November 25, 2007

Thanksgiving in NYC

We spent this Thanksgiving in NYC and our appetites were more than satisfied during this trip. While most of you were feasting on turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, we were slurping up soup dumplings and folding over large slices of pizza.

We spent a glorious Thanksgiving lunch at Joe Shanghai's in Chinatown, which is known all over the city for their soup dumplings. As a soup dumpling virgin, I had no idea these things were so good. They were truly awesome - warm, incredibly savory and actually fun to eat. They are steamed dumplings with a little pork meatball and savory broth in the center. You have to poke a small hole in the dumpling, pour in a teaspoonful of flavored soy-ginger sauce, slurp out the soup and proceed to eat the rest of the dumpling without burning your mouth. We also had amazing Orange Beef, Homemade Fried Shanghai noodles, and Kung Pao Chicken, all of which were incredibly good.

It was just a few short hours of walking around the city and seeing a movie before we could eat again. After striking out on a few of our favorite places in the West Village, we stumbled across a cute cafe called the Bus Stop. They had homey food that was perfect for the chilly evening and our tired feet. I got my roast turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes and wilted spinach. While not as good as our usual family feast, it hit the spot. Some earthy red wine and a slice of dark syrupy pecan pie rounded out the meal perfectly!

The next day we sought out one of the best coffee bars in NYC. Cafe Grumpy was reviewed in the New York Times and being the coffee lovers that we are, we had to make the trek. I had an amazing cappucino, and my other half said the espresso "changed his life." Their set up was incredible and it's hard to describe the care they took when pulling the shots of espresso and the precision with which they executed each step in the process. Definitely recommended if you're a coffee geek in any stretch of the imagination.

We waited in the cold outside Jon's Pizzeria for what has to be the best pizza in town. Then it was across the street to the Blind Tiger for some cask ale in front of a warm fireplace. Shopping ensued for much of the afternoon and then when more eating was in store, we had a marvelous dinner at Pastis in the meatpacking district.

I actually don't think there is anywhere I'd rather eat than a French bistro or brasserie. Just reading the menu and seeing things like Tripes or Carre d'Agneau melts my heart. I don't even eat tripe or skate or boar pate, but when I see it on a menu, it's like I'm back in France. I know that I will find good inexpensive red wine, good bread, braised meats that melt in your mouth and warm chocolate cakes or creme brulee. I feel nourished, fulfilled and jovial in a way that just going down the local burrito joint will never ever do for me. At Pastis, I had a warm goat cheese salad, braised beef with carrots (in the richest meaty sauce you can imagine) with french fries to soak up that sauce. Between our party of 4, we shared a warm chocolate cake, an Île flottante, and a creme brulee. Does life get any better?!

Well, that was my two days of fabulous eating in NYC this Thanksgiving. Hope your Thanksgiving was just as fulfilling!

November 10, 2007

It's November already!?!

Hello, hello, hello...
Is anybody out there?

Testing, one...two...three...(clear throat)...Let's try this again, huh? Hmm...what's been going on since mid-September?

New Job - check
In process of buying first home - check
Cooking more frequently - check
trying many new restaurants - check
feelin' good - check

I'm also giddy that it's my favorite-ist month - November! The season of pigging out on Turkey and all the fixin's is upon us. I'm an unabashed Thanksgiving food lover. Surprisingly, I've met quite a few people who are ambivalent or even (gasp!) reviled by Thanksgiving dinner. This I do not understand.

Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and green beans all drowning in gravy with just a dollop of cranberry sauce (you know, to completely offset all that fat) pretty much makes my eyes light up. Every component delicious and completely necessary. Add red wine and pumpkin pie and it's any wonder we don't all weep onto our plates in gratitude of our great heaping piles of bounty. It's the holiday for hedonists and strikes a deep personal divide between those that will completely let go, devour more than they ought and those that will not budge for one meal from their deep conviction that fat is evil. If they feel they must portray that we are what we eat, please do not do so for my benefit. We are what we eat, there's no doubt. I'm perfectly comfortable knowing that I am Gravy.

As I write this, I'm of course at once sure of myself and confused. I do not wish to vilify healthy eaters, because we all must be most of the time, but at the same time I am disturbed by the lack of passion when it comes to this one day in November when we can shed our reservations, become passionate food whores, drink too much and laugh at/with our family members.

All this being said, I'm going to NYC for Thanksgiving to eat Chinese food. I'm starting to feel a little bit of pain (my taste buds) when thinking about this. But, the good news is, I'm quite confident that I can create a beautiful Thanksgiving spread any day of the year so don't worry, I'll get mine!

This week, I'll be making these tasty Pumpkin Bars for my employer's Thanksgiving potluck.
Happy Turkey month!

September 17, 2007

Sunday Dinners 2

Wow - summer is coming to an end. Labor day weekend has come and gone, and August has flown by. I feel the urge to get this grilling triumph down on the page before the summer comes to a close. We had some friends over for another Sunday dinner and made an amazing smoked brisket on the grill, twice-baked potatoes, a green salad with apples, candied pecans and shaved parmesan, and a small gratin of spinach artichoke dip for an appetizer.

You'll have to wait for the brisket since it requires much consultation with the grill-master for the exact recipe, but the rest of the meal was just as worthy. You can see our humble dining room above, just waiting for the onslaught of food and wine.

First, the appetizer...
The recipe for this Spinach-Artichoke dip can be found here. I make this often and it never disappoints. This is a picture before it bakes in the oven until bubbly. I think it tastes best on warmed pita bread or baguette slices. This can be made well in advance.

