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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Double Duty

We eat a lot of fish around here.  In fact, sometimes I think we eat so much fish that I'm going to grow fins.  I guess there are worse fates, (eating a lot of fish, not growing fins -- which would be bad), but sometimes it's a challenge to come up with new and exciting ways to prepare it.  In fact, sometimes it's a good idea to go back to the tried and true.  Going back to the one recipe that was always a hit, is often the best new recipe you can introduce.

Such is the case with Ina's Swordfish with Tomatoes and Capers.  The sauce is easy and literally has nothing in it that's bad for you.  If you're really virtuous, you can leave out the tablespoon of butter, but I think it really smoothes out the sauce.  Otherwise, we're talking about fennel, onions, and tomatoes.  It's fresh, and it's delicious.

An added bonanza of this recipe, is that I like the sauce with grilled chicken as well.  It's just as light and tasty as with the fish, and makes the same lovely presentation.

Of course, we eat just about as much chicken around here as we do fish, so instead of fins, I suppose we could grown wings!

Recipe:  Swordfish with Tomatoes and Capers
Ina Garten


1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
1 cup chopped fennel (1 bulb)
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
28 ounces canned plum tomatoes, drained
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chicken stock
2 tablespoons good dry white wine
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 (1-inch-thick) swordfish fