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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Balancing Act

Today I'm going to vent.  I'm just telling you that up front so you don't go looking for a recipe.  In fact, pour yourself a glass of wine and settle in.  Here I go.

The junior year in high school is a lot like child birth.  You forget how bad it is until you go through it again.

Kate and Charlie are four years apart in school and at the moment I have two juniors.  Kate is a junior in high school and Charlie is a junior in college.  Back when Charlie was a junior in high school, he was up until all hours of the night doing unending amounts of homework.  He slogged his way through SAT's, SAT Subject Tests, AP Tests, and a host of extra curricular activities all designed to make him look like a person who didn't only do homework and take standardized  tests.  It worked and he got into a good college.  That's all great but the junior year almost killed us all.

Now Kate is a junior in high school and we're back on the hamster wheel of more hours of homework in a day than there are actually hours.  We are back to the SAT, ACT, AP, and any other initials you care to throw in our direction.  In short, it's just as bad and as unpleasant as it was the first time through.

I guess I had forgotten what the junior year was like, or maybe I just blocked it out.  But it's bad.  Really bad.  And I have to wonder why it has to be this way.

It seems to me that balance is a good thing and these days education doesn't seem to be about balance at all.  In fact, it appears that it's becoming more and more difficult for our kids to actually achieve a healthy balance between academic achievement and human achievement.  The stress to take the "hardest" classes offered at school in order to make the colleges think the kids are "challenging" themselves is ridiculous.  The quest to achieve a 4.7 GPA has become commonplace.  Come on.  Is doing four hours of Latin homework every night actually going to make my daughter a better person or the world a better place?  I think not.

Charlie is off at college so I'm not as intimately involved in what he's doing.  This is a good thing.  I probably wouldn't approve of how he's managing him time anyway.  But I will say this:  He seems to have achieved a better balance between school and social than he ever had in high school.  Maybe it's because he's living at school, but I think it probably more likely because institutionally colleges understand the value of balance better than high schools do.

Shouldn't balance be just as important in high school as it is in college?  How do you encourage your child to get involved in things that actually interest them, not those "resume builders",  when they barely have enough time to get the six hours of homework they have every night done before 2:00 a.m.?

Time management only goes so far.  There are only 24 hours in a day and sleep counts for some of it, although rarely enough of it.  The school day never really ends.  In fact, school is like the Ever Ready Bunny.  It just keeps going and going.  Before the kids know it, weeks have passed in a sea of problem sets, history papers, and foreign language translations.

I know that this is a much much bigger discussion than my little rant here on my blog.  But I think it's something to think about.

Okay.  I've gone on long enough.  I feel better now.  But the question is, do our kids?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Southern Classic -- Martha Style

Martha Stewart Everyday Food, 2008
Have you ever noticed that about once a year Martha Stewart comes out with a new book or magazine?  Sometimes it's a cookbook touting cupcakes or cookies.  Sometimes it's a new magazine with 100 quick and easy roast chicken recipes.  Sometimes it's a book is about "homekeeping", Martha-speak for housekeeping.  There are zillions of handy little tips for living just like Martha.  There's only one problem.  Most of the tips are, shall we say, not for the masses.  Most of us don't have to square footage to have an entire room designated for crafting.

But every once in a while, in one of those thousands of recipes Martha Stewart writes, she actually comes up with a recipe I want to try.  This doesn't happen often because I've sort of gotten over the whole Martha Stewart thing.  She makes me feel inadequate and I am a parent so I feel inadequate a lot of the time.  I don't need a stranger to do it to me too.

Back to the recipe.  The other day Martha was on the Today Show touting her quick and healthy recipes.  Quick?  Martha's recipes are usually only quick if you have followed her detailed instructions for properly stocking your pantry.  Otherwise, it takes a little longer than "quick" because you have to factor in specialty grocery shopping time.

But this recipe for Saucy Shrimp and Grits did look pretty quick.  With the exception of the shrimp, I had everything I needed in the house.  I even had grits, which for those of you not in the know, polenta is a fancy name for grits.  Score one for my pantry!

The recipe came together fairly quickly.  The grits have to cook for about 30 minutes, but you can do the rest of the prep while that's happening.  Once the grits are going, the shrimp cooks quickly and before you know it, you have a souther classic -- Martha style.

Recipe:  Saucy Shrimp and Grits
(Martha Stewart, Everyday Food, 2008)


Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 cup coarse grits (not quick-cooking)
2 tablespoons butter
2 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes, in juice
1 pound large (31 to 35) peeled and deveined frozen shrimp, thawed
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce


In a medium saucepan, bring 4 1/2 cups water to a boil over high; season with salt and pepper. Whisk in grits; reduce heat to medium-low. Cover, and cook, whisking occasionally, until grits are creamy and tender, about 30 minutes; stir in butter.
After grits have cooked for 15 minutes, cook bacon in a large skillet over medium until browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate. Add onion and garlic to fat in skillet; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender and browned, 8 to 10 minutes.
To skillet, add tomatoes (with their juice) and 1/4 cup water; bring to a boil. Add shrimp; cook, stirring, until opaque throughout, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in hot sauce. Serve over grits, sprinkled with bacon.

Monday, February 27, 2012

It's A Date

A couple of months ago I was at the farm stand and they had these beautiful dates.  At the time, I figured that we would just snack on them and that would be that.

Well, as is often the case around here, the dates sat.  And sat.  And nobody snacked on them.  Not even once.

So, here I was with some really lovely dates and no one wanted them.  What to do?  What to do?

Well, when life gives you dates, soak them in rum.  You know what I always say?  Everything tastes better soaked in rum.

