Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Root Veggie & Rice Soup

It's been cold and snowy in southeast Michigan, the perfect weather for soups and stews! One of my very favorite soup cookbooks is Twelve Months of Monastery Soups and last week, we had a simple, delicious soup from the December section. I barely tweaked it. It's officially called "A Hermit's Soup" but since we ate it together, I am calling it "Root Veggie & Rice Soup" in our household.

Here's how to make it:

1 potato
1 turnip
Half a small cabbage
2 carrots
1 onion
3 tbsp. olive oil
1/3 c. rice
2 quarts water or stock (I added a couple Knorr chicken bouillon cubes)
Salt, pepper, & a pinch of thyme

Cut all of the veggies into tiny pieces. I sliced the cabbage very thinly and cut everything else into fine dice. Sauté the veggies for a few minutes in the oil. Add the rice & water. Stir well and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook for an hour. Add seasonings just before serving and stir well.

I served this with crusty farm bread and a fruit salad of Granny Smith and Pink Lady apples, oranges, and chopped-up dates, tossed with a dressing of equal parts lemon juice and olive oil.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Chicken with Haricots Verts & Spaghetti Squash

Yesterday, I had a wonderful view while I was prepping dinner to go in the crockpot! Our kitchen window looks out on our neighbors' back yard, which has a pretty decent slope to it. A wee, bitty thing began sledding down that hill and it was just a delight and a huge blessing to get to witness that kind of joy.

What I put in the crockpot brought joy to us, a cozy winter dinner. I served it with a lovely crusty bread & a green salad.

Chicken with Haricots Verts & Spaghetti Squash
2 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts (you can sub bone-in chicken breasts or thighs, if you like them, but you might lean toward the longer cooking time)
1 tbsp. oil
1 small spaghetti squash, peeled, seeded, & cut into 3" chunks (I suspect other winter squashes would be great in this, too, so use what you like)
2 c. haricots verts (regular green beans are also fine)
1 chopped tomato
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. oregano
A good grinding of pepper
1/4 tsp. thyme
14 oz. chicken broth
1/2 c. dry white wine
1/4 c. shaved parmesan

Brown the chicken in the oil. Put vegetables & seasonings in a crockpot. Add liquids. Place chicken on top. Cover & cook on low 6-8 hours. Break up squash when serving. Top with parmesan. Serves 4.

Our dessert was a cute seasonal treat. I'd made a bunch so that we could give some to one of Jeannene's employees who'd gone above & beyond, but there were plenty for us to have a couple, as well. They are super-simple & really easy to adapt. I used square mini pretzels, candy cane Hershey Hugs (minty white chocolate with red stripes), and red & green M&Ms. I've heard of using regular Kisses, caramel Kisses, even Rolos. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees (my oven only goes as low as 170 and that was fine). Line a baking sheet with parchment and lay pretzels out on it. Top each with a Hug or Kiss. Place in oven 5 minutes to soften the chocolate. Smush an M&M in the top of each and allow to harden. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Lentils with Fennel & Carrots

When I was a kid growing up with vegetarian hippies for parents, we ate a lot of lentils and rice. I love lentils and consider them excellent and delicious comfort food. Jeannene, on the other hand, is invariably resistant to lentils when I mention making them. This time, I could scarcely believe my ears when she said they were good! They were very good, indeed. I served them with fantastic locally produced kielbasa, creamy polenta, and a kale salad. This is my adaptation of a 2007 recipe from the late, lamented Gourmet magazine.

Lentils with Sausage, Fennel, & Carrots

1 c. French green lentils (you may sub another variety)
4 & 1/2 c. cold water
1 & 1/2 tsp. salt
1 fennel bulb (about 3/4 lb), finely chopped, fronds minced
3 & 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, diced
1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
1 lb. kielbasa (you can also use sweet Italian sausage, which is what the original recipe calls for)
3 tbsp. chopped Italian parsley
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar (red wine vinegar may be subbed)
Olive oil for drizzling

Bring lentils & water to a boil with 1/2 tsp. salt. Simmer, uncovered, 12-25 minutes, until tender. Heat oil. Add onion, carrot, fennel bulb & seeds, 1 tsp. salt. Cover & cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook sausages through. Drain lentils, reserving water (mine ended up not needing to be drained, with just enough cooking water left). Stir into vegetables with just enough water to moisten. Heat through. Add parsley, pepper, vinegar, 1 tbsp. minced fennel fronds. Adjust vinegar & salt to taste. Slice sausages diagonally and serve over lentils, sprinkled with additional minced fennel fronds. Drizzle with oil. Serves 4.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Asian Chicken & Noodles

On a cold night in December, there's nothing like comfort food and chicken & noodles has long been a favorite of many people. This version we enjoyed the other night throws an Asian twist on the old classic. I served it with steamed pork & vegetable dumplings from the freezer section and a green salad with dried cranberries and almond slivers, dressed with an apple cider vinaigrette. I made a dipping sauce of sorts for the dumplings by adding sliced scallions to tamari. 

Asian Chicken & Noodles
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
A bit of minced ginger
A pinch of salt
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 Knorr chicken cubes
A healthy shake of tamari
1 package bean thread noodles (although, I suspect rice sticks might hold up better than the dainty bean threads next time)
2 scallions, sliced

Bring chicken to boil in a saucepan of water, along with ginger and salt. Cook until very tender, removing any froth that rises to the surface of the water. Remove chicken from pan and allow to cool. Add onion, tamari, & bouillon to water in pan and bring to a boil. If you like mushrooms, some shiitakes might be a nice addition. Add the noodles and cook about 5 minutes over medium heat. Shred chicken and add to noodles, heating through. Serve with scallions. Serves 6-8. Leftovers make a good brunch sautéed with some beaten eggs and additional scallions.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Olga's, Oakland Mall, Troy, MI

This is more of an un-review today, as we ended up not eating at Olga's. We were at the mall for a little Christmas shopping and decided to have a bite to eat beforehand. We'd been interested in trying an Olga's. We were seated promptly in the nearly-empty dining room and our drink orders taken fairly promptly, as well. I was surprised to find no hot tea on the menu, but it wasn't such a big deal and they did have coffee for Jeannene. She asked for room to be left for her creamer & was given half a cup, with not nearly enough little cartons to make a whole cup. It would have made the coffee cold, anyway, and that was the last thing we wanted on a day on which we woke up to 12 degrees outdoors.

Unfortunately, cold would be a theme at Olga's. We ordered their snackers and the waitress was kind enough to help our indecision by offering a small side of the Swiss almond cheese, their standard side with the pita chips, along with an order of the spinach feta dip. We accepted gratefully. The Swiss almond cheese was fine, if you're a fan of the cheese spreads that come in a Hickory Farms assortment, and the pita bread was warm and nicely seasoned. 

However, the spinach feta dip was cold in the middle and lukewarm on the sides. Since our waitress didn't check back with us, even though there were only a few other occupied tables, we couldn't ask her to warm it. Jeannene was also out of coffee in very short order, with not a refill in sight.

It wasn't until our sandwiches and soup came that we were able to alert the waitress to the chill on the dip. She offered to warm it. We didn't really need an appetizer anymore, since our meal had arrived, but we agreed. However, our sandwiches, the Olga's version of gyros, were also cold. Cold sauce, I expect. Maybe even room temperature bread would be acceptable. But cold meat? Not terribly appetizing. And our peasant soup was also cold. With oily slicks on top and an oily orange-red ring around the cup. We waited briefly to see if the waitress would return, but my hopes were low for an adequate temperature on anything, even if we sent it back. And waited. 

When we decided to leave without eating, something I have never before done once my food has arrived, we received no apology from the young woman we asked, in the complete absence of our waitress in the dining room, to get the manager. We waited, then, for the manager to come. And we waited. We were told, "He's just in the back putting away food." I thought, "Can the food not wait five minutes while he speaks with us?" Apparently not. Finally, another woman, perhaps an assistant manager, came to speak with us. She acknowledged that the food should not have been cold and did not expect us to pay or try to persuade us to let them make it right. Not a good first impression of this chain that seemed to hold a bit of promise.

