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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

About Last Night

We went.  We saw.  We were inspired.  Yes, last night Mona and I went to Cleveland see Ina Garten.  And it was great.

The evening's format was a conversation between Ina and food writer Joshua Seth, who incidentally is from the Cleveland area.  They sat up on the stage and just chatted about how Ina got her start, and how that 400 square foot store in West Hampton. NY, the original Barefoot Contessa, morphed into the worldwide industry that is Ina today.  There was a brief question and answer session following the chat.  Unfortunately, instead of people asking real questions, it turned into an "Ina, I love you" fest" which, I have to admit, was a bit embarrassing.  Oh well.

It was fascinating to hear how Ina's career has unfolded.  Really, it was a lot of hard work and a love of what she was doing that were her keys to success.  Ina is not a trained chef.  What she is, is a person who loves good, simple food.  She makes food fun and through that love of food she bring people together.  Plain and simple.  Nothing fancy.

Clearly Ina is very smart.  And she had good counsel.  She followed her gut and did things the way she thought they should be done.  Ina build an industry on her easy approach to living her life to the fullest.  I suspect that no matter what Ina would have chosen to do with her life, she would have been successful.  She would have been true to herself and that translates.

Imagine that.

Mona and I had a blast.  We had dinner at a Michael Symon restaurant called Lolita, which was delicious.  We need more restaurants like Lolita here in the 'burgh.  We made it a Food Network evening.

The best part of the evening was, however, the opportunity to talk with Mona on the drives to and from Cleveland.  Mona was my first friend here in Pittsburgh and since we met we have shared a love for food and cooking, among other things.  I have always found her to be so inspiring and I hope I do the same for her.

So, that was last night.  Ina, a good friend, and a delicious dinner.  What could be better?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tonight's The Night

Last fall I heard that my cooking idol, Ina Garten, was coming to town on her book tour.  Well, she wasn't exactly coming to town, but she was coming to Cleveland, which is the next town over (kind of).  Ina was touching down in Cleveland, which is about 2 1/2 hours away, so really Ina was coming to a town near me.

Now, it's not just anyone that I would schlep 2 1/2 hours for.  And, I can assure you that I wouldn't go to Cleveland simply to have a book signed, even though that would be tempting.  Nope.  I am schlepping to Cleveland because Ina is doing "An Evening" followed by a Q & A session.  I have to be honest.  I'm not exactly sure what "An Evening" entails, but it's Ina.  And Ina can do no wrong.

My friend Mona and I  got tickets and are making the pilgrimage to Cleveland.  Needless to say, we are wracked with anticipation.

This morning Ted asked me if I had any questions for Ina.  Hum...  "Can I be your friend?"  Can I come to your house and check things out?"  Can I cook in your kitchen?  With you?" "Can I be you?"  Those questions are all, to use Kate's words, a little creepy and stalkerish , so maybe I'll wait and let other people ask those pressing questions.  I'll come up with a question about food.  Or entertaining.  Or something.

Needless to say, I will be reporting back to all of you tomorrow.  This is exciting stuff.  And you thought the election of a new Pope was the biggest thing happening this week.  Well, that was before you knew that Ina was coming a town near me.

Yup.  Tonight's the night.

In honor of Ina, I thought I'd repeat one of my all time favorite Barefoot Contessa recipes.  In fact, this lemon curd tart may be the first Ina recipe I ever made.  Seems appropriate, doesn't it?

Recipe:  Lemon Curd Tart
(2007, Ina Garten)


For the tart shell:

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch salt

For the lemon curd:

4 lemons, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt
For the tart shell:


Mix the butter and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Press the dough into a 10-inch-round or 9-inch-square false-bottom tart pan, making sure that the finished edge is flat. Chill until firm.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter 1 side of a square of aluminum foil to fit inside the chilled tart and place it, buttered side down, on the pastry. Fill with beans or rice. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and beans, prick the tart all over with the tines of a fork, and bake again for 20 to 25 minutes more, or until lightly browned. Allow to cool to room temperature.

For the lemon curd:
Remove the zest of the lemons with a vegetable peeler or zester, being careful to avoid the white pith. Squeeze the lemons to make 1/2 cup of juice and set the juice aside. Put the zest in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the sugar and process for 2 to 3 minutes, until the zest is very finely minced. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugar and lemon zest. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and then add the lemon juice and salt. Mix until combined.

