl of a food processor. Puree until smooth and spreadable.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Casual Company

Fish tacos are a favorite in our house for entertaining. When having company over in the summer for dinner, tacos are an easy way to feed a crowd. With a little advance prep work, you can entertain your guests without having to be stuck in the kitchen. Plus to serve this dish you can set up a buffet and let your guests put together their own plate (buffet=not setting the table). To make this a rounded meal add a simple bean and corn salad (which can also be made in advance) to the table. Don't forget the margarita or Mexican cervaza. ¡Buen provecho

Blackened Shrimp Tacos

Serves 6

2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 Tbs canola oil
2+ Tbs blackening seasoning (Bayou Blackening is my favorite.. you can order it or find it at Fresh Market if you have one near you.... otherwise any blackening will do)

corn tortillas (white or yellow)
yellow or purple cabbage, sliced thinly
tomatoes, diced
shredded cheese (cheddar, pepper jack)
guacamole (recipe to follow)
yogurt & mayo white sauce (recipe to follow)
limes, cut into wedges

Toss shrimp with oil and blackening seasoning. Skewer, and grill for 5-6 minutes over medium-high heat.

To assemble tacos, place a spoonful of guacamole on tortilla and spread to coat. Top that with tomatoes, cabbage, a few shrimp, cheese and a drizzle of taco sauce. Finish your creation off with a squeeze of lime. So simple and a great change from your typical taco night!

Non Recipe Guacamole

When I make guacamole I usually just wing it. It turns out different every time, but I love cooking that way. Sometimes I am missing onions so I go without. Sometimes I don't have limes, so I use lemons. Taste a lot and make it the way you like! This is just a suggestion! This recipe makes enough to share with 4-5 hungry adults.

4-5 ripe avocados, meat scooped out
1/2 large red onion, finely chopped
2-3 Roma tomatoes, sliced in half and seeds removed ( you don't want that extra liquid in your guac.)
1/2 - 1 jalapeno finely chopped (depending on how hot you like things)
big handful of cilantro, finely chopped
1-2 limes, juiced (depending on how much you like and how juicy your limes are)
Kosher or sea salt, to taste

Mash avocados with a potato masher in a large bowl. Fold in onion, tomatoes, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice and salt. Enjoy on tacos on with a big bowl of tortilla chips!

Yogurt & Mayo White Sauce

1/2 cup plain yogurt ( don't use Greek yogurt here.. you want the consistency to be thin, and this won't work)
1/2 cup mayonnaise (Spectrum Canola is the BEST!)
fresh lime juice as needed to get the sauce to a runny consistency
1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced (you can use a habanero if you are feeling brave)
1 tsp capers, chopped
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried dill
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper

Mix yogurt and mayonnaise in a bowl. Add lime juice until you get a slightly runny consistency. Add in jalapeno, capers, oregano, cumin, dill and cayenne. This will keep in the refrigerator for a while so don't worry if it makes a lot more than you need. Otherwise you can half it easily.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Hurray for Strawberry Season!

There is no better argument for eating in season than a June strawberry. There is no comparison between what goes by the name "strawberry" in those #1 plastic containers that come shipped from California year round and a real strawberry. The flavor and smell of a real strawberry are swoon inducing. Deep red, juicy and super sweet... biting into one is like biting into summer.

When strawberry season rolls around (the month of June in Connecticut) you know that Summer has arrived. Strawberries get to be the first and to me are the king of the berries. I get so excited for them because their season is so short. I feel that I must hurry up and eat as many as I can because once they are gone they are gone and I'll have to wait for next June to have them again.

I am a strawberry purist. If I am going to eat a strawberry during it's season, I am not cooking it. No muffins, cakes, crisps, pies. I like my strawberries the way nature intended them, eaten raw. The most "cooking" I'll do to a strawberry is to macerate them in a little bit of sugar. This pulls those lovely strawberry juices out to create a nice sauce. No cooking required. I have a bunch of strawberry recipes I will be trying out this June, but the one I am sharing today is an old favorite. The nice thing about this dessert is that if you are in a rush, you can buy most of the components (pound cake, lemon curd) at the grocery. But take the time to make it from scratch. You won't be disappointed! This pound cake recipe makes two cakes and freezes really well so you can make that ahead and just defrost the morning you plan on serving this.

Happy Strawberry Season!