Friday, December 06, 2013

The Laundry and Crust, Fenton, Michigan

Thanksgiving Monday, I was able to reward myself for all the unpacking work in the new house with lunch out with a seminary buddy. Kristen lives about 2 hours from our new town, but has occasion to be in Fenton fairly regularly, so suggested we meet at The Laundry. This fun little bistro is, confusingly, also referred to as The French Laundry, but is not affiliated with the Thomas Keller restaurant. It is, however, fabulous! Entering from the chilly street, I found it a little chilly inside, as well, somewhat like a greenhouse without the solar gain. However, I was warm enough and I found the quirky decor, starring vintage kitchen sets, nearly as charming as the young, hip, but friendly waitstaff. The fellow who waited on us was enthusiastic in a pleasant, genuine way, and was well-versed in the menu items.

I can seldom resist ordering French onion soup, if I think it may be done properly. I seldom find it to my liking though, with pallid or bitter broth, too many or too few onions, cheese so thick it chokes me, a crouton not substantial enough to hold up, dissolving into so much unpleasant flotsam. At The Laundry, what I discovered when I ordered it was perfection. Just the right amount of everything, with a lush, rich broth and a sturdy, delicious crouton.

Had I been a stronger, more virtuous woman, I would not have ordered next what I ordered next. I would have contented myself with a salad or ordered one of the vast panoply of delightful-looking sandwiches. However, another of my irresistables was on the menu. I felt a little silly ordering macaroni and cheese after the cheesy, rich soup, so I queried the waiter to discover whether it was truly worth ordering. He assured me it was gooey rather than saucy, then went on to warn me that because it was made with Vermont cheddar, it wouldn't be bright orange. Sold, just like that! It was everything he promised and I ate it with great good cheer and a promise to myself of extra dark, leafy greens at dinner.

I am quite certain that dessert would have been equally wonderful, but I just couldn't. Having lost 40 pounds in the last several months, I am making a concerted effort to be judicious about sugary or otherwise unhealthy foods. Nothing too stringent, just making sure it's really worth it before it goes in my mouth. And if it turns out not to be worth it, it doesn't get finished. However, I did pick up a couple of fragrant molasses cookies to take home.

Upon discovering that the same folks own a bakery a few blocks over, I found myself compelled to stop at Crust before heading to the highway. Oh, what a pleasure for the senses! The air was filled with splendid fragrances and the cases filled with lovely, lovely pastries. Their stollen is just gorgeous and I have plans to return shortly before Christmas, despite our tradition of Christmas morning gorilla bread. For that day, though, what I was hoping is that I would discover pain au chocolat to rival my aunt Miyoko's. She studied at the French Culinary Institute and now sells her stunning pastries at the Ann Arbor farmer's market on Saturday mornings, if you'd like to line up with the other addicts. I have been pretty much ruined for croissants since she brought her concoctions to a family gathering---ham & brie, chocolate, Japanese-French fusion in a sweet red bean croissant. To my delight, Crust offers up a most pleasing rendition of my favorite pastry. I behaved myself and picked up a couple for home instead of devouring it on the spot. Instead, Jeannene and I ate them in bed later that night and giggled over how amazingly delicious they were. I also took her a cherry scone, which she had for breakfast and reported swooningly back to me that it was tremendous.

Oh, and did I mention that they serve what is possibly the best chocolat chaud in the world? Thick, dark, and redolent with spices. Mercy!

If you'd like to go:
www.lunchandbeyond.com will get you to The Laundry.
www.crustandbeyond.com will get you to Crust.
You want to go to both. Trust me.

Kruse & Muer at The Village

Being new to the area and being Chowhounds, one of the first things Jeannene and I did was look for promising restaurants. We've found scads of family restaurants and coney islands, but not a whole lot yet in terms of independent restaurants specializing in fine dining featuring seasonal menus. Kruse and Muer, which seems to be a local chain with menu variations from location to location, looked fairly promising. 

We stopped by the one at The Village in Rochester Hills a couple weeks ago, but the wait was more than we were prepared to do that night. Last night, after spending a pleasant evening poking around Busch's grocery, Trader Joe's (have to put in a plug for their candy cane green tea here), and Whole Foods (St. Nicholas left candy canes that look remarkably similar to their organic ones in our shoes last night and they are wonderful!), we tried Kruse and Muer again. This time, at 8:30 p.m., we were seated immediately and saw why the wait had been so long before.

The restaurant appears to be split between take-out and dine-in, with a quite petite seating area. Despite the small size, it's a comfortable dining room. Our waiter was very personable (aside from the grimace upon hearing we were from Ohio---oh, those team rivalries! It made me wish I was wearing my scarlet & gray) and made some great recommendations. 

We started with a split cup of really great New England style clam chowder, thick, creamy, generous with tender clams. It was touted as being from James Beard's recipe and a bowl could make a very nice meal with a salad on the side. They also brought us fresh, seasoned baguette, hot from the oven. It was good, but not as good as the crack bread from Lucky's Steakhouse in Imlay City. I don't know if poppy seed sprinkled bread is a Michigan thing, but I am definitely digging it. Thankfully, I was able to stop at a small amount of the Kruse & Muer version.

This left me plenty of room for a truly gorgeous piece of red snapper. My grandparents always, always ordered red snapper on our Florida vacations when I was a kid and it remains one of my favorites. I was torn between that and the lemon-crumb-crusted scrod. Since the scrod is on the permanent menu, I opted for the snapper, grilled and served with a delicate, but decidedly lemony caper buerre blanc. It tasted fresh and was cooked perfectly.

 My fish came with rice pilaf, but they were kind enough to allow me to sub, for a small upcharge, the macaroni and cheese. I'd seen the word "Tillamook" and that was too enticing to pass up. Sadly, it fell into the saucy rather than the gooey category of mac & cheese. Had I ordered penne Alfredo, I'd've been delighted. However, the cheese was scarcely discernible and the sauce was mostly pooled at the bottom of the dish, anyway. The vegetables, on the other hand, were delicious. Rather than the tired, and often overcooked, medley of carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli, there were some more interesting veggies like winter squashes and parsnips added. They were, again, cooked just right, until tender but not complete mush.

Jeannene had the twin filets marsala, topped with beautiful portabello mushrooms and nestled in a pool of rich sauce. Her food, too, was just at the desired degree of doneness. I found her mashed potatoes good, but a tad loose & just a bit bland, not as good as my own. They had that odd shiny surface you sometimes see, too. I'm not sure what produces that. Could be a mark of high quality mashed potatoes, but it always gives me the heebies just a smidge.

For dessert, Jeannene was disappointed that the bread pudding contained the dread raisins. She loves bread pudding, but never with raisins. So, we split a martini-glass-ful of chocolate mousse. I am invariably disappointed by chocolate mousse anywhere but The Winds Cafe. They have forever ruined me for it with their sumptuous and dark version that utilizes Scharffen Berger chocolate and Kahlúa. This was something else entirely, but good. Purely sweet, gorgeously creamy, almost plump, in fact. In the middle was a pouf of whipped cream, the real deal and unsweetened. For not-the-Winds' mousse, it was pretty good mousse. I think a nice espresso would probably have cut the purity of the sweetness well. It was kind of like reading good chick lit when you've been on a Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler jag. You need something a little dark to appreciate fully the sweetness and light.

Steak on a Stick

Yesterday, I marinated some London broil & soaked bamboo skewers, fully intending to make dinner. However, we ended up going on a grocery store date to Busch's, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods. It made sense to go out to dinner, too, and eat in tonight. We'd stopped in Kruse & Muer a couple weeks ago, but were deterred by a long wait. This time, there were plenty of tables, so there we ate. Tonight, I went forward with our skewered meat, adding spiced green beans & a room temp cauliflower salad that sounded a little odd but was a big hit with Jeannene. If you don't like cumin, you'll want to choose other sides, because these are full of it! While the meat marinade is Asian in flavor and the rest leans more Indian, they went well together.

Steak on a Stick
3/4 lb. London broil, sliced into 1/4" strips
1/4 c. soy sauce
1/8 c. vegetable oil
1/4 c. sake
1 tbsp. molasses
1 tsp. mustard seed (or dry mustard powder)
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. garlic powder

Mix everything but the meat in a medium bowl or a ziploc bag. Add meat, tossing to make sure it is completely coated, and marinate at least 4 hours. Soak 4 bamboo skewers while marinating the meat. Skewer meat ribbon-style, 3-4 slices per stick. Broil or grill 3-4 minutes per side. Serves 2.