Pour the mixture into a 2-quart saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10 minutes. The lemon curd will thicken at about 175 degrees F, or just below a simmer. Remove from the heat.

Fill the tart shell with warm lemon curd and allow to set at room temperature.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Week One: So Far, So Good

Week one is over and I've updated My Year of Unspending.  Take a look!  Join the fun, (if "unspending" can be considered fun)!  

Afterwards, we can all have a celebratory cappuccino.  This was mine, but I'd be happy to have another one with you.  Celebration is good.  So is cappuccino.

Friday, March 8, 2013

More is S'more

The S'more is one of the great culinary invention of modern times.  A quick check with my close friend Google, reveals that S'mores were first made by the Girl Scouts in the 1920's.  There's even a national holiday for the S'more.  Yup.  August 10th is National S'mores Day.

It's not every dessert that gets its own holiday.

Anyway, in honor of another big holiday, Kate's 18th birthday, I decided to make an "indoor" version of my beloved dessert.

Kate turns 18 on Sunday.  And, Kate being Kate, of course she wanted to bring something to school Friday to mark the occasion.  (As an aside, what is she going to do next year when she goes away to college? I am not planning to provide snacks to the entire freshman class at Bates College...)  Anyway, in honor of Kate's birthday, (and because the Ellis girls are good for my ego -- "Kate's mom makes the best brownies/cookies/name your poison), what could be better than S'mores bars?

I felt so confident in my ability to come up with the perfect balance of graham cracker, chocolate, and toasted marshmallow that I didn't even bother looking for someone else's version.  If nothing else, I know my S'mores.

I started with a classic graham cracker crust -- graham cracker crumbs, a little sugar, and a little more melted butter than I probably needed.  A quick bake and I was on to the melted milk chocolate.  Let's face it, you can't have too much melted chocolate.  Finally large marshmallows completed the assembly.  I toasted the whole thing under the broiler, drizzled a little more melted chocolate on top, and there you have it.

Needless to say, I have no doubt that they will be a huge hit at school.  In fact, I think they would be a huge hit anywhere.  And these S'mores aren't campfire dependent.

Happy birthday to my Katie-Pie.  Love ya, Mommy

Recipe:  Indoor S'more Bars


4 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 sticks butter, melted
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
2 1/3 pound milk chocolate chips,
2 bags large marshmallows


Preheat the oven to 350.

In a large bowl combine the graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar and salt.  Press into a 1/2 sheet jelly roll pan (18x13x1).  Bake the crust for 10-12 minutes, until lightly browned.  Let it cool on a wire rack.

Turn the oven on to broil.

Put the chocolate in a large microwaveable bowl.  Microwave for 30 second intervals, stirring after each interval, until the chocolate is melted.  Pour the melted chocolate over the graham cracker crust, making sure to cover the crust with chocolate completely.  (At this point, you can reserve a little of the chocolate to drizzle over the top to decorate.)

Scatter the marshmallows over the chocolate.  Press the marshmallows into the chocolate so that very little of the chocolate is visible.

Place the whole assembly into the oven.  Broil for mere seconds (WATCH CAREFULLY), just long enough to lightly toast the marshmallows.

Remove from the oven and drizzle with remaining chocolate.  Place in the refrigerator to firm up and then cut into bars.

I am stressing that you must watch the marshmallow toasting carefully because, on my first try, I did not.  Needless to say, I learned from my mistakes. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Do it Yourself

Among the many things I have never attempted is making homemade pasta.  I just never really felt a need to, I guess.  I mean, you can buy any shape you want, conveniently packaged ready to be dropped into boiling water.  Why both with all the kneading and rolling?

But, I do love a challenge.  So, this morning when I saw a recipe in the New York Times for homemade pasta, I thought "what the hell".

I learned something valuable as I attempted to make homemade pasta.  Buying a pasta rolling machine is essential if I'm ever going to do this again.  I wouldn't have bothered working out this morning had I know that I would be rolling out pasta.  Using a rolling pin to roll the dough to "not quite paper thin" requires more upper body strength than I currently possess.

Nonetheless, despite the absence of one of those nifty pasta rolling machines, my first effort was fairly impressive.  The pasta looked real, and that's half the battle, don't you think?

It also tasted pretty good, if I do say so myself.  The sauce which had creme fraiche and heavy cream as key ingredients didn't hurt either.

I plan to try making pasta again, but not until I find my way over to Sur la Table.  My arms can't take all that rolling.