Next, the sides...
Twice Baked Potatoes

4 Russet baking potatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
2 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1/2 cup sour cream
milk, maybe 1/2 cup
1 stick butter
fresh ground black pepper
kosher salt
2/3 cup grated white cheddar cheese

I found this combo to be really, really good. Of course, you can use whatever kind of cheese or cream cheese, etc, that you think makes a great mashed potato. I think the more herbs the better. Throw some blanched broccoli in with the mashed potatoes before baking, add a salad and this could be a hearty vegetarian meal.

Wash the potatoes and poke a few holes all over them with a knife. Bake at 375 degrees F for 1 hour or until potatoes are cooked through. Remove from the oven and let cool 10 minutes.

Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out the insides to a large bowl, leaving a small amount behind to keep a nice shell to hold the mashed potatoes. Add the butter, milk, sour cream, herbs and seasoning to the cooked potato and mash thoroughly. Stir in the shredded cheese; taste and re-season.

Scoop some of the mashed potatoes into each potato skin and sprinkle with additional shredded cheese. These can be made up to this point well in advance, just bring to room temperature before continuing. Bake at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and the potatoes are hot. Mixed Greens with Candied Pecans, Apples and Shaved Parmesan

3 cups washed lettuces (spring mix or baby lettuces)
1/2 cup whole pecan halves
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp butter
1 apple, fuji or something similar
large shavings of Parmeggiano Reggiano (or blue cheese if you prefer)

1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp dijon mustard
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp shallots, minced
1 tsp garlic, minced
fresh ground black pepper

First, toast the pecans in a dry skillet over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the butter and brown sugar and cook another 1-2 minutes until the sugar is dissolved and the pecans are evenly coated. Stir often for another minute and then remove to a piece of waxed paper or greased piece of foil, spreading them out so they cool separately.

Mix the dressing ingredients (amounts are approx.) in the bottom of a large salad bowl. Season to taste. Add the chopped apple to the dressing, place the lettuces on top of this, then the cooled pecans and finally the shavings of parmesan. Cover and refrigerate until serving. Do not make more than 1 hour in advance. Toss gently before serving.

September 11, 2007

A breakfast trial run.

No matter where we've lived, we've found our breakfast place. Ideally not just a diner, but not an upscale restaurant either. Most seem to have wooden benches or chairs that are slightly sticky. Most of the time the coffee is strong and the service somewhere between too slow and just right, and most Sundays, there are lines out the door.

We have found our breakfast place in Luna Grill and Diner. With a sort of small town vibe and homestyle food, it hits all the right notes. As our 10 years together could account for, we predictably order 2 coffees and 2 plates of eggs benedict, both with a side of fruit substituted for the potatoes. Since I feel everything is improved with cream sauce, eggs benedict is pretty much the most satisfying thing I can think of to eat at 10 am on a Sunday morning. Nevermind that Hollandaise sauce is not a cream sauce, merely a creamy sauce. It still sneaks in under the radar as the magical reason a poached egg perched on grilled ham that sits on a toasted english muffin is as close to a transcendent experience as one can get. Pretty pale looking at first, but full of sunshine once you burst that runny yellow egg yolk.
In a righteous attempt at creating this at home, I found new appreciation for the breakfast line cook. Indeed, I made a beautiful and decent tasting E.B. but the hollandaise was tricky. It came together and didn't break, but mine was too buttery and perhaps too lemony. It should be rich yet subtle and mine bragged too loudly of its fat content.

Still, we managed to choke it down and after the hour of prep time and the mountain of dishes accrued, we decided that next week we'd happily go back to Luna.

Anyone with a tried and true Hollandaise recipe is welcome to share it here!

September 9, 2007

Key Lime Tart

Alas...lots of cooking and very little writing do not a food blog make! I'm here to remedy this, finally. I think I have a few recipes that are worth sharing - and eating.

To start, my first attempt at using a pastry bag. Not overly impressive. But if you keep in mind it was completely without research or practiced technique, I think it looks cute enough. Plus, piping whipped cream doesn't hold it's shape quite as well as a buttercream frosting.

This whipped cream topped a creamy lime custard tart with a spicy gingersnap crust. Resembling key lime pie, but without real key limes, I admit it's only a Lime Tart. But, as a defense, Cook's Illustrated says that using Persian limes (supermarket limes) are both much easier to juice, as they're larger, and the taste difference is negligible. I don't know if I truly buy that these limes are interchangeable. I've had real key lime pie and it is superb, after all. But, this plain old Persian lime tart was easy and tasted fabulous!

Lime Tart with Gingersnap Crust
(recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated,
The Best Recipe)

1 1/2 cups gingersnap crumbs, ground in a food processor from gingersnap cookies
2 Tbsp sugar
4 Tbsp butter, melted
dash of cinnamon

Pulse the gingersnaps in a food processor until uniformly ground. Add the sugar and cinnamon. Pulse a few more times to incorporate. Remove the gingersnap crumbs to a mixing bowl. Stir in the melted butter until well combined. Press the crumbs evenly over the bottom and up the sides of a buttered tart pan. Using plastic wrap helps prevents the crumbs sticking to your fingers.

Bake the crust at 325 degrees F for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 15-20 minutes. You don't want to pour the filling into a piping hot crust.

1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup fresh lime juice, strained
4 egg yolks
2 Tbsp grated lime zest

Whisk together the egg yolks and lime zest in a medium bowl for several minutes. (Cook's Illustrated says this turns the yolks a pale green, but I didn't find this to be true.) Whisk in the condensed milk and then the lime juice. Let this mixture rest just a few minutes to thicken.

Once the crust has mostly cooled, pour the filling into the crust. Bake at 325 degrees F for 15-17 minutes or until the filling is almost set, but still wobbly in the center. Cool again until the tart is at room temperature, then refrigerate for about 3 hours until well chilled.

