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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Not Quite Yet

This has been one of those weeks where I haven't known what day it was.  All day on Tuesday I thought it was Wednesday.  And all day yesterday I thought it was Thursday.  That would mean that today is Friday and it's not.  It's Thursday.  So, when yesterday I sent you all off to have a good Fourth of July, I did that assuming that today was going to be Friday.  Obviously there was some wishful weekend thinking going on around here.

So, since today is actually Thursday and tomorrow is going to be Friday, and I have a great recipe to tell you about, here's one more post to finish out the week.

If I had to choose something to be other than American I would definitely go for being French.  I love the clothes.  I love the shoes.  I love France.  And I love the food.   I am especially fond of the chic salads those impossibly chic women eat while wearing their fabulous French fashions.   One of my absolute favorite salads is the classic salad nicoise.

The salad nicoise isn't really a salad.  It's more of an event.  Traditionally it's made with canned tuna but I love to "dress it up" a bit with grilled tuna or salmon.  In addition, there are potatoes, haricot vert, hard boiled eggs, olives, watercress or arugula, and tomatoes all drizzled with a delicious vinaigrette.

There are a couple of things I love about a salad nicoise.  I love that it makes a grand entrance.  The whole salad is assembled on a platter in a most sumptuous way.  It's abundance is truly spectacular.  I also love that it's perfect for dining al fresco with a nice crisp glass of rose wine.  Who doesn't love eating a salad and drinking a glass of wine out on the patio.  Most of all,  I love that the salad nicoise is absolutely delicious in a fresh, summery kind of way.

So, while today may have only been Thursday, tonight's dinner would be a winner any day of the week.


Recipe:Roasted Salmon Nicoise Platter
(Ina Garten, 2007)

Ingredients:

4 lemons, zested and juiced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
4 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 pounds skin-on fresh salmon fillets
3 pounds small Yukon gold potatoes
1 1/2 pounds haricots verts, stems removed
3 pounds ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges (6 small tomatoes)
12 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and cut in 1/2
1 bunch watercress or arugula
1/2 pound large green olives, pitted
1 can anchovies, optional

Vinaigrette:

1/4 cup champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup good olive oil

Directions:


Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.

For the marinade, whisk together the lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, mustard, garlic, 1 1/2 tablespoons salt and 1/2 tablespoon pepper in a small bowl and set aside.

Place the salmon on a sheet pan that has been covered in aluminum foil, and drizzle the marinade over the salmon. Allow the salmon to sit for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the potatoes and 2 tablespoons salt in a large pot of water. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the potatoes are barely tender when pierced with a knife. Drain the potatoes in a colander, then place the colander with the potatoes over the empty pot off the heat and cover with a clean, dry kitchen towel. Leave the potatoes to steam for 15 to 20 minutes, until tender but firm. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice them in thick slices and set aside.

Place the salmon in the oven and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, or until it is almost cooked through. Remove to a plate and allow it to rest for 15 minutes. Remove the skin and break into large pieces.

Blanch the haricots verts in a large pot of boiling salted water for 1 1/2 minutes only. Drain immediately and immerse in a bowl of ice water. Drain again and set aside.

For the vinaigrette, combine the vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to make an emulsion. Set aside.

Arrange the salmon, potatoes, haricots verts, tomatoes, eggs, watercress, olives and anchovies, if used, on a large flat platter. Drizzle some vinaigrette over the fish and vegetables and serve the rest in a pitcher on the side.

Serves 12

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Still Picnicing

The Picnic Game is still moving along full steam ahead.  Lots of new goodies are being added to the picnic basket everyday and I thought you might like to see what else has arrived.  Take a look at these recipes and blogs.  They're all lots of fun and I guarantee there's something for everyone!


A is for Apricot Cobbler from Mae's Food Blog Food
B is for Banana Cream Pie from Modern Day Ozzie & Harriett
C is for Cherry Bars in a Jar from Moveable Feasts
D is for Diva Doggie Bites from Chan Knits
E is for Emeril's Strawberry Lemonade from Olla-Podrida
F is for Fingerling Potato Salad from  Girl Chef
G is for Gugelhopf Twister from My Little Space
H is for Honey Graham Roll-ups fromDomesticated Engineer
I is for Incredible "Rabbit" Pineapple Tarts from Selby's Food Corner
J is for Jam Jewels from One Crazy Cookie
K is for Kirschmichel from  Kaffeeklatsch
L is for Lime Cranberry Fizz from Art of Natural Living
M is for Mint Sundae Brownie Bars from The Friday Friends 
N is for Nice Mini Biscuit Sandwiches from Canela Kitchen
O is for Orange Nut Ring from Time Travel Kitchen
P is for Pan Bagnat Provencal from Sage Cuisine
Q is for Quick Lemon Bread from Comfy Cook's Kosher Kitchen
R is for Rhubarb Ruguh-Love from Yummy Chunklet
S is for Salmon Salad from You Little Tarte
T
U
V
W
X
Y
Z


I'll keep you updated.  In the meantime, enjoy your Fourth of July.  See you on Tuesday!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Living for the Weekend

Tomorrow is Wednesday and you know what that means.  It's hump day.  I have to admit that since I stopped earning a paycheck, the whole concept of hump day has lost a little of its zip.  Back when I was a "working girl", I lived for the weekends no matter how stimulating I found my job to be.  Weekends meant sleeping later and having a little down time.

Things changed once we had kids but the weekends were still special, maybe more so than before.  They were just different.  Busier.  More hectic.  All in a good way, of course.


