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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Kay Was Right

My friend Kay knows her youth tennis.  She's been a reluctant regular at tennis tournaments for longer than  me and she knows of what she speaks.  Youth tennis is not for the faint of heart.

Kate and I have been in St. Louis at a tennis tournament since Tuesday.  And, this is not just any tennis tournament.  This is Zonals.  Zonals probably doesn't mean anything to you, and frankly why should it.  It didn't mean anything to me either until just recently.  Zonals is the USTA's attempt to show top junior tennis players what college tennis is all about.  It's organized into teams comprised of the top players in various sections across the country.  The teams then compete in a round robin format.  I guess the end result is that (a) if your kid can manage to win some matches they get a lot of points, and (b) the winning team gets bragging rights.

Frankly, that we are at Zonals at all is a big surprise to me.  Don't get me wrong -- Kate is a really good player -- but the kids here are insanely good.  Many of them are home schooled so they can spend more time on the tennis court.  Need I say more?

Here's the kicker.  The tennis parents are a scary bunch.  They may be more competitive than the kids.  The parents all walk around talking about how much "fun" this is for the kids and how it's a great experience.  What's really happening is that the parents are all secretly wishing that the other kids on their kid's team lose if their own kid loses his or her match.  There is no team spirit amongst the parents of the top players.

So, when I talked with Kay about Kate applying to play in Zonals she warned me that it was going to be a tough week.  The heat and humidity in St. Louis could kill us (true) and winning matches was going to be beyond beyond challenging (also true).  She also warned me that I was going to see the underbelly of youth tennis: real tennis parents in action.

Kay was right.  St. Louis, while a lovely city, is far from ideal for a tennis tournament in July.  The kids are dropping like flies in the 100 degree heat.  I have been sitting in a puddle of sweat for days and we are here until Sunday.  If nothing else, I am sweating off unwanted pounds.

Kate is playing the best tennis I've ever seen her play and has yet to win a match.  She is enjoying the experience and successfully avoiding heat stroke so far.  Who knows.  Maybe tomorrow will be her lucky day and she'll win a match.

I am keeping my distance from the tennis parents.  It's a much healthier approach to junior tennis.  And besides, it's a full time job looking for a shady spot with a breeze.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Roar Like a Tiger

Alice Medrich is to baking and chocolate what Hermes is to expensive leather goods.  She is the mother ship of all baking and pretty much any recipe she writes I am excited about trying.  It's as simple as that.

The problem with Alice Medrich's recipes is that there are so many good ones that I often forget about older ones in favor of trying the latest and greatest.  This recipe for Tiger Cake is one of my favorites, although I had forgotten about it until I read the blog post on Salt.  Having been reminded of this cake, I couldn't wait to make it again.

This is a great cake to have in your pound cake arsenal.  (Yes, in fact, I do have an collection of favorite pound cake recipes.  Don't laugh at me please.)  It's deliciously light and airy and very easy to make and it marbles itself.  Don't ask me to explain.  Just read the instructions below.  The cake is made with olive oil and a bit of white pepper so it has a decidedly more sophisticated taste than your average pound cake.  It's also very pretty, which is not to be underestimated.  And it's very nice to serve in the morning toasted, if you're into that kind of thing.  I know I am, unfortunately for my waistline.

I make the cake in two 6-cup loaf pans and then freeze one for later.  It's perfect to pull out and serve with a cup of tea if someone stops by.  Or, even if no one stops by.

Recipe: Tiger Cake


1/2 cup natural cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup flavorful extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon finely ground white pepper
5 cold large eggs
1 cup cold milk

Special Equipment:

A 10- to 12-cup tube or Bundt pan or two 6-cup loaf pans


Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour the cake pan or line the loaf pans with parchment.

In a small bowl, whisk the cocoa, sugar, and water together until well blended. Set aside.

Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt thoroughly and sift together onto a piece of wax paper. Set aside.

In a large bowl (with the whisk attachment if you have it), beat the sugar, oil, vanilla, and pepper until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue to beat until the mixture is thick and pale, 3 to 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and add one-third of the flour mixture. Beat on low speed just until blended. Stop the mixer and add half of the milk. Beat just until it is blended. Repeat with another third of the flour, the remaining milk, and then the remaining flour.

Pour 3 cups of the batter into another bowl and stir in the cocoa mixture. Pour one-third of the plain batter into the prepared tube pan (or divide it between the loaves) and top with one-third of the chocolate batter. Repeat with the remaining batters. Don't worry about marbling the batters-that happens beautifully during the baking.

Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 1 hour and 10 minutes for either the tube pan or loaf pans. Cool the cake in the pan(s) on a rack for about 15 minutes. Slide a skewer around the tube pan or slide a thin knife around the sides of the loaf pans to release the cake(s). Invert the pan(s) and invert again, setting the cake right side up on a rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Note: Natural cocoa powder is a must here. Dutch-process adds an unpleasant taste because it reacts with the leavening and the olive oil in the cake.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A New Take on Puttanesca

As you may have figured out by now, I love anything that has olives and capers in it.  I think it's that whole briney thing going on that really appeals to me.  I also love anchovies which, I know, puts me in the minority.

The other morning I was listening to the Today Show as I was cleaning up the kitchen.  Shea Gallante was on and was demonstrating a very tasty sounding recipe for fusilli with olives, capers, and tuna.  Needless to say, this sounded good to me.

I looked up the recipe online and set out to make it as written.  But then I started thinking, which, in the kitchen, can either be a very good thing or a very bad thing.  Why not play around with the recipe a little bit?

So, I made a few minor changes and the outcome was delicious.  The sauce was light and had the briney taste that I love.  The Italian tuna added a little "meatiness" in substance, which was also nice.  The tuna also added a slightly fishy taste, but not nearly so much as anchovies would.

I think my little experiment came out well.  Give it a try.

Recipe: Fusilli with Olives, Capers, and Tuna Pomodoro
(Adapted from Shea Gallante)


For the fusilli:

1 pound dried fusilli pasta
2 cups tomato sauce (see separate recipe below)
1/4 cup kalamata olives
2 tablespoons capers, washed, rinsed and chopped
6 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 cup Olive oil
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 tablespoon red chili flakes
2 cans high quality canned tuna, preferably Italian, packed in oil
1/4 cup olive oil, reserved from tuna
1/2 cup Parmigiano, grated
1 teaspoon butter
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the tomato sauce:

1 medium red onion, diced
1 fennel head (split in half)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-24 ounce can whole plum tomato
2 tablespoons sugar
2 basil sprigs
4 ounces olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste


To make the tomato sauce:

Place the plum tomatoes in a food processor and blend until they are a rough chop consistency.
In a medium sauce pan, sweat the onion in olive oil for about 15 minutes until the moisture is cooked out completely.  Add the sugar, tomato, basil sprigs and fennel, salt and pepper to taste, and simmer on a very low heat for about an hour. Then remove the basil sprigs and fennel and set aside the sauce to cool.

To make the pasta:

 Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente, which takes approximately 10 to 14 minutes depending on the brand.

To make the pasta sauce:

In a medium sauce pan, lightly sweat the garlic in the olive oil. Add the olives, parsley, and chili flakes and cook for approximately three minutes. Add the tomato sauce, capers and tuna and cook for two minutes.

Add the pasta to the sauce. Add 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano cheese and a teaspoon of butter and mix until all the ingredients are incorporated. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Summer Classic

There is nothing that says summer quite like barbecued chicken.  The sweet and sticky sauce is so delicious that I think of it deep into the winter.  I used to always subcontract out the making of the barbecue sauce.  In fact, it never actually occurred to me that I could make it myself.  Why bother when there are 100 different varieties easily available in the grocery store.

Well, I'll tell you why.  Homemade barbecue sauce really is a lot better that the commercial produced stuff.  And the good news is that it's easy to make, so there's really no excuse not to get down to business and whip up a batch.

By now I've tried lots of different recipes for barbecue sauce.  I played with them and came up with one I really like.  I usually double or triple the recipe so that I have enough to use for the summer.  It keeps very well in the refrigerator.

My recipe is an adaptation of Ina Garten's barbecue sauce.  I like it a little hotter than she does so I add more red pepper flakes.  I also like it a bit thicker so I go with more tomato paste as well.  Simmering the sauce over a low flame for a half hour or so really brings the flavors together in a really pleasing way

One of my favorite ways to use the sauce is on classic barbecued chicken.  I usually have Mark the Butcher quarter the chicken for me and then, leaving the bones in, flatten it out a bit so that it all cooks evenly.  Sometimes, if I remember, I have him cut the wing tips off as well.  They usually just burn anyway.

You may scoff at making your own barbecue sauce but I promise you that you'll never look back.