Grilled Pound Cake with Lemon Cream & Strawberries

One cake and two pints of strawberries should get you at least 8 servings

1 pound cake (recipe to follow) sliced about an inch thick
Lemon cream (recipe to follow)
2 pints strawberries, quartered
1-2 TBS sugar (depending on how sweet your strawberries are)

Toss strawberries with sugar and let sit for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat grill. Place slices of pound cake over medium heat and grill until lightly brown with nice grill marks on both sides. Don't burn them!!! About 2-3 minutes per side.

Place a slice of cake on each plate. Top with a couple spoonfuls of lemon cream and then a few more spoonfuls of strawberries and their juice. You could also throw a sprig of mint on top if you have one laying around in your garden for a little more color. Enjoy!!! YUM!!!!

Pound Cake
from Ina Garten

Makes 2 loaves

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar, divided
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 (8 1/2 by 4 1/2 by 2 1/2-inch) loaf pans.

Cream the butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. With the mixer on medium speed, beat in the eggs, 1 at a time.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.

When the cakes are done, let them cool for 10 minutes. Take them out of the pans, place them on a baking rack and allow them to cool completely. Wrap well, and store in the refrigerator or freezer.

Lemon Cream

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream

Set a strainer over a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, combine half of the lemon zest with the lemon juice, sugar, egg, egg yolk, salt and 1 tablespoon of the butter. Cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Immediately strain the curd into the bowl. Whisk in the remaining lemon zest and 2 tablespoons of butter. Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface and refrigerate until cool, about 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, softly whip the cream. Fold the lemon curd into the whipped cream and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes. This can be made up to 2 hours before serving.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Where's The Bean (Burger)?

I'm always looking for a way to be "healthy." This usually entails trying to give up something in my diet. Past attempts have been cheese, sugar, bread, fried food, etc. etc. As you can most likely guess, these have never worked out for me. I love food way too much to deprive myself of anything. Even when I do ban something from my diet, as I have with beef for the last couple years, there is always a caveat. I am "allowed" to eat beef if I know where it has been sourced from and if it is grass fed. Simple enough. So now, I eat it so infrequently that it really is a treat when I do.. and I savor that piece of meat!!

Recently there has been talk in my house about eating less meat. This doesn't mean giving anything up, just less of of it. Coming up with a weekly menu just got a little bit harder, but I am always up for a food challenge. Enter my friend Kelly. She has been a pescetarian (one who eats seafood but not mammals and birds) for roughly 14 or 15 years. I have always been intrigued by this type of deprivation (as I see it!) and interested more so in what Kelly eats. I am always asking her what she is having for dinner and making a mental note of it. One thing that she has answered to my "what's for dinner" inquisition has been black bean burgers. She has always told me how good they are and how she eats them all the time, but not until recently have I really made a move for the recipe.

Now that I have this black bean burger recipe and have tried it, I can truly say that I would take this over a turkey or grass fed beef burger any day. I have changed the original recipe to add some color with the addition of vegetables, but can see how this could be great with whatever you do or don't add to it. The flavors in the burger give it South of The Border appeal, so Kelly told me she tops hers with Monterrey Jack cheese and guacamole. I did just that. On the 2nd burger (the next day, mind you!) I happened to see my bottle of sriracha in the fridge and (though it is not a Mexican condiment!) it was so good with this burger and gave it a big kick! You could add salsa to stay true to its roots if you like, but the guacamole is a must. I also added some more heat with a slice of pepper jack cheese melted on top. I could eat this burger everyday. And since you can make the mixture, refrigerate and then cook whenever, you surely could eat it everyday (as I have this week)!!

Black-Bean Burger
adapted from Gourmet Magazine

makes 4 or 5 big burgers

2 (15oz) cans black beans, rinsed, drained well
3 Tbs mayonnaise, plus more as needed to make burger moist ( I like using Spectrum Canola Mayonnaise)
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs ( you can use regular breadcrumbs but I like panko because they are a lot crunchier)
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (you can add more of less depending on how spicy you want them)
2 large pinches of kosher salt (or to taste)
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, finely chopped
3 Tbs olive oil (you could use canola or whatever you typically cook with)
hamburger buns, warmed in the oven or grill
sliced pepper jack cheese
Sriracha (if you like lots of spice like me!)