Now that my office is my kitchen and my staff consists of Pebbles, our English Bulldog, things are a little different.  There are no days off for good behavior.  Actually there are no days off, period.

But I still love weekends if for no other reason than I can make a more leisurely breakfast.  Breakfast is my favorite meal.  We used to go out for breakfast all the time but at some point I decided that I could make anything made in a restaurant better than they did.  Thus began a whole new food category for me.

One of my favorite things to make for breakfast is an omelet.  For years, all I made was scrambled eggs because I was completely intimidated by the idea of flipping an omelet.  At one point, I think I may have had one of those fold-over omelet pans but those don't work nearly as well as actually flipping the omelet over so I decided to take the plunge and learn how to do it.

This project was not without its casualties.  At the beginning, there were a lot of omelets flipped from the pan onto the floor.  There were the omelets that ended up looking scrambled too.  Let's just say that Rome wasn't built in a day.

But over time I got better at it.  There's a simple key to success when it comes to flipping an omelet.  You have to own it.  Just go for it and have confidence that you can do it.  Do not hesitate.  He who hesitates ends up with eggs on the floor!

If you would like some further instruction on flipping omelets, take a look at this video.  It's a little hokey but it's helpful too.  How to Flip an Omelet.

Recipe:  Omelet with Fresh Herbs
(Adapted from Terry Harwood)

Ingredients:





2 1/2 tablespoons assorted chopped herbs (flat leaf parsley, chives, tarragon, chervil or whatever you like)

2 extra-large eggs

2 tablespoons milk
Pinch kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces plain goat cheese


Directions:


Break the eggs into a small bowl, and then add the milk, 2 tablespoons mixed herbs, salt and pepper and whisk with a fork.



Preheat an 8-inch nonstick saute pan over medium hot heat and swirl the olive oil into the pan. Pour in the egg mixture and swirl it in the pan. For a few seconds, gently stir the egg mixture with a heat resistant rubber spatula (as if you were going to make scrambled eggs) and then swirl the eggs in the pan to make a nice round appearance. Reduce the heat to avoid any color or scorching. Continue cooking for about 1 minute. The eggs will be set on the bottom, but slightly liquid on top.


Flip the omelet, and remove it from the heat. Crumble the goat cheese over the center of the omelet.  Tri-fold the omelet (or fold it in half, which is a little easier) and plate immediately.


Sprinkle remaining herbs on top of omelet and serve hot.

Monday, June 27, 2011

S'more Memories

(Kate - second from right in bottom row -- and some of her bunkmates, 2010)

Kate is not having an easy time this summer.  This is the first summer in nine years that she hasn't gone away to camp for eight weeks.  Sadly enough, all good things come to an end and last summer was her final year at Camp Walden in Maine.

Kate loved Camp Walden.  Honestly, who wouldn't.  Eight weeks every summer in a beautiful setting next to a lake.  Campfires, hiking trips, songs, and sports were only part of the allure.  Really what made Camp Walden so special were the friends Kate made.  If she manages to maintain those friendships into adulthood, she will have a group of friends so special that she will be set for life.

(Kate, 2010)

You can only be a camper at Camp Walden until the summer going into 10th grade and that was last summer.  After that you're done.  Sure, you can go back as a counselor after your freshman year of college but that's a long way off.  For now, all  Kate has are her wonderful memories and her wonderful bunkmates from years of living together each summer.

So despite having a comfortable bed to sleep in and good food to eat this summer (the beds and the food were not great selling points at camp), Kate is at loose ends.  She's playing tennis for hours and hours every day but let's face it, Frank is a nice guy but he's a little tougher than your average camp counselor.  Same goes for Kelly.  Kate is feeling a little wistful for Camp Walden.

In an effort to see her smiling face, tonight I suggested s'mores for dessert.  Kate was thrilled.  She spent quite a lot of time describing why s'mores tasted better at camp -- I'm sure they did -- and all about finding the perfect stick on which to roast the marshmallow.  I'm sure toasting a marshmallow over the barbecue isn't quite the same as doing it over a campfire but it seemed to do the trick.  For now.

Who knows.  Maybe tomorrow Kate will sing us some camp songs.

Recipe:  The Perfect S'more


Ingredients:
Graham crackers
Large marshmallows
Hershey Bars

Directions:


Place your marshmallow on a long stick.  Over a hot fire, slowly toast the marshmallow so that it is melted all the way through.  When it is done, slide the marshmallow onto half of a graham cracker and then top with a couple of squares of the Hershey Bar.  Top with the other half of the graham cracker.  Let it sit for a few minutes until the chocolate begins to melt.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Picnic Game: Get Your Cooler On

I'm going on a picnic and I'm bringing Ina Garten's Grilled Salmon Salad.

Although this is my first year participating, once again Louise at Months of Edible Celebrations is hosting The Picnic Game.  This "game" is based on a children's game where everyone chooses a letter and comes up with an item that begins with that letter.  In this case, it's bloggers from all over the country (and maybe beyond -- I'm not sure) who are choosing the letters and coming up with recipes that would be "picnic worthy".  Lots of fun, don't you think?  Who knows, maybe you'll come across another blog to add to your favorites list and at the very least, you may find a recipe that you make over and over.

Now, back to "S" is for salmon salad.  Years ago, when I was first discovering Ina, I came across this recipe for grilled salmon salad.  As I recall, the first time I made it was for a Fourth of July picnic we went on with our friends the Steinberg's at Temescal Canyon Park in Los Angeles.  This salad has made  numerous appearances since then, including Charlie's graduation party and more than a few summer potlucks.  It's always a crowd pleaser.