Dates soaked in rum.  What could be bad?
So now I had a container filled with rum soaked dates.  They developed a really nice syrup and were just begging to be made into something spectacular.  Something that would let those dates sing.

Ready for the oven.
Enter Date Bars.  These are not complicated and required very few ingredients.  In fact, even if you don't have dates that have been soaking away for weeks (or months), never fear.  Just toss a tablespoon of rum in with the dates and let them sit for a couple of hours.  It won't be quite the same as my completely booze infused dates but it'll be good just the same.  Toast up some pecans and you'll be well on your way to pure bliss.

What I really like about these date bars is that they're more like a snack cake.  Nothing fancy but completely versatile.  They're nice to snack on but you could dress them up with a little ice cream or whip cream (Paula Deen style) and serve them for a more serious dessert.  Or you could serve them with a cheese course.  The possibilities are endless.

All that from a little date.

Recipe:  Date Bars
(Adapted from The Homesick Texan Cookbook (Hyperion) by Lisa Fain)


8 ounces (1 1/2 cups) diced pitted dates
1 tablespoon rum
1 cup  flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup  sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon melted butter, salted or unsalted
1 tablespoon hot water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped


Toss the dates in the rum and let them sit for a few hours.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF (175ºC). Line a 9-inch (23 cm) square pan with foil and coat the inside with non-stick spray.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, salt, and eggs until smooth. Mix in the butter, hot water, and vanilla, then stir in the flour mixture. Use a spatula to stir in the dates (and any liquid) and the pecans.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let date bars cool, then lift out the bars. Peel away the foil and cut into squares.

Storage: The bars will keep for up to four days at room temperature, or can be frozen for up to two months.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


When I think of nesting, I think of that blissful time just before my kids were born.  It was a time when I felt that the world was filled with possibilities.  It was a time when I actually thought that puttering around my house would actually culminate with my getting something accomplished.

I'm wiser now.

Now when I think of nesting, I think of my new, really cool thermostats.  You laugh, but we just got the  world's coolest (or warmest, depending on the weather) thermostats.  They're called The Nest.

Here's a picture.

They even come in cool packaging.  Take a look.  Nice, huh?  And who said packaging didn't count?

The Nest was designed by Tony Fadell, who was part of the team that brought us the iPod.  Need I say more?  The Nest is very attractive and incredibly user friendly, which is a nice switch from our old thermostats, which were both ugly and difficult to read for those of us who can't see a thing unless it's lit in a way that would be visible from outer space.

There's a touch wheel that controls the temperature.  To engage the main button, all you do is press on the face.  From there it's very easy to tell it what you want it to do.  You've just got to love those Apple-type people.  User friendly on steroids.

The best thing about The Nest, and the part that sold Ted (who is not as much of a sucker for fancy packaging as I am), is that it "learns" your heating and cooling preferences and adjusts itself automatically.  This means that it will save money by not heating or cooling when there's no one home.  You can also control The Nest from your iPhone or  iPad or from any computer.  Ted loved the whole iPad thing.  He finally has a reason to schlep that thing around with him.  (Although truthfully, I doubt he'll ever adjust the thermostat "from the field".)

Now, I realize that not everyone is going to get all excited about new thermostats.  I get that.  But here's the thing.  It looks good and it saves money.  Finally, nesting that accomplishes something.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Is Curry Ever Simple?

When I think of curry, I do not think of simple.  What I think of is a lot of chopping, and a ton of ingredients, most of which I don't have in the house and that once I buy them I'll never use again.  That is, unless I make another curry dish.

So when I think of curry, I think of a whole lot of effort.

But I do love curry dishes.  I love the subtlety of the spices and in my mind, anything that's served over a mound of rice is a sure winner.  Nonetheless, curry is usually something I enjoy in the comfort of a restaurant where someone else can do all the leg work.

But I'm a trooper so when I saw this recipe in The New York Times yesterday, I figured I'd give it a try.  This decision was aided by the fact that with the exception of the lamb, the mint, and the black mustard seed, I had most everything I needed to make this already in the house.  Score one for my well stocked pantry!

Despite being called Simple Lamb Curry, to say this was simple would be an overstatement.  But it wasn't hard.  What it was was time consuming but that's not a big deal.  Fortunately, I read through the instructions before I started making it so I knew that the lamb had to marinate.  Don't laugh.  More than once I've gone into the kitchen at 6:00 p.m. to make dinner only to realize that what I was planning to make required overnight marinating.  Once the lamb is marinated, it simmers for about an hour on the stove so make sure to leave yourself enough time.
Marinate the meat overnight/
The really nice thing about this dish, aside from how delicious it is, is that your house will smell heavenly.  All those toasted spices add not only a unique flavor to the curry, they're better an any kitchen candle you could ever purchase.
Put a dollop of raita on top of the curry.
So while this isn't a throw together quick dinner, it's well worth the effort because the end result is far from simple.

Recipe:  Simple Lamb Curry with Carrot Raita
(David Tanis, The New York Tines, February 22, 2012)


For the Lamb:

2 pounds lean lamb shoulder cut in 3/4-inch cubes
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons grated garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed, toasted and ground
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed, toasted and ground
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
2 red onions, sliced thick, 1 pound
6 whole cloves
10 black peppercorns
1 inch-long piece cinnamon stick

For the Raita:

1 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon ghee or vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup coarsely grated carrot
Pinch of cayenne
1 tablespoon each chopped mint, chives and cilantro.