Cumin-Spiced Green Beans
1 tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 tsp. chili powder
2 cups green beans, trimmed
Pinch salt

Melt butter in a skillet. Add the cumin and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds. Add the garlic and cook another minute, stirring. Add chili powder, salt, and green beans and cook a minute or two before covering. Once covered, reduce heat to low and cook 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serves 2.

Cumin-Jack Cauliflower Salad
1 small head cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp. cumin seeds
A big drizzle of olive oil
A pinch of salt
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
4 oz. Monterey Jack, in bite-size cubes
3 tbsp. sour cream 
A good grinding of pepper

Steam cauliflower 10 minutes. Rinse with cold water. Sauté onions, garlic, & cumin in olive oil until softened. Mix everything together. Serves 4.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Italian Bread Salad

This is actually something I made back in September & never blogged. One of my favorite lunches at The Winds Cafe had always been their Tuscan bread salad. Their version has beautiful cuts of red onion, plenty of olives, and gooey melted cheese. Their bread cubes are gloriously toasted. This is not that, but it is very good. It does not make good leftovers, so just make as much as you will eat that day. And for goodness' sake, please wait until next summer, when the tomatoes are good, to make it! If you'd like, you can serve this on a bed of greens. You can also add colorful peppers. I had some on hand.

Italian Bread Salad
1 1/2 c. leftover bread, cut in thick chunks (I used a sourdough boule)
Olive oil for drizzling
Coarsely ground pepper
3 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 diced tomato
3 scallions, chopped
1/2 c. chopped parsley
1/3 c. pine nuts (almond slivers or even walnuts can be subbed)
2 1/2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp. milk

Put bread on baking sheet and drizzle with oil. Sprinkle with pepper. Broil, turn over, and repeat. Heat the rest of the olive oil. Add garlic & sauté about 5 minutes. Add to bread, along with tomatoes, scallions, parsley, nuts, vinegar, and milk. Toss thoroughly. Serves 4.

Monday, November 25, 2013


My kitchen was still largely in chaos last night, the new homes for my favorite kitchen tools not yet decided. Still, I managed to make a delicious dinner when we got back from running around exploring. I accompanied seasoned, sautéed chicken breast with fingerling potatoes roasted on a bed of bay leaves, rosemary sprigs, and thyme and a selection of veggies to dip in a from-scratch buttermilk chive dip. The potatoes & dip are adapted from Emeril's Farm to Fork cookbook. I keep the seasoning mix, adapted from Bon Appetit, on hand for all kinds of things, from chicken to pork chops to steamed veggies. 

Four Seasons Mix
Combine 1/2 c. salt, 1 tbsp. pepper, 1 tbsp. garlic powder, and 1/2 tsp. cayenne. Store in container with tight-fitting lid and use for anything you'd use a seasoning rub on.

Roasted Potatoes with Bay, Thyme, & Rosemary
1 lb. baby potatoes, halved lengthwise
1/8 c. olive oil
1 tbsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
Pepper to taste
3 bay leaves
3 sprigs thyme
3 sprigs rosemary
1 tbsp. room temperature butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss with oil, salt, paprika, & black pepper. Cover baking sheet with bay leaves, thyme, & rosemary. Roast 20 minutes. Toss in large bowl. Roast another 15-20 minutes.  Toss, in the same bowl, with the butter until it's melted and coats the potatoes. Remove hard bits of stem and bay leaf before serving. Serves 2. 

Buttermilk Chive Dip
1/2 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1/4 c. sour cream
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 tbsp. chopped chives 
Salt & pepper, to taste

Mix well & serve with veggies, crackers, chips...

It's Getting Cozy in Here

Just in the last couple of days, fall has begun nibbling at the edges of our days and I have started wanting to make casseroles and pork chops and stews. Jeannene was delighted with tonight's dinner, saying it made her feel secure, like when she was 7 years old and her mommy would make Johnny Marzetti (in our family, it was called "goulash"). I served the pizza casserole I made with veggies (baby carrots, celery sticks, green pepper strips) & dip (I like to get the multi-pack of the Marzetti minis) and fruit salad.

Pizza Casserole
16 oz. 90% lean ground beef
1/2 c. finely chopped onion
1/2 c. finely chopped green pepper
15 oz. can pizza sauce
15 oz. can petite diced tomatoes 
1/2 c. parmesan
A good shake of Italian seasoning
16 oz. macaroni, penne, or other smallish pasta (whole grain is good), cooked
4-6 oz. turkey pepperoni (you can use regular, but I think turkey's just as good & lots healthier)
1 c. shredded 2% mozzarella 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 13x9 baking pan with cooking spray. Likewise, coat a skillet & heat it. Brown the meat, with the veggies, in the skillet. Add sauce, tomatoes, parmesan, and Italian seasoning. Add the pasta & pepperoni. Top with mozzarella. Spread in the 13x9 and bake 1/2 hour. Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving. Serves 10-12. (You could halve this & cook it in an 8x8)

A Riff on Fruit Salad
1 container cubed pineapple
2 kiwis, peeled & cubed
2 bananas, peeled & chunked
A handful of grapes, halved
A bit of Maple Grove Farms Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette
Toss everything gently together in the bowl your grandmom used to make Jell-o. Try to keep your wife from eating all the bananas out of it before anyone else gets any.

Zinged-Up Baked Beans

I'm so excited about the start of fall! For our first dinner of the season, I tried a new, quick baked bean recipe, served alongside cheddarwurst & sweet corn. It came from Gooseberry Patch's Quick & Easy Autumn cookbook. The gingersnaps crumbled on top add a nice zing and a little sweetness, without being overbearing. Here is my adaptation:

Gingersnap Baked Beans

2 slices bacon, cooked until crisp & then crumbled (I used a handful of pre-cooked turkey bacon crumbles)
16 oz. pork & beans
A good shake of onion powder (or 1 tbsp. chopped onion, if you're up for chopping)
1/8 c. dark brown sugar, packed
1/8 c. ketchup
4 small gingersnaps, crushed (I used Newman's Own)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix everything together & put in a 1.5 qt casserole that's been sprayed with Pam. Bake 1/2 hour or until hot & bubbly. Serves 3-4.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Cozy Supper for Our First Night Home

Due to Jeannene's super new job, we have relocated to a lovely home called Butternut Hall in Southeastern Michigan. She started a little over a month ago and loves it, but has been living in the Days Inn this whole time while I finished my time pastoring in Dayton and got our Columbus household ready to be moved. Over the last several weeks, we have both been subsisting largely on restaurant meals and easy meals at home (whatever home has meant for each of us) that don't require much/any cooking. 

Jeannene was away for work the first several days of our Butternut Hall life. Last night, I went to fetch her from the Detroit airport. It would be her first real home-cooked meal in over a month, so I wanted it really to taste (& smell!) like coming home. I opted for an old-fashioned beef stew and our favorite salad, Robyn's Tuscan Kale Salad, which I have posted previously. I even baked a cheater dessert, those break-and-bake chocolate chunk cookies. I'd rather do homemade, but most of my kitchen is in boxes and the rest in shambles right now. The stew was delicious on a drizzly November night and the house smelled marvelous when we stepped inside. I hope you have more room in your kitchen than I did, and don't have to rest your cutting board and cookie sheets across the sink, but even if you have a tiny bit of space, this meal is doable!

Homecoming Beef Stew
2 lb. boneless beef chuck steak, fat    trimmed, cut into largish chunks
1/2 c. flour
Salt & pepper
3 tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped
24 oz. beer*
1 lb. tiny red potatoes, halved (you could dice regular-sized ones, too)
3 carrots, peeled and cut in very thick rounds
1 turnip, peeled and cut into large dice
(I would have also added a large parsnip, but the delivery did not arrive at the grocery, so I was out of luck there. You should add one, though, peeled and cut like the carrot.)

Dredge the beef, in batches, in the flour, seasoned with salt and pepper. In your favorite stew pot, melt the butter on medium-high heat. You can use olive oil, instead, if you like. Brown the meat on all sides, which will take about 10 minutes. Add the onion and cook until softened. Add the beer and deglaze, scraping the bottom of the pan to get all the crispy bits incorporated. Add the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer 2 and a half to 3 hours, stirring every now and again, until everything is very tender. Serves 4-6.