I promise that this salmon salad is so good that, like me, you will also remember each time you serve it and to whom.  And so will they.

And so, here we go...

I'm going on a picnic and I'm bringing...


A is for Apricot Cobbler from Mae's Food Blog Food
B
C is for Cherry Bars in a Jar from Moveable Feasts
D
E
F is for Fingerling Potato Salad from  Girl Chef
G is for Gugelhopf Twister from My Little Space
H is for Honey Graham Roll-ups fromDomesticated Engineer
I
J
K is for Kirschmichel from  Kaffeeklatsch
L is for Lime Cranberry Fizz from Art of Natural Living
M is for Mint Sundae Brownie Bars from The Friday Friends 
N is for Nice Mini Biscuit Sandwiches from Canela Kitchen
O is for Orange Nut Ring from Time Travel Kitchen
P is for Pan Bagnat Provencal from Sage Cuisine
Q is for Quick Lemon Bread from Comfy Cook's Kosher Kitchen
R
S is for Salmon Salad from You Little Tarte


Check back to see what else is in the picnic basket.  We will be filling in each letter as items are brought to the picnic.  Read on the our Salmon Salad recipe...


Recipe:  Salmon Salad
(Ina Garten)


Ingredients:


2 lbs salmon fillets, cut into 4 inch slices
1 cup celery, diced small
1/2 cup red onion, diced small
2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced

Directions:


Rub the salmon fillets with a little olive oil so they don't stick to the grill and salt and pepper them lightly.
Cook the fillets on a hot grill for about 5- 6 min.  They should still be rare in the middle.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill for several hours (or overnight) until cold and firm.

Once the fillets are cold, remove from the refrigerator and remove any remaining skin.  Break fillets up into large chunks and put into a bowl.  If there is any juice on the plate they chilled on, pour it into the bowl with salmon.  Add the celery, onion, capers and dill.   In a separate bowl, combine the olive oil, vinegar salt and pepper.  Pour over the salmon and mix well.  Serve cold or at room temperature.










Thursday, June 23, 2011

Topsy Turvy

I hope you like rhubarb because I'm still on my rhubarb kick.  It's still in season and I'm having a good time taking advantage of a most misunderstood vegetable.  Yes, rhubarb is actually a vegetable although it is eaten and prepared most often like a fruit.  Who knew?

But I digress.  I am happy to report that while I miss my son, I have adjusted to his absence this summer. I am now cooking with rhubarb because I really like it.  And because there have been a zillion recipes showcasing it.  Obviously rhubarb is becoming trendy and I am nothing if not ahead of the curve.

A few weeks ago, this recipe for  rhubarb upside down cake appeared in Melissa Clark's column in The New York Times.  I've had it on the top of my "to make" pile since then and only today got to it.  Why did I wait so long?  "Hello gorgeous" is all I can say.  (Note:  When Barbra Streisand won her Oscar for Funny Girl she looked at it and said "Hello gorgeous".  That is the extent of my knowledge of Barbra Streisand so don't expect any more pithy quotes from me.)

This cake is a real show stopper.  It reminds me a little of a tarte tatin in its presentation, although it's a bit more rustic.  The rhubarb and brown sugar cook together to create a soft, gooey topping for the slightly lemony cake beneath.  Divine.

The only bad news about this cake is that I made it for just the three of us.  It's dinner party worthy.  I better hurry and put together a party before rhubarb goes out of season.

Recipe:  Rhubarb Upside Down Cake
(Melissa Clark, The New York Times, May 20, 2011)


Ingredients:

2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, more to grease pans
1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, rinsed and sliced into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 cups cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
Zest of 1 lemon, grated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1/3 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons lemon juice.

Directions:


1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Butter the paper and sides of the pan. Wrap two layers of foil under the pan, and place it on a buttered baking sheet.

2. In a medium bowl, mix rhubarb, cornstarch and 1/2 cup granulated sugar.

3. Mix the brown sugar and 1/2 stick butter in a pan over medium heat. Whisk until smooth and bubbling, about 2 minutes. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt.

4. Whip 2 sticks butter in a mixer with a paddle attachment for 2 minutes. With your fingers, blend the remaining 1 cup sugar with lemon zest until the mixture is uniform in color. Cream together with the butter at medium-high speed until it is light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, stopping to scrape down the bowl halfway through. Add the vanilla and mix well. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the sour cream, then the lemon juice. (It’s O.K. if the mixture looks curdled.) With the mixer set to low speed, add the flour mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, until well combined. Scrape down the mixer bowl in between the additions.

5. Pour the brown-sugar mixture into the cake pan, then spoon in the rhubarb and its juices. Spoon in the batter so it covers all of the rhubarb. Smooth out the top.

6. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the top of the cake is firm to touch and a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out without any large, moist crumbs.

7. Place the pan on a wire rack, and cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the cake, place a plate on top of the pan and turn it upside-down. Release the cake from the pan while still warm or else it will stick.

Yield: 8 servings.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Belated Father's Day

I'm feeling a little guilty because Kate and I were in Philadelphia for Father's Day.  Before you go blaming me for being a bad wife, might I just point out that Ted spent the entire weekend in his office working to close a deal.  Had he not been doing that he would have been with us and we could have celebrated in the City of Brotherly Love.  Nonetheless, I'm feeling guilty because we haven't had a Father's Day dinner.