Whipped Cream:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 Tbsp confectioner's sugar

Beat the heavy cream on medium speed with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the sugar until smooth and stiffer peaks form. Using a pastry bag with a small star tip, pipe the whipped cream over the tart in whatever way your technique allows!

August 12, 2007

Sunday Dinner

I recently uploaded quite a few pictures from my camera and, to my surprise, I have been doing some cooking these past few weeks! Such a wonderful realization. Cooking has definitely taken a backseat lately, but the last few weekends, we've really done it well.

I officially started a new job that I really like. I point this out because I think the only reason I'm able to cook at all after a long day is because it's become much more of a joint effort - Paul either cooks most of the time, or definitely is in the kitchen with me when I'm tackling it. Doing it together really helps make it fun. The question, "what should we have for dinner?" is much less daunting with his help. (I'll spare you the part about my guilt over not being able to "do it all." If I'm honest, it was fleeting anyway. Letting go of it has made me much happier and if I can make something new, interesting or just satisfying a few times a week, that's good enough for me. It's not so much a lowering of my standards as a lowering of the frequency of my output.)

Anyway, on Sundays, we've been making a big dinner. A few weekends ago we made a meal inspired by Nigella Lawson. I've owned Feast for a long time, but this was the first attempt to use her recipes. We made an outstanding roast chicken and her smashed potato gratin. I can't squeal enough with delight over these potatoes. Good Lawd, they're good!

The gratin is a cross between Gratin Dauphinois and mashed potatoes. If I'm honest, it's a recipe that I might have overlooked, especially since I have an extremely biased opinion that Gratin Dauphinois cannot possibly be improved upon. I'm so glad we tried these, though, because these potatoes are delicious, slightly healthier (although no less rich) and even easier to make than a traditional gratin made of thinly sliced potatoes baked in heavy cream. Don't skip the onions or celery in here - they add a deep vegetal flavor that is hard to describe but extremely delicious.

Smashed Potato Gratin

(recipe adapted from Feast, by Nigella Lawson)

2 lbs potatoes, peeled

3 cups milk

2 tsp coarse salt

1/2 stick of celery, whole

4 green onions, trimmed

black or white pepper

about 1 stick butter

1/4 cup parmesan cheese

*One important note to remember is that this has many similarities to making mashed potatoes. You don't necessary measure the milk, but instead use as much as you feel you need once you start mashing the potatoes. This recipe is different in that you cook the potatoes in the seasoned milk. Just keep in mind that you should remove the cooked potatoes from the milk, start mashing and add as much milk as you need.

This is about the consistency you're going for...

1. Butter your gratin dishes or one large baking dish.

2. Peel and chop the potatoes into 1 inch chunks. Place them in a saucepan with the milk, whole green onions, celery, salt, pepper and 3/4 of the stick of butter. Bring this mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and let it simmer about 20-25 minutes.
3. Removed the celery and green onion pieces from the milk. Removed the potatoes to a medium bowl, start smashing them with a fork or potato masher, but do not completely mash, you want some chunks. This mixture should be more liquidy than normal mashed potatoes because the liquid will cook off in the oven.

4. Pour into your gratin dish and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake at 425 degrees F for 30 minutes. The top should be nice and brown and the contents bubbling. Serves 4 of us, maybe 6 less gluttonous people.

The finished gratin with most of the liquid absorbed.

I had to include this picture because it makes me laugh.

If you're still reading, the roasted chicken we made was also inspired by Nigella. We stuffed it full of celery, onions and herbs, and slathered it with a mixture from her St. Tropez Chicken. This included olive oil, honey, Herbes de Provence, garlic and lemon juice. Roasted at 375 degrees for 1 1/2 hours, it turned out to be really damn good. Sprinkle Herbes de Provence on chicken and you can't really go wrong!
Here's to Sunday dinners!

July 26, 2007

Presto Pasta!

I bet you can get a pretty good idea from this blog that I enjoy pasta. I enjoy it even more when it's dressed in a rich creamy sauce. We made this weeks ago and wished we could eat it for days on end. This recipe is based on a Rachael Ray recipe called Peasant Pasta. Her recipe is plainly rich tomato cream sauce and I've make ours a little spicy, which I think is a little more fun.

We cook together spicy sausage with garlic, cayenne pepper, a dash of chili powder, crushed tomatoes and cream. Peas and a handful of fresh basil are stirred into the sauce and tossed with penne pasta. So, if you don't like sausage, I'm sorry. You're really missing out. We used turkey sausage this time with great success, but chicken would also be great in this. I would increase the spices though, since the recipe calls for hot Italian sausage. This isn't really that spicy of a dish, it just balances out the richness of the cream. I believe I ate my portion in total silence until I was practically licking the plate - it's that good.

This recipe makes a ton, so I like to freeze half the sauce (before adding the cream or basil) to use another time. We toss the remaining half with about 1/2 lb of pasta and still have plenty for lunch the next day!

Spicy Tomato Cream Sauce with Sausage and Peas

1 lb hot Italian sausage or turkey sausage links, casings removed
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper, or more

1/2 tsp chili powder

1/2 cup chicken broth
1 (28 oz) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1/2 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup cream

20 fresh basil leaves, torn

parmesan cheese

3/4 lb penne or other tubular pasta

Cook the sausage in a non-stick skillet over medium high heat, breaking it up into bite size chunks. Cook all the way through, drain off any grease and return to heat. Add the garlic, cayenne, chili powder, and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Cook 2-3 minutes.