Recipe:  Basic Dough for Fresh Egg Noodles
(David Tanis, New York Times, March 6, 2013)


2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks, beaten
Semolina or rice flour, for dusting


Put flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Add eggs and yolks, and mix with hands or wooden spoon for a minute or so, until dough comes together. (Alternatively, use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.) If dough seems dry or crumbly, add 1 or 2 tablespoons cold water, but only enough to keep the dough together.

Turn dough out onto a board and knead to form a ball. Flatten dough ball to a 1-inch-thick disk, wrap in plastic, and let rest at room temperature for at least 1 hour (several hours is fine).

Divide dough into 4 pieces. Knead each piece until smooth. Roll with a rolling pin or pasta machine as thinly as possible (but not quite paper-thin). Cut each sheet in half, making 8 smaller sheets. Dust dough sheets lightly with semolina to keep them from sticking. Stack 2 or 3 sheets, roll loosely, then cut into 1/2-inch-wide noodles or other desired shape. Continue until all dough is used. Gently fluff noodles and spread on a semolina-dusted baking sheet. Refrigerate, uncovered, until ready to cook.

Serves 4

Recipe:  Fresh Pasta With Prosciutto and Peas
(David Tanis, New York Times, March 6, 2013)


1 cup crème fraîche
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 cups shelled peas, or snow peas
Fresh egg noodles (see recipe)
4 slices prosciutto (about 2 ounces), cut into 1/4-inch ribbons
1 tablespoon finely cut chives
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving


Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Put crème fraîche, cream and butter in a wide, deep skillet over medium heat. Turn off heat as soon as mixture is hot, and stir to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper and a little nutmeg.

Plunge peas in boiling water and let cook for 1 minute. Remove with a mesh spider or slotted spoon and add to cream mixture.

Drop noodles in boiling water and cook until they rise to the surface, about 1 minute. Taste a noodle to see if it is sufficiently cooked. It should be firm-tender, just past al dente.

Drain pasta and add to skillet. Sprinkle with prosciutto and chives, then toss gently to coat with sauce. Divide among warmed bowls and serve immediately. Pass grated Parmesan at table.

Monday, March 4, 2013

It's A Good Thing I Like My Orthopedist

A couple of years ago, my friend Heidi was really enthusiastic about exercise boot camp.  She was doing it out in California (in the nice weather), and she raved about how enjoyable it was to exercise outside. It sounded good to me, so I decided to give it a try.

My boot camp leader had a somewhat sadistic streak.  This became very evident when, as I was running around the track (at 5:30 in the morning),  I heard/felt a troubling pop in my knee.  A smart person would have stopped running to assess the damage, but my trainer kept screaming at me to run.  So I ran.  And I ran.  And I ran until I couldn't walk.

Then I had knee surgery to repair a "shredded" meniscus, and spent the next couple of months on crutches and in physical therapy.

After regaining mobility in my knee, I decided to try something a little less challenging.  I decided the best course of action was to take a nice little walk in the park.  Anyone can walk, right?

Nope.  On my first day out, I felt a little twinge in my foot.  I was at least a mile from home, and had no cell phone with me.  By the time I crawled home and removed my shoe, my foot was at least twice it's original size.  I figured it was just bruised so I hobbled around on it for six weeks.

It did seem like it was taking a long time to heal, so I finally admitted defeat limped over to my orthopedist's office.  Numerous x-rays later, I was informed (by my amused orthopedist), that I had broken my foot and that I would have to trade in my Prada sandals (the only shoes into which I could fit my swollen foot),  for an attractive large black boot.  I cried.  It was ugly and my foot was... broken.

I went on an exercise hiatus after the broken foot.

Deep down inside I am an optimist.  I refused to give up on the notion that I could have a flat stomach and firm thighs.   And so, last September I decided to give exercise another try.  I first took up spinning, which was fun and required very little coordination.  This was good news for me.  I also threw in some Pure Barre classes, which was... hard... and hurst a lot.   I couldn't even tell you what we did at Pure Barre.  It just involved a lot of standing still, tucking in my butt and squeezing.  How could something with so little motion be so painful?

I have finally decided to just bite the bullet and join a gym.  I have gotten myself a trainer, and also developed a love affair with the treadmill.  I think I like the treadmill because I can watch the 8:00 a.m. hour of the Today Show.  Distraction, I have discovered, is the key to all exercise.

So far I haven't had any exercise induced injuries.   I'm being careful.  I think my orthopedist has seen enough of me.