Today's as good a day as any to have our belated celebration so I got to work this morning putting together something special for dinner tonight.  I was aided in my project when I went to see Mark the Butcher.  I had planned to make chicken with homemade barbecue sauce until I saw that Mark had soft-shell crabs.  I love soft-shell crabs.

I dredged the crabs in a little seasoned flour and then sauteed them in olive oil.  They cook in a snap.  Then I made brown butter with capers and lemon and served that over the crabs.  Absolutely delicious.

The soft-shell crabs were special and so appropriate for our belated Father's Day dinner.  Let's face it.  We can have barbecued chicken anytime.

Recipe:  Sauteed Soft-Shell Crabs with Caper Brown Butter
(Tyler Florence)

Ingredients:


2 cups all-purpose flour
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 medium soft-shell crabs, cleaned and rinsed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
1 lemon, juiced
1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Lemon wedges, for serving

Directions:


To prepare the soft-shell crabs: Put the flour in a pie dish or plate and season with a fair amount of salt and pepper. Dredge the crabs in the seasoned flour to coat, shaking off the excess. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high flame. Lay the crabs in the hot oil in a single layer without crowding; you may have to fry them in batches. Be careful, the crabs have a tendency to pop and spatter. Cook the crabs for about 3 minutes on each side, turning once, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and cover to keep warm.

Lower the heat to medium and add the butter to the pan. Let the butter melt and cook until it just begins to brown. Add the capers and wine; cook, stirring, for 2 minutes until almost dry. Add the lemon juice and parsley; season with salt and pepper. Pour the caper brown butter sauce over the crabs and serve with lemon wedges.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Simple Pleasures Are the Best

At heart I'm a simple girl.  Sure, I love the occasional fancy dessert although I must admit that I've never climbed on the chocolate lava cake bandwagon.  I just don't "get" the whole gooey center thing.  But that's just me.  As far as I am concerned, there's just nothing better than a classic big swirly chocolate cake.  Nothing.

I have a theory about desserts.  The fancier and more elaborate they look, the less delicious they taste.  My most recent test of this this theory was at the Whole Foods bakery counter.  They had these adorable cupcakes with lots of fluffy pink icing and little candied flowers on them.  I bought one for Kate.  Long story short, she didn't eat it so I had a little nibble.  It should have been delicious.  It looked delicious.  It was not.  It was dry and the icing was so sugary that my teeth almost fell out.  This happens all the time with desserts.  They look so much prettier than they end up tasting.

As an adult I have been able to indulge my love of classic chocolate cake.  I have made dozens of different variations on the theme but my absolute favorite is a Martha Stewart recipe I've had for years.  It's never let me down and always makes a show stopping entrance, not in a glamorous supermodel way but show stopping nonetheless.  This is a nice tall layer cake with tons of big, frothy chocolate icing.  And we all know that icing is the key.  This is icing to die for.

This is the perfect special occasion cake (we've had it for countless birthdays around here) but it's also nice just because.  Anyway, who needs a special occasion to enjoy a nice piece of cake?  I think we all deserve a little something special just because.

Recipe:  Martha Stewart's Ultimate Chocolate Cake

*  Note:  Use the highest quality chocolate you can find.  It really makes a difference.

Ingredients:

1 cup Valrhona cocoa, plus more for dusting
3/4 cup strong coffee, boiling
1 cup milk, room temperature
2 3/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature
Ultimate Chocolate Frosting

Directions:

Place rack in middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-by-2-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper. Butter the parchment, and dust with cocoa powder; tap out excess. Sift cocoa; whisk in boiling coffee and milk. Let cool. Sift together cake flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Using a rubber spatula, mix the butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add sugar and vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Pour in the cooled cocoa mixture. Mix until fully incorporated.

Add the sifted dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture, stirring until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pans (about 4 cups in each pan). Bake for 20 minutes, rotate the pans, and bake for an additional 15 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the center.

Remove the cakes from the oven, and allow to cool in pans for 15 minutes on a cooling rack. Carefully run a small offset spatula around the edge of the cakes to loosen them from the pan. Remove cakes from pans, and invert onto a wire rack. Let cool completely, about 1 hour.

To assemble, using a serrated knife, level the top surface of each cake layer. Place four strips of parchment paper around the perimeter of the cake stand. Spread with 3/4 cup of frosting. Top with the remaining layer, bottom side up. Using a swirling motion, cover the outside of cake with the remaining frosting. Remove parchment-paper strips.

Recipe:  Martha Stewart's Ultimate Chocolate Frosting


*  Note:  I use my stand mixer when making this and whip the frosting until it is light and airy.

Ingredients:



Ingredients

3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup Valrhona cocoa powder
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup milk, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Directions:

In a small bowl, sift together the confectioners' sugar and cocoa powder. Add butter, milk, and vanilla; stir until smooth and free of lumps.  You can also whip on medium high until the frosting is light and airy and free of lumps.



Monday, June 20, 2011

Celebratory Dinner

Well, we are home from a most successful tennis tournament in Philadelphia.  The good news was that it was a great weekend but the bad news was that I had nothing in the house to make for dinner tonight.  What to do, what to do?

It turns out that there was an easy answer to my question.  Summer Garden Pasta.  Quick.  Light.  Easy.  Need I say more?  And because it's so fresh and colorful, it feels special.  And the really good news was that I had everything in the house I needed to make it except for the tomatoes.  A quick trip to the grocery store and I was good to go.    Score one for me.

This recipe is very easy and really just screams summertime.   The fresh snap of the tomatoes and the crunch of the basil combined with the pasta is a winning combination.   It's special enough that you could serve it to guests.  It's also perfect for serving when you just have something special to celebrate with your family -- like we did tonight.