Mash (blend, pulse) half of the beans along with mayo, panko, cumin, oregano and cayenne until everything is mixture together well to make a sort of puree or paste. Stir in cilantro, rest of the beans, peppers and salt.
Form mixture into patties.
Heat skillet over medium heat until you can feel the heat radiating off the bottom. Add oil and coat pan (I do it this way to create a non stick surface on my stainless steel pans). Cook burgers for a total of 5 minutes, flipping half way through. I put the cheese slices on top and then move the entire pan to the oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese, but you could just do that on the stove top too. Add toppings and enjoy!

I have yet to try this on the grill, but my guess they would come out great. Just be careful handling them when you flip so they don't fall apart. I will try them grilled next week, and will also try the addition of corn. If you do so before me, let me know how they come out!

BTW.. the photo I have posted is the picture from the Gourmet website, not my own.... I forgot to take a picture of these when I made them this week (all I could think about was eating them!!). When I make them again, I'll make sure to take a picture.

Happy Memorial Day!!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream

There has been a lot of experimenting going on in my house lately. It is just too bad it hasn't been on different types of healthy salads. Instead, I have been trying my hand at ice cream making. A few months back I decided that if I wanted to eat "junk" food, I would need to make it myself (Michael Pollan's Food Rule #39 "Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself".) I stopped buying ice cream.... then needed ice cream. I didn't own an ice cream maker so while out one afternoon with my mother, I mentioned this, and before I knew it I was the proud owner of a Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker.

It actually started out pretty healthy. The first recipe I tried out in my new machine was Lemon Sorbet. Such a simple treat, made out of nothing but water, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest. Because of the deep lemon flavor of this sorbet, a little goes a long way. After I got the thumbs up on this one, I got a little fancier. For my first foray into ice cream making I tried my husband Mike's favorite combination of chocolate and peanut butter. It came out just okay.... I realized later that I cooked the chocolate custard too long, turning it into more of a pudding and therefore making the ice cream way TOO thick. Oh, and I put way too much peanut butter in it. I will need to try this one over again in the future.

Now, my two next attempts at being a glacier were much more successful. I now knew the importance of the custards consistency in the final frozen product. I decided next to go with my favorite ice cream flavors. After seeing a beautiful, fragrant mint plant at Whole Foods, I decided I needed it for my garden and that the first thing I would make with it would be Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. I went home and researched recipes, finding that most involved the use of peppermint extract instead of the fresh leaves.... which made sense. I was intent on using the leaves, so I finally came across a few recipes and after reading reviews, decided on one of them. I soon realized that my little mint plant was not going to cut it. I need A LOT of mint. For this 1 quart recipe, I needed two bunches of mint. After all the steeping and cooking and more steeping, the finished product was really good. As my husband said, "if you didn't know what mint chocolate chip ice cream tasted like, this is what you would expect." It was herby is a good minty way and the consistency this time was perfect. The 70% dark chocolate (almost two full bars) made sure there was a true chocolate taste in each bite.

The last ice cream I made was Coconut-Chocolate Chip. I love coconut and chocolate together but never can find it in the same ice cream or gelato. This was another success, and my favorite so far. Using coconut milk gave it the great coconut flavor, and toasted coconut flakes gave it great coconut texture. The addition of the Green & Black 70% dark chocolate (1 1/2 bars) just made it plain amazing.

With the unofficial start of Summer upon us this weekend, I don't think there is a better time to try your hand at ice cream making. Top the weekend's BBQ off with a big scoop of homemade ice cream. Your family and friends will be WOW'd!!!

Happy Memorial Day!!

BTW.. I will post the Mint Chocolate Chip recipe next week!

Lemon Sorbet
From the Cuisinart Website

3 cups sugar
3 cups water
2-1/4 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
1-1/2 tablespoons finely chopped lemon zest

Combine the sugar and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer without stirring until the sugar dissolves, about 3 to 5 minutes. Cool completely. This is called a simple syrup, and can be made ahead of time. Keep refrigerated until ready to use.
When cool, add the lemon juice and zest; stir to combine. Turn the machine on. Pour the lemon mixture into the freezer bowl, and mix until the mixture thickens, about 25 to 30 minutes. The sorbet will have a soft texture similar to a freshly scooped Italian ice. If a firmer consistency is desired, transfer the sorbet to an airtight container and place in freezer for about 2 hours.
Remove from freezer about 15 minutes before serving. Makes 1 quart.

