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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Cool Dinner for a Hot Night

I know I'm like a broken record, but it's been hot and when it's hot, I try to avoid turning on the oven.

Here's the thing.  My house is over 100 years old, and while it is fully air-conditioned (obviously added years after it was built),  not all of the rooms benefit equally from said central air-conditioning.  And heating for that matter.  Kate's room, for example, is coldest in the winter and warmest in the summer.  Charlie's room, which is right next to Kate's, is the complete opposite.  Go figure.

The kitchen seems to be in an ecosystem all its own, because the rest of the first floor bears no similarity in temperature.  Like Kate's room on the second floor, the kitchen is too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.  This problem is obviously exacerbated in the warm months by using the appliances, most specifically the oven.  Turning on the oven is pretty much a direct ticket to hell, so obviously I try to limit my oven use to early mornings and after the sun goes down.

Needless to say, being of a certain age, I have absolutely no need to add to my already somewhat fickle body temperature issues.  In an effort to keep things a little cooler, I have taken to making dinners that rely on anything but the oven.  In fact, I would chop 1,000 vegetables into 10,000 tiny little pieces if the net result is that I can avoid turning on the oven.

The other day Ina Garten made caponata on her Barefoot Contessa show.  She served it with lovely little pita chips.  It was very appealing, but did not a dinner make.  Still, I wanted to make the caponata.  We are not really dip people, so I decided to make the caponata and serve it as a sauce for grilled swordfish.  I grilled the swordfish and let it come to room temperature and then served the whole platter the same way.

The nice thing about this recipe is that it makes quite a bit of the caponata, and the flavors develop as it sits in the frig.  So, you can serve this lovely cold dinner and still have caponata left over to serve another day with cocktails, al fresco, of course.

Recipe:  Grilled Swordfish featuring Ina Garten's Caponata

For the caponata:


1 large eggplant (1 1/2 pounds)
Good olive oil
4 ounces jarred roasted red peppers, chopped
1/2 cup large green olives, pitted and chopped
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
3 tablespoons minced parsley
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
Toasted pita triangles, for serving

For the swordfish:

Swordfish steaks
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil.

Place the whole eggplant on the pan, prick with a fork in several places, and rub with olive oil. Roast for 45 to 50 minutes, until the eggplant is very soft when pierced with a knife. Set aside to cool. Halve the eggplant, peel, and discard the skin. Place the eggplant, peppers, and olives in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse until coarsely chopped. Pour into a mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium saute pan. Add the onion and red pepper flakes and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, until the onion is lightly browned. Add the garlic, cook for 1 minute, and add to the eggplant mixture. Add the parsley, pine nuts, lemon juice, capers, tomato paste, vinegar, salt, and pepper and mix. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to develop.

Prepare a grill pan or a barbecue.

Drizzle the swordfish steaks with olive oil and then season generously with salt and pepper.  Cook to desired doneness.

Spread caponata on a serving platter.  Place the swordfish on top and sprinkle with chopped parsley.  Serve at room temperature.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Peanut Buttery

It is indeed good news that no one in my house has a peanut allergy.  We love all things peanut around here, especially peanut butter.  We're not even picky.  We love the lowbrow (Skippy and Jif), all the way up the ladder to the fancy schmancy artisanal stuff.  Kate has recently introduced me to Justin's, which is sort of in the middle of the range, and I have to say that I'm a real fan of the honey peanut butter.

As I mentioned, I really love peanut butter.  My preferred way of eating it is directly from the jar.  So, you're saying "big deal.  I do that too."  Well, I like to drizzle the honey directly into the jar and make my own perfect combination of peanut butter and honey.  I'm sure my family wonders why the peanut butter is always so sweet with honey.  It's because I'm a drizzler.

Okay, I'll admit it.  It's probably kind of gross that I drizzle the honey directly into the jar, but let's just, for a moment, consider other vices I could have.  Things could be a whole lot worse.

The point of this confession, besides my pathological need to over-share, is that as much as I like my peanut butter straight, I really love a good peanut butter cookie.

Don't kid yourself, a good peanut butter cookie is tough to find.  Some are soggy.  Some are greasy.  It's no small feat to make the perfect peanut butter cookie.

But I have and I didn't do it alone.  I had a great recipe which, as we all know, is pretty much essential for successful baking.  This recipe is from The Model Bakery Cookbook.  You really should go out and buy this cookbook, because I haven't made anything from it that hasn't been the best example of whatever it happens to be.  (As an aside, on my baking bucket list, is making Model Bakery english muffins, although maybe I should just put visiting the Model Bakery on the list. I could eat an english muffin right there at the source, and save myself a whole lot of rising time.)