I think this is score one for Kate.

Recipe:  Summer Garden Pasta
(Ina Garten)

* Note:  I only let the tomato mixture sit for about 2 hours and it was delicious.

Ingredients:


4 pints cherry tomatoes
good olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
18 large basil leaves, julienned, plus extra leaves for serving
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound dried angel hair pasta
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

Directions:


Combine the cherry tomatoes, 1/2 cup of olive oil, garlic, basil leaves, red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon salt, and the pepper in a large bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap, and set aside at room temperature for about 4 hours.

Just before you're ready to serve, bring a large pot of water with a splash of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil and add the pasta.  Cook al dente according to directions on the package (be careful -- it only takes 2 to 3 minutes!).  Drain the pasta well and add to the bowl with the tomato mixture.  Add the cheese and some extra fresh basil leaves and toss well.  Serve in big bowls with extra cheese on each serving.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hard Work Pays Off

I am not usually not prone to brag but I'm making an exception because I am bursting with excitement.  This exciting thing is also the reason that there will not be a blog today about anything culinary. 

My daughter Kate is, as you know, a tennis player.  This weekend she has been playing in a national tennis tournament in Philadelphia.   Not just anybody gets to play in this tournament.  She played in it last year too but it didn't go very well.  This year is a totally different story.  She has won two matches.  This is a huge deal and Ted and I are so proud of her that we are beside ourselves.

The "Run for the Roses" (to use an equestrian term) has ended today with a loss to a four star player (which means she's a lot better than Kate) but Kate had two wins to get to this point.  As I said.  This is huge.

So, we are driving back to Pittsburgh tomorrow after a stop at King of Prussia Mall.  This weekend deserves a little celebration.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Missing Charlie

(Wall Street Journal)

It's still rhubarb season and Charlie isn't at home.  I'm not complaining, believe me.  He has a job, which any parent of a college student will agree is a good thing, and he's enjoying his summer.  But I can't help it.  Every time I see rhubarb I have a desire to whip up something that he would love.

The other day The Wall Street Journal had a recipe for crispy chicken with a fennel and rhubarb compote.  It sounded really good so I decided to try it.

I have to start by saying that I am not usually a fan of bone in, skin on chicken thighs.  I know that the bone and skin add a lot of flavor, and I also know that the thighs are very flavorful as well.  But all that skin and connective stuff just turns me off.  I thought about making the recipe with breasts but then decided to take a leap of faith and go with the thighs.  I'm glad I did.  The meat was juicy and flavorful in a way that breast meat cannot be.  Obviously there's something to the hype on the thighs.

The compote was delicious as well.  I am so used to using rhubarb to make something sweet that the savory nature of the compote was unexpected.  It had just a little honey in it and that balanced the tartness of the rhubarb without being cloying.  The fennel added a really nice licoricey taste which was really nice with the rhubarb.

I'm actually not sure if Charlie would have liked this as he's kind of a strawberry rhubarb guy.  But he'll be home for a couple of weeks in August so I think I may give this recipe a whirl for him then.

Recipe:  Crispy Roast Chicken with Rhubarb and Fennel
(Andrea Reusing, Lantern Restaurant, Chapel Hill, NC from The Wall Street Journal)

Ingredients:
4½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon fennel seed, ground or smashed
1 teaspoon whole fennel seed
¼ teaspoon chili flakes
4 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups dry white wine
1 cup water
3 tablespoons honey
2 cloves garlic
5 whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1 small yellow onion, peeled, halved and sliced thin
2 medium fennel bulbs, outer leaves removed, halved lengthwise and sliced into ¼-inch half rounds, inner fronds reserved
2 large stalks rhubarb, cut into ½-inch pieces

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Mix 2 teaspoons salt with ground fennel seeds and chili flakes. Rub all over chicken.
3. Set a medium heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Swirl in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Lay chicken, skin-side down, in pan. Cook 5-7 minutes, or until skin is browned and crisped. Flip chicken, so skin-side faces up, and transfer to oven. Roast until done, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest.
4. While chicken roasts, combine wine, water, honey, 2 ½ teaspoons salt, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaf, coriander and whole fennel seeds in a medium pot. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add onion, fennel and remaining olive oil. Simmer 10 minutes, or until fennel is al dente.
5. Add rhubarb and simmer until just tender, about 4 minutes. Season broth with salt, if needed.
6. Spoon about ½ cup vegetable mixture into 4 shallow bowls. Ladle ¼ cup broth over top. Place a chicken thigh in each bowl and garnish with reserved fennel fronds.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sowing My Wild Oats

I bake cookies all the time but I rarely make anything more exciting than chocolate chip and an occasional peanut butter cookie.  Now don't get me wrong.  I don't always make the same chocolate chip cookie recipe -- there are millions from which to choose -- but let's face it, chocolate chip is chocolate chip.  Good but not particularly exciting.

Today I was perusing my cookie cookbook collection and happened on Alice Medrich's Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your- Mouth Cookies and felt a new wave of inspiration for trying something different.

This cookbook is chock full of yummy sounding cookie recipes, any of which would have been a nice change from chocolate chip.  As I was flipping through, salivating, I came across a recipe for oatmeal cookies.  I love oatmeal raisin cookies.  My family does not.  Kate, in particular, doesn't like raisins "in things" and Ted, while not downright disdainful of oatmeal cookies, has never shown any particular interest in them either.