1. Put the lamb in a bowl with the ginger, garlic, turmeric, cumin, coriander, cayenne and 1/2 teaspoon salt and mix well. Marinate at room temperature 30 minutes, or up to several hours refrigerated (even overnight is fine).

2. Heat the ghee or oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until softened. Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the seasoned meat. Lightly brown the meat and onions, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes or so. Add the cloves, peppercorns and cinnamon stick, then add 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and turn heat to gentle simmer. Cook for about an hour, or until the meat is fork-tender. Taste the sauce and add salt to taste. Raise the heat and let the sauce reduce a bit, if desired. (May be prepared ahead to this point and reheated before serving.)

3. To make the raita, put the yogurt in a bowl. Heat the ghee or oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and cumin, let them pop a bit — be careful — then stir in the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, till barely golden. Carefully stir the hot contents of the skillet into the yogurt. Add the grated carrot, cayenne and salt, to taste. Let the raita sit at least 10 minutes to allow the flavors to mingle. Just before serving, stir in the mint, chives and cilantro.

Yield: 4 servings.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Feed Me!

I love Wednesdays because that's the day dinner is easy.  On Wednesdays Melissa Clark often helps me decide what to make.  Sometimes I'll get really lucky and David Tanis will help me out with his column City Kitchen and Thursday's dinner is taken care of too. They makes life a lot easier.

Here's the thing.  You Little Tarte is a lot like that giant plant in Little Shop of Horrors.  FEED ME!  That's what the blog is like.  Most people make the same things over and over.  If it was a crowd pleaser once then it'll go over well again.  I feel that way too, but no one would be very excited if I posted the recipe for Crusty Beef Casserole once a month.

So I have to constantly be on the lookout for new and interesting recipes.  That's why the Wednesday food section of The New York Times is required reading for me.  It gives me lots of new recipes to try out and tell you about.  Other people live for the weekend.  I live for Wednesdays.
Ready to roll.
Now I'm not complaining.  The blog has made me a better and more adventurous cook.  Before the blog, I would never have considered fennel a go-to vegetable.  I would never have made my own preserved lemons.  Instead, I would have searched out preserved lemons in an ethnic market and then felt like a real gourmet cook for having found them.  And I would never have made half of the things I've now mastered.

Thank you.  And Ted and Kate thank you too.  Because as good as Crusty Beef Casserole is, they like the variety that feeding the blog brings.

Recipe:  Sautéed Chicken With Meyer Lemon and Rosemary
(A Good Appetite, New York Times, February 22, 2012)


1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 1/2-inch strips
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons minced rosemary
Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 Meyer lemons
2 tablespoons sugar
2 leeks, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped


Toss the chicken with 1 tablespoon oil, rosemary, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper.

Trim the ends from 1 lemon, quarter lengthwise and remove the seeds. Slice quarters crosswise into 1/8-inch slices.

Bring a small pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the lemon slices, lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain under cold running water. Rinse out the pot and refill it with 1 cup water, the sugar and 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil. Drop in the blanched lemon slices and simmer for 3 minutes. Drain under cold running water, pat dry.

Heat a skillet over high heat for 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons oil. It should start to shimmer immediately; add the lemon slices and stir-fry quickly until golden. Stir in the leeks and reduce heat to medium-high. Cook until leeks are soft and golden, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute. Push the leek mixture to one side of the skillet; stir in the chicken mixture and sear, without moving, about 4 minutes. Mix in the leeks and continue cooking until the chicken is no longer pink, about 3 to 6 minutes more. Drizzle with juice from the remaining lemon half, to taste.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Geno's or Pat's?

This weekend we were in Philadelphia, home of the Philly cheese steak.  Kate is a big fan so off we went to South Philly, home of two of the most famous cheese steaks, Geno's and Pat's.

I have to start by saying that I am not quite as enthusiastic about cheese steaks as Kate is.  They're good but I always feel like I need a shower after I eat one.  They're a little on the, shall we say, greasy side.  I opt for provolone cheese, but Ted and Kate like their cheesesteaks with Cheese Wiz, a Philly classic.  Topped off with grilled onions, the Philly cheese steak is a heart attack waiting to happen.

Geno's and Pat's are the two most famous cheese steaks in Philly.  I'm sure there are some that are better, but Geno and Pat own the town when it comes to the classic.  Everyone has a favorite -- either Geno's or Pat's -- but I've only been to Pat's a couple of times and never to Geno's so I'll go out on a limb and say that Pat's is the best.

There funny thing is that Geno's and Pat's are across the street from one another on the corners of 9th and Passyunk Avenue.  Pat's came first in 1930 and then Geno's moved in in 1966 to steal away business from Pat's.  It's been war ever since.

How to Order a Steak @ Pats
Both are open around the clock and both always have lines.  I suspect that while some people actually have a favorite, often the decision on where to eat is predicated on which line is shorter.  Geno's is flashy, with so much lighting that I am convinced it would be visible from space.  Pat is a little more low key, with its most notable feature being a sign detailing how to properly order a cheese steak.

For me, it's always been Pat's.  But who knows?  Next time the line could be shorter at Geno's and I could give those sandwiches a try.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Let the Games Begin

I feel so old.  My baby is a junior in high school and has started the college process.  When did this happen?  I can't possibly be old enough to have my youngest child thinking about colleges.  Ugh.

Over the long weekend we visited Swarthmore College.  We did the tour and the information session.  We learned why Swarthmore is special.  We also learned that every plant and tree on campus is labeled with its latin name because besides being a college campus, Swarthmore is also an arboretum.

