March 27, 2007

A Whole New World

Sorry I’ve been away so long!

I’ve been awfully busy lately since joining the 9 to 5 club. I’ve found myself wholly unprepared for the abandonment of my blog, cooking, yoga and all the rest of life’s pleasures. I have been mourning each meal left uncooked and been drowning my sorrows (though not completely without joy) in happy hour drinks and appetizers known as the sustenance of the rest of the daily-grinders like myself.

Joining the working class has simultaneously left me depressed and elated. Elated at the prospect of earning money and potentially finding rewarding work, but, ultimately, staring at that turkey sandwich on wheat, baby carrots or banana, and my precious Diet Coke in the face each day for lunch frankly makes me want to drive that letter opener into my chest. Not even singing 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton makes me feel any better.

Thankfully, I have the greatest husband on earth who has a job that allows him to jump into the house-husband role. He makes dinners, cleans our condo and generally makes me feel that I don’t need to lift a finger once I get home. My eventual goal is to get back into cooking and manage my time a bit better than these past weeks. I did want to share one more recipe that Paul makes so incredibly well. Guacamole!

I haven’t included this recipe here yet because there are so many guacamole recipes out there, but I think Paul has tailored ours to perfection, at least for our tastes! The most important ingredient is the avocados, so they absolutely must be ripe. We all know how amazing guac is with the perfect avocados! We don’t include too much onion, garlic, or tomato, but lots of fresh cilantro and lime juice. Some people swear by Serrano chilies, but we discovered, by happy accident, that a few dashes of Tabasco sauce is what we prefer. It was pretty difficult to find fresh chilies while we lived in Paris, so we had to use Tabasco sauce instead, and we love the smooth aromatic heat that comes on the front of your tongue instead of chewing on one bite of chili. The Tabasco will get stirred in evenly giving the guac a cohesive flavor. Try it and you might just change your mind!

Guacamole, by Paul

4 ripe Hass avocados
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
½ large tomato (on-the-vine)
1 lime, juiced
¼ red onion, optional
Large handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
Coarse sea salt

Dice the avocados on a large cutting board. Place half of the chunks in a medium bowl. Smash the remaining avocado on the cutting board until fairly creamy. Add this to the bowl. Fold in the chopped onion, tomatoes, and cilantro. Squeeze ½ of the lime into the guacamole and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Taste and add more lime juice to taste. Serve with tortilla chips or as a garnish for enchiladas or tacos. Serves about 6 as an appetizer. We usually halve the recipe for the two of us.

March 9, 2007

Butterscotch Pudding

I grew up on Jello Cook 'n Serve chocolate pudding. My Grandma kept a large cache of the stuff in a cupboard in her kitchen. When I was a kid, I would often stay over at my grandparent's house when I was "sick." I would inevitably make my way over to that cupboard and pull out a box, sometime between a nap and playing dominoes or Go Fish with Grandpa.

So, I can pretty much go on autopilot whisking and waiting for pudding to thicken. It's in my blood. I love puddings of all flavors but I don't make them from scratch all that often. Since it's such an old fashioned dessert, I think I pass it over for more elegant desserts when having friends over, but now I see that's a huge error. Pudding is just what you want when you have a party! You make it ahead of time, it's really easy and everybody loves it! Stop! Stt-tt-op! Arrête! Don't question it, just make this!

I added the blackberries for a little surprise and touch of refinement, as recommended by my mother-in-law. Top these puddings with a little flavored whipped cream (that amaretto!) and maybe some toffee bits. When I do serve this at my next dinner, I want to try making my own almond brittle to stick in there like big shards of glass. These puddings might not look very dark in color, but I assure they are packed with sweet toffee flavor! Serve this cold or warm. I adore it warm because of the sweeter melted-caramel taste, but served cold, the sweetness is more subtle and balanced out with the cream. Either way, I'm so excited to eat this after dinner tonight!

Do you know anyone who doesn't like pudding?!
Butterscotch Pudding with Sunken Blackberries
(slightly adapted from Butter Sugar Flour Eggs by Gale Gand)

1 cup heavy cream
2 1/4 cups whole or 2% fat milk

6 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar, packed
3 egg yolks

1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp Amaretto liquor, or Scotch whisky

Combine the milk and cream in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Turn off the heat immediately and set aside.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat and add the brown sugar. Stir and cook 5-7 minutes, until fully melted and bubbling. You will smell that nutty caramel scent when it's ready. Turn off the heat. Whisk the brown sugar caramel into the hot milk mixture, gradually, until all of it is combined and dissolved into the milk. The milk will be a light brown color.