Recipe:  Barbecued Chicken
(Adapted from Ina Garten)


2 chickens (2 1/2 to 3 pounds each), quartered, with backs removed
1 recipe Barbecue Sauce, recipe follows


Marinate the chickens in 2/3 of the barbecue sauce for a few hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

Heat the coals in a charcoal grill. Spread the bottom of the grill with a single layer of hot coals and then add a few more coals 5 minutes before cooking, which will keep the fire going longer. Place the chicken quarters on the grill, skin side down, and cook for about 45 minutes, turning once or twice to cook evenly on both sides. Brush with the marinade, as needed. The chicken quarters are done when you insert a knife between a leg and thigh and the juices run clear. Discard any unused marinade.

Serve with extra barbecue sauce on the side.

Barbecue Sauce:

1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion (1 large onion)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
12 ounces tomato paste
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup honey
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3/4 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

In a large saucepan on low heat, saute the onions and garlic with the vegetable oil for 10 to 15 minutes, until the onions are translucent but not browned. Add the tomato paste, vinegar, honey, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, chili powder, cumin, and red pepper flakes. Simmer uncovered on low heat for 30 minutes. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator.

Yield: 1 1/2 quarts

Clean Sweep

This morning I went looking for a new booklet of checks to put in my checkbook.  I looked in my desk drawer but found only an empty box.  I remembered that Ted had given me a new new box of checks but where did I put them?  I looked in all the desk drawers and came up empty.  Could I have put them in the cabinet across the room?

I opened the cabinet with some trepidation because I knew that opening it would be a lot like opening Pandora's Box.  Let's start with the good news.  The checks were in there, right in front.

The bad news was that the cabinet was horrifying.  I am a person who prides herself on being neat and somewhat organized.  Not label-every-shelf-in-the-cabinet-organized, but organized nonetheless.  Looking at the jumble of contents in the cabinet would have actually made anyone who didn't know me think that I was auditioning for Hoarders.

This is where the real trouble started.  I decided to take everything out and clean things up a bit.  Not a good idea for an otherwise peaceful Sunday morning.

Here are a few highlights of what I found:

A complete set of school directories dating back to Charlie and Kate's elementary school in Los Angeles;

A collection of bar mitzvah, wedding, and other special event invitations covering at least the last eight years;

Seven empty, never used loose leaf notebooks, all in pretty prints.  I actually remember purchasing these binders for a recipe organizing project that obviously never got off the ground;

Gourmet, Food and Wine, Bon Appetit, Martha Stewart Living; and Cook's Illustrated magazines dating back to the beginning of time;

Plus, all manner of odds and ends to numerous to catalogue here.  (A example would be 5 Maine fisherman bracelets purchased, no doubt, on our various summer camp visiting day trips to Maine over the past eight summers.)

Need I say more?

But I will.  I got myself a couple of big garbage bags and started throwing stuff away.  It was painful but cathartic.  Who needs all this stuff?  I showed no mercy.  I went through those cooking magazines and culled out, only leaving myself a pile to quickly go through in case there's something really good I want to keep.  Most of it's already online anyway.  I was a cleaning machine.

So now I have two empty shelves in the cabinet.  Plenty of room to start accumulating stuff all over again.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Positively Pesto

Every summer I grow a big pot of basil on my back patio.  The great thing about growing basil (besides the obvious) is that you don't have to have any skill in the garden.  This is a good thing for me because I am not much of an "outside" person and gardening is dirty.   I don't like dirty.  But basil pretty much does its own thing and grows bountifully without much effort.

Basil is my go-to summer herb.  I throw it into just about everything.  It adds a nice little sparkle to sauces and salads.  It is also the star ingredient in pesto, which, in my opinion, is one of the real treats of summer.

Pesto is a snap to make.  Classic pesto is just the beginning.  Sometimes, when I'm feeling adventurous I use spinach or peppery arugula instead of basil.  Anyway you make it, pesto just screams summer.

And the really nice news is that summer doesn't have to end when you've picked the last of the basil.  You can freeze pesto in ice cube trays so that you can enjoy summer's bounty all winter long.  The delicious pesto will transport you right back to summer even in the dead of winter.

Recipe:  Pesto

* Note:  Be adventurous!  Substitute walnuts for the pine nuts and/or spinach or arugula for the basil.