Recipe:  Model Bakery Peanut Butter Cookies
Model Bakery Cookbook


3 c. flour
2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. packed light brown sugar
1 c. granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 c. chunky peanut butter


Preheat oven to 350 degrees and position racks to center and top third of oven. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. 

Sift flour, baking soda and salt together. Beat the butter and both sugars with an electric mixer on high until pale yellow, about one to two minutes. Add in eggs, one at a time and beat well. Beat in peanut butter. Reduce to low speed and gradually add flour mixture, mixing just until combined. 

I use a small scoop for these cookies but you can go up to 1/4 cup for the size. Bake about 15 minutes, rotating the trays halfway through baking.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Crunchy Enough

My friend Heidi has been getting me in the granola mood lately.  I used to make granola all the time, but like so many things, I kind of fell out of the habit.  Or maybe I went into granola overload.  Or maybe I realized that despite sounding healthy, granola is more akin to a dessert than it is to say...breakfast.

Anyway, while I was waiting for Heidi to send me her current favorite granola recipe, this one appeared in the Off Duty section of the Wall Street Journal.  I love the Off Duty section.  Aside from some seriously good recipes, I love to peruse how "the other half lives".  Doesn't everyone need a $10,000 handbag?

This is a really nice recipe.  It's not too sweet, and it's very crunchy.  For me, minimal sweetness and maximum crunchiness are two make or break aspects of any good granola.  Sometimes granola is just so damn sweet that I think my teeth are going to fall out.  And, often it's just not crunchy enough.  I don't like it so crunchy that my over sweetened teeth are going to break, but it does need a little crunch to keep it interesting.  Plus, the more work it is to eat, the less I'm going to eat, thus removing the threat of eating 10,000 calories worth of granola for breakfast.
Heidi has since sent me her newest granola recipe, so for you granola lovers out there, stay tuned...

Recipe:  Double-Almond Cherry Granola
Wall Street Journal, July 26, 2014


½ cup almond butter
½ cup honey
¼ cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons chia seeds, optional
1 teaspoon sea salt
¾ cup dried cherries


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a small saucepan over low heat, mix almond butter, honey and sugar until mixture is meltingly soft and combined, about 3 minutes. Off heat, stir in cinnamon and vanilla.

In a large bowl, toss together oats, almonds, chia seeds and salt. Pour almond butter mixture over oat mixture and toss well. It will be sticky. Make sure oats, almonds and chia seeds are well coated.

Spread oat mixture onto a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Place in oven and bake, stirring once halfway through, until golden brown, about 20 minutes. (Granola will be soft when removed from oven but will become crunchier as it cools.) Let cool on baking sheet, then stir in cherries. (Cooled granola will keep for 3-4 weeks in an airtight container.)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Another Wednesday To Love

I love Wednesdays because I know there's always something to look forward to.  Not every day is like that.  In fact, most days are pretty mundane. Get up, exercise, do chores, cook dinner, go to sleep.  I'm not complaining.  Things could be a lot worse.

But Wednesdays are special.  That's NYT Dining day.  I know that even if the news on every other page of the newspaper is bad, that the Dining section is guaranteed to make me happy.  I know that no matter what is happing at home or abroad, Melissa Clark or David Tanis are sure to have written about something I am anxious to cook.

It really doesn't take much to make me happy.

Last Wednesday was a real cooking bonanza.  So much so that I made a couple of recipes from the Dining section.

This recipe for cold roast pork with green bean salad is absolutely perfect for these hot summer days. In fact, it's the kind of meal that I always envision being served at one of those really long tables in the middle of a tuscan garden.  Or a garden in the South of France.  Or a backyard in Pittsburgh.

Recipe:  Cold Roast Pork with Green Bean Salad
David Tanis, New York Times, July 23, 2014


For the Pork:

1 boneless pork loin roast, about 4 pounds
Kosher salt
8 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons roughly chopped fennel fronds, plus extra fronds for garnish
2 teaspoons fennel seed, crushed in a mortar or spice mill
1 teaspoon fennel pollen (optional)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons roughly chopped rosemary
2 tablespoons roughly chopped sage
2 tablespoons roughly chopped marjoram
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (peperoncino)
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

For the Salad:

1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound green beans, or a mixture of green beans, yellow beans and Romano beans, trimmed
2 heads fennel, trimmed and thinly sliced


For the Pork:

Season pork loin generously on all sides with salt (about 2 tablespoons).

