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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sandwich Night

There are sandwiches and then there are sandwiches.  When I talk about sandwiches, rest assured that while I am as big a fan of PB&J and anyone, the sandwiches I am talking about are... well... sandwich masterpieces.

Let me first start by saying that I am a sandwich lover from way back.  My mother, who we have established was no gourmet, made a mean p-nup and jelly, as my father used to call it.  She believed in creamy peanut butter and strawberry jam.  There was no jelly, and certainly no grape jelly, happening in my house.  I loved those sandwiches.

My mother could also, on occasion, turn out a respectable grilled cheese, although it suffered greatly from the inclusion of Kraft American Squares.  Sure, back in the day I thought American cheese was real cheese, but I know better now.

It wasn't until I became a bona fide grown up that I realized that a sandwich could be more than just the sum of its parts.  A sandwich could be absolutely astonishingly delicious.

Fast forward to tonight.  I didn't know what I was in the mood to make.  If truth be told, mostly I was in the mood to make a phone call and order in a pizza, but I felt a little guilty since I do not recall cooking anything at all over the weekend.  (For the record, I do not believe that I can get cooking credit for making myself a Nespresso, and so far as I can recall, that is the only thing I did of a preparatory nature all weekend.)

But back to dinner.  I recalled seeing a recipe in last week's NYT Dining Section for a steak sandwich.  By some miracle, I actually located said newspaper section which, since I didn't recall the name of the recipe or the author of said recipe, was a good thing because it would have required some fancy Googling to actually find the recipe online.

I'm not gonna lie.  This was not a wham bam throw together sandwich.  The recipe has steps and procedures.  There's chopping and sautéing.  There's grilling.  And there's assembly.  And then there's the eating part, which makes all the other parts well worth the effort.

Recipe:  Grilled Frank Steak on Ciabatta with Red Peppers
New York Times, July 16, 2014


1 13/4- to 2-pound flank steak
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
Salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons black olive tapenade
1/3 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 large red onion, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, slivered
2 large red bell peppers, cored and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 large ciabatta, halved horizontally


Smear flank steak with 2 tablespoons olive oil, massage with paprika and season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Combine 11/2 tablespoons of the tapenade with the parsley and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Set aside.

Heat remaining oil in a large skillet. Add onion and sauté on medium until soft. Add garlic, sauté briefly, then add peppers. Reduce heat to low and sauté gently until very tender, about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. Stir in wine and remaining tapenade, cook briefly, then remove from heat.

Heat grill to hot. When peppers are done, put steak on grill and sear fairly close to the heat, 2 to 3 minutes per side for medium-rare. Timing is tricky because it depends on the fire and the thickness of the meat, but you can make a diagonal cut at one end of the steak to gauge doneness.

Transfer steak to a cutting board and place ciabatta halves, cut side down, on the grill to toast. Watch closely. Smear toasted ciabatta with the reserved tapenade and parsley from Step 1. Slice steak thin on the bias and arrange slices on the ciabatta. Reheat peppers and spoon on top of the steak. Cut each ciabatta half in six pieces, arrange on a platter and serve.

YIELD 6 servings

Monday, July 21, 2014

Pickle Power

Last week we made picked zucchini.  Today it's pickled cucumbers.

I've made pickles too many times to count, and I have to say that they've all been delicious.  I think this says far less about my cooking ability (or pickling ability, as the case may be), and far more about how generally foolproof pickling is.

But I digress.  Making pickles is surprisingly easy and you end up not only with a delicious snack, but with lots of jars full of delectable looking summer goodness.  (Okay, that description may border on flowery, but I just couldn't fight the urge.)

As with the pickled zucchini, it's really all about the produce.  Don't bother making pickles with anything less than fresh, crisp cucumbers.  Making sure they're pretty is a plus as well.  Cut your spears uniformly, so that they sit nicely in the jar.  This is essential if you think there is any chance you may feel the urge to give someone a jar of pickles.  You'll want the opportunity to really impress the recipient with your kitchen prowess.  Let's face it, they probably won't know how easy it is to make pickles.  And there's a good chance they may never eat them, so you'll want the pickles to at least make an impressive presentation.

Oh come on.  How many gift baskets have you received where two years later you find the remnants in the back of your pantry?

This is a pretty basic recipe, good for all of you pickling neophytes out there.  Pick up some nice pickling cucumbers and give these a try.  I promise they'll be so good you probably won't be willing to part with even one jar.