* I used a Tecate and a Dieselpunk IPA because that's what was on hand. Use whatever you like, but I don't recommend light beer in stew, ever. I toyed with using some hard cider and may very well do that next time. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

November 2013 Dinners

Today, I spent some time planning dinner menus for November. I am not sure when we'll be in our new home in Michigan, but I figure I should only miss a night or two due to the move. Here's what I have it in mind to cook in the coming month. Now that I'm my own boss, I will have more time, perhaps, to blog about what I'm cooking and eating. Tonight, it's popcorn.

-Cuban cabbage stew, rolls, avocado & onion salad
-Teriyaki pork chops, broccoli stir-fry, jasmine rice
-Tambor de picadillo, green salad, fruit
-Hot cereal with apple butter & walnuts, cheddar cheese, fruit
-Artichoke chicken pasta salad, green salad, fruit
-Chicken fried rice, clementines, green salad
-Curry cheddar melts, brussels sprouts with goat cheese, apples, and hazelnuts
-Brunch casserole, salad, boozy fruit
-Mediterranean peasant soup, spinach feta melts, fruit
-Thanksgiving in a pan, herbed mashed potatoes, salad
-Bean thread soup, lumpia, fruit
-Ditalini with salami, green salad, fruit
-Almond lentil burgers, lemony broccoli slaw, fruit
-Burgers, broccoli cheese casserole, Iowa pea salad
-Pumpkin soup, prosciutto & apple salad, rolls
-Chili skillet, salad, fruit
-Pimiento cheese sandwiches, chips, veggies & dip
-Peppery steaks with mushrooms, baked potatoes, parmesan pignoli green beans
-Gambas al ajillo, rice, avocado & onion salad, maduros
-Provencal tuna salad on greens, sauteed green beans with pepitas, grainy bread, fruit
-4-Seasons chicken, bay/thyme/rosemary roasted potatoes, veggies with buttermilk dip
-Au gratin potatoes & ham, lima beans, salad
-Mexican pork tenderloin, flour tortillas, corn, salad
-Spinach soup, rolls, fruit
-Thanksgiving dinner!
-Peanut butter kiss cookies
-Mini apple hand pies
-Tuscan rice salad
-Benedictine sandwiches
-Almond crunch

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Riffing on the Cheeseburger

Last night, as we were eating dinner, Jeannene said, "The dinners you've been making this week remind me of being a kid." I said, "It's fall! Time for comfort food." The chicken & asparagus casserole I made Tuesday night was an enormous disappointment to me, although she loved it, but last night's dinner was yummy! I made cornbread cheeseburger pie, served with Lima beans & a salad. This is my take on Naomi Costales' upside-down hamburger pie from the Gooseberry Patch cookbook, The Harvest Table:

1 lb. lean ground beef (96% lean worked great)
1/2 onion, chopped
8 oz. tomato sauce
Salt & pepper
Ketchup-mayo, just a squirt or two
Mustard squirt
Dollop pickle relish
Handful shredded cheddar
2 (8.5 oz each) boxes cornbread mix (although I will use one next time, I think)
2 eggs
2/3 c. 2% milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brown beef & onion in cast iron skillet. Drain. Add tomato sauce, s&p, condiments, & cheese. Mix well and spread evenly in skillet. Prep cornbread batter as instructed on box, with eggs & milk. Spread atop the beef mixture. Bake 1/2 hour. Serves 4-6.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Latin Flair, Easy Dinners

Last night, prompted by the gorgeous ripe plantains at the local Mexican grocery, I made a Cuban dinner of Bistec de Palomilla, black beans & rice, avocado salad, and fried plantains (maduros). I think the plantains are best when the skin is completely black. I just slice them on the diagonal and fry them. They can also be baked. 

Bistec de Palomilla
3 cloves garlic
Salt & pepper
1/4 c. sour orange juice (or half regular orange juice, half lime juice, and a splash of olive oil)
1 lb. thinly sliced steak
2-3 tbsp. oil
1/2 c. finely-chopped onion
Finely-chopped parsley
Lime wedges 

Mash the garlic, salt, and pepper into a paste. Mix with sour orange juice. Pound the steak lightly and cut in 4. Marinate in garlic/orange juice mixture half an hour. Blot dry with paper towels & pan-fry in oil until golden brown on each side. Remove to paper towel-lined plate. Add marinade to pan and bring to a boil. Drizzle over the steaks & top each with onion & parsley. Serve with lime wedges.

Tonight, we moved significantly to the west of Cuba for a Mexican-inspired burger plate. I mixed half a cup of Newman's Own Farmer's Garden salsa with a pound of extra-lean ground beef, made it into 4 patties, and pan-fried them. I smashed an avocado with a splash of key lime juice and some garlic salt and served the guac with multi-grain tortilla scoops. The salad was romaine, black beans, diced tomato, and diced bell peppers (yellow, orange, & red). We had some salsa verde in the fridge, so I topped the burgers with that.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Moroccan Fish Dinner

Jeannene is a great lover of seafood and this North-African-spiced grouper really wowed her. The recipe originally came from the Southern Living Cookbook, but I have altered it. I paired it with Martha Stewart’s dilled rice pilaf, a green salad, and basil peaches for dessert, a perfect light summer meal!

Moroccan Broiled Fish
2 cloves garlic, peeled & halved
2 tbsp. chopped fresh ginger
½ c. chopped parsley or cilantro
1 small jalapeño, quartered and seeded
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. smoked Spanish paprika
½ tsp. turmeric
½ tsp. coriander
2 tsp. oil
2 lb. grouper (catfish, snapper, or flounder may be subbed)
Lime wedges for garnish

Finely chop everything but the fish & limes in a food processor. Spread it all over both sides of the fish. Chill for half an hour, then broil about 10 minutes, until cooked through. Serve with lime wedges. 

Dilled Rice Pilaf
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 small red onion, minced
2 c. jasmine rice
¼ c. capellini, broken into pieces about 1” in length
2 tsp. salt
3 c. chicken broth
2 tbsp. chopped fresh dill (sometimes, I think subbing dry is fine. Here, I wouldn’t)

In a sauce pan, sauté onion in oil until softened. Add rice & pasta. Cook until pasta is golden brown, being careful not to allow it to burn. Add salt and broth. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on low 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Add dill and mix well. Serves 6-8.

Basil Peaches
4 peeled, quartered peaches
1 bunch basil
1 tsp. lime zest
½ c. sugar
½ c. water
Real whipped cream or crème fraîche for serving, if you like (you can also do this as a
shortcake or serve it with a crisp tea cookie, amaretti, or shortbread)

Put peaches and basil in a bowl. Bring the rest to a boil together (well, not the cream) over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Lower the heat and simmer 2 minutes. Pour over the peaches. Chill a couple hours. Serves 4-6.

If you can’t find crème fraîche, you can approximate it by mixing a cup of heavy cream with ¼ c. buttermilk in a glass jar. Cover it with a paper towel held on by a rubber band. Let it stand until it thickens, up to 24 hours. Cover with a proper lid and chill before using.

Fresh Stir-Fry

We love vegetables in our house and one of our favorite ways to eat them is in a stir-fry. Here are two good versions we’ve had at our house recently. I served the broccoli stir-fry with baked teriyaki pork chops, brown rice, and big hunks of pineapple. The pork & asparagus stir-fry got jasmine rice and mandarin oranges to accompany it. The notation beside it in my recipe binder says, “Really flippin’ awesome.”

Stir-fried Broccoli
2 tbsp. soy sauce or tamari
1 tbsp. sake (you can sub dry sherry, if you can’t lay your hands on sake)
1 tbsp. water
3 tsp. oil
1 tbsp. sesame oil
1 bunch of broccoli, divided into small florets
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1/2 c. minced basil leaves
½ tsp. sugar

Mix soy sauce, sake, & water in a small dish. Heat a large skillet or wok on high for about 4 minutes (I don’t recommend using a skillet with non-stick coating here). Add 2 tsp. oil and heat for a minute, until it just starts to smoke. Add broccoli and stir-fry a couple minutes (by which I mostly mean 2), until just tender. Push to the sides of the skillet and add garlic, ginger, and 1 tsp. oil to the center of the pan. Sauté about 10 seconds, remove from heat, and stir everything together. Return to heat and add soy/sake mixture. Cook 30 seconds. Add basil & sugar and cook 30 more seconds. Serves 4-6.