And then we did the obligatory swing through the college bookstore to acquire a t-shirt.  Since Kate has two dozen schools on her list, I've had to put the kibosh on sweatpants and sweatshirts.  We just don't have closet space for any more sweat gear.  At least t-shirts fold up small.  And besides, past experience with Charlie indicates that once they actually apply to and are accepted into college, all those gym shorts, t-shirts, sweatshirts, and sweatpants (and at least one pair of flip flops) with college names other than the one they are actually attending, gather dust and never see the light of day again.  Apparently wearing a t-shirt from one school when you are attending another is simply not done.  It is especially not done if you've applied to and were turned down by a school.  Then I think that burning said logoed gear is probably in order.

We have a big swing through New York and Connecticut scheduled for spring break.  And then a driving odyssey through New England over the summer.  Oh, and a little jaunt out to the west coast.  And a stop in the midwest.  And maybe a few more stops that I've forgotten.

Let the games begin.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Live A Little

Here's the thing.  I'm all for healthy eating and being trim and slim.  These are all good things.  But what worries me is that we've forgotten what eating well means.  Well I haven't, but some people have.

I was chatting with my good friend Deborah earlier today and we were talking about all these crazy eating schemes our friends are engaging in.  Deborah and I, we're cut from the same cloth.  We are believers in three meals a day and no substitutions.  We both agree that eating a cookie won't kill you.  In fact, eating an occasional cookie might actually be good for you.  Imagine that.

I'm not advocating stuffing your face with cookies and forgoing all leafy greens.  What I am suggesting is that it seems as though the simple act of eating and enjoying food has been forgotten in favor of cutting calories and carbs.  Life is just too short.

I am a firm believer in balance and portion control.  I use heavy cream when I cook and I cook chicken with the skin on.  Why?  Because it tastes better.  And you know what?  I'll bet that eating the tastiest version of whatever it is you're eating actually allows you to eat less.  I've never done any controlled research on this but I know myself.  I'm much happier eating one delicious cookie than I am eating a box of low-cal, no fat, low-carb crunchy things.  I'm much happier allowing myself to enjoy life.  And eating delicious food, believe or not, is in my humble opinion, one of the things that makes life worth living.

So go ahead and eat a cookie.  Or have a slice of that olive bread you've been eyeing.  You know what it is you really want.  Go ahead.  Live a little.

Recipe:  Peanut Butter Nutella Chocolate Chip Cookies

This recipe came about as I was talking with Deborah.  I was thinking about making some peanut butter cookies and hit on the idea of these.


3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup Nutella
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 cups mini chocolate chips


Preheat the oven to 350.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugars, scraping down the sides once or twice.  Add the eggs one at a time and the vanilla.  Add the dry ingredients and combine.  Add the Nutella and the peanut butter and combine.  Add the chocolate chips and combine until they are well distributed in the dough.

Using an ice cream scoop, scoop  the dough onto the lined cookie sheets about 3 inches apart.  (You should have six cookies per sheet.)  Flatten out the cookies slightly and use a fork to make a crisscross patter.

Bake for 20 minutes (these are big cookies) rotating once after 10 minutes.  Let cool for a couple of minutes on the baking sheets and then transfer to a wire rack to complete cooling.

Makes approximately 24 (very) large cookies.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Stone Soup

I have been having a bit of a cooking block.  I just haven't been having an easy time coming up with things I want to make.  It happens, especially when you cook as much as I do.  Sometimes I just want to order a pizza and call it a day.

As much as I might like to do that, there's something about take out on a "school night" that seems wrong to me.  I'm not judging those of you who do it.  It's just not for me.  But I've got to tell you, pizza has been looking mighty appealing lately.

Sausage makes everything taste better.
But I digress.  I was trying to come up with something to make for dinner tonight that would be (1) really easy, and (2) that I had everything in the house I needed to make it.  This is a tall order despite the fact that Kate insists that all we have are "ingredients".   I knew that chicken was out because I didn't have any.  Ditto for a whole bunch of other options.  But I did have two ham hocks (why?) and a pound of andouille sausage.  And a pound of lentils.  It was a start.

The great thing about soup is that you can really make it with whatever you have around.  Do you know the old story Stone Soup?  Well, call this Stone Soup with Lentils and Sausage.

Recipe:  Lentil and Sausage Soup


1 pound andouille sausage, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 tablespoon olive oil (as needed)
2 carrots, small dice
2 stalks celery, small dice
1 onion, small dice
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 pound lentils, picked over and rinsed
2 ham hocks (optional)
8 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


In a large, heavy pot over medium high heat, cook the sausage slices until they are browned on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes.  Remove from pot with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the oil (if needed), and add the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic to the same pot and saute until the vegetables are softened.  Add the lentils, stock, and ham hocks, if using.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the lentils are tender, about 1 hour.  Remove from the heat and discard the ham hocks.

Pour half of the soup into a food processor or blender and process.  Return to the pot.  Add the sausage, parsley, and heavy cream.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve hot.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

More Than Just Jello

A week or two ago I was reading the food section in The New York Times.  There was a great article about Mormon cuisine that caught my attention.

Frankly, I had no idea that the Mormon's actually had a cuisine.  I have to admit, when I think of Mormon cooking, I think of Jello and bunkers filled with non-perishables.   Who knew that there's a whole new generation of Mormon cooks who have taken some of the classic Sunday-after-church recipes and updated them.   Some of these recipes are pretty appealing in a comfort foodie kind of way.  Who knew?

In the article there was a recipe for the unfortunately named Funeral Potatoes.  After I got past the name, which is a little unappealing if you ask me, I saw that these potatoes definitely had potential.  First they would need a little overhaul.  There is no food in the world that needs both a cup and a half of sour cream and two and a half cups of cheese for six servings.  And that's a real statement coming from me.