1/2 cup pine nuts
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups good olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino


Place the pine nuts, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process for 15-20 seconds. Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper. With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly pureed. Add the cheese and puree for an additional minute or two, until smooth. Use right away or store the pesto in the refrigerator.  You can also freeze the pesto in ice cube trays.  Cover each cube with a thin film of olive oil before freezing.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Light and Tasty

I was talking with my friend Janis the other day and she suggested that I post some lighter recipes on You Little Tarte.  While I am not a calorie counter, I see the wisdom in this suggestion so here goes.

I'm going to start by saying that this is a pasta recipe.  I know some people try and stay away from "white foods" like pasta, but you could substitute whole wheat pasta if you prefer.  I used regular orecchiette because (1) I like it better than the whole wheat version, and (2) it's what I had in the house.  Enough said.

Nonetheless, the rest of this recipe is very light, despite having a little goat cheese in it,  and really nice for a summer dinner on the patio.  (That is, if the humidity would go down below 95% for long enough to sit outside for a meal.)  Because of the arugula, this dish kind of takes care of the pasta course and the salad course all in one.  Easy peasey.

Here's the thing I really like about this recipe besides how good it is.  I love how it looks in a big bowl in the center of the table.  It's the perfect dish to serve when you want everyone to feel really comfortable and at home, while still remaining chic and "we're hanging out at our rustic dining table in Tuscany" cool.  I love food that makes me feel much more worldly than my day to day life is.  Don't you?

Anyway, serve this pasta with a big loaf of crusty bread (multigrain, if you must) and a nice glass of wine.  You can feel relaxed and virtuous all at the same time.

Recipe:  Orecchiette with Arugula, Olives, and Goat Cheese


1 pound dry orecchiette
5 ounces arugula
1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes (packed in olive oil)
4 ounces crumbled fresh goat cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup coarsely chopped kalamata olives
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, 8-10 minutes.  Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.

Place the warm pasta and the arugula in a large serving bowl.  Add the, sun-dried tomatoes, cheeses, salt, and pepper.  Add 1/2 cup of the reserved cooking water and toss to combine.  Add a little more of the pasta water if necessary so that the pasta isn't too dry.  You want it to be creamy.  Serve warm.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

New Favorite Things

My friend Deborah is a master of efficiency.  She has a husband, four kids, and too many animals to even list, so efficiency is very important around her house.  Nonetheless, I suspect she would be on top of things even if she had no kids, husband, or menagerie.  I could come away from our conversations and/or visits  with one of two feelings.  I could feel inadequate because I'm not nearly as organized as she is despite my best efforts or I could feel inspired.  I'm going to go with inspired because why beat myself up?

So, several months ago Deborah told me that she had started ordering household products online.  Things like laundry detergent, paper toweling, and the like.  All the stuff I hate schlepping home from Target or Costco.  She even sent me the link to soap.com but of course I never did anything about it.

Recently we were talking and Deborah mentioned soap.com again.  She also mentioned that she had been ordering dog food online from wag.com.  The minute I heard I could order Pebbles' favorite Eukanuba lamb and rice food online I was on the job.

So, I am sold.  Both soap and wag carry all the major brands.  I'm not talking Purina here.  Wag carries all the gourmet dog food brands.  Both sites guarantee 2 day delivery and it's free if you spend over $39.00.  They also have all sorts of coupons for 15% or 20% off your total order.  Their prices before coupons are competitive with both Target and Costco.  Convenience and cheap.  SOLD!

I urge you to check out these two websites.  They are fabulous and are really time savers.  I'm sure if Oprah still had her talk show, these sites would be among her "favorite things".

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Healthy Cookie

My Father's Daughter, 2011

If it weren't for the fact that jealously is an unattractive quality, I could be quite jealous of Gwyneth Paltrow.  Not only can the woman act, she sings, she struts in impossibly high heels, and she cooks -- well. No takeout for Gwyneth.  She brings home the bacon and fries it up in a pan.

Several months ago I bought Gwyneth's cookbook My Father's Daughter and I have been cooking from it ever since.  Not only are the recipes delicious, they are, for the most part, healthy takes on some sinful dishes.  I have tried several of the recipes, and I haven't been disappointed.  This is high praise coming from me because at first I thought this was going to be another one of those celebrity cookbooks that relied more on celebrity and less on good food.

One of my favorite recipes from My Father's Daughter is this recipe for Lalo's Famous Cookies.  Apparently this recipe comes from Gwyneth's mother, Blythe Danner, and Gwyneth's kids Apple and Moses love them.  Now, while my kids are not as creatively named as Gwyneth's, Charlie and Kate love these cookies too.