Pork & Asparagus Stir-Fry
1 lb. boneless pork loin, fat trimmed, cut into thin strips
¼ c. soy/tamari
1 tbsp. sake
2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1 ½ lb. asparagus, broken into 3-4” pieces
½ c. + 2 tbsp. water
2 tsp. oil
Sliced scallion for garnish

Mix pork with soy, sake, and ginger. Marinate about half an hour (longer is okay, too). Cook asparagus and ½ c. water, in covered skillet over high heat, stirring occasionally, for 2-4 minutes. Drain. Wipe skillet dry and heat on high. Add oil and heat another minute. Remove pork from marinade and stir-fry 3-5 minutes, until cooked through. Add marinade and 2 tbsp. water. Stir until it comes to a boil. Add asparagus and heat through. Serve garnished with scallion. Serves 4-6.

A Twist on Salad & Sandwich Suppers

I am a big fan of really simple dinners when I am the only one home. Sometimes, I try them on Jeannene, too. She loved this combo. The salad came to me from a Red Hat cookbook, although I switched the dressing and tinkered with proportions, and the sandwich is courtesy of Rachael Ray. If you like the ubiquitous spinach artichoke dip, you’ll love this sandwich.

Asparagus & Raspberry Salad
1 bunch asparagus, lightly steamed but still plenty crunchy
1 pint raspberries
Fruity vinaigrette (the original recipe called for raspberry, but I had Maple Grove Farms Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette on hand and I love it, so that’s what I used.)

Once asparagus has cooled, arrange on plates and scatter berries over the top. Drizzle with dressing and serve. Serves 2-4.

Spinach & Artichoke Grilled Cheese
Butter 4 slices of your favorite bread on one side of each slice. Fill the sandwiches with deli turkey, sliced gruyère cheese, baby spinach leaves, and chopped, marinated artichoke hearts (well-drained, of course). Cook as with a regular grilled cheese sandwich. Serves 2.

Keema for Comfort

One of my favorite ethnic comfort foods is keema mattar, a scrumptious Pakistani/North Indian dish starring ground meat and peas. This is my adaptation of Shahnaz Ahmad’s recipe from One Big Table, a fabulous cookbook I recommend to anyone who likes something interesting on their plate.
Keema Mattar
2 lb. ground meat (I used beef, lamb is very commonly used, and I suspect you could
even use soy crumbles to decent effect with a little oil added for the initial step)
1 large onion, finely-chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cayenne
Pinch turmeric
¼ c. oil
2 c. peas (I just use frozen peas, thawed)
2 plum tomatoes, finely-chopped
1 serrano pepper, finely-chopped (I always de-seed peppers, too, to reduce the heat level)
1 ½ tsp. grated ginger
1½ tsp. cumin
1 tsp. coriander
Chopped cilantro or parsley for garnish (cilantro’s more authentic, but not for me)

Mix meat, onion, garlic, salt, cayenne, and turmeric together and cook on medium-high in a heavy pot, breaking up to create a fine texture. Cover and cook on medium-low for 15-20 minutes. Add oil and cook another 5 minutes, stirring. Add peas, tomatoes, serrano, and ginger. Cover and cook 5-7 minutes. Add cumin and coriander. Serve, over rice or with naan or bhatura, garnished with cilantro or parsley. A side of raita is nice to have on hand and I like a cucumber salad with it, too. Chop up a mango for an easy dessert. Serves 6-8.

Italian Night for Veggies & Carnivores

These two recipes are of the Italian ilk, involving a toss-together pasta dish in one case and a Giada-inspired pizza dish in the other, and it might be fun to pair dinner with a game of bocce out back.

Spaghetti with Ham, Caramelized Onions, and Asiago
1 lb. spaghetti, cooked
3 tsp. olive oil
1 ½ onions, thinly sliced
½ tsp. salt
½ c. chicken broth
8 oz. diced ham
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp. thyme
4 oz. crumbled asiago (you can sub parmesan or even manchego…if you use manchego, it would be cool to sub Serrano or Iberico ham)

Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onion and salt. Cook for about 5 minutes, adding broth when the pan becomes dry. Cook and stir until the onion is soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add ham, garlic, and thyme. Cook about 3 minutes. Toss with pasta and serve with cheese. Serves 4-6.

Pizzette with Goat Cheese and Ricotta
4 oz. soft goat cheese
1/3 c. ricotta cheese
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. finely-chopped basil
1 tsp. fine lemon zest
Pizza dough (I like to pick up a ball of it at Whole Foods…you can make your own, if
you’re into that)
12 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved (If you can only find red, do that, but if you have a variety of colors, it’s a much more lush feast for the eyes)

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Mix cheeses, 1 tbsp. olive oil, basil, and lemon zest together well. Add salt & pepper, if you think it needs some. Roll dough out into a couple of smallish, rough ovals. I actually didn’t even roll mine, I just pulled it into shape and patted it out. Giada would likely be horrified. Her original recipe calls for cutting the dough into 30 2 ¼” rounds---do that, if you have the time and inclination. It would be great for a party! Place the dough on parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with olive oil, season with salt & pepper, and bake until golden, 10-12 minutes. Cool slightly before spreading with cheese and topping with tomatoes. Serves 2-4.

Both are good served with a green salad, fresh fruit, and a nice bottle of Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.

Mango Madness

Friday night, we had an impromptu (okay, planned a week in advance, which counts as impromptu in my world) game night & potluck supper. It was a small crowd, but some delicious food and much hilarity during several rounds of Scattergories. Since I have a tendency to be rushing about like a crazy person minutes before guests arrive, trying to get food finished, so that I answer the door all sweaty and flushed and breathless, I decided it would be wise to do something in the slow cooker. Riffing on a Gooseberry Patch recipe, I popped a pork roast in the pot, poured a jar of Newman’s Own Medium salsa and a 4 oz. can of chopped green chiles over the top, and let it cook for 8 hours on low. Shredded, it made lovely little soft tacos. I thought we had sour cream, but we didn’t, so one of the guests offered a quick improvisation, handing me the goat cheese that went on his spinach & strawberry salad. It turned out to be a great accompaniment. We did have scads of tomatoes, but everyone wanted their tacos pretty plain.

Since I wasn’t sure if everyone would be up for spicy, and since Boot was in town, I made my chicken pot pie, too. It was always his favorite as a kid, his chosen dinner for more than one birthday, so I wanted to make it while he was back from college. I learned it from my friend, Teresa, who lives near Nashville. It’s incredibly simple:

Teresa’s Chicken Pot Pie
1 double-crusted pie shell (I never make my own)
1 can cream of chicken soup (reduced fat is perfectly fine)
1 can cream of mushroom soup (as above)
1 can Veg-All, well-drained (I expect you can use another brand of mixed veggies, but I never have)
About a pound of cooked chicken, cut in bite-size pieces (I am often lazy and just get a couple packages of the pre-cooked kind)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the bottom crust in a 9” pie plate. Mix the soups, veggies, and chicken together. Put in pie shell. Top with the other crust, seal, vent, and crimp. Bake until golden brown on top, about 45 minutes. Serves 6-8.

I also made my favorite Tuscan kale salad and picked up a cherry pie from the grocery. I think the biggest hit of the party, though, was Steve and Jeff’s Mango Madness cocktail. They first discovered it on a trip to Aruba and have tinkered with possibilities until they’ve come up with a swoony concoction of Daily’s Mango Mix, Captain Morgan Mango Rum, and Bacardi Coconut Rum, all blended with ice. Mmm!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Tomato Bounty

Today, our church office administrator stuck her head in my office to ask if I had quit blogging. My immediate response was a rather surprised no, but when she mentioned that she couldn't seem to access anything later than March, I realized that I kind of have quit blogging. I've been cooking, certainly, and have even been putting colorful little flags in all my cookbooks. The flags all say, "Blog!" and every time I place one, I think, "I really have got to sit down and catch up." It will happen. One of these days, you'll be sticking your head in to check for new recipes and there they will be! For now, a quick, delicious Italian dinner for the cooler August weather we've been having. 

