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 ( 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.                                     

Friday, January 11, 2013

Processed Foods Week!

Wow, we have been packing away the salt! Jeannene had dinner responsibilities Saturday-Tuesday. I can't for the life of me recall what we had Saturday. I think we ordered pizza. Sunday night, I got home from a potluck dinner full of a beautiful salad with poppyseed dressing, cherry pie, and a scrumptious vegan, gluten-free chocolate chip cookie. I've got to get that recipe from Levi! Yummy as it all was, I needed a little protein balance. Jeannene provided it in the form of Zatarain's hamburger stroganoff. It was not bad. I'm a big fan of their dirty rice mix. I am also profoundly grateful it wasn't Hamburger Helper, but a slightly zestier version. Monday night, I arrived home to find her happily frying up delicate little slices of Spam. Yes. Spam. I'd never had it before. She's been working on getting me to eat it for years. Her daddy, born & raised in Harlan County, Kentucky, made it for her, Spam & eggs at home, Spam sandwiches for fishing trips. So, I gamely ate my Spam, fried egg, & American cheese on white. While it wasn't as bad as I'd feared, I do think it must be an acquired taste. I don't plan to acquire it. Salt, salt, & more salt! Then, cheeseburgers Tuesday. Jeannene, peeking over my shoulder, just told me that she drank 2 large bottles of Evian following her Spam sandwich. Isn't that a funny juxtaposition?!?

So, I ended up compounding the salt by making this creamed chicken over toasted English muffins:

1/2 c. finely-chopped celery
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
8 oz. diced, cooked chicken
2 tsp. onion powder
About 2 oz. finely-chopped roasted red peppers (or pimientos)
A nice grinding of black pepper

Spray a skillet with cooking spray. Sauté celery until softened. Add the rest and simmer about 7 minutes.

We had peas with this, and broiled bananas for dessert. To do the bananas, preheat the broiler on low. Take 2 bananas, leaving them in their peels, and slit them open lengthwise, leaving about an inch at each end uncut. Do not cut them all the way through! Mix together 2 tbsp. brown sugar, 1 tbsp. butter, and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon. Stuff the bananas with this mixture and broil about 5 minutes. Serve in their skins.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Fondue to Ring in the New

When I was a young woman in my 20s, I spent every Christmas with my mom, stepdad, and almost-grandma in West Virginia. We had a wonderful celebration every year & Christmas Eve dinner was often cheese fondue. The first time I ever remember having fondue was when we visited my almost-grandma in St. Pete when I was 9. I loved it then, I love it now. So, when I started making a Cuban Nochebuena feast on Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve seemed like a festive new spot for the fondue dinner. Jeannene & I have enjoyed the tradition. This year, we decided to kick it up with a chocolate fondue for dessert, which was a lovely addition!

Traditional Cheese Fondue
1 clove garlic
1 c. dry white wine
8 oz. shredded Gruyère
8 oz. shredded Jarlsberg
2 tsp. cornstarch
3 tbsp. kirsch (unfortunately, this can be hard to find & there really is no substitute. Try a good liquor store, but if you can't find it, use an equal amount of dry white wine)
Salt & pepper
Freshly-grated nutmeg
Very lightly steamed/blanched veggies
French bread cubes

Rub the inside of a heavy pot with the garlic cloves, allowing errant shreds to remain. Add wine and bring to a boil. Add cheese, a little bit at a time (this is important), stirring to melt before adding more. Reduce heat to quite low, keeping a watchful eye so that the cheese doesn't scorch. Dissolve cornstarch in kirsch and add to cheese mixture. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Put in fondue pot over low flame (I use small cans of Sterno). Serve with bread & veggies. If it needs to be thinned, add a very small amount of hot wine. Leftovers are great over English muffins or toast points in the morning.