So, I played around with Funeral Potatoes and came up with my version, which is a tad more shall we say, figure friendly.  It's certainly not low cal, but at least it won't kill you.

I haven't come up with a name for my version of Funeral Potatoes but maybe you can.  Email me at youlittletarte@gmail.com with suggestions.

Recipe:  Unnamed Potatoes
(Adapted from The New York Times, 1/25/12 and ourbestbites.com)


2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup gruyere cheese, divided
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped for garnish


Preheat oven to 375.

Cut potatoes into like size pieces and put in a large pot.  Cover to potatoes with cold water and then bring to a boil over high heat.  Cook until potatoes are tender.  Drain.

Using a ricer, rice the cooked potatoes into a large bowl.   Add the sour cream, chives, garlic, onion, salt, pepper, and 1/2 cup of the gruyere.  Combine well.

Spray a 8 inch square casserole dish with cooking spray.  Transfer the potato mixture to the casserole dish.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until lightly browned and bubbly.  Top with chopped parsley.

Monday, February 13, 2012

There's a Right Way to Do It

I don't usually make steaks in the winter.  If I'm really in the mood for one, we go out.  There are so many good steak restaurants, even here in the 'burgh, that I'd rather let someone else do it.

It's a different story in the summer.  I think grilled steaks are one of the truly great foods.  They just epitomize summer and since Ted is a master griller, I'm happy to let him take the credit.  He can grill a steak like nobody's business.  It's a gift.

But the other day I called my own bluff.  Mark the Butcher had some beautiful Delmonico steaks and I found myself tempted to give broiled steaks another try.  In theory I knew how to broil a steak.  I mean, come on. How hard could it be?  It's a broiled steak.

Well, it turns out that there's a right way and a wrong way to properly broil a steak.  Suffice it to say, I have been doing it the wrong way all these years.  No wonder I never thought broiled steaks weren't all that great.  I'm not going to go into my former method but suffice it to say, throwing the seasoned steaks on the broiler pan and sticking them under the broiler for a couple of minutes does not a perfect steak make.

The right way, or at least the way that my google research indicates makes the best steak, involves not only a really hot broiler,  but also a really hot cast iron skillet.  And some really thick oven mitts.

Start with gorgeous steaks.  
But here's the thing.  If you don't have a gorgeous steak to start out with, all the technique in the world won't help you.  Find yourself a good butcher.  Get to know him.  And then broil away.

Recipe:  Perfect Broiled Steaks
(Adapted from The Kitchen)

Position the top rack four to five inches from the top of the oven. Take the steak out of the refrigerator as you pre-heat the broiler to its highest possible temperature (Our broiler reaches to 550 degrees). Open a window just in case. Things might get a little smoky.

While the broiler warms, pre-heat an empty cast-iron skillet on high heat on the stove for about five minutes. If you're using a premium cut of aged meat and a well-seasoned pan, you won't need to add any oil to the pan. The screaming hot pan might just start to smoke a bit. Be careful and be sure to use a thick oven mitt.

Once both the broiler and the pan are pre-heated, sprinkle the steak with salt and put it in the pan (We don't put black pepper on until after it comes out of the broiler because we think it can burn, but others differ with us on this). Place the pan on the top rack, under the broiler.

Let the steak broil for four minutes and then carefully flip it to the other side for another four minutes.

After the steaks have broiled on each side, pull the pan out of the broiler. Use a paring knife to make a small cut in the center of the the thickest part of the steak to see if the meat is done to your liking. Remember, the steak will keep cooking a bit even after it is out of the broiler. (Don't feel too bad about cutting into the steak. Yes, you will let some of the juice out of the steak, but losing some juice is better than over-cooking the steak.) If you'd like the steak more well done, return it to the broiler, checking it again after another minute.

Move the steak from the pan to the platter and serve immediately.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

No Cook Sunday

Monday is the day.  It's colonoscopy day and that means that tonight I'm not cooking.  My general view is that if I can't eat it then I'm not cooking it.  Ted and Kate are going out for dinner and I'll be home "prepping" and perhaps enjoying some delicious "clear liquids".  Oh joy.

Of course, whenever you can't have something all you do is think about having it.  I'm starving and Gatorade isn't going to do the job.  I need to think of this as (1) something that's good for me, and (2) weight loss.  There's the silver lining.

Well, at least there's tomorrow and the promise of solid foods.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Muffin Top

A couple of weeks ago I made the most delicious cranberry muffins for breakfast.  Ted and I loved them.  Kate was unimpressed.  In fact, her only comment was "why didn't you make chocolate chip?"

I have been making my friend Mona's chocolate chip muffins for years and frankly, I felt like I was in a little bit of a muffin rut.  I needed to break the mold and do something different.  So sue me.

But Kate does love her chocolate chip muffins so when I saw this recipe in Fine Cooking Magazine, I thought I would go for the gold and make them for Kate.  Sorry for mixing metaphors, but I hit it out of the ballpark with these.  In fact, they were so good that (1) on Sunday, Kate brought four for Frank, and (2) she brought the rest to school on Monday.   Bingo.  One for Ted.  One for me.  One for Kate.  And the rest were out the door.

Add caption
These muffins have lots of good things in them, including sour cream which, in my opinion makes everything better.  They baked up with a nice high dome and the muffin top has a nice crunch.  I skipped the glaze, which was optional in the recipe, because I thought the chocolate chips provided enough sweetness.  It's really just your personal preference.