Yesterday was Jeannene's half-birthday. I love half-birthdays and always make sure to celebrate mine at least in some small way---a cupcake, a pedicure, looking at some favorite art or poetry. Jeannene hates them. Well, at least her own. But, she was happy last night to get to copse her own dinner. When she said she wanted to make chicken Alfredo (one of her favorites and always a hit with Boot, who is visiting), I excitedly insisted on finding the Alfredo recipe I tried and loved once when she was away. The Sandra Lee haters among you need to put aside your prejudice and give this a try. It's my favorite Alfredo sauce, hands-down, and it's her recipe. I have doubled it here, to serve 4 people, and have slightly adapted it.

16 oz. fettuccine, cooked and drained
1 & 1/2 c. butter, cut into small pieces
2 c. whole milk
2 c. grated Parmesan cheese (good quality, please, for the best results)
Salt, to taste

After draining, return noodles from pot and turn heat on low. Add butter and milk to noodles and toss until butter is melted. Add cheese, a little at a time, an stir just until melted with each addition. Adjust seasonings and serve hot.

I made a romaine salad and tomato bread inspired by the current issue of Martha Stewart Living to go with it. I sliced a loaf of cheese bread lengthwise, rubbed it with garlic, drizzled it with olive oil, and broiled it crisp and brown around the edges. I then topped it with yellowy-orange and red tomato slices and sprinkled it with Maldon sea salt. Deliciousness!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Plateful of Spring

For years now, at least since the early '90s, I've been making the same dinner every year on the first day of spring. I do salmon patties, new potatoes boiled and slathered in butter before being sprinkled with snippets of fresh dill, and steamed asparagus stalks with lemon or lime juice mixed with melted butter for dipping. Jeannene says spring has not sprung in our house until I've made this dinner. This year on the first day of spring, I was enjoying a yummy chicken casserole at a Lenten dinner at work and Jeannene was in Michigan for her job. So, we were late celebrating. That's okay, the spring weather is late, too, with a big snowstorm on its way.

Springtime Salmon Patties

14 oz. can salmon, drained & flaked
1 sleeve of saltines, crushed
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
A healthy splash of Worcestershire sauce
1/4-1/2 c. oil

Mix everything but the oil. Form into patties (it'll make 4-5). Heat oil in a skillet and fry patties until they are browned on both sides. I like mayonnaise or tartar sauce on mine, but ketchup or cocktail sauce would also be good, if you like those better.

Boeuf Bourguignon, Simplified

Our church has a lovely tradition called Dinners for 8, a collection of dinner parties scattered across the congregation, the purpose of which is for people to enjoy one another's company and get to know one another better. I love attending. It's one of my favorite things. However, given the 4 late nights I worked last week and the upcoming Holy Week, combined with an early Saturday work morning at Breakfast with the Bunny (we like to eat), I knew I would be too fried to stay in town all day. So, I made the wise decision to skip this dinner I'd so been looking forward to attending. However, I'd promised a parishioner that if she & her husband hosted, I would cook. I wasn't about to break that promise, so I made 2 pots of boeuf bourguignon Friday night. One was for Dinners for 8, one for our own Saturday supper. It turned out wonderfully! I served ours over mashed potatoes, while the church diners got noodles for theirs. My recipe is based upon one from Ina Garten's wonderful "Barefoot in Paris" cookbook. I may have posted this recipe before---It's my go-to recipe for entertaining and also one Jeannene likes for her birthday---so forgive me, if so. This serves 6-8 & is best the next day.

Boeuf Bourguignon, Simplified

1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 lb. bacon, diced
2 1/2 lbs. sirloin steak, cut in 1" cubes
Salt & pepper
1 lb. baby carrots
2 onions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. cognac or good brandy
1 bottle good dry red wine (I used a nice Malbec last night)
2-2 1/2 c. beef stock
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. or so fresh thyme
1/2 stick butter, room temp
3 tbsp. flour
1 lb. frozen pearl onions, thawed
1 lb. mushrooms, thickly sliced

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Heat oil in large Dutch oven (or oven-safe pot---I just treated myself to a Lodge cast iron Dutch oven and it's perfect). Add bacon and cook 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove to plate. Pat beef cubes dry, then salt & pepper them. Sear, in single layers, in hot oil 3-5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove to plate with bacon. Cook carrots, onion slices, 1 tbsp. salt, 2 tsp. pepper in bacon grease and oil in pan, 10-12 minutes, until onions are brown. Add garlic & cook another minute. Add cognac, stand back (not kidding!), ignite, and allow flames to die down on their own. Return meat to pot. Add wine, plus enough beef broth to almost cover the meat. Stir in tomato paste & thyme. Bring to boil, cover with tight-fitting lid, and bake about an hour & 15 minutes, until everything is very tender. Remove from oven. Mix 2 tbsp. butter with flour, then stir into stew. Add pearl onions. Sauté mushrooms with 2 tbsp. butter about 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Add to stew. Bring to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, another 15 minutes. Adjust seasonings and serve over mashed potatoes or noodles or in a bowl with garlic-rubbed toast.

Friday, February 08, 2013

February 2013 Menus

Here are some of the things I plan to cook this month. It will be a lower cooking month than usual, with Valentine's & Mardi Gras dinners out, a weekend retreat, and Jeannene's birthday dinner possibly out, as well.

-Porcupine meatballs, broccoli stir-fry, fruit
-Cream of zucchini soup, sourdough, fruit
-Sour cream & herb burgers, garlic-rosemary potato wedges, corn
-Jambalaya pasta, macque choux, salad
-Ants climbing a tree (Chinese New Year potluck contribution)
-Chicken cordon bleu, scallion mashed potatoes, broccoli casserole
-Roast turkey breast, roasted root veggies, dilly beans
-Halibut/Grouper/Tilapia/Red Snapper with coriander-pepita butter, Greek pan-crushed potatoes, farmer's salad
-Picadillo chili dogs, crinkle fries, salad
-Herb-rubbed steak with olives provençale, Tuscan kale with raisins, potatoes & artichoke hearts with wine & coriander
-Fettucine Alfredo, grilled veggies, bruschetta with tomato & basil
-Turkey pepperoni Reubens
-Pasta frittata
-Chocolate chip brickle bars
-Pumpkin bread
-Banana bread
-Lacy Susans
-Popcorn balls
-Chocolate rum balls
-Chile-spiked wedding cakes
-Gingerbread butter

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Swoony Vodka Sauce & Heart-y Salad

Jeannene's favorite things to eat are steak and pasta. Last week, I wanted to make a special dinner for her, so I went with Rachael Ray's vodka cream sauce on pipe rigate, with a salad starring romaine, hearts of palm, and artichoke hearts, and a loaf of Italian bread. At first, I was distressed over how thin the sauce looked, thinking I was going to end up with bland pasta and a puddle of sauce at the bottom of the pan. However, once I tossed the pasta with the sauce, it was vividly flavorful. I will definitely be making this one again! I ate the leftovers for lunch and dinner and lunch again last week, too. I am still not tired of them. The recipes come from her 30-Minute Meals 2, which is a great collection of entire meals, including dessert, that you can make easily after work. Lots of terrific ideas, from family dinners to romantic special occasion meals. Here's my adaptation:

Vodka Cream Pasta
1 tbsp. olive oil 28 oz. can whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
1 tbsp. butter Salt and pepper, to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced 1/2 c. heavy cream
1 small onion, finely chopped 16 oz. small, shaped pasta (penne, pipe rigate, shells)
1 c. vodka 20 leaves basil, torn into bits
1 c. chicken stock

Bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook garlic & onions in oil and butter about 3-5 minutes. Add vodka and cook about 3 minutes, to reduce by half. Add stock and tomatoes, with their juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer. Season with salt & pepper, then allow to cook gently. Meanwhile, cook pasta until al dente. While everything's cooking, make your salad. Then, stir the cream into the sauce and heat through. Drain pasta and toss with sauce and basil leaves. Serves 4-6.