Coconut Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

2 cups half & half
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup sugar
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup toasted shredded coconut (put in a dry fry pan over med heat, tossing often, until lightly brown and fragrant)
6 oz dark chocolate (finely chopped)
1 tsp rum (this is needed to keep the ice cream soft)

Heat half & half and sugar over med heat in a heavy bottomed pot until steaming. Beat egg yolks in a bowl. Meanwhile chill coconut milk in a metal bowl over an ice bath (bowl full of water and ice). Place a sieve over the coconut milk.
Once milk is ready, add it slowly to the eggs (this is called tempering). You don't want to make scrambled eggs! Once they are all combined, pour mixture back into the the milk pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. It will be done when you can coat the back of a wooden spoon with the custard and after running a finger across the spoon it doesn't run. At this point it should be removed from the heat immediately and poured through the strainer into the cold coconut milk to stop the cooking. Make sure all the custard gets pushed though the sieve (this will remove all egg that scrambled).

Once mixture is chilled, stir in the shredded coconut, the pour into the ice cream maker. Churn for 20-25 minutes. Once done, fold in the chopped chocolate and rum and freeze in a container. Remove from freezer 15 minutes before serving. Makes 1 quart.

Monday, May 24, 2010

When Spring Gives You Rhubarb.....

I grew up eating rhubarb pies and square made by my grandmother. She had two large rhubarb plants growing behind her house and during Spring and early Summer there would always be some sort of tart treat for us waiting when we visited. I don't have a rhubarb plant, but during this time of year it can easily be found at the farmer's market, Whole Foods, or lucky for me, a friend's house.

The classic pairing for rhubarb is strawberry (though if you ask Martha Stewart, she would tell you that she would NEVER pair those two together since their growing seasons are not exactly the same....). I love a strawberry rhubarb pie, but have really fallen in love with the flavor of rhubarb on it's own.

Crisps have also become a staple in my house. If I need to whip up dessert, a crisp is the easiest way to go. No dough to make and you don't have to worry about the way it looks. It is all bubbly and smells fantastic while it's baking. The textures are wonderful too. The creaminess of the cooked rhubarb with the crunchy oat and almond topping is perfect. All you need to finish this off is a nice scoop of good vanilla ice cream or some fresh whipped cream. The perfect Springtime dessert.

Rhubarb Crisp

serves 6-8

2 lbs rhubarb- cut into 1/2- 1 inch pieces (no need to be exact here. Just try and cut them all the same size)
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

for the topping:
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup light-brown sugar
1/2 cup slivered blanched almonds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375

For the filling, combine rhubarb, sugar, and flour in an 3-quart baking dish. Let macerate (the reaction between the sugar and the rhubarb will make the rhubarb start letting out its juice) for 15 to 20 minutes.

For the topping, combine flour, oats, sugar, almonds, cinnamon, and butter in a large bowl. Work dry ingredients with fingers until all butter is absorbed.

Spread topping over rhubarb. Bake crisp until top is golden brown and filling is bubbling, about 45 minutes.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Greek is Great

Hummus is easy. Really easy. When I am in the mood to create in the kitchen and don't have time to run to the grocery, hummus is what I turn to. With some pantry basics and kitchen staples you can quickly throw together this yummy dip. Hummus also lends itself to being a great base for lots of different flavors. You can add pretty much anything to the basic hummus recipe to jazz it up a bit. One of my favorite add-ins are roasted red peppers. You can either use jarred or homemade roasted peppers, whatever you have time for or laying around the house. I always keep a jar of them in the fridge. They are great to throw on a sandwich with goat cheese, use as a topping for pizza, add to salad, or, in this case, use to make hummus.

I don't know anyone who doesn't like hummus and you can use it in lots of different ways, not just as a dip for pita. One way is to use hummus as a sandwich spread and top with cucumber, sprouts, sliced tomatoes and arugula on whole wheat. The other way, and my personal favorite, is to use it IN Greek salad. This was inspired by a salad I had at California Pizza Kitchen (!!!!) a few years ago. I went back to get this salad about a year after I first tried it and found that they had removed it from the menu. So what was a girl to do... recreate it! Of course, I think that my version of this salad is a million times better than the one at CPK, so am thankful they no longer serve it. Otherwise I might not have been inspired to make it myself. This is a great summer salad, so I have a feeling that you will be making this one a lot in the coming months! The parts of this salad are fabulous on their own, but combined......YUM!!!!