Bring to a boil a large pot of water for the pasta. Salt the water and cook penne 10-12 minutes. Deglaze the pan with chicken broth, scraping the pan and letting the broth reduce. Add the crushed tomatoes and simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes. Taste and add more cayenne or black pepper if it isn't spicy enough. Stir in the cream, peas and torn basil. Taste once more for seasoning. Toss the drained pasta with the sauce and serve with grated parmesan cheese. Serves 6.I'm submitting this to Ruth's Presto Pasta Night gathering over at Once Upon a Feast since it is pasta and a quick dish at that. Enjoy the meal ideas over there each Friday!

July 22, 2007

Lasagna of a different sort.

I posted this recipe about a year ago but came across it again recently. I think it's definitely a keeper. I love taking recipes for familiar, comforting foods and just twisting them a bit into something new. This lasagna might sound a little odd, but we love it. Many of the key Italian flavors are replaced by Mexican ones - cilantro instead of basil, black beans instead of meat, and a tomato sauce gets spiked with salsa.

If you can find fresh pasta sheets, definitely use those, otherwise normal lasagna noodles or the no-boil ones work really well. Of all the lasagna I've made, the ones that turn out the best include whole-milk ricotta, good quality aged parmigiano-reggiano and plenty of fresh herbs. You really can't go wrong if you use high quality cheese, especially the ricotta. A few months ago I made a lasagna with skim-milk ricotta and it was pretty awful - tasteless and dry instead of rich and creamy. This recipe is like most though and substitutions abound. Spicy sausage or ground meat would be a nice alternative, as would adding mixed roasted vegetables. This recipe makes a 9x13 pan so there's plenty to freeze for later!

Black Bean and Spinach Lasagna
  • 12 no-boil lasagna noodles, or 9 long lasagna noodles, cooked and drained
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 (16 oz) jar medium chunky salsa
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 pkg frozen spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15 oz) container whole milk ricotta
  • 1 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1 cup shredded monterey jack
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the onions and bell pepper, cook until onions are quite soft. Add the garlic, cumin and chili powder and cook 2 more minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and salsa, cover and simmer on low heat for 15-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the other ingredients.

In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta, egg, and parmigiano. Add a little milk or cream to loosen the mixture a bit, so that it spreads easily. Season with black pepper.
Drain the set aside both the black beans and the spinach. Taste the tomato sauce, adding salt, pepper or more spice, if needed. The sauce can taste a little acidic but it will balance out once combined with the pasta and cheeses. Stir in the cilantro and turn off the heat.

Put a ladle full of sauce over the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Put down a layer of lasagna noodles, then half the ricotta mixture. Next, sprinkle on half the black beans and spinach, some shredded mozzarella and monterey jack and top with a small amount of tomato sauce. Repeat by layering the noodles, ricotta, beans and spinach, shredded cheese and sauce. Top with final lasagna noodles, the remaining tomato sauce and sprinkle with a generous covering of cheese.

Bake, covered, at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes. Remove the foil/cover and bake another 15-20 minutes, or until browned and bubbling. Serves 8.

July 20, 2007

Gettin' Outta Town

My apologies for the delay in posting! I lost my camera cord for a while and refuse to post without pictures. More to come soon!
Downtown Charlottesville
Last weekend we went to see our good friends who live in Charlottesville, Virginia. We had passed through only once on our way to see Monticello a few months ago, so we were glad to see more of the town. It's a great college town in the way it has everything you want - great restaurants, a pedestrian mall with a pavilion that regularly welcomes quite famous bands, nice people, and a sense of community. Music plays and the outdoor seating at restaurants is packed with happy, boisterous people.

One of the highlights of the pedestrian mall was the gelateria that served some of the most delicious and authentic gelato I've had outside of Italy. It came really close to the real stuff! We had a sinful combo of pistachio, coconut and tiramisu, although I may have sampled the amaretto, honey and chipotle chocolate, too.

I could tell you in detail about our visits to a couple wineries in the area, but besides being a fun way to spend an afternoon, the wines aren't anything to rave about. The setting is beautiful and some of the whites are decent and I think it's enough to keep it at that. If you are visiting Virginia, it's a wonderful thing to do, don't get me wrong. Buy a glass, bring a picnic and take in the scenery.

Besides getting my gelato fix, one of the more amazing moments of the evening was when our host, Matthew, opened his liquor cabinet. We met these amazing friends of ours in Paris, so we have many grand memories and shared loves. I usually think Paul has the reputation of having an odd but beautiful assortment of alcohols, but Matthew takes it to another level. You can see in the picture the wonderful representation. He doesn't have anything close to what you would call normal. I'm pretty sure more than a few aren't even legal to have here, which is especially fun.
First we were shown the Absinthe, then the Grappa, the a few tequilas, one bottle encased in leather. There were a few mini-bottles from Budapest and farther which tasted of pine needles and had an unattractive brown color. There was definitely a kind of tequila with a worm in it, and Havana Club brought back from Cuba, but the pièce de resistance, and the only one we tried, was a French Calvados of unknown age. But rest assured, it was old. You can see by the picture the layers of furry mold covering the label. It was an assertive but smooth apple brandy and it tasted refined. It was definitely a pleasure to taste and a sight to see.

The other significant event of the weekend was my husband eating grilled Alaskan salmon and loving it! I think it was because he trusted the source - Matthew grew up in Alaska, fishing and eating wild salmon the way the rest of us grew up eating hamburger or Kraft dinner. It was grilled to perfection with a little jerk seasoning and I think we have a new favorite!

Merci Beaucoup Matthew and Aniseh!

July 3, 2007

Who wants dessert?