Heart-y Salad
1 heart of romaine, sliced thin horizontally 14 oz. quartered artichoke hearts, drained
A generous handful of torn basil leaves 4 oz. shaved pecorino or asiago (I used shredded. Don't.)
14 oz. salad-cut hearts of palm, drained Balsamic vinegar & olive oil
1/4 lb. prosciutto, torn into narrow strips Salt & pepper

Toss romaine with basil. Wrap hearts of palm in prosciutto. Add to romaine, along with artichoke hearts. Scatter cheese on top and drizzle with oil & vinegar. Season with salt & pepper. Serves 4-6.

Friday, January 25, 2013

My First Tagine

I have always thought it would be cool to have a tagine, but it seemed such a speciality piece of equipment that I never asked for one as a gift or bought myself one. However, for Christmas, Jeannene decided I should have one. I never spoke of my interest in a tagine to her until the day she, unbeknownst to me, bought it. We were out to dinner that night and I noticed a Moroccan-spiced salad on the menu. I expressed a desire to learn more about Moroccan cooking and mentioned the tagine. Jeannene later told me she'd been flabbergasted. She thought I'd somehow spotted my gift. But it was just one of those weird coincidences. The tagine, from World Market, came with a recipe, so that's the first thing I made. I served it with couscous and salad. Here's my adaptation:

Honey & Cardamom Chicken with Olives & Garbanzos

2 large chicken breasts, with skin and bones & a couple/few thighs
2 tbsp. cumin seeds
7 cardamom pods
2 tbsp. honey
1 1/2" chunk ginger, finely grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch crushed red pepper
6 tbsp. olive oil
Salt & pepper
1 lg. red onion, thinly sliced
2 c. chicken stock
1 can garbanzos, drained
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
Handful of pitted green olives

Toast the cumin until it begins to pop. Grind with mortar & pestle to a coarse powder. You could probably use pre-ground cumin, instead. Open the cardamom pods and crush the tiny black seeds inside with the mortar & pestle. Indian groceries are a good, usually less-expensive source for these spices. Mix the two spices together in a small bowl. Add honey, ginger, garlic, pepper flakes, and 4 tbsp. olive oil. Add salt & pepper and rub all over chicken. Marinate a couple hours. Heat oil in skillet & brown chicken on both sides. Put in tagine & pour marinade over top. Scatter with onion, then pour stock over the chicken. Add garbanzos, tomatoes, and olives. Put lid on and bake an hour, on a baking sheet, until chicken is tender and cooked through. Serves 4.

Spiced Beef Stew with Carrots & Mint

A couple weekends ago, Jeannene & I were slated to be at a retreat. When it was postponed, we were unexpectedly home for lunch, so I cooked up this Bon Appetit stew for our lunch. When I make it again, I think I'll serve it over couscous with some fattoush as a starter. It is a terrific midwinter treat! Here's my version:

2 tbsp. olive oil
12 oz. sirloin steak, cut in 1" cubes
1 onion, sliced
8 oz. baby carrots
2 tsp. cumin
1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1 tbsp. flour
2 1/2 c. beef broth
1/3 c. chopped mint

Season the beef and sauté in 1 tbsp. oil for about 3 minutes. Place in bowl. Add 1 tbsp. oil to skillet and sauté onions & carrots until they are golden, 3-5 minutes. Add spices & cook, stirring, half a minute. Add flour and cook another half minute. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce temperature to medium and simmer 10 minutes. Add beef and cook until sauce thickens slightly. Adjust seasonings. Stir in 1/4 c. mint. Serve garnished with additional mint. Serves 2.

Mexican Quiche

We love avocados here at our house and this recipe makes beautiful use of them. You could add some chile and cumin to spice it up, but this plain version is very good as it is. I served it with a big, citrus-embellished salad.

1 c. sour cream
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 c. pepper jack cheese, shredded
1 1/2 c. cheddar, shredded
Salt & pepper
7 chopped scallions
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1 avocado, sliced
Pie shell

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix sour cream with eggs and cheese. Add salt, pepper, scallions, and tomato, mixing well. Place pie shell in pie plate and cover bottom with avocado. Pour egg mixture over avocado, spreading evenly. Bake 40-45 minutes. Remove from oven & let stand 10 minutes before slicing into wedges to serve.

Salmon Burgers & Slaw

If your New Year's resolution, unlike my "see 12 movies in the theater this year," has to do with healthier eating, you may love having these Rachael Ray salmon burgers in your repertoire. If you're all about the movies, or something else unrelated to food, make these because they're yummy. The slaw doesn't keep well, so make sure you have plenty of slaw eaters before you make the full amount. The pesto potato salad I had with this last week is also based on a Rachael Ray recipe.

Salmon Burgers with Caesar Slaw

14 oz. can of salmon, drained, skin & bones picked out
2 lightly beaten egg whites
A handful of finely-chopped parsley
Zest & juice of 2 lemons, divided
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3/4 c. Italian-seasoned, fine, dry breadcrumbs
Salt & pepper
4 finely-chopped anchovies (or a tinch of anchovy paste)
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp. + 1/4 c. olive oil
A couple handfuls of Parmesan
2 hearts of romaine, shredded
1 head of radicchio, shredded

Flake the salmon & mix with egg whites, parsley, juice & zest of 1 lemon, 2/3 of the garlic, breadcrumbs, salt & pepper. Form into 4 patties. Add the rest of the lemon juice and zest to a salad bowl with the remaining garlic, anchovies, dijon, and Worcestershire sauce. Whisk in 1/4 c. olive oil, plus the cheese. Add lots of pepper. Toss the lettuce shreds with the dressing. Add salt, if needed. Heat 2 tbsp. oil in a skillet. Cook the salmon burgers until browned on each side. Serves 4.

Pesto Potato Salad

2 lb. new potatoes, halved
1/2 lb. sugar snap peas, trimmed
3/4 c. pesto
1/4 c. olive oil
2 tsp. white wine vinegar
A handful of grape tomatoes, halved
1 c. niçoise olives (although I couldn't find them & subbed halved, blue cheese stuffed green olives)
Salt & pepper
4 boiled eggs, quartered

Boil potatoes in salted water 10 minutes. Add sugar snaps & cook 2-3 minutes. Drain and cool. Mix pesto with oil & vinegar. Add potatoes, sugar snaps, olives. Toss gently to coat everything with the dressing. Adjust seasonings and serve topped with egg wedges. Serves 4.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Coco's Bistro, Dayton, Ohio

Tuesday night, I went with the WHO (Women Hanging Out) Group from my church to dinner at the new location of Coco's Bistro on Warren Street. The space is infinitely larger than their previous location, allowing for large groups to be seated comfortably. The parking lots and overflow parking were completely full, necessitating my parking on the street. A good sign!

The inside of the restaurant was rather stark. I suspect the idea was to be sophisticated, but it didn't feel particularly warm or welcoming. In fact, the dim, black box reminded me of being in a community theater before the set is built. It felt almost like we were dining on a stage, in fact. The overhead lights provided slim visibility with maximum glare, an unfortunate combination.

Our waiter, sadly, did not seem to have been hired for his skills at relating to a variety of groups. While he was pleasant and competent enough, I got the impression that he'd have been much happier had his table been a group of young, urbanite hipsters. Instead he got a group of mature women, some with hearing issues, mostly suburb-dwelling. I arrived after the rest of the group was seated and was never given a menu. Luckily, my dining companions shared. Our waiter seemed slightly impatient throughout. Furthermore, he seemed to have no understanding of the need to speak slowly and loudly, enunciating well. This is particularly important in a popular, open dining room, even with younger clientele.

I'd never been to dinner at Coco's (www.228coco.com) but had been very favorably impressed with their lunches at the old spot. I have particularly fond memories of a fried green tomato BLT I enjoyed there one summer. I was tempted by the filet and the trout, but I'd just had particularly swoony renditions of both, one prepared by my sweetheart, the other by the fabulous Anne Kearney and her staff at Rue Dumaine. I was also not terribly hungry, given my largish lunch of a crab rangoon stick, yellow curry fried rice, and mango sticky rice.

So, I settled on a Caesar salad and an appetizer. I was torn between the fried brie and the buffalo shrimp, so I asked the waiter's opinion, acknowledging that they are two very different dishes. He immediately championed the buffalo shrimp, so I ordered those. The rosemary bread and blueberry-something-something butter (this is why enunciation matters---I am not sure one person at the table had any idea what was in the butter, beyond blueberries) was incredible. There was also plenty, so it didn't feel rude to dip back into the basket for more.