Hummus Greek Salad (with or without grilled shrimp)
serves 6 as a main dish

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus (recipes follows)- can be made ahead
I bag Earthbound Organic romaine hearts
Greek mixed vegetables in dressing- can be made ahead (even better if you do!)- if refriderated, bring to room temperature before serving.
Grilled Shrimp (optional)

Place a heaping tablespoon of hummus on the bottom of pasta bowl (or whatever you use for salads). Spread around to cover bottom. Chop the romaine hearts and place about two handfuls in each bowl on top of the hummus (trust me on this!!). Top with a large scoop of the greek vegetables and finish off with some (4-5) grilled shrimp.

The best way to eat this is to mix everything together, starting with the bottom and working your way up so the hummus gets mixed into the romaine. You want to be able to get a little bit of everything in your mouth with each bite! I also like to serve this with some Stacey's Naked Pita Chips crumbled on top. They add a nice crunch to the dish.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
(adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)

2 15oz cans cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained, with the liquid reserved
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste)
8 TBS fresh squeezed lemon juice (DO NOT USE BOTTLED!!!!!!)
3 TBS reserved liquid from garbanzo beans (or more if you like a less thick hummus)
10 dashes Tabasco
2-3 jarred roasted red peppers

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Process until smooth ( or you can blend it for less time if you like chunkier hummus). Add seasoning to taste.

Greek Mixed Vegetables
from Ina Garten

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes- sliced in half
1 English (seedless) cucumber- sliced lenghtwise, seeds scooped out with a spoon and sliced about 1/4 inch thick
1/2 red onion. sliced thinly
2 bell peppers (mix colors to make this salad more colorful!....1 red 1 orange or yellow)
1/2 lb good (goat/sheep is the best- I love Mt. Vikos) feta, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup calamata olives, sliced lenghtwise

Place all ingredients in a large bowl.


2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

Whisk together all ingredients except olive oil. Once combined, slowly add oil while whisking until combined. Pour over vegetables and toss. Add in feta and olives and gently combine.

This keeps in the refrigerator for about 5 days and makes a really yummy lunch on its own.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Oh, how I love you Ina Garten

Okay, so the cat is out of the bag. I LOVE Ina Garten. She is (one of) my food idols. Her manner of cooking is just what I like.. simple, fresh ingredients made into simple, delicious food. I have been a devotee of hers for not even a year, but I own all her cookbooks, have just about every recipe of hers on saved to my recipe box and at one point was cooking her food every night. My husband, Mike, didn't even have to ask where I got the recipes during those months. I would just use the word "she or "her" and he would know who I was talking about.

Since last fall and winter, I have laid off making her food EVERY night, but out of that phase came a bunch of recipes that I now consider staples in our house. Which brings me to today's recipe..... The Perfect Roast Chicken. Okay, so it really isn't roasting season anymore but I felt the need to share this one today in honor of my friend Erin. A few weeks (maybe months.. ahem....) ago Erin was over at my house for a playdate with her cute little Katherine. While the kids were playing we were talking about, what else but, food!!! I was listening to Erin tell me that she wanted to learn how to cook and grilling her on what they eat a lot of in her house. Rotisserie chicken was one of those things that Erin found herself buying when she needed a simple meal for her family. Alethia (well actually Ina) to the rescue!!!

So I sent Erin home with what I think is the simplest, most moist and delicious chicken recipe I have ever cooked. It really is so good. The best part (besides how good it tastes when you make your own chicken) is that you then have this flavorful carcass (sorry, that is what it is.. ) to use to make your own chicken stock. No need to buy it in a box or can from here on out... with a few other simple ingredients that a lot of us having laying around the house at any given time, you can make and then freeze your own chicken stock! Talk about getting the most out of your food!

Ina's Perfect Roast Chicken
serves 3 to 4

1 4-5 pound roasting chicken ( I use either organic or Bell & Evans)
2-3 large yellow onions, sliced
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 lemons- quartered
2 Tbs unsalted butter- melted

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Remove giblets (bag inside the chicken) and wash the chicken inside and out. Pat dry with a paper towel. Toss the onions with some olive oil and place in the bottom of your roasting pan/dish. Rub the chicken with the melted butter and sprinkle GENEROUSLY with salt and pepper, inside and out. Place the lemon quarters inside the chicken (you will have to really shove them in there!). Place chicken in roasting pan on top of the onions. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken.