In a small bowl, combine garlic, fennel fronds, fennel seeds, fennel pollen if using, lemon zest, rosemary, sage, marjoram, red pepper flakes, black pepper and olive oil. Rub and pat mixture on loin, then wrap in plastic film and refrigerate for several hours, or preferably overnight. Bring to room temperature before roasting.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place a rack in a roasting pan. Put loin on the rack and roast for about an hour, until a thermometer registers 130 degrees. Let cool to room temperature before serving. If desired, after cooling you can wrap and refrigerate loin for up to 24 hours, then return to room temperature.

For the Salad:

For the dressing, put garlic and lemon juice in a small bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste and whisk in olive oil.

Blanch beans in boiling salted water for 2 minutes, then drain and cool. Put beans and fennel in a salad bowl, season lightly with salt and toss with dressing. (Dress salad about 20 minutes before serving.)

To serve, cut roast into 1/4-inch slices. arrange on a platter and garnish with reserved fennel fronds. Pass the salad separately.

YIELD 6 to 8 servings

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Cook This Immediately

One of my favorite cookbooks is Cook This Now by Melissa Clark.  As those of you out there who have been reading this blog for a long time know, I love Meliisa Clark and I love Melissa Clark's recipes.  In fact, if anyone out there in You Little Tarte-land knows Melissa Clark, I'd be very happy if you could introduce me.  I'm just putting it out there.  Just in case.

But my point is, Melissa Clark cooks the way I want to eat.  She uses only the freshest ingredients, but more than that, her recipes are accessible and they work.  Yes, they work.  In fact, I've never made a Melissa Clark recipe that wasn't (a) delicious, and (b) didn't work.

Melissa Clark strikes me as a person who enjoys her job as a food writer.  She also strikes me as a person who doesn't have a complicated relationship with food.  With the exception of dealing with her husband's lactose intolerance, it appears that Melissa is pretty much game to try anything.  I like that in a food writer.

So, today's delicious cavalcades of flavor (you like that, don't you?) come from the aforementioned Cook This Now cookbook by Melissa Clark.  Oddly enough, despite using this cookbook nearly to death since I purchased it a couple of years ago, I've never made either of these recipes.  I can't imagine why.

The first recipe is for Panfried Striped Bass with Anchovy Garlic Bread Crumbs and Basil.  Need I say more?  Anchovies? Garlic?  Yum, and double yum.  The only thing that could possibly make this recipe more appealing is the addition of olives.  You might think the fish with the fish would be a little on the fishy side, but it's not.  The combination is definitely salty, but salty in the very best way possible.  Even if you are a confirmed anti-anchovy person, you may find your mind being changed forever.  And if, perchance, it is not, at least you tried to widen your horizons, which is always a good thing.  Trust me.

And because I needed something to go along with the fish, just a few pages further into the July section of the book, is this recipe for Corn Salad with Tomatoes, Avocados, and Lime Cilantro Dressing.   Don't reject this out of hand because you think cilantro tastes like soap (which I do not).  Instead, substitute in flat leaf parsley.  It will still be delicious.

And while you're at it, adding Cook This Now to your cookbook collection would be a really good idea.  As would be introducing me to Melissa.

Recipe:  Panfried Striped Bass with Anchovy Garlic Bread Crumbs and Basil
Cook This Now by Melissa Clark


 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 anchovy fillets
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 cup coarse bread crumbs (I used panko)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
Chopped fresh basil, for serving
Lemon wedges for serving


Melt butter in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add the anchovies and cook, stirring and breaking up with a wooden spoon, until the anchovies have melted into the butter, 1 to 2 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.  Add the bread crumbs and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes.  Season with pepper.  Scrape the bread brumes into a small bowl.

Wipe out the pan and return it to medium high heat.  Add the oil and heat until very hot but not smoking.  Season the fish with salt and pepper.  Add the fish to the skillet skin-side down.  It should sizzle when it hits the pan.  Cook, without moving, until the edges and sides of the fish are opaque, about 5 minutes.  Carefully flip the fish and continue cooking until it is completely opaque and beginning to flake, 2 to 3 minutes more.

To serve, arrange the fish on individual serving plates,  Scatter basil over the fillets and top with the bread crumbs.  Serve with lemon wedges.

Recipe:  Corn Salad with Tomatoes, Avocados, and Lime Cilantro Dressing
Cook This Now by Melissa Clark


3 ears corn, kernels sliced from the cob
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus additional to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large tomato diced
2 rip avocados, diced
2 scallions finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro


Bring a medium pot of water to a boil.  Drop in the corn and cook until just tender, about 2 minutes.  Drain.

In a bowl, whisk together the lime juice, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Whisk in the oil.

In a large bowl, combine the corn, tomato, avocados, scallions, and cilantro.  Add the dressing and toss well to coat.

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.