I was also well-pleased with my lovely little salad, dressed perfectly so as to accent the crunchy lettuce but not overwhelm or drown it, and scattered with yummy, if a little browner than optimal, tidbits of Parmesan crisp.

The shrimp, when they arrived, were disappointing. First of all, they were not large enough to warrant $13 for 4 of them. I have eaten shrimp worth that, but these were not. Then, the temperature had dropped between finishing and delivery to lukewarm. I think there may well be people who would love the buffalo sauce, which was more akin to a combo of buffalo and barbecue sauces, with a nice prick of heat, but an even greater wash of sweet. It was too sweet for me to love it, but I may simply have chosen poorly. It could be that I should stick to spots like Winking Lizard for buffalo anything and when dining upscale, order upscale.

I also chose poorly for dessert and I knew I was doing it. I make a particularly wonderful flourless chocolate cake, so I should never order it in restaurants. I am almost invariably disappointed. Hope springs eternal, though, so I bypassed the creme brûlée in favor of the torte, seduced by the promise of vanilla ice cream and toffee sprinkles. Oh, was it a mistake! The torte was fine, as far as flavor went, but had little depth. Worse, it was dry and crumbly, with hard edges, rather than silky and smooth. The tiny scoop of ice cream, perched atop like a mini-fez, did little to ameliorate the situation. All I could think as I made my way through it was that the espresso creme brûlée was probably amazing. I've had Coco's creme brûlée. I am picky about creme brûlée. They do it exceedingly well.

I will certainly return, but in daylight hours or when I am in the mood for a full entree. I think that's where they shine. A little light shining in the windows might improve things, as well.

Simple Spicy Chicken

Cold weather very frequently means cold and flu. When I have a cold or flu, I often find myself craving Indian food or other spicy deliciousness. Jeannene, on the other hand, leans toward comfort food. Last night, we had a great compromise between the two. I'd picked up a new cookbook, The Good-to-Go Cookbook by Kathleen Cannata Hanna, on a whim and this was the first meal I'd cooked from it. The recipes are designed for busy families who don't have oceans of time or money for meals, but who don't want McDonald's every night there's band practice or a late meeting at work. Or both. I highly recommend picking up your very own copy. It's full of creative snack ideas, quick breakfasts & lunches, things that can be eaten in the car, 30-minute and one-pot dishes, and an array of desserts. We had Texas spice-rubbed chicken, green bean sauté, and creamy potato casserole. It was all delicious, although the green beans turned out a little sweet for me. It might just have been that particular crop of beans, too. Jeannene loved them! Here are my adaptations of the recipes:

Texas Spice-Rubbed Chicken

1 tbsp. paprika
1 tsp. seasoned salt (I use my own blend, but use your favorite)
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/8-1/4 tsp. cayenne
2 tsp. oil
3 chicken breasts (skinless, boneless)
2 tbsp. oil for frying

Mix the spices. Add the 2 tsp. oil and mix to make a paste. Rub it evenly on the chicken. Heat rest of oil in skillet (I used the skillet I'd used to sauté the onions & garlic for the green beans, which added great additional flavor) on medium-high heat and cook chicken about 7 minutes per side, until browned on the outside and cooked through. You can also grill this, if you are so inclined. Serves 3.

Green Bean Sauté

1 lb. green beans, trimmed
3 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
3 tbsp. red wine vinegar

Steam beans about 10 minutes. Sauté onion and garlic about 7 minutes. Toss everything together. Serves 4.

Creamy Potato Bake

3 decent-sized potatoes, peeled, diced
8 oz. reduced-fat sour cream
1/4 c. milk
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2 c. shredded cheddar
8 oz. french-fried onions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 2-quart casserole. Boil and mash the potatoes. Or, you can use about 3 cups of leftover or store-bought mashed potatoes to save time. Mix potatoes with sour cream, milk, garlic powder, 1 cup of cheese. Place half the mixture in the casserole. Top with onions. Cover with remaining potatoes. Bake 1/2 hour. Top with remaining cheese and bake 5 minutes. Serves 4-6.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Beef Stew for Kristen

My friend, Kristen, is a fabulous single mama, smart, forthright, and funny. She asked me for a beef stew recipe, so here it is, for her and for any of you who love good comfort food for omnivores. Here, the temperature is supposed to drop precipitously this week. I am hearing rumors of single digits. It would be a great week to have my toes in the sand. Instead, I'll warm up by cooking. My mom always says one of the best things to do if you're too cold is wash the dishes. She is actually a big fan of dishwashing in the winter.

So, Kristen, I have pulled two beef stew recipes for you. This is the plain old beef stew, my adaptation of a Betty Crocker recipe, and there is nothing "plain old" about it:

Plain Old Beef Stew
1 pound stew beef, cut into 1/2" cubes         1 tbsp. worcestershire sauce
1 onion, cut into 8 or so wedges                   1 tsp. salt
8 oz. baby carrots                                          1 tsp. sugar
14 oz. can diced tomatoes (plus juice)          1 tsp. marjoram 
14 oz. beef broth                                            1/4 tsp. pepper
8 oz. tomato sauce                                         1 and 1/2 lb. small red potatoes,
1/3 c. flour                                                             quartered
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In large, ovenproof pot (Dutch oven is ideal), mix everything together except potatoes. Cover and bake 2 hours, stirring after an hour. Add potatoes. Cover and bake another hour to hour and a half, until beef and veggies are tender. Serves 8.
You can also do this in a slow cooker by coating the beef in additional flour and browning in a little oil. Then, throw everything in together, cover, and cook on low 8-9 hours.
This stew will be good. However, my favorite beef stew to make, one I have made for a number of occasions, including, at Jeannene's request, her birthday dinner. It is a great beef stew to have for company and is especially nice accompanied by or over mashed potatoes. It is better known by its fancy French name, but don't let that intimidate you. Here, my favorite stew and one of my favorite ever recipes, is my rendition of Ina Garten's phenomenal Boeuf Bourguignon. I used to be freaked out by the idea of flaming it, thinking I would set myself, the stove, the house on fire. Finally, my curiosity about whether it really makes any difference won out over my trepidation. It does make a difference and I did not set anything but the stew alight. The bacon, in case you're wondering, also matters. But doesn't it always?
Boeuf Bourguignon
1 tbsp. olive oil                                            2 to 2 and a half cups beef broth
8 oz. good bacon, diced                              1 tbsp. tomato paste
2 1/2 lb. beef chuck, in 1" cubes                 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves (you can 
Salt and pepper                                                     cheat and use 1 tbsp. dried)
1 lb. carrots, sliced diagonally in chunks    1/2 stick butter, room temp
2 onions, peeled and sliced                         3 tbsp. flour
2-4 cloves chopped garlic                           1 lb. pearl onions (frozen is fine)
1/2 c. Cognac or good brandy                     1 lb. mushroom caps, thickly sliced
1 bottle good dry red wine, preferably burgundy
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Heat oil in large ovenproof pot (again, a Dutch oven is preferred, but not required). Add the bacon and cook on medium for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Take out of pan with slotted spoon and drain on a plate. Pat the beef cubes dry with a paper towel and sprinkle with salt & pepper. In batches, keeping beef in a single layer, cook in hot oil & bacon grease until browned on all sides. Remove to plate with bacon. Add carrots, onions, 1 tbsp. salt, and 2 tsp. pepper to pot and cook on medium about 10 minutes, until onions are lightly browned. Add garlic and cook 1 minute, making sure not to burn. Add Cognac, stand back (not kidding), and ignite with a long match. Allow alcohol to burn off, then add beef and bacon back into pot with any juices that have pooled on the plate. Add the wine plus enough beef broth to almost cover the meat. Add tomato paste and thyme. Bring to a boil , cover, & bake about 75 minutes, until meat and vegetables are very tender. Remove from oven and place atop the stove. Mix 2 tbsp. butter with flour, using a fork, and stir into the stew. Add onions. In a medium pan, saute the mushrooms in 2 tbsp. butter until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add to stew and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer uncovered 15 minutes. Adjust seasonings & serve. Serves 6.