Roast for 1 hour 15 minutes (check if ready by cutting between the leg and thigh. The juice that comes out should be clear.) Remove from oven and cover entire pan tightly with tin foil (the chicken will continue to cook while it rests and soak up some of the pan juices. This step is really important for moist chicken!!!). Let sit for 15 minutes. Slice the chicken and serve with the browned onions. I also like to serve this with sauteed broccoli rabe and garlic mashed potatoes. Don't forget to squeeze some of the roasted lemons on top of everything... they make this chicken extra delicious!

Homemade Chicken Stock
makes 2-3 quarts

Roasted chicken bones from recipe above (or rotisserie chicken if you must..)
3-4 carrots unpeeled and chopped into thirds
6-7 stalk of celery with leaves chopped into thirds
2 large onions, with the skin still on chopped in quarters
15 sprigs fresh parsley
10 sprigs fresh thyme
15 sprigs fresh dill
1 head of garlic, unpeeled and cut in half crosswise
10 whole peppercorns
1 or 2 Tbs kosher salt (to taste)

Place all ingredients in a large stock pot or dutch oven ( I use a 9 quart for this, but you could use bigger). Fill pot with enough water to cover everything. Cover pot, place on burner and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, remove lid and lower heat to medium low (to maintain a gentle simmer). Cook for 2 1/2 hours (you could cook it for longer if you like but I do it this way because the flavor is still good, but I get more stock.)

Strain stock into a large bowl and allow to cool. Discard the bones and veggies. I like to put it in the refrigerator overnight and get it nice and cool before I put it into my plastic quart containers, but you can put it in warm if you like. This keeps for a few weeks in the refrigerator, but I almost always freeze mine. I always have a supply of homemade stock on hand. You'll be amazed at how much better your soups, rices and pot pies taste!

Note- This chicken stock can really be made with just about anything you have in your produce drawer. You could throw in turnips or parsnips, any kind of root vegetable, etc. It is a great way to use up produce before it goes bad. Same goes for the herbs... you could really use whatever you have. I have used oregano, rosemary and tarragon at one time or another. You could also make vegetable stock by omitting the chicken and adding additional vegetables. Lots of options here for getting the most out food just sitting around in your refrigerator.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Artisanal Food

I had a really hard time coming up with a website name for this blog considering just about any name I could come up with was already taken. I wanted something that defined me and my views on food. Artisanal Food to me is Good Food. Anything that took time and patience and started with quality ingredients, is handmade and did not spend time on a conveyor belt in a factory, to me, is considered artisanal. This is my kind of food. I love local, organic, homegrown food. I love to support the local farmers and try to buy most of my produce from within a 250 mile radius (especially during the summer months).

I like to cook seasonally too... I get really excited for asparagus since we don't cook it but during it's New England season of April-early June. I have been cooking asparagus at least twice a week for the past month, and have not tired of it yet! One of my favorite ways to eat asparagus is with a fried egg on top, with a little Parmesan and maybe some truffle oil if I'm feeling really crazy. You can eat this as an appetizer, side dish, light dinner, breakfast or lunch. It is simply amazing!

This is such a great combination of flavors, textures and colors. You have the crisp green asparagus, creamy orange (or yellow) yolk, sharpness from the parmesan and earthiness from the truffle oil. To me, a dish doesn't get better than this one!

Asparagus with Fried Egg

(feeds one- feel free to double, triple, etc.)

3-4 asparagus stalks (the thicker ones work best for this)- tough ends removed
1 egg (farm fresh and organic are the best for that beautiful orange color yolk)
Good Parmesan
Salt (kosher or a good salt like Maldon) and freshly ground pepper
Truffle oil (optional- but oh so good!)

In stovetop steamer, steam asparagus, sprinkled with a little salt, for about 2 minutes. (I make sure that water is boiling BEFORE placing vegetables in steamer to make sure you know exactly how long they have been cooking). You want the asparagus still crisp, NOT mushy!

Meanwhile, in a fry pan, heat a little butter and olive oil (equal parts) to coat (1/2 Tbs each in a medium pan) over medium /medium low heat. Cook to your liking (I like mine over easy, which takes no more than 2-3 minutes.)

Place asparagus on a plate. Slide egg on top, being careful not to break the yolk. Sprinkle a little more salt, some pepper and use a vegetable peeler to shave some parmesan on top. If you are using truffle oil, drizzle a little bit on top of the entire thing. A little goes a long way!

NOTE- To remove the tough ends from the asparagus stalk, simply bend the asparagus near the end. The asparagus will snap at the exact point to remove the part you don't want to eat!