I don't know what I'm doing lately. I haven't made this many desserts in quite awhile. The strangest part is that I don't even need much prompting to get in the kitchen and whip it up. What can I say? I'm a sucker for fresh summer fruit and new individual baking dishes. In addition to loving the taste of these strawberry-blueberry crisps, I love my new individual gratin-like dishes that are the perfect vessels with which to carry these raw berries to baked, bubbly perfection.

I'm not all that picky when it comes to crisp topping; I mean, honestly, any combo of brown sugar, nuts, oatmeal or cookies crushed up with butter is going to pretty freaking good. In these crisps, I made a basic crisp topping with ingredients I had right in the pantry: oatmeal, almonds, flour and brown sugar. I love berries this time of year and there's the added bonus: no peeling or chopping, just rinse and toss them in! This recipe serves 2, but you could easily double or triple the recipe for your next picnic!

Happy 4th of July!
What are you cooking for The Fourth? Leave your favorite dishes or desserts in the comments section!Berry Crisp
(adapted from Alton Brown)
5 large fresh strawberries
1 cup fresh blueberries

1 Tbsp sugar

1 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 - 1/3 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup oatmeal (or amaretti or other cookies)
1/3 cup sliced almonds

3 Tbsp butter

vanilla ice cream

Toss the rinsed and drained berries with the sugar (to taste) and flour to coat evenly. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, oatmeal and almonds. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter, fork or your fingers until the butter is in small pieces, about the size of a pea.

Butter 2 gratin dishes, small dishes or ramekins and pour the tossed berries in them. Top the berries with a generous amount of the topping. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes or until the berries are bubbling beneath the browned topping. Let cool 5-10 minutes. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Serves 2.

June 29, 2007

Peasant Bread

This is the delicious bread my husband grew up enjoying: Peasant Bread from the Palo Alto, California Junior League Cookbook. It's a lovely ciabatta-like rustic bread that is brushed with melted butter and baked on a sprinkling of cornmeal for added crunch on the bottom. In addition to being simple to make, it's incredibly delicious! As far as I know, there are two volumes of these cookbooks, and I own one of them. Mine was given to me for my wedding shower from Paul's lovely aunt Pam. I love to have this link with California, especially so close to where my husband was born.This cookbook is just great, too. It's a brief but beautiful book that feels like my own little personal collection; a slice of another sort of life. And since it's true to California, it doesn't contain your average church cookbook, no. It does have some kitchy things like Coconut Mold with Brandied Prunes, Chicken Curry, Ceviche, and something called Gullixson Crab, but it also has rich dishes like 2-day Filet of Beef, a great Pasta Salad, Chicken in Vermouth, and Salmon in Mustard Cream. I'm sure you get the idea. It takes me to another world of women's luncheons and society dinners. "Why, yes, this recipe will be just the thing!"

Hope you make it soon! You'll love it!!

Peasant Bread

1 packet yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
1 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt

Stir these together until the yeast and sugar dissolve. Pour into:

4 cups all-purpose flour

Stir until dough comes together and is quite sticky. Transfer this to a well-oiled bowl, cover and let rise for 45 minutes.

Transfer dough to a floured cutting board and divide into 2 rectangular loaves. Place these loaves on a well-oiled sheet pan sprinkled with a generous amount of cornmeal (about 3-4 Tbsp). Let the loaves rise another 45 minutes.Brush the loaves with melted butter. Bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes, then decrease the temperature to 375 degrees F and bake for 15-20 minutes. Brush with more melted butter after removing them from the oven; let cool a bit, slice and serve!

June 22, 2007

Summer Grilling

Nothing says summertime like firing up the grill and tossing on a few steaks, kabobs, hamburgers or ears of corn on the cob. I started thinking that grilling often ends up with a protein heavy meal - the options are endless, after all. Every carnivore loves a slightly charred steak or pork chop, eh? We have been marinating and grilling our favorite flank steak for a few weeks in a row now, and occasionally, our dinners lack, well, vegetables. The easiest solution? Put the vegetables on the grill, too!

My parents are avid gardeners who've grown everything: peppers, onions, corn, potatoes, asparagus, blueberries, raspberries, green peas, green beans, (gasp for air!) broccoli, cauliflower, squash, melon, and the list goes on and on. I hope everyone can experience the taste of new potatoes cooked the day they are dug out of the ground. Simply brilliant.

For grilled corn on the cob, clean off the silk while leaving the husks on and soak the entire cob in water for about 15 minutes. This will allow the corn to steam inside its husk while on the grill. Place on the grill for 15-20 minutes or until the corn kernels are tender. Slather with butter, salt and pepper and enjoy!
Marinated Flank Steak

For this sweet, flavorful flank steak, marinate the steak overnight (24 hours, but 8 hours would do) in:

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp ginger, minced
1 green onion, sliced
ground black pepper
1 flank steak (about 3 lbs), trimmed of fat

Mix together and place in a large ziploc bag. Tenderize the flank steak by going over it with a fork, stabbing it throughout. This also allows the marinade to really be absorbed. Marinate in the fridge overnight. Cook the steak about 5-8 minutes over medium high heat for medium rare. The steaks are quite thin so cook accordingly.

June 3, 2007

Lemon Tart with Coconut Crust

These back to back lemon posts display, dear readers, what is the integral theme of my eating habit. It is called a rut. I'm not exactly proud of this but it is true - if I get one craving in my head, I don't let go of it for some time. (Note: making mac 'n cheese 5 days in a row) But, hey, at least it isn't another cake! Lemon and coconut are a fantastic pairing. Lemon tarts were some of my favorite desserts in Paris. Sold at every corner bakery, I adore the smooth and tangy lemon filling with a perfectly light crust.