Recipe:  Nadine's Pickles


3 1/2 cups water
1 1/4 cups white vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon sea salt
4 cups cucumber spears
2 cloves garlic, whole per jar
2 heads fresh dill


Stir water, vinegar, sugar, and sea salt together in a saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil; remove from heat and cool completely.

Slice the cucumbers into spears.  Drop two whole garlic cloves, a couple of sprigs of dill, and about a tablespoon of pickling spices into each jar.  Pack the cucumber spears into the jars.

Pour cooled vinegar mixture over cucumber mixture.  Store in refrigerator or process in a water bath and store in a cool place.  The pickles will be ready to eat in a week or two.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Worth It

I haven't really been eating a lot of cake lately.  I discovered that there's a direct correlation between my weight and how many desserts I eat, so I've been laying off the sweets.  It's amazing how much easier it is to be thin if you forgo dessert.

But every once in a while, dessert beckons.  I try to makes those treats really worth the calories, and this generally involves making them myself.  There isn't really a bakery in these parts that makes anything delectable enough to entice me, but I know a good recipe when I see one.  This bundt cake just had my name written all over it.

As those of you who have been reading the blog for some time know, I love a good plain cake.  I don't need a lot of bells and whistles, but rather I love a cake that relies on good, fresh ingredients.
I'm a big fan of the multi-purpose cake, and this buttermilk bundt cake fits the bill perfectly.  It's perfect for dessert but also equally as delicious for a weekend brunch.

So, although I've been very virtuous when it comes to desserts, this is one that's totally worth it.

Recipe:  Buttermilk Bundt Cake with Lemon Glaze
Food and Wine, August, 2014


For the cake:

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup vegetable shortening, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

For the glaze:

1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon unsalted butter, melted
Pinch of fine salt


Preheat the oven to 
325°. Generously butter a 10-inch Bundt pan and dust with flour. In a medium bowl, whisk the 3 1/2 cups of flour with the salt 
and baking soda.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the 1 1/2 sticks of butter with the shortening at medium-high speed until smooth. Add the granulated sugar and 
beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. At medium speed, beat in the eggs 1 at a time until just incorporated, then beat in the vanilla; scrape down the side of the bowl. Beat in the dry ingredients and buttermilk in 3 alternating batches, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. At low speed, beat in the lemon juice. 

Scrape the batter into the prepared 
Bundt pan and use a spatula to smooth 
the surface. Bake in the middle of the oven 
for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking, until 
a toothpick inserted in the center of the 
cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool on 
a rack for 30 minutes, then turn it out on 
a platter or cake stand to cool completely.

In a medium bowl, whisk the confectioners’ sugar with 
the lemon zest, lemon juice, butter and 
salt until smooth. Drizzle the glaze over
the top of the cake, letting it drip down 
the sides. Let stand for 20 minutes 
until the glaze is set. Cut the cake into wedges and serve.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

No Reservation Required

Every morning this week I have announced to Ted that "tonight we're going out to dinner".  I mean, it's just the two of us, although it's pretty much always just the two of us.  And it's hot.  And it's summer.  What better reason to go out than all that?

But then, around midday, something funny happens.  I happen on a recipe that inspires me to make dinner, not reservations.  Go figure.

True to form, that happened again today.  I was all set to pick a restaurant when, as I was mindlessly paging through this month's issue of Food and Wine, I was hit with... inspiration.  There were a lot, and I mean a lot, of recipes that I wanted to make.

Who woulda thunk it?

So, in the midst of all the chaos going on in my house, what with the painters and the dust and the general schmutz, I found solace in my kitchen and produced this absolutely delicious chicken dish.  And while I was at it, I sautéed up some fresh corn to go alongside.  I set a nice table outside, and before I knew it, we had a dinner so much better than any reservation I could have made instead.

Recipe:  Curried Maple-Mustard Chicken Breasts
Food and Wine, August, 2014


1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon mild or hot curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Kosher salt
Four 12-ounce, bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves


Preheat the oven to 350°.