This is a nice base recipe for adding other things like berries or other chips and nuts.  The recipe said that it made 12 large muffins but I ended up with almost twice as many and they were nicely sized as well with plenty of muffin top.  On the muffin, this is.

Recipe:  Chocolate Chip Muffins
(Fine Cooking Magazine Chocolate, Winter 2012)


3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup sour cream
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
3/4 cup coarsely chopped, toasted pecans or walnuts


Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350.  Lightly oil to top of a standard 12-cup muffin tin and then line with paper or foil baking cups.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; mix well.  In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, butter, milk, sour cream, eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla until well combined,  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold gently with a rubber spatula just until the dry ingredients are mostly moistened; the batter will be lumpy, and there should still be quite a few streaks of dry flour.  Fold in the chocolate chips, and the nuts, if using, until just combined.  Don't overmix; the batter will still be lumpy.

If you have an ice cream scoop with a sweeper, use it to fill the muffin cups.  Otherwise use two spoons to spoon in the batter.  The batter should mound high than the rim of the cups by about 3/4 inch or more, especially if using nuts (overfilling givens you those big bakery style muffin tops).

Bake until the muffins are gold brown and spring back lightly when you press the middle, 30-35 minutes.  Let the muffin tin cool on the rack for 15-20 minutes.  Invert the pan and serve warm.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What Was I Thinking?

So this week is my birthday and I have done nothing to insure that it will be a fun one.  For some reason, completely unknown to me, this has turned out to be a week of annual routine medical appointments.  When I was scheduling it completely slipped my mind that this was the week of my birthday and I gave no thought to the fact that I might like to do something of a non-medical nature to celebrate.

Oh well.

At least I'll get everything done.  And hopefully I'll get a clean bill of health as I embark on yet another post 50 year.

The mammogram is no big deal.  But I have to admit that when my doctor suggested a bone density study, all I could think of was Sally Field and her love of Boniva.  Am I going to become a Boniva taker?  I'll know in 10 days.

The colonoscopy has me a little on edge.  The doctor wrote me a prescription for one last year but I just never got around to doing it.  This year I have no excuse.  I am not excited.

So, while this isn't the birthday week I envisioned for myself, at least I'll come away (hopefully) with the knowledge that I can do this all again next year -- one week later in February.

I'll Make Lamb

I loved the movie "My Big, Fat Greek Wedding."  It was hysterical.  I can still visualize Ian's mother showing up at the big engagement celebration with a bundt cake and the way Lanie Kazan kept saying "It's a bundt?"  I guess you had to be there.  Or you should see the movie if you haven't.

In the movie, Toula's aunt is going to host this big engagement party for Toula and Ian.  Toula tells her that Ian is a vegetarian and the aunt says that it's fine.  She'll make lamb.  I'm laughing just thinking about it.

You really have to rent this movie.

But I digress.  While lamb is decidedly not vegetarian, it is a nice change from beef and chicken.  I especially love the use of ground lamb and feta in this recipe from Fine Cooking Magazine for Lamb and Feta Stuffed Cabbage.  Who would have thought stuffed cabbage, a staple of my Jewish grandmother's cooking repetoire, could be given a Greek twist.

Stuffed cabbage is a pain in the you-know-what to make.  You have to boil the cabbage and then peel the leaves away.  Then you have to de-rib the cabbage.  You have to make the filling and then you have to stuff and roll.  And make the sauce.  And cook the whole thing for over an hour.  It's not a quickie.

But this Greek inspired stuffed cabbage is really tasty.  The filling has all the good Greek things in it: lamb, feta, oregano, and lemon juice.  And in the sauce is sambuca or ouzo (your choice) which is guaranteed to give the dish a little Greek flair.

Take your time making this and then, while it's cooking away on the stove, go ahead and treat yourself to "My Big, Fat Greek Wedding".  There's nothing quite like dinner and a movie.
Lamb-and-Feta Stuffed Cabbage
(Fine Cooking Magazine, January, 2012)
1 large head green cabbage (about 3 lb.), outer leaves discarded, cored 
1 lb. ground lamb 
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped 
1 large egg 
4 oz. (1 cup) crumbled feta 
1/2 cup short-grain rice, such as Arborio 
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 
1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh oregano 
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice 
1 tsp. ground cumin 
1/2 tsp. fennel seeds, crushed 
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 
1/4 cup olive oil 
1 15-oz. can crushed tomatoes (about 2 cups) 
1 cup lower-salt chicken broth 
1/3 cup ouzo or sambuca

Fill a tall, 8-quart (or larger) pot with enough water to submerge the whole cabbage and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil the cabbage until the outer leaves are bright green and start to pull away, about 4 minutes. Carefully pull them off with tongs and lay them on a baking sheet lined with a kitchen towel. Continue boiling the cabbage and removing its leaves in layers as they soften until the entire cabbage is cooked, 15 to 20 minutes total. Let cool.

In a large bowl, use your hands to combine the lamb, onion, egg, feta, rice, parsley, oregano, lemon juice, cumin, fennel, 2-1/2 tsp. salt, and 1ƒ tsp. pepper.

With a paring knife, remove the hard ribs from the cabbage leaves. Cut the larger leaves in half lengthwise.

 Coat the bottom of an 8- to 9-quart Dutch oven with the olive oil. Arrange several cabbage leaves on a work surface so they run lengthwise away from you. Working with one leaf, put about 1-1/2 Tbs. of the lamb mixture on the end closest to you. Fold the long sides in toward the lamb, and then roll away from you to enclose the meat. Put the roll in the pot, seam side down. Repeat with the remaining cabbage and filling, arranging the rolls in a snug single layer (if necessary, add a loosely packed second layer).