Recipe:  Lalo's Famous Cookies
(My Father's Daughter, 2011)


4 cups barley flour
3 cups raw whole almonds crushed in a food processor (about ten 2-second pulses)
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup canola oil
1 cup real Vermont maple syrup
Your favorite jam (blueberry, raspberry, and apricot are all very nice)


Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Combine all the ingredients except for the jam together in a large bowl with a wooden spoon. Form into tablespoonful balls and space them evenly on cookie sheets. Using your index finger, make an indent in each cookie. Fill each indent with a small spoonful of jam. Bake until the cookies are evenly browned, about 20 minutes. Let cool before eating.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

College Cookin'

(Pioneer Woman Cooks)

As you may recall, my son Charlie has stayed at school this summer and is working for a professor.  Because the dorms are closed, he and a couple of friends have rented a house in town (think Animal House) and are fending for themselves.  They are cooking.

I have to tell you.  Charlie barely knew how to pour the milk into the cereal when he was living at home.  His idea of "cooking" was heating up Stouffer's macaroni and cheese in the microwave.  Suffice it to say, my beloved Charlie was no culinary giant.

But I am now eating my words because Charlie is cooking and doing a good job of it.  He and his friends are on a very limited budget, and they are managing to turn out really delicious sounding meals every night. Charlie has called numerous times this summer to discuss menu ideas, and this is music to my ears.  He reports  what he and his roommates have prepared and how it has come out.  Charlie has even made hummus, sans food processor, a couple of times.  He's a better person that I am.  I would never bother with hummus if I didn't have a Cuisinart.

All of Charlie's cooking has gotten me to thinking about inexpensive dishes that can easily feed five hungry college guys.  Let's face it, a little piece of fish isn't going to do the job.  I'm thinking meat, and lots of it.  I'm thinking pulled pork.

This is not a complicated recipe.  It just requires some time, and since I think there's a lot of loafing going on around Animal House, I'm thinking this could be a real winner.  It's very easy too.  Pretty much all the preparation requires is that you throw a couple of ingredients into a pot, cover it, and pop it into the oven.  Pork shoulder is very inexpensive and the long slow cooking produces an incredibly tender result.  Serve the pulled pork on buns with shredded lettuce or cole slaw.  The recipe makes a lot of pulled pork, although it's so good I doubt there'll be any leftovers.

Recipe:  Pulled Pork
(Adapted from Pioneer Woman Cooks)


1 whole Large Onion cut into 4 wedges
1 whole Pork Shoulder ("pork Butt") - 5 To 7 Pounds
Salt And Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 can (11 Ounce) Chipotle Peppers In Adobo Sauce
2 cans Dr. Pepper or cola
2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar


Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Lay the onion wedges in the bottom of a large dutch oven.
Generously salt and pepper the pork roast, then set it on top of the onions in the pan.
Pour the can of chipotle peppers over the pork (include the sauce.) Pour in both cans of Dr Pepper or cola. Add brown sugar to the juice and stir to combine.

Place lid tightly on pot, then set pot in the oven. Cook for at least six hours, turning roast two or three times during the cooking process. Check meat after six hours; it should be absolutely falling apart (use two forks to test.) If it's not falling apart, return to the oven for another hour.

Remove meat from pot and place on a cutting board or other work surface. Use two forks to shred meat, discarding large pieces of fat. Strain as much of the fat off the top of the cooking liquid as you can and discard it. Return the shredded meat to the cooking liquid, and keep warm until ready to serve. (You can also refrigerate the meat and liquid separately, then remove hardened fat once it's cold. Then heat up the liquid on the stovetop and return the meat to the liquid to warm up.

Serve on  buns or warm flour tortillas. Top with shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, grated cheese, avocado slices, salsa, and whatever else you'd like.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Break From the Routine

I'm taking a couple of days off.  Kate and I have been in California at a tennis tournament and I haven't been thinking at all about food.   I've made the executive decision not to think about cooking or food for the next week.  Just a little break from the routine.

I'll be back with my regular posts next Monday, July 18th.  Until then, order in.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Never Say Never

(New York Times)

I do not cook Asian.  In fact, my idea of Asian cooking is limited to heating up leftover Chinese food in the microwave.  I don't even like ordering in Chinese.  My view is that if I have to clean it up I may as well make it so we usually go out for Chinese.