In a 9-by-13-inch ceramic baking dish, combine the butter with the maple syrup, mustard, curry powder and cayenne. Bake for about 5 minutes, until the butter is melted. Whisk in a generous pinch each of salt and pepper and let cool slightly, 5 to 10 minutes.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper, add to the baking dish and turn to coat with the sauce. Carefully spoon some 
of the sauce under the chicken skin. Turn the chicken breast side up and bake for about 45 minutes, basting occasionally, until the chicken is glazed and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers 165°. Transfer the chicken to a work surface and let rest for 10 minutes

Cut the chicken off the bones and transfer to plates. Whisk the pan sauce and spoon over the chicken. Serve, passing additional sauce at the table.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hot or Not

I am so tired of being hot.  And by hot I mean, hot as in the temperature, not hot as in "she is so hot".  This is because I am 54 years old, and let's face it, there's only so hot, as in "she's so hot," you can be at 54. And there is an unlimited amount of hot when it comes to hot as in the temperature.

There are those women out there who, even at (the advanced age of) 54, are still hot.  Good for them.  At this point, I'm just happy that nothing is sagging too offensively, and that the radiation tattoos kind of blend in with all the sun damage my skin endured back when I was, in fact, actually hot, as in "she's so hot".  I suppose with the right lighting, I might still pass for somewhat hot, but I'm not sure, and I don't want to ask Ted because he'll just say I am because that's what he's supposed to say.  And he won't look because he "already knows" what I look like.

There are also those women who have hot bodies which , when you see them from behind you think, "wow, that's some body on her".  Then she turns around and she's about 70 years old, with skin that looks like it spent way too much time laying on a chaise lounge in Palm Springs.  She's also wearing skinny jeans which were not designed for a 70 year old body, no matter how hot said body happens to be.

To be fair, I used to think 70 was old.  Now I think 70 is pretty much middle age,  Everything is relative.

But back to the weather.  It's been so damn hot and humid that I am sweating pretty much all the time.  Add to that the fact that we are in the midst of a massive painting/redecoration project in our house, and you can just assume that tempers are hot too.  I think my painters, who I love the day they start whatever project we're embarking on, and hate by about a week in, are taking un permanent residence on my third floor along with all the crap that Ted can't live without.

Anyway, because it's been about a thousand degrees outside, and because it's Wednesday, and that means it's NYT Dining day, we had a cold dinner.  Yup. Cold as in chilly.  No cooking.  No fuss, no muss, no bother.  Well, maybe a little muss and bother because there was chopping and blanching and tossing involved.  But on a scale of one to ten, ten being "she's so hot", this dinner was a ten.  Not a ten because of the hot factor, but instead it was a ten because it was so cool.  And as we all know, cool is often just as good as hot.

Recipe:  Spicy Pearl Couscous Salad
David Tanis, New York Times, July 16, 2014

For the Dressing:

2 tablespoons lemon juice, more to taste, plus zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 red Fresno chile, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted and ground
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
Pinch of ground cinnamon
1/4 cup olive oil

For the Salad:

1 pound very small new potatoes, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 sweet bell peppers
1/2 pound Romano beans or green beans, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 pound pearl couscous
1/2 pound cherry tomatoes, halved
Small bunch mint, cilantro or parsley, for garnish


In a small bowl, stir together lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, turmeric, cayenne, chile, caraway, cumin and cinnamon. Whisk in olive oil. Set aside.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put halved potatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season well with salt and pepper and roast cut side down until tender, about 15 minutes.

Roast bell peppers whole under broiler, over a gas burner or over hot coals until skins are blackened and blistered, 3 to 4 minutes. Set aside to cool. Using a paring knife, split peppers lengthwise and scrape away seeds and charred skin (do not rinse). Cut into 1/2-inch strips.

Drop beans into salted boiling water and cook for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse with cool water.

Meanwhile, boil the couscous in abundant salted water until al dente, about 10 minutes, then drain. Rinse with cold water and drain again. Blot dry.

Put couscous in a shallow salad bowl. Add roasted peppers, cherry tomatoes and beans and season with salt and pepper. Add dressing and toss well to coat. Add potatoes and toss again. Taste and adjust for salt and lemon. Garnish with mint, cilantro or parsley leaves.

YIELD 6 to 8 servings

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Waiting Game

This summer I have wisely enrolled in just one CSA.  After last summer's debacle, I learned my lesson.  No one, and I mean no one, needs four heads of cabbage in one week.  I don't care how much you like cabbage, there's a limit to how much a person's digestive system can handle.