But you know what?  I decided that today it was going to be all about me and I made the oatmeal cookies. Because I'm a mother and my job is to make sure that everyone else is happy (and because there was no way I could eat a whole batch of cookies myself), I substituted chocolate chips for the raisins which I figured would bring Kate onboard.  I was also out of walnuts, which is shocking since I always have them in the house, so I substituted in pecans, which I toasted before adding to the batter.

These cookies bring the tried and true oatmeal cookie to a whole new level.  They're really chewy and just  little crisp -- the perfect balance.  Another really nice thing about this recipe is that you don't have to mess up your stand mixer.  The butter is melted as opposed to creamed.  Good news and less cleanup.

I am happy to report that the cookies have been a big hit around here.  Kate likes chocolate chips "in things" so I think I have a winner on my hands.  Nothing like shaking things up a bit.

Recipe:  Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Adapted from Alice Medrich)

Ingredients:


2 cups rolled oats'1/4 cup water
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 pound unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Directions:


Place the oats in  small bowl and sprinkle with the water.  Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl and mix thoroughly with a whisk or fork.

Cut the butter into chunks and melt in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Remove from the heat and stir in the sugars, vanilla, and salt.  Add the egg and stir briskly.  Stir in the flour mixture just until all of the dry ingredients are moistened.  Stir in the pecans, chocolate chips, and oats.  Let the dough sit for at least 1 but preferably 2 hours or (better still) cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350.

For large cookies, scoop about 2 level tablespoons of cough and space the cookies 3 inches apart on ungreased pans.  Bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown.  Rotate the pans halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking.  Remove from oven when done and let cool on racks.



Tuesday, June 14, 2011

For Whom the (Bell) Pepper Tolls

I am not a huge fan of green bell peppers but I absolutely love the other colors -- red, yellow, and orange.  They're sweet and crunchy and are so good that I often forget that I'm eating a vegetable.  No small praise for a bell pepper.

Recently I bought my first copy of Fine Cooking Magazine.  I don't know how I had missed it, but now I've become a big fan.  They always have great recipes with beautiful food porn (photographs).   What more could a girl want?

In this month's issue, there's a whole article dedicated to new ways to cook chicken breasts.  We've talked about chicken breasts before and I think that we are all agreed that new recipes are always a welcome addition.  So, imagine my glee when I saw a recipe for chicken cutlets with a bell pepper ragout.  Okay, so maybe glee was an overstatement but I was happy to see the recipe.

Tonight for dinner I made the chicken with bell pepper ragout and it was a winner.  First of all, it was light, which is nice in the summer especially if you're not barbecuing.  Second, it was easy, which is nice any time of the year.  And third, it was incredibly flavorful, taking advantage of the sweet peppers that have started to pop up at local farmer's markets.  As I said, this recipe was a real winner.  We had dinner on the patio and I knew summer was here!

Recipe:  Chicken Cutlets with Bell Pepper Ragout
(Fine Cooking Magazine, June/July, 2011)

Ingredients:


1 1/4 lbs. plum tomatoes (6-8) cored, halved lengthwise, and seeded
1 medium red or orange bell pepper, seeded and cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1 medium yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1 small yellow onion, cut into medium dice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon piment d'Espelette, or 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 medium clove garlic, mashed to a paste with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless, chicken breast halves, sliced into cutlets
1 tablespoons small capers

Directions:


Position a rack 6 inches from the broiler element and heat the broiler on high.

Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with foil.  Put the tomatoes cut side up on one side and the peppers and onions on the other side.  Drizzle everything with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and sprinkle with the piment d'Espelette, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Toss the peppers and onions.  Broil until the tomatoes are collapsed, about 7 minutes.  Flip the tomatoes, toss the peppers and onions, and broil until the tomato skins have large black spots, and the peppers and onions are tender, about 5 minutes more.

Use tongs to pull the skins off the tomatoes.  With a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes to a cutting board.  Put the peppers and onions in a large bowl; add the garlic paste.  Chip the tomatoes and add to the bowl with the other vegetables.  Mix well, season to taste with salt and pepper, and keep warm.

Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Put the flour in a shallow pan.  Season the chicken with 1 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper; dredge in the flour.  Working in 2 batches, cook the chicken, flipping once, until just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side.  Transfer the chicken to serving plated.  Wipe out the pan.  Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and fry the capers over medium-high heat until they pop open, and become crisp, about 2 minutes.  Sprinkle them over the chicken.  Serve with the ragout.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Something to Celebrate

Did you know that there's a holiday every year on June 13th called Kitchen Klutzes of America Day?  I didn't but now that I know about it I am so excited.  This morning when I was reading one of my favorite blogs, Months of Edible Celebrations, Klutz Day was mentioned and it was music to my ears.  After all, who doesn't love a holiday that they can really relate to?

I have a million funny klutzy cooking stories. The one I'm going to share now will give you a taste of what goes on in my house when I'm cooking dinner lest you think it's all gourmet food and three stars around here.

A couple of months ago my friend Janis called from California just as I was starting dinner.  Given the three hour time difference and our busy schedules, we don't often catch one another at the most convenient times to talk.  I was making dinner and she was in her car.  It seemed like a good time to catch up.

I had been uninspired about what to make for dinner so I had whipped up a butternut squash soup earlier in the day.  It was a little cool and rainy outside and I had butternut squash.  Problem solved.  I had a couple of nice pieces of cheese, and I made a salad but I hadn't gotten to the bakery to pick up a bread.

Enter the popover.  Kate loves popovers.  They're a happy food, standing all tall and puffy and they're foolproof, or so I thought.  Popovers seemed like an easy solution to the bread issue so I got to work.  (Did I mention that I was still on the phone, cradling it between my ear and shoulder?)