So, you know it's a sad day when you get a call and the glorious lemon tart with a coconut crust you made the day before was idiotically left on the counter sans couverture and devoured by a resident ant colony. I can only picture what a happy death those ants must have experienced swimming into the perfectly baked (set but not gelatinous) smooth and creamy lemon filling. It was so good, damn it! I was so proud of myself for not over-baking it, too. It had a really simple crust made of only three things - coconut, sugar and egg whites – that spared me a lot of time in preparing the tart and tasted great, too.

I have somehow shed my sadness over this tart-loss and have vowed to bake again. At some point, anyway.

Top this tart with sliced strawberries or fresh blueberries for a delicious fruit tart, or leave it simply lemon fabulous. Or use tiny tartlet pans for individual servings! Lemon Tart with a Coconut Crust

Lemon Filling:
3 whole eggs

3 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

3/4 cup fresh lemon juice, strained
(about 5-6 lemons)
2 Tbsp lemon zest (about 3 lemons)
pinch of salt 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, cubed First, zest 3 lemons and set the zest aside. Juice those lemons first and then 3 others. This is the most time consuming part. Set up a small mesh strainer over a large glass measuring cup and squeeze, using a fork or a fancier tool to help.

Whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice, zest, and salt in a medium stainless steel saucepan. Add the bits of butter and whisk over medium low heat constantly for about 7-10 minutes. Do not let the mixture boil.

Cook until thickened and mixture coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and pour through a fine mesh strainer and set aside.
Coconut Crust:
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg whites

Place the coconut and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the coconut is very fine. Add the egg whites and process until thoroughly incorporated. The mixture will be wet and sticky. Using wet fingers, press the coconut evenly on the bottom and sides of a well greased tart pan, or 8 individual tartlet pans. Bake at 325 degrees F for 25-30 minutes until golden. Half way through baking, press the crust down with the back of a spoon as the egg whites tend to puff up.

Remove the crust from the oven when golden, and pour in the lemon filling. Return to the 325 degree F oven for 8-10 minutes. Cook until set but not completely. The filling should still shake easily (not wobble like jello) when it's done. Cool completely to serve.

If using small tartlet pans, remove the crust from the pans after baking. Cool them 10 minutes, but remove them while still warm. Place back on a baking sheet and then pour in the lemon filling. This crust becomes quite sticky, so removing them after they're completely cooled would be tricky. However, since I made a large tart, I didn't trust myself to remove the whole thing nicely from the pan, so I just kept it in - up to you.

May 26, 2007

Pucker Up, Baby!

Lemons scream Spring to me. Their vibrant yellow color calls for attention whenever I pass them at the market. I bet there are a few of you out there who would agree with me that when confronted with the choice of chocolate or lemon, lemon wins most of the time. Lemon tarts, lemon meringue pie, lemon poppy seed muffins, lemonade, or margaritas bursting with fresh citrus are my favorites.

I remember Martha Stewart saying that lemons were what she missed most while she was stuck in the slammer. I laughed with everyone else when she said it since it was classic Martha, but I know that eating good food directly impacts my own state of well-being, so I don't really hold it against her so much. I don't know that I would say lemons, per say, as I feel it has slightly frigid undertones, but homemade ravioli, aged serrano ham, even ice cream might make my list! Or hell, a glass of red wine!

So, it might not make my prison list, but sometimes I do yearn for a real shot of lemon. Something so tangy it makes my mouth pucker from the initial sourness and then smile as I savor the lingering sweetness. This lemon cake does the trick. This is a yogurt cake, similar to the yogurt cakes I've made in the past, but baked in a loaf pan this time around. This is somewhat like a pound cake, but lighter in texture and slightly moister because of the oil. It's wonderful for breakfast or dessert!
Lemon Yogurt Cake
(recipe adapted from Ina Garten)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
1 cup whole-milk plain yogurt (or low-fat)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1 Tbsp lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
scant 1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 cup powdered sugar
4-5 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, mix together the yogurt, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and lemon zest. Gradually whisk in the flour mixture, a little at a time, until well combined. Finally, whisk in the oil very lightly until it is incorporated. Do not overmix.

Grease and flour a 9x5 loaf pan. Pour the batter into the pan and bake at 350 degrees F for 55-65 minutes. While the cake is baking, bring the lemon juice and remaining 1/3 cup sugar to a simmer over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

Remove the cake from the oven when it is done and let it cool about 10-15 minutes. Remove it carefully from the pan and place on a cooling rack or plate. Slowly pour the lemon syrup over the top of the cake so it can soak into the cake giving it a lot of flavor. Cool completely.

If you would like the add the glaze, mix together the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice until smooth and pour evenly over the cake. I left the glaze off this time but I would definitely use it if serving for dessert.

May 16, 2007

Thinking and Blogging? Together?

Well, it's been a while. Excuses go something like this - transitioning from one job to the next while spending a long weekend hosting the parents and seeing all the sights in DC.

Some time between all of that, I was tagged with a Thinking Blogger Award! I'm happy that some part of this blog has resonated with some of you out there, even though, personally, I feel I'm doing more thinking these days than actual blogging! Nevertheless, I'm proud to wear the badge, so thanks to Mooncrazy of Peanut Butter Etouffee for the prize!

Since this is a meme, I'll continue the tradition with my pick of 3 blogs that really make me think, although there are many that come to mind.

David Lebovitz - Having lived in Paris, I feel so close to the topics he chronicles and inspired that he does so in such depth and with such passion for France and all it has to offer. Although I tried my best to devour everything to be found in Paris, David takes it to an entirely different level and I'm transported back there whenever I read his blog. The way he points out the idiosyncrasies of the French language and people truly makes me laugh and cry at the same time.