I do not own a wok.  I have a fairly paltry collection of Asian cooking ingredients as well.  At the moment, my collection has soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and some toasted sesame oil.  As I said, I am not a wok star.  (I wasn't even going for the pun and I came up with one.  Not too shabby.)

Nonetheless, I am also all about the cold dinner this summer.  It's been about 1,000 degrees everyday recently and the thought of turning on my oven is just too much to bear.  So I've been on the lookout for tasty, low effort, cold dinners that appear as though I've slaved all day.  Hey, I have an image to maintain.

The other day there was a recipe in The New York Times  that sounded oddly appealing even though it was Asian inspired.  And the really good news was that it called for toasted sesame oil and I had some in the pantry.  If it had called for fish sauce that would have been a deal breaker because I wasn't into the idea of actually investing in a bottle of fish sauce.  What's that used for anyway?

I made this recipe for Cold Boiled Chicken a la Chinois and it was perfect for a day when just stepping outside was exhausting.  It was cool and very refreshing and had a very pleasing Asian vibe going on.  I don't know.  I may have to rethink my moratorium on the whole fish sauce thing.

Recipe:  Boiled Chicken a la Chinois
(David Tanis, New York Times, July 6, 2011)

Note:  I served this over 8 ounces of udon noodles which I tossed with salt, pepper, and a splash of toasted sesame oil.  I then piled the chicken, scallions, cucumber, avocado, cilantro, and jalapeno slices on top of udon and served it on a big platter.


4 garlic cloves, sliced
3 star anise
4 scallions, 2 whole and 2 slivered
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced, optional
2 tablespoons roasted sesame oil
Lime wedges, for serving.


1. Season the thighs generously with salt and pepper. Put them in a pot and barely cover with cold water. Add the ginger, garlic, star anise and the two whole scallions. Bring to a gentle boil and skim any rising foam. Turn the heat to very low, cover, and cook at a bare simmer for 1 hour.

2. Transfer the thighs to a bowl to cool. Skim the fat from the surface of the cooking liquid. Over high heat, reduce the liquid by half, about 10 minutes, then strain it over the thighs. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

3. To serve, arrange the chicken on a platter, leaving some of the jellied broth clinging to the thighs. (Alternatively, the skin may be removed and discarded, and the meat pulled from the bone and shredded.)  Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with slivered scallions, cilantro and, if you like, jalapeño slices. Drizzle with sesame oil and surround with lime wedges.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Strange Bedfellows

(Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times)
It's Wednesday and that means that I don't have to come up with anything for dinner until after I read the Dining Section in The New York Times.  That's because Wednesday is Melissa Clark day.

I have mentioned in the past, probably at least 100 times, that I love Melissa Clark.  She never fails to inspire me.  Her recipes are alway just a little different and often take a turn in a direction I would never have imagined.  Melissa (if we knew one another I am sure we'd be on a first name basis) always makes me want to run out to the grocery store and pick up the ingredients needed to make whatever she's written about.  I think that's pretty impressive.

The good news is that I rarely fight the urge to try Melissa's latest and greatest recipes because they're always good.  Ted appreciates this although often he leaves for the office with steaks defrosting on the counter and comes home to find some elaborate fish dish waiting for him.  I like to keep him on his toes.

Now, at first glance this recipe is going to seem strange.  I'll admit that cheese and shrimp are not a natural combination.  (For my kosher friends, I'm sure you've already stopped reading.)  And then add potatoes and mint to that.  I agree.  Strange.  But I trust Melissa, and I was willing to give it a try.  I figured that the worst that could happen would be that it was too unusual a combination and we wouldn't like it.  Big deal.

So, here's the verdict.  Shrimp and cheese are an unusual combination but this was absolutely delicious.   Who knew shrimp and cheese would actually be good together.  And it wasn't just the shrimp and cheese.  The addition of sugar snap peas made the dish sweet and crunchy, and the potatoes were a really nice contrast.  And it was all tossed in a vinaigrette which always make whatever it touches taste good.

There a lesson in all of this.  If Melissa Clark says it's good then it most likely is.

RECIPE:  Shrimp, Sugar-Snap Pea and Potato Salad With Mint and Pecorino
(New York Times, July 6, 2011)


3/4 pound sugar-snap peas
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar, plus more for serving
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse sea salt
3/4 teaspoon pepper, plus more for serving
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 pound new fingerling or small yellow potatoes
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled
3/4 cup loosely packed mint leaves
3/4 cup coarsely grated young pecorino (or 1/2 cup aged)
Crusty bread, for serving.