I got out all the ingredients and I started mixing up the batter.  I was still on the phone talking with Janis so I had somewhat limited stirring mobility.  At the time I didn't think this was a problem.  The oven was preheating and I started buttering the popover pans.   I popped the empty pans into the oven to heat them.     I was still chatting away as I added the flour, the melted butter, the milk, the salt.  All of a sudden, I smelled smoke.  I had forgotten the pans in the oven.  Uh oh.  This should have been my clue to sign off with Janis.  Nope.  I kept talking.

The smoke finally cleared and I started pouring the batter into the pans.  It didn't occur to me that since the buttered pans had been smoking the butter would be burnt.  The batter seemed a little thick.  Hum... maybe it's the weather, I thought.   Without thinking and using only one hand, I put the filled pans back into to the oven.  Looking back, it's a miracle the pans actually made it into the oven as they were heavy and very hot and I was doing all of this one-handed.

I turned on the oven light to check on the popover's progress and noticed that weren't  getting puffy.  What was wrong?  I looked on the counter (pretty much by accident) and there were the eggs.   I forgot to add the eggs!  This was not good.

The remarkable thing is that I DIDN'T GET OFF THE PHONE.  I just kept talking despite the popover disaster unfolding around me.   At this point, there was half cooked popover all over the place.  I was distracted and things were spilling and smoking.  Maybe this wasn't the same kind of klutziness as spilling milk or tripping over my own feet, but let me tell you, I am sure that I looked like a complete klutz balancing the hot pans with the deflated popovers.

I finally determined that I should probably pay some attention to what I was doing (and besides Janis had arrived at her destination) and we hung up.    I was left with a mess of epic proportions.  This was a scene from one of those kitchen disasters

So, I started again.  Eventually we had popovers and  I got a sink full of really dirty dishes.

Feel free to share your kitchen klutz stories with me in the comments section below.  Remember, you're in good company.

Happy Kitchen Klutzes of America Day!




Sunday, June 12, 2011

Father's Day Request

Father's Day is coming and that means that we mothers will be planning a celebration second to none.  This is in direct contrast to Mother's Day where the fathers plan a celebration the night before.  In fairness, Ted does a pretty good job but I suspect it's always a last minute "Oh sh*t, tomorrow is Mother's Day" event.

Nonetheless, my friend and reader Karen is in planning mode and has asked for a recipe for lemon meringue pie, her husband's favorite dessert.  Lucky for Karen (and for her husband) that lemon meringue pie is also one of my favorite desserts so of course I have a recipe worthy of a celebration.

Here's the thing about my recipe.  It's really more of a lemon curd tart with a meringue topping.  I love the richness of lemon curd because it's not quite as cloying as a traditional lemon pie filling.  I also love the denseness and the crumble of the shortbread crust.  This crust is much easier to deal with than a traditional pie crust because it's just pressed into the tart pan as opposed to rolled out and placed in a pie pan.  And who doesn't love skipping the rolling out part of making a pie?  The meringue always reminds me of sweet clouds.  It's so light and fluffy and then goes poof in my mouth.

This is an easy recipe although it is a little labor intensive and it  requires a lot of pots and appliances.  Just give yourself enough time and you'll look just like Ina when you arrive at the table with your showpiece of a dessert.

Recipe:  Ina Garten's Lemon Meringue Tart
For complete recipe go to Lemon Meringue Tart

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Too Hot to Handle

In Pittsburgh, we have about two weeks a year when the weather is what I would call "picture perfect".  It's usually a week in the spring and a week in the fall.  The rest of the time the weather ranges from manageable to downright awful.  Today was downright awful.

You know how it's said that it's not the heat, it's the humidity?  Well, from my perspective, it's the heat and the humidity that kills me.  Today it was 95 and so humid you could cut the air with a knife.  And, to make matters worse, it didn't rain.  At least when it rains in this kind of heat it cools things down, if only for a couple of minutes.

Added to all that, Kate has her driver's permit and is insisting on driving everywhere we go.  The problem with this, aside from the fact that it's scary, is that she wants to drive our extra car, a Volkswagen Tiguan.  We bought this car a couple of years ago when Charlie got his license and it's "the kids car," thus Kate's desire to learn to drive in it.

The problem with the Tiguan, I discovered yesterday, is that the air conditioning wasn't working properly.  Instead of blowing cool air, it was blasting out heat, thus broiling us as we drove.  As soon as I realized what the problem was I turned off the a/c and opened the windows but the damage was done.  We were both sweaty messes.  Needless to say, the car is going in for service and we are back in my car in the meantime.

The point of all this is that who can eat a heavy meal when they've been boiled alive in the summer heat?  Not me, that's for sure.  This brings me to today's recipe for salmon.

I love grilled salmon but sometimes Ted gets home too late to start firing up the grill.  Ted is a charcoal man, which means that it takes longer to grill than the gas alternative.  Hey, he's a purist and also the best BBQer I know so I go with it.  In any case, this recipe for salmon is much quicker than grilling on a weeknight.  It's really the searing that makes it so good, giving it a nice little crunch, much like grilling would do.  The Israeli couscous is a really nice addition with the salmon.  Save the recipe and serve it with other things too.  Give these recipes a try on a night you don't fire up the grill.