Tea and Cookies - Tea started her fabulous blog around the time I was starting mine and after having read only a little of her writing, I knew I would be going back again and again. Once I realized she was also a former American Expat, I knew our common experience would link us in a way that few others can understand. Her words and wisdom make me think about this crazy life a little bit differently and her honesty and thoughtfulness make me strive for those qualities in my own writing.

Do I just love cookies? Maybe. But, Milk and Cookies is another blog that I enjoy for quite a few reasons but mostly because of the fantastic photography, yummy recipes and the simple fact that JenJen blogs from Australia, meaning that I can read about cool ice cream treats in the dead of winter and autumn dishes in the spring, transporting me away to another season and another place.

So many more I could mention, but that will do for now. More recipes soon!

May 5, 2007

Turkey Sausage is the New Black!

This lasagna was a small triumph for me. I’ve made quite a few pans of lasagna in my time, but this was truly one of the best. The turkey sausage made it nice and spicy, but it wasn’t overloaded with meat the way some lasagna becomes. The sauce I made had a little spice to it, too, and the whole thing was a well balanced combination of richness, spiciness and cheesy goodness without being greasy or heavy.

I was inspired both by Ina Garten’s recipe for Turkey Lasagna and an Epicurious recipe including a spicy tomato sauce. Garten’s lasagna called for goat cheese mixed in with the ricotta but, while I love goat cheese, I didn’t have any on hand. I did have some cream cheese, and since I had tried that before with great results, I stirred some of that in with the ricotta for added creaminess. I find this unnecessary with fresh whole milk ricotta, but supermarket brands are pretty bland, so I like the rich taste that cream cheese gives the filling. Really, what isn’t made better with cream cheese?

I don’t know if all of you out there have an opinion about this or not, but I used frozen spinach in this lasagna, and it’s the second or third time I’ve done so, and I really think it tastes nasty. Most of the time, I don’t mind frozen spinach in baked dishes, but from now on I’m going to cook down fresh spinach. I thought it gave the lasagna almost a bitter flavor, especially when reheated the next day. Any thoughts?

This lasagna reminds of the way I like my drinks – lighter, in the sense that the proportions are kept the same, but in a smaller amount, not weak, in the sense that less alcohol is diluted in the same amount of tonic, for example. Everything in a typical lasagna is here and it is rich tasting, but it’s also lighter than most. So, in my roundabout way, I’m trying to say that this is a meal you can also feel good about eating.

Turkey Sausage and Spinach Lasagna with Spicy Tomato Sauce
(adapted from Ina Garten and

The Sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
3/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 6-oz can tomato paste Cook the onion in the olive oil over medium heat until transluscent. Sweat the onions but don’t let them brown, stirring occasionally, for 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and dried herbs. Stir frequently and cook 2-3 minutes.

Add the tomato paste, stir to break it up and cook about 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes and a splash of red wine, if you have some on hand. Let the sauce simmer, stirring occasionally, for at least 30 minutes, preferably 1 hour. Taste for seasoning and set aside.

The Filling:

1 ¼ lb spicy Italian sausage links, casings removed
9 traditional lasagna noodles, or 12 barilla no-cook noodles
1 15-oz container ricotta cheese
3-4 oz cream cheese, about ½ cup
1 10-oz pkg frozen spinach, thawed, or 2 cups cooked fresh spinach
1 ¼ c. grated parmesan cheese
1 large egg, slightly beaten
2 cups fresh mozzarella cheese, grated or thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cook the sausage in a non-stick pan over medium heat, breaking the links into small chunks with a spatula, until no longer pink. Remove the sausage to a paper towel lined plate and set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta cheese, cream cheese, ¾ cup parmesan cheese and the egg. Season with black pepper.

In a 9x13 baking dish, place about 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom. Layer 3 or 4 lasagna noodles on the bottom, depending on their size. Cover the noodles with half of the ricotta mixture and half of the sausage and spinach. Sprinkle lightly with mozzarella. Ladle some sauce over the top and make another layer by first placing the noodles down, then the rest of the ricotta, sausage and spinach. Sprinkle with more cheese and ladle on a bit more sauce, reserving plenty of sauce for the top. Add the last of the noodles on top and cover generously with sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and parmesan.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the top is nicely browned and lasagna is bubbling and hot.

April 28, 2007

Pizza...Obsession or Healthy Devotion?

So many of the meals we try to make at home come from our desire to imitate delicious restaurant dishes. Eating at fantastic restaurants is fundamental to our understanding and high expectations for the food we eat. When you know how good something can be, how can you go home and eat cereal? Even when that profound experience I'm referring to includes pizza? Oui.

Although everyone says Washington, DC isn’t a pizza town, I have had some pretty good pizza here, although I have found a lack of authenticity. I desperately miss the thin and crispy Italian-style pizza found in Paris, with toppings like Parma ham and arugula, or chorizo with a cracked egg on top, but I am enough of a pizza lover that I’ll take it deep-dished, stuffed, chewy or crispy, as long as it’s done well.

Pizza Parma from Pizzeria Carmine in Paris

So far, there have been a few interesting pizzas that have left an impression on me. The first was at Rustico, in Alexandria, where they have a huge brick oven and generally create good quality thin crust pizzas. I remember loving their chicken, bacon and apple version. Next, we had some really yummy grilled flatbread topped with butternut squash, onions, spinach and feta during happy hour at Old Ebbitt’s downtown. So, it is with these two variations that I offer you the following ideas for some amazingly different and delicious pizza.