Combine the tomatoes, broth, and ouzo in a medium bowl and pour the mixture over the rolls. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook, shaking the pot occasionally so the rolls don’t stick, until the rice in the filling is completely tender, 60ƒ to 90 minutes.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Braise Me, Baby

The other night Ted and I went to a dinner at a new restaurant here in the 'burgh.  I'm usually pretty critical of restaurants around here, by E Squared (I'm not sure how to make the little exponent squared on my computer) was good.  Not knock your socks off fabulous, but better than average.

For an appetizer I had a salad with fennel, blood oranges, olives, and I think it was Parmesan cheese.  It was a nice combination of flavors, which was a good thing because it was enough salad to feed a small army.  Now while I realize that the combination of fennel and oranges wasn't unique. it really was tasty and it got me thinking about my new favorite veggie, fennel.

Before braising...
A month or two ago, I recalled seeing a recipe for olive oil braised fennel in Fine Cooking Magazine and I thought why not?  So I made it today.

Ready to serve.
Instead of oranges, this recipe calls for lemon, which offers a nice sparkle of flavor in the winter.  Just a small amount of olive oil is drizzled over the sliced fennel and then then whole thing is foiled up and cooked in the oven at 375 for about an hour.  Another 20 minutes without the foil and it browns nicely.  I shaved a little Parmesan over the finished dish and sprinkled a little more salt and freshly ground black pepper.  The end result was soft and slightly lemony fennel.  Yummy.

Not only was this fennel a nice side dish, the writers at Fine Cooking recommend tossing it with penne and serving it as a main course.  Doesn't that sound good?  Maybe next time.

Recipe:  Olive Oil Braised Fennel with Lemon
(Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine, February, 2012)


3-1/2 lb. fennel (about 2 large bulbs), tops removed, halved and sliced lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick wedges
3-1/4-inch-thick lemon slices, cut into quarters
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt  and freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)


Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F.

Arrange the fennel wedges in an overlapping single layer in a 10x15-inch baking dish. Nestle the lemon pieces peel side up among the fennel. Drizzle with the olive oil and 1 Tbs. water, and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. salt. Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil.

Braise the fennel in the oven until completely tender when pierced with a fork, 1 to 1-1/4 hours. Uncover the dish and continue to braise until the fennel is browned at the edges and there is no liquid left in the pan, about 20 minutes more. Serve warm or at room temperature sprinkled with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and shaved Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Bucket List

I have always wanted to make homemade beef stock but I never have.  It's funny because I've made chicken stock and vegetable stock.  I've even made fish stock but I've never made beef stock.  I'm not exactly sure why.

Oxtails... to make the beef stock
Oddly enough I have thought about this.  I think it might be because there are a lot of bones involved and making beef stock takes a really long time.  It's not that there aren't bones involved in making chicken stock or fish stock, it's just that somehow to me the beef bones sound more unappealing.

But the main reason I've never tackled beef stock before is that it has to cook forever.  And I'm not talking about an hour or two.  I'm talking about more like three hours.  And then there's all the fat to deal with.  Overnight refrigeration is a must.  So now we're up to a two day project and we haven't even done anything with the stock.
Sweating the veggies for the stock.
Having said all that,  my culinary hero, Melissa Clark recently wrote about making French onion soup in her column in The New York Times.  I thought to myself that if Melissa can do it, so can I.  And besides, while I am sure French onion soup made with beef stock from the box would be good, I am absolutely convinced that making it with real beef stock would be beyond delicious.

I'm not going to lie to you.  This was a project.  It was messy and greasy and yucky.  There was browning, simmering, straining, refrigerating, and defatting involved and that was all before I even made the French onion part of the French onion soup.

But I will tell you this.  Homemade stock made this recipe.  This was delicious beyond measure.  There are just no words to describe how rich and delicious this French onion soup was.  So delicious in fact, that if I ever made it again, I would go through all the mess and yuck again.

If you have any interest in really doing it up right, I urge you to add making your own beef stock to your bucket list.  And then make it.

Recipe:  One-Pot French Onion Soup With Garlic-Gruyère Croutons
Adapted from Philippe Bertineau, Benoit, Manhattan

Note:  I made my soup individually because I love the presentation (and I wanted my own blob of melted gruyere).  See below for instructions.

Time: 5 hours


1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 pounds oxtail or beef shoulder, cut into 1- or 2-inch pieces
8 medium onions
4 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
4 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
Black pepper
1 cup port wine
Lemon juice, to taste, optional
6 ounces baguette loaf, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
2 garlic cloves, halved
8 ounces Gruyère cheese.


1. Heat the oil in a 6-quart Dutch oven over high heat. Add the oxtail (or beef shoulder) in a single layer (work in batches, if necessary to avoid crowding the pan), and sear until the undersides are brown (do not turn). Season generously with salt and transfer to a plate.

2. Coarsely chop two of the onions; add to the pot, along with the celery, carrots, bay leaves and thyme. Lower heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft and beginning to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Return the beef to the pot. Pour in 8 cups water. Simmer mixture gently until the meat is very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

3. Transfer beef to a bowl to cool for another use. Strain liquid into a bowl over a fine-mesh sieve; press gently on the solids with the back of a spatula to extract as much flavor as possible. Discard the solids; you should have about 10 cups broth (add water if necessary to equal 10 cups).