1. Trim and string the peas, then thinly slice them crosswise. Place them in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Slowly whisk in the oil.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a cutting board. Add the shrimp to the pot and cook until opaque, 2 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to the bowl of peas.

3. While the potatoes are warm, slice them into 1/2-inch rounds, and place them in a small bowl. Gently toss them with 1/2 cup of the vinaigrette, 1 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Spread them on a large platter to cool.

4. When the shrimp are cool, toss with the peas and remaining vinaigrette. Spoon the mixture over the potatoes. Tear the mint leaves, and scatter the pieces over the salad. Sprinkle with cheese and pepper. Drizzle with oil and add a little vinegar to taste, if needed.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Plum Perfect

I really enjoy good plums.  I love how when you bite into a perfectly ripe plum you get a little resistance from the skin and then the snap when you bite through to the flesh.   I love the contrast in tastes between the skin and the flesh.  Perfection.

I also really love height of perfection raspberries.  What I don't love are the raspberries sold in the clamshell in the middle of December.  But now that it's summer and really perfect raspberries are available at my favorite farm stand, I'm really loving raspberries.

Why not do something with both?

So, here it is!  My take on plum crisp:  Plum and Raspberry Crisp.  This dessert has everything going for it.  Perfect fruit.  A crunchy topping, and a little booze.  A little vanilla ice cream to top it off and you're done.  What more could you want?  (Well, maybe the same delicious recipe without the calories.)

I don't often say that you have to make something but I really think you should try this.  Have people over and serve it for dessert.  That way you get to show off you're stellar cooking skills and you won't have to eat the whole thing yourself.

Recipe:  Plum and Raspberry Crisp


2 pounds plums, pitted and quartered

2 half pints raspberries

1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons framboise liqueur

For the topping:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced

Vanilla ice cream, for serving


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

For the fruit, in a large bowl, combine the plums, raspberries,brown sugar, flour, and framboise. Pour the mixture into a 12 by 8-inch shallow baking dish.

For the topping, combine the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, oatmeal, walnuts, and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (You can also use a food processor on the "pulse" setting.)  Mix (or pulse) on low speed until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is the size of peas. Scatter evenly over the plum mixture.

Bake the plum crisp for 40 to 45 minutes, until the plums are bubbling and the top is browned. Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream.

Monday, July 4, 2011

All Fired Up

*  Note:  Before we start, I just want to remind you to take a look at all the new items brought to the picnic since I last updated.  Take a look at The Picnic Game.

There are three big summer holidays:  Memorial Day, July the Fourth, and Labor Day.  Beginning, middle, and end of summer.  The funny thing about July 4th is that instead of it feeling like early July to me, it always feels like the long, lazy days of summer are winding down.  Why is that?  It's actually closer to the beginning than the end but it always feels like the clocking is ticking to me.  Hum...

Nonetheless, I love July 4th.  What's not to love?  Everyone is happy and tanned and enjoying themselves. The food is simple and delicious, and the party atmosphere is everywhere.  As I said.  What's not to love?

This is Kate's first summer at home in a long time and even she's in the spirit.  We are going to the Pirates game today and then to our club for dinner and fireworks.  Kate is decked out in patriotic red, white, and blue.  And flip flops, the official teenage shoe of summer.

Since I'm not doing a big barbecue at our house on the actual holiday, I decided to make a really nice summertime dinner last night.  Ted fired up the grill and cooked some steaks.  I was in charge of sides and dessert.  He did his job and I did mine.

This classic panzanella salad is the perfect accompaniment to grilled foods.  Panzanella is a great salad to make if you're going to a summer potluck.  Or it a great salad to make if you feel like a little something special yourself.  Either way, it'll put you in a summertime mood.

Recipe:  Panzanella Salad


3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 red onion, cut in 1/2 and thinly sliced
1/2 cup kalamata olives
20 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons capers, drained
2 - 3 anchovy fillets, diced

For the vinaigrette:

1 teaspoon finely minced garlic

2 - 3 anchovy fillets, diced

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


Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread and salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed.

For the vinaigrette, u

sing a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic and anchovies until you have a smooth paste. Place in a large bowl.  Whisk the remaining ingredients into the anchovy and garlic paste.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, basil, kalamata olives, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Serve, or allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to blend.