This recipe has absolutely nothing to do with exercise.  It does, however taste good.

Recipe:  Salmon with Lentils
Barefoot in Paris, 2004


1⁄2 pound French green lentils (lentilles du Puy)
1⁄4 cup good olive oil, plus extra for salmon
2 cups chopped yellow onions
2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts only
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
1 1⁄2 cups chopped celery (4 stalks)
1 1⁄2 cups chopped carrots (3 carrots)
1 1⁄2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons good red wine vinegar
4 (8-ounce) center-cut salmon fillets, skin removed


Place the lentils in a heat-proof bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside for 15 minutes, then drain.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a saute pan, add the onions, leeks, thyme, salt, and pepper and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the drained lentils, celery, carrots, chicken stock, and tomato paste. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Add the vinegar and season, to taste.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

For the salmon, heat a dry oven-proof saute pan over high heat for 4 minutes. Meanwhile, rub both sides of the salmon fillets with olive oil and season the tops very liberally with salt and pepper. When the pan is very hot, place the salmon fillets seasoning-sides down in the pan and cook over medium heat without moving them for 2 minutes, until very browned. Turn the fillets and place the pan in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until the salmon is cooked through.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pot Roast for Dinner

I know I complain about the weather a lot.  It's not my fault.  My husband moved me to the polar zone from Southern California ten years ago and I've either been too hot, or more often too cold, ever since.  Some might blame it on the The Change of Life, but I'd rather blame Ted.  It's so much more convenient.

In any case, it's March and it's still freezing.  It's icy and snowy outside.  Frankly, I'd be happy if I didn't have to leave my house until the spring thaw.  But judging from what it looks like outside, that could be a long time and we'd run out of food. Or laundry detergent.

Cold weather, in my opinion, calls for cold weather food.  And what's better than pot roast when you're freezing to death?

A couple of years ago, I made the Pioneer Woman's pot roast.  It was okay... nothing special.  This led me to make several other pot roasts in my search for the most delicious pot roast.  Let me tell you, if you've ever googled "pot roast", you would know that you get as many results as you do for say Kate Middleton.

It's funny how the perfect thing, or the perfect recipe in this case, was right under my nose.  That's right.  I proclaim Ina Garten's Company Pot Roast to be the most delicious pot roast of all.

Here's the thing about Ina's pot roast.  It's simple.  It's the kind of pot roast my mother would have made, had my mother actually ever made a pot roast.  It's got the carrots and the celery.  It's also got a hearty splash of booze, red wine and Cognac.  What's not better with a little booze?

Company Pot Roast is just what you need on a cold winter night... even if you're not having company.

Make sure to check out today's post on My Year of Unspending.

Recipe:  Company Pot Roast
Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, 2008


1 (4 to 5-pound) prime boneless beef chuck roast, tied
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
All-purpose flour
Good olive oil
2 cups chopped carrots (4 carrots)
2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
2 cups chopped celery (4 stalks)
2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (2 to 4 leeks)
5 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 cups good red wine, such as Burgundy
2 tablespoons Cognac or brandy
1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes in puree
1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 chicken bouillon cube
3 branches fresh thyme
2 branches fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Pat the beef dry with a paper towel. Season the roast all over with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Dredge the whole roast in flour, including the ends. In a large Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the roast and sear for 4 to 5 minutes, until nicely browned. Turn and sear the other side and then turn and sear the ends. This should take 4 to 5 minutes for each side. Remove the roast to a large plate.

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the Dutch oven. Add the carrots, onions, celery, leeks, garlic, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper and cook over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender but not browned. Add the wine and Cognac and bring to a boil. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, bouillon cube, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Tie the thyme and rosemary together with kitchen string and add to the pot. Put the roast back into the pot, bring to a boil, and cover. Place in the oven for 2 1/2 hours, until the meat is fork tender or about 160 degrees F internally. Turn the heat down to 250 degrees F after about an hour to keep the sauce at a simmer.

Remove the roast to a cutting board. Remove the herb bundle and discard. Skim off as much fat as possible from the sauce. Transfer half the sauce and vegetables to a blender or a food processor fitted with the steel blade and puree until smooth. Pour the puree back into the pot, place on the stovetop over low heat, and return the sauce to a simmer. Place 2 tablespoons flour and the butter in a small bowl and mash them together with a fork. Stir into the sauce and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring until thickened. Taste for seasonings. Remove the strings from the roast, and slice the meat. Serve warm with the sauce spooned over it.