Put the egg yolks in a bowl and whisk 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks. Whisk in the cornstarch and salt. Gradually whisk the egg yolk mixture back into the pot of hot milk until smooth. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the pudding thickens and just starts to boil. Whisk vigorously.

Turn off the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract and Amaretto or Scotch. Divide pudding between 6 small ramekins or other serving dishes. If desired, drop 3 whole blackberries into each ramekin, pouring more pudding over the top to hide them. Chill for at least 2 hours, if serving cold. I actually prefer this warm, though. Serve with whipped cream or toffee bits.
Serves 6.

March 7, 2007

Tyler’s Enchiladas Verdes

One lazy afternoon Paul and I were lounging around watching the Food Network. There are some shows that really inspire me and then there are shows I just love to hate. If you were lucky enough to read Anthony Bourdain’s hilarious post about the FN over at, then you know what I mean. Molto Mario’s pasta making is being pushed out by Sandra Lee’s can opening and Ms. Ray’s choreography of hand gestures and what can only be described as extreme facial exercises. Meanwhile, Giada’s cleavage is undermining her skills and all of these “how to eat while on vacation” shows are getting tiresome. And I will never, ever forgive them for the Paula Deen Goes to Paris special. Oiy vey.

Okay, I’m getting off track. The point is that all these crappy shows have destroyed what made the Food Network so great – real chefs with real techniques that helped us non-chefs learn a thing or two and maybe even aspire to greatness. I don’t need to hear tips like, “just buy chicken breasts that are already cut up…it’s more expensive, but will save you so much time!” (Thank you, Robin Miller). If I turn on the FN one more time and hear how cooking is a hassle and how quick meals are all about saving me time and valuable energy I could devote elsewhere (to say, eating donuts and watching more tv) I think I’m going to lose it. Sure, we don’t always have hours to devote to slow roasting a pork loin on a busy Tuesday night, but that doesn’t mean I need to buy every expensive, pre-cut item in the store just so I can throw it in a pan and be done with it! Are people out there so starved for ideas that they need a show to tell them to sauté some chicken for a burrito filling? (I’m sure the FN says yes!) And then watch some woman take a bite and proclaim it heavenly and to-die-for. Really? Because I find it pretty damn sad to die for Old El Paso Taco Seasoning. Who are these mutants?

Okay, all this ranting could be seen as pretty shallow and selfish, I admit. Why isn't the FN catering to ME!?! There are lots of clueless people out there that love fast, sodium-laden food and have no idea how to cook anything, right? For them, there is Sandra Lee. But, c’mon, when Emeril looks like the academic, there is something wrong! There is not enough of Mario anymore, and even The Staggering Dicketry of Bobby Flay has been tempered so that Boy Meets Grill is now one of my favorite shows. Tyler Florence has always been fun to watch, and he too, has been mysteriously absent from FN. He’s the nice, sensitive one who helps distressed women cook like their mother-in-laws on Food 911 and travels around to find the ultimate version of a dish on Tyler’s Ultimate. Even if he does talk with his mouth full at the end of every show after tasting what he made, somehow I believe him when he says it's amazing. When Rachael Ray does it, it's like she has to shove it in her face before the show ends or face damnation. (I know, I know...just stop watching!)

So, despite this love/hate relationship, it was Tyler’s Ultimate Enchiladas that got to us the other day. We adore enchiladas, although I promise this will be the last enchilada post for at least a few months! We had never made enchiladas verdes and were seduced by the idea of roasting our own tomatillos and using fistfuls of cilantro for the salsa.

I roasted a whole chicken for this recipe and, in the end, we felt it was necessary. He recommends buying one at the deli, but I had the time, so I did it myself. Tyler’s use of flour tortillas was interesting – I’m used to enchiladas made with corn tortillas. They turned out really well, but I’d like to try corn tortillas next time, or maybe just smaller flour ones. The burrito sized tortillas were so filling I could only eat one or one and a half and they looked gargantuan on the plate. Anyway, a small point, but looks count for something.

The salsa was fantastic. Bright green with flecks of onion and cilantro, it was definitely the star. Next time, we’ll leave the jalapeños whole when roasting them. We cut out the seeds because we didn’t want intense heat, but it was way too mild. We also made the Mango, Jicama and Cucumber Salad to accompany the enchiladas. While I thought it was good – very bright and refreshing – Paul wasn’t a fan. It didn’t taste like more than the 3 ingredients, frankly, but it definitely had potential. I’m always reminded of how much I like jicama whenever I have it. Next time I might try chopping everything finely so it has more of a salsa consistency.