We are currently in the midst of a zucchini and cucumber blitz.  Last week, my CSA generously provided me with five gigantic zucchini and a bunch of adorable cucumbers.  (Really, the cucumbers were the cutest little shape.)  What to do, what to do?

The obvious choice for at least some of the zucchini is zucchini bread.  And grilled zucchini.  But what about pickled zucchini, kind of like pickled cucumbers but with zucchini?

Well, it's all good news because there are a plethora of pickled zucchini recipes out there so it appears that pickled zucchini is a thing.  The other good news is that I had everything needed right there in my refrigerator and in my pantry.  Score one for me.

This recipe was quick and easy, but alas I cannot tell you how delicious my pickled zucchini spears are.  For that, we will have to wait a week or two or three.  But good things come to those who wait.

Recipe:  Zucchini Dill Pickles

Makes 2 quarts


2 pounds small zucchini (preferably about 4" or 8" long), trimmed
4 tablespoons coarse sea salt or pickling salt, divided
12 fresh dill sprigs
2 teaspoons yellow or brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon dill seeds
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
4 garlic cloves, halved
4 red jalapeños or Fresno chiles, split lengthwise
2 1/2 cups white wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar


If using 4" zucchini, halve lengthwise. If using 8" zucchini, halve crosswise, then quarter lengthwise. Place in a large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons salt and 4 cups ice. Add cold water to cover. Top with a plate to keep submerged. Let sit for 2 hours. Drain; rinse.

Divide dill sprigs and next 6 ingredients between 2 clean, hot 1-quart jars; set aside.

Bring vinegar, sugar, remaining 2 tablespoons salt, and 1 1/4 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Working in batches, add zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, until khaki in color and slightly pliable, about 2 minutes. Using tongs, transfer zucchini to jars.

Divide hot syrup between jars to cover zucchini, leaving 1/2" space on top. Wipe rims, seal, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Allow at least a week to pickle before eating.

Epicurious.com © Condé Nast Digital, Inc. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

I Love Wednesday

Wednesday is my favorite day of the week, and it's not because it's hump day.  I love Wednesdays because that when the NYT Dining section is published.  No matter how uninspired I'm feeling, there's always something there that makes me look forward to cooking dinner.

This week's section did not disappoint, and Ted and I dined on Melissa Clark's Pasta with Burst Cherry Tomatoes Wednesday evening.  Melissa is my go to when I'm looking for something fresh and vibrant to fight off the humidity of summer.

The real bonus here is that I had everything needed to make this delicious sounding pasta recipe right here in the house... or in my backyard.  Yup, we're growing a variety of herbs this summer, and to say that we are being overrun by mint would be an understatement of epic proportions.  There's a limit to how many cocktails with muddled mint Ted can make, so finding a recipe that calls for 3 cups of mint leaves is a real bonanza.  Because our basil is going wild as well, I threw in a handful of torn basil leaves along with the mint.

The weather cooperated and we were able to enjoy our summer pasta al fresco, along with a nice glass of rose.  Just one more reason to love Wednesdays.

Recipe:  Pasta with Burst Cherry Tomatoes
New York Times, July 9, 2014

* Note:  I added a handful of torn basil leaves along with the mint,


1 pound fusilli pasta
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
6 ounces pancetta, preferably thick cut, diced
6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Fine sea salt and black pepper, as needed
1 quart cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
3 tablespoons butter
Fresh ricotta cheese, for serving (optional)
3 cups whole mint leaves, torn
4 scallions, preferably red scallions for color, thinly sliced
Flaky sea salt, to finish


Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until 1 minute shy of al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking water.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat for 15 seconds, then add the oil and heat until it thins out and easily coats the pan when swirled. Add pancetta and cook until it starts to render its fat, about 2 minutes. Add garlic, red pepper flakes and a large pinch of salt and pepper and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook until they burst, turn golden at the edges and shrivel up slightly, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Add pasta to pan and toss with tomato-pancetta mixture; if the mixture looks dry add a little pasta cooking water a few tablespoons at a time. Cook over high heat until the pasta finishes cooking in the sauce. Add the butter and toss until it melts and coats everything.

Divide pasta among warmed pasta bowls. Garnish with dollops of ricotta if desired, and top with a generous mound of fresh mint and scallions. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and more pepper before serving.el4 Note: If you would like to leave out the pancetta (making the dish vegetarian), toss 1/3 cup grated pecorino in the pasta along with the butter.

YIELD 4 to 6 servings