First, an easy pizza sauce. This makes much more than you need for one pizza, but I divide it into smaller freezer bags or containers and freeze it for the next time we make pizza. Thaw in the microwave before using. I’m not kidding around with the San Marzano tomatoes, either; their texture is much better than other brands of crushed tomatoes. Pizza making is serious business, right? One of these days, we’re going to get back into making our own pizza dough, which we used to love doing. But, when there isn’t time for that, we love the fresh dough you can buy at Whole Foods and form yourself.

Easy Pizza Sauce

1 28-oz can San Marzano crushed tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 Tbsp dried basil
2 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried crushed chili flakes, or to taste
½ tsp salt
1 tsp olive oil

Combine all the above ingredients in a small bowl until well mixed. No need to cook it! Makes enough for maybe 4 large pizzas.

Chicken, Bacon and Apple Pizza with White Cheddar

1 cup leftover roast chicken
3 slices bacon, diced
1 granny smith or gala apple, diced or thinly sliced
½ onion, thinly sliced
Easy pizza sauce
½ cup grated white cheddar
1 small ball fresh mozzarella
Dried oregano
Your favorite pizza crust

Sauté the bacon in a non-stick skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Wipe out the pan and add a little olive oil. Sauté the onion and apple until slightly softened.

Form the pizza crust as thick or thin as you wish, on a pizza peel, if you have one, or a baking sheet if you don’t. If you have a pizza stone, preheat it in a very hot oven, at least 450 degrees. If using a baking sheet, 425 may be sufficient.

Top the crust with as much sauce as you like, some shredded chicken, some bacon pieces and the apple and onion mixture. Sprinkle with some cheddar, slices of fresh mozzarella, and dried oregano. Bake for 10 minutes, or so, until the crust is crispy and cheese melted.

Pizza with Butternut Squash, Sage and Caramelized Onions

A white pizza that makes an equally divine appetizer when entertaining, or dinner when simply hungry.

¼ whole butternut squash, peeled and diced
6-8 fresh sage leaves, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ large yellow onion, thinly sliced
Fresh mozzarella
½ cup aged parmesan, or asiago cheese

Caramelize the onions by heating some olive oil in a saucepan. Add the onions and cook over medium low heat for 5-7 minutes to sweat the onions until very soft. Season with salt and pepper and turn the heat up to medium high. Sauté, stirring every few minutes, until onions are browned and caramel colored. Remove from heat.

Toss the diced butternut squash pieces with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and spread on a small baking sheet. Roast at 375 for 15 minutes, until tender and slightly browned.

Brush your pizza crust with some olive oil and sprinkle with minced garlic. Top with the cheeses, caramelized onions, sage leaves and diced butternut squash. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Cool slightly before cutting and serving.

April 22, 2007

One of the most amazing meals I've eaten.

Herb Gnocchi with Butternut Squash, Mushrooms and Sage Brown Butter

My husband is a man of good ideas. Making homemade gnocchi has been up on the list for awhile now and Paul's discovery of this recipe makes the previous sentence a glaring understatement. He is the idea man when it comes to branching out in the kitchen.

This amazing recipe comes from Thomas Keller and lives up to all the lofty expectations for flavor, appearance and texture one has when attempting a recipe such as this. The 4-page recipe printout has more text than I am normally accustomed to, but despite the narrative quality of the recipe, this is actually a straightforward, simple dish. This is a perfect meal in my mind, and since you can cook all the ingredients separately and ahead of time, this is easy to serve to friends.

Keller, the acclaimed chef and owner of the French Laundry in Napa Valley, throws in just enough history and explanation to excite your taste buds, while the highly detailed instructions give you confidence while you are cooking. I won’t reprint the recipe here since even if I tried, I could never paraphrase or explain the recipe better than the master himself. So, go to for the full recipe, or his cookbook, Bouchon. After savoring every morsel of this meal, I will definitely be purchasing the book.

This tender gnocchi is Gnocchi à la Parisienne. In actuality, this is a pâte à choux, the same dough used for cream puffs, éclairs, gougères and other delicacies. It is a tender, eggy dough that Keller places in a pastry bag and pipes little gnocchi-sized pieces into simmering water. These are then drained, and later sautéed with diced pieces of sweet butternut squash, sautéed mushrooms and shallots in fresh thyme and drizzled with a brown butter sauce flavored with fresh sage and parsley. We realized that what makes this dish go from great to amazing is the subtlety of the flavors, especially the hint of lemon in the brown butter and sage sauce which balances so well with the sweetness of the squash.

This is an herbaceous meal, to say the least, as it requires the purchase of 6 types of herbs. Other than that expense, this bistro dish is actually quite feasible to prepare by the home chef. As we were eating this gnocchi and grinning from ear to ear, we managed to sip down some nice red wine and thought about how we could’ve been sitting at a good Parisian bistro. If someone had only baked a molten chocolate cake for dessert, it would have pretty much been our version of heaven!

We love that this gnocchi recipe makes more than you need for the actual dish, so we have another portion of them waiting for us in the freezer! Oh a joyful day that will be!

My only small complaint about this recipe is the amount of oil and butter used for sautéing the squash, mushrooms and gnocchi. Keep in mind that the gnocchi are drizzled with the brown butter sauce at the end, so I don’t think every component to the dish needs to be covered in so much oil. We also thought the amount of salt in the gnocchi recipe was a little too much. Other than those small things, this was fun and so satisfying to make!

the gnocchi ready to be piped into the simmering water,
just use a knife to cut off 1-inch pieces

the gnocchi simmer for just 2-3 minutes

the cooked gnocchi awaiting their sage butter bath

butternut squash sauteing in olive oil and butter

cremini mushrooms and shallots cooked with thyme
(Keller calls for shiitake mushrooms, which I couldn't find)

the brown butter sauce is accented with fresh parsley, the juice of 1/2 a lemon and chives