I guess, in the end, the Food Network isn't all bad if it helps make a dinner like this.

Chicken Enchiladas with Roasted Tomatillo Chile Salsa

1 pound tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1 onion, cut into wedges
4 cloves garlic
2 jalapeños
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
½ cup chopped cilantro
½ lime

Roast the tomatillos, onion, garlic and jalapeños on a baking sheet at 400 degrees F for 12-15 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to the food processor. Add the cumin, salt and cilantro and puree until well combined but still a little chunky.

Olive oil
½ medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp ground cumin
¼ cup flour
2 cups chicken stock
Fresh cilantro
1 (3-4 lb) roasted chicken, meat shredded
Salt and pepper
8-10 large flour tortillas
8 oz Monterey Jack, shredded

Sour Cream and
chopped tomatoes, for garnish

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan. Sauté the onions until very soft. Add the garlic and cumin and cook another 2 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over this and mix well. Gradually add the chicken stock and whisk until smooth. Simmer over low heat until thickened. Turn off the heat.

Add half of the tomatillo salsa and the shredded chicken. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Assemble the enchiladas by briefly placing them over the stove top gas flame to warm/char them very slightly. Put some of the chicken filling in each tortilla, sprinkle with cheese, roll up and place in a baking dish. Continue with the rest of the tortillas. Spoon the remaining salsa over the top of the tortillas and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake for 30 minutes. Serves 4-5.

Serve with sour cream, chopped tomatoes or guacamole.

Mango, Jicama and Cucumber Salad

2 mangos, peeled
1 medium jicama, peeled
2 cucumbers, seeds removed
3 Tbsp chopped cilantro
1 tsp chili powder
1 lime

Thinly slice the jicama, mangos and cucumbers in roughly the same size strips. Toss together in a salad bowl. Sprinkle with powdered chili, a little salt and lime juice. Toss well. Serve cold.

March 5, 2007

Vegetable Soup...with Meatballs

Now that it’s finally warming up outside, let me take this perfect opportunity to tell you about one of my favorite soups! I'm sure it will get cold again before we see Spring, so keep this one in mind! This is such an adaptable recipe - I really adore it. I almost always have the ingredients and it’s one of my feel-good favorites.

Although this soup is a Rachael Ray spin-off, I’ll refrain from calling it delish, or a stoup, or using an insane amount of hand gestures. In a previous post, I confessed my love of kale, which I prefer to the escarole used in many Italian soups, but escarole or spinach would work just fine if you prefer them. This soup combines mini-meatballs simmered in chicken broth with wilted kale, white beans and other vegetables. You could equally use small shell pasta instead of the white beans, or even diced potatoes. I personally love pasta in this, but I never enjoy how it reheats the next day. The pasta absorbs all the liquid and gets soggy and that’s not good.

So, making really flavorful meatballs should be the highest priority in this soup. I like this recipe, but use your favorite meatball recipe, if you have one. I appreciate that this soup is filling without being too heavy; it’s comforting without being a gut-buster as Rachael so eloquently describes some of her meals. This recipe comes together so quickly, I was actually surprised how little effort it took the first time I made it, making it a gift of a weeknight meal.

Mini-Meatball and Vegetable Soup

1 lb ground beef or a mixture of beef and pork
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped or grated
½ onion, minced
½ cup grated parmesan
½ cup bread crumbs
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp salt
Black pepper
Fresh parsley or basil, chopped

1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 celery ribs, sliced
1 tsp olive oil
6 cups chicken broth
Few sprigs fresh thyme
3-4 cups fresh kale, washed and chopped
1 (15 oz) can white beans, rinsed and drained
Grated parmesan, for topping

In a large mixing bowl, prepare the meatballs by combining the ground meat and the next 10 ingredients. Set aside.

Chop the vegetables while you heat 1 tsp of olive oil in a large soup pot. Saute the onions, carrots, and celery until softened, 4-5 minutes. Throw in a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer.

Once the broth is simmering, start forming small meatballs and dropping them in the soup. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through. Simmering gently will help to ensure tender meatballs. Add the chopped kale and white beans. Cover and simmer 5-10 minutes more until the kale is completely wilted.

Serve with some toasted garlic bread and topped with a little grated parmesan.