4. Halve the remaining 6 onions through the root end, then peel and thinly slice them lengthwise. Melt the butter in the bottom of the Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, tossing occasionally, until deep golden-brown and caramelized, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and black pepper. Pour in the port and cook, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, for 3 minutes. Pour in the broth and simmer mixture over low heat for 30 minutes. Season with salt and lemon juice, if desired. (For a smaller group, you could refrigerate some of the soup and reheat it later.)

5. While the broth simmers, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast until golden, about 12 minutes. Rub the garlic halves over the surface of the bread.

6. Heat the broiler and arrange a rack 4 to 6 inches from the flame. Using a cheese slicer, thinly slice 3 ounces of Gruyère. Coarsely grate the remaining cheese. Float the broiled bread over the surface of the hot soup. Layer the cheese slices over the bread; scatter the grated cheese over it. Transfer the Dutch oven to the oven and broil until cheese is golden and bubbling, 3 to 5 minutes (watch to see that it does not burn).

7. To serve, use kitchen shears or scissors to cut the bread and cheese into portions. Ladle soup, bread and cheese into individual bowls.

Yield: 8 servings.

Note: To broil the soup in individual bowls, place 8 ovenproof bowls on a baking sheet. Fill with hot soup, top with broiled bread, shaved cheese and grated cheese, and run under the broiler until golden and bubbling. You may need to prepare it in batches.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Health Food

Today I made peanut butter cookies.  I like to think of them as a health food because peanut butter is a good source of protein, isn't it?  Never mind that these cookies are clock full of butter and sugar.   I used all natural peanut butter so I should at least get some credit for making an effort.

I think everyone should adopt my somewhat relaxed standards for what is and what is not healthy.  We would all be happier.  A little thicker through the hips but happier nonetheless.

This recipe comes from one of my favorite cookie cookbooks.  Alice Medrich sure has a way with her cookies.  Every recipe in Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies calls out to me.  In case you are interested, this recipe for peanut butter cookies falls into the category of "melt-in-your-mouth".  And they do.

But I must warn you.  These cookies are a little fragile which means that (1) you should make sure they're completely baked when you take them out of the oven and (2) you should be very careful when transferring them to a wire rack to completely cool.  What do you expect?  They're melt-in-your-mouth yummy which means that they're a bit, shall we say, delicate.

Recipe:  Peanut Butter Cookies

(Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy Melt-in-You Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich, 2010)

Note:  The recipe calls for refrigerating the dough for at least an hour or two before baking.  It's a good idea but if you're pressed for time, Medrich suggests using melted butter instead of softened butter and then baking them straight away.


1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon flaky salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick butter, softened
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups natural chunky peanut butter


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk the flours, salt, and baking soda together in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, use a mixer to mix together the sugars and butter until thoroughly combined. Add the egg, vanilla, and peanut butter and mix again until all of the ingredients are fully incorporated. Add the flour mixture and mix again, this time until the ingredients are just combined.

Scoop slightly more than 1 level tablespoonful of cookie dough, and form the dough into balls. Arrange the balls on the lined cookie sheets about 2 inches apart. Flatten each ball with the tines of a fork into a cross hatch pattern.

Bake the cookies for 14 to 16 minutes until they are lightly golden brown in color.  Rotate the sheets from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking.

Cool the cookies on a baking rack. They will keep in an airtight container for 2 weeks.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


I don't know if you've been able to tell but lately I haven't been all that inspired on the cooking front.  I have no idea why but I just haven't been feeling it.  It happens.  What can I say?

The good news is that I feel like I'm starting to get my groove back in the kitchen.  My new cookbooks have brought me some much needed inspiration and I'm back in the kitchen whipping up new recipes left and right.  I feel inspired!  I feel ready to conquer whatever a recipe throws at me -- except for maybe sous vide, which I just don't get.

Today's recipe is from The French Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone.  I have been cooking from her other book, The Italian Slow Cooker,  for years and it's a favorite of mine.  In fact, I think I may have sent a copy to my friend Janis as a slow-cooker warming gift a couple of years ago.  That's how much I love these cookbooks.

This new book, with a French twist, promises to quickly become a favorite of mine as well.  The recipes all sound so good and they're pretty easy which is just a bonus, as far as I'm concerned.  And let's face it, the slow cooker isn't the most gourmet of appliances but these recipes make it seem as though it just might be.

This recipe for Chicken with Figs is good enough to serve to guests.   It's especially nice if you know you're going to have a busy day and you want to look like you slaved away for hours.  The fig sauce takes just minutes to make at the very end and makes for a very elegant finish.

Now that I'm back in the cooking mood, I might just give that sous vide cooking a try.  Until then, I think I'll stick with my slow cooker.

Recipe:  Chicken with Figs
The French Slow Cooker. Michele Scicolone, 2012


12 bone in chicken thighs, skin removed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 medium shallots, sliced
2 bay leaves
4 fresh thyme sprigs
1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken broth
2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
12 dried Black Mission Figs


Sprinkle the chicken all over with salt and pepper to taste.  Scatter half of the shallots in a large slow cooker.  Place the chicken in the cooker.  Tuck the bay leaves between the chicken pieces.  Scatter the remaining shallots and the thyme all over.

Stir together the wine, vinegar, and honey and pour the mixture over the chicken.  Cover and cook on low for 5 hours, or until the chicken is tender and cooked through.

While the chicken is cooking, place the figs in hot water to cover for at least 30 minutes.  Drain the figs.

Remove the chicken pieces to a serving platter and cover to keep warm.  Discard the bay leaves.  Pour the cooking juices into a small skillet and add the figs.  Bring the liquid to a boil and cook over high heat until reduced and slightly syrupy.

Pour the sauce and figs over the chicken and serve hot.