Chocolate Fondue
12 oz. chocolate chips (the better the chocolate, the better the fondue---I used Ghirardelli this year.)
2/3 c. heavy cream
2 tbsp. Triple Sec or other liqueur (such as Chambord or Kahlúa)
Cut-up fruit (we like bananas & strawberries best)
Cubes of pound cake, marshmallows, cookies (Jeannene had tiny macaroons this year), pretzels, etc.

Heat the chocolate & cream over low heat, stirring constantly until melted. Remove from heat and add liqueur. Put into fondue pot & keep warm over a very low flame. Serve with fruit, etc.

Christmas Kale Salad

As a pastor, I tend to get incredibly busy around Christmas & therefore leave much of the cooking to Jeannene. Pre-pastorate, there would be cookies & quiches (I did make a ham & cheese and a spinach & feta quiche for Christmas Eve staff dinner this year), a Nochebuena feast, and all kinds of other delights. Now, when my cousin Nova asked me to bring a side and a dessert to the family Christmas Eve dinner, I immediately agreed and then thought, "Oh, no! What have I done?" Luckily, Robyn brought an amazing raw kale salad to Family@5 in the fall. It was one of the best things I've ever eaten and I told her so. She said, "Oh, it's easy" & told me to Google "Tuscan kale salad." I found a good prospect on Epicurious. So, I seized on that, adapted for my love of garlic & lemon, for my side and cheated with a wedge of brie and a plate of Whole Foods chocolate truffles for the dessert. The salad was fab, so I made another to go with our prime rib & mashed potatoes on Christmas Day. The leftovers (there were no leftovers Christmas Eve, I might note, and I was asked multiple times for the recipe) became a spectacular soup with the addition of 64 oz. of chicken broth and a pound of spicy Bob Evans sausage I browned. Just throw together, bring to a boil, and simmer 20-30 minutes.

Christmas Kale Salad
1 bunch Tuscan kale, such as lacinato or black kale
A bag of garlic croutons, bashed to bits
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled (less if it offends you)
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
A pinch of Maldon sea salt or other finishing salt
A handful of shaved Parmesan (use the good stuff!)
3 tbsp. or so olive oil (again, the good stuff)
Juice of 2 lemons (less if tart is not your favorite)
1/8 tsp. or so crushed red pepper

Make sure kale is dry. Remove tough stems from kale and slice into thin ribbons. Pound garlic into paste with kosher salt (a mortar & pestle is ideal for this). Mix everything together but kale, crouton bits, Maldon salt, and Parmesan. Toss with kale. Let stand 5 minutes-3 hours. Sprinkle with crouton bits, Maldon salt, parmesan. Add a drizzle of extra olive oil, if it needs it.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Pimiento Cheese is Good for the Soul!

As a child, I was frightened of pimientos. Not that they would taste yucky. That they would bite me. How crazy is that? I therefore completely eschewed pimiento cheese until I was 21 years old, staying with a friend in Florida for a week, and left to my own devices for lunch. Laura, a Georgia girl, had a tub of pimiento cheese in her fridge & a packet of Ryvita crackers in the cupboard. I ventured to try it and became rather enamored. When I lived in a small town outside Nashville, I frequently dropped a tub in my cart at the grocery. But when I moved back to Ohio, I discovered that there is pimiento cheese and there is pimiento cheese. So, I had to learn to make it. Jeannene adores my pimiento cheese and begs me to make it. We had pimiento cheese on light bread (as they say in Tennessee), a romaine salad, and beautiful pineapple & strawberries for dinner tonight. Shred a pound of extra-sharp cheddar. I recommend Tillamook or Cabot. Add 6-7 ounces chopped pimientos or roasted red pepper, a couple tablespoons grated sweet onion such as Vidalia, a quarter teaspoon salt, 1/2 tsp. black pepper, a dash of cayenne, and 2/3 c. mayonnaise. I like Hellman's. Duke is good, too. Mash it all together with a fork or your hands. Chill it a couple hours if you can wait that long.