Recipe:  You Little Tarte's Seared Salmon with Israeli Couscous


Ingredients:


For the Salmon:
4 salmon fillets, about 6 ounces each
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 cloves finely minced garlic
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

For the Couscous:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups Israeli couscous
1/4 cup fine nuts
2 1/4 cups chicken stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 -8 dried apricots, chopped
2 scallions, sliced
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped

Directions:
For the salmon:
Preheat the oven to 425.

In a small bowl, mix together t1 tablespoon of the he olive oil, garlic and lemon juice.  Set aside.  Sprinkle the salmon fillets with salt and pepper.

In a large saute pan, heat the 1/4 cup olive oil over high heat until smoking.  Add the salmon and sear on the skinless side for 3 minutes, not moving it, and then turn and sear of the skin side for an additional 1 minute.  Both sides should have a nice, crispy sear.

Place the seared fillets on a baking sheet and rub with the olive oil mixture.  Cook in the oven for 8-10 minutes, or until done.

For the couscous:
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan oven medium heat.  Add the pine nuts and couscous, stirring frequently and cooking until toasted and light golden brown, about 7 minutes.  Add the chicken stock, season generously with the salt and pepper, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes, until the stock is absorbed.

Remove the lid and stir in the apricots, scallions, and parsley.  Adjust the seasonings and serve with the salmon.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A New Sandwich



And, now a little more on Scotland...

As we wound our way through the Scottish countryside, we visited several lovely villages and had lunch.  I love the pub lunch and I had a few of the classics, including the cheddar and pickle sandwich.  Before you go snubbing your nose at this combination, let me just tell you that it's not what you expect.

The cheddar and pickle sandwich is absolutely delicious in a "who would've thunk it" kind of way.  It's made with grated farmhouse cheddar cheese and in Scotland pickles are actually what we here in the States would call chutney.  So you have this delicious sandwich with sharp cheddar cheese and sweet chutney which, although somewhat unlikely,  was absolutely delicious in a Scottish comfort food kind of way.

I loved this sandwich but I thought I could, to use Ina's phrase "turn up the volume," so I got to work today at lunchtime.   I liked the idea of  serving the cheddar with the chutney on toasted farmhouse bread instead of the somewhat uninspired white bread used in pubs.  The grated cheese used in the pubs fell out of the sandwich too easily and made for a messy sandwich so I sliced my cheese instead.    Then I got even more ambitious and grilled the sandwich in a little butter.  Butter makes everything better and this sandwich was no exception.

I loved the pub version of the sandwich and loved my take on it as well.  Each of the sandwiches was a new twist on the tried and true cheese sandwich, which is a true lunchtime classic on either side of the pond.

Recipe:  Cheddar and Pickle (Chutney) Sandwich
(Makes 4)

* Note:  In place of the crusty sliced bread you can also use sliced brioche.


Ingredients:


8 slices crusty bread
Major Grey's chutney
8 slices farmhouse cheddar, sliced (or enough cheese to cover the bread)

Directions:


Toast the bread in a toaster.  Spread four of the slices of bread liberally with the chutney.  Layer the cheese over the chutney and top with another slice of bread.

To grill, follow the same instructions above, omitting the toasting.  Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large pan.  Place the sandwiches in the pan and cook until one side is browned and the cheese is beginning to melt.  Add another tablespoon of butter to the pan and turn the sandwiches over.  Brown and serve hot.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Plaid as a Fashion Statement

I hadn't been in Scotland in about 30 years and I had forgotten how omnipresent plaid is in those parts.  Plaid pants, plaid kilts, plaid carpet...  It's all there and on display.

I happen to love plaid and I must admit a man in a kilt can be quite attractive.  Sean Connery can rock a kilt like nobody's business.  It's probably not Ted's look, but for the Scots it works well.  Ted kept telling me that there's Scottish blood in his family but I don't think it's quite enough to pull off even the plaid pants.  My view is that if he wants to display his somewhat limited Scottish heritage he should go with a cashmere sweater.  I have no Scottish blood whatsoever and I wear cashmere all the time.  Works for me.

Some of the plaids are quite zippy and bright.  That's a good thing because the weather in Scotland is awful.  We had rain every day.  The strange thing was that it would rain and then the sun would break through and it would be beautiful for about a half hour, and then the rain would come again.  This would go on all day long.  Just about the time I closed my umbrella and took off my raincoat, the rain and wind would return.  Needless to say, you don't go to Scotland for the weather.

As a result of all this rain, everything is green and lush.  The rolling hills of the Scottish Highlands are breathtakingly beautiful.  Besides spending time in both Edinburgh and Glasgow, we stayed in two lovely country inns.  The road trips to get to each of these inns were well worth the trip and braving all the rain and wind.

Despite all the farmland, the Scottish do not feature a lot of salads in their cuisine.  The funny thing was that I really missed them and when I got home I found that I was really in the mood for one.  Tonight I made one of my favorites, a caprese salad, with lots of creamy mozzarella cheese, heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, and even some kalamata olives.  It was just what I was craving after all that Scottish salmon and sausage.  The salad was so good that I saw plaid.

Recipe:  Caprese Salad


Ingredients:


Heirloom tomatoes. sliced (I usually figure 1 or 2 per person, depending on their size)
Fresh mozzarella, sliced  (enough to layer 1 slice on each slice of tomato)
1/4 cup kalamata olives
Handful of fresh basil, chiffonade
Fruity olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:


Beginning with a slice of tomato, layer one slice with a slice of the mozzarella.  Repeat with all of the tomato slices and all of the mozzarella slices.  Arrange decoratively on a platter.  Arrange the basil chiffonade on top of the tomatoes and mozzarella and then sprinkle the olives over that.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over everything.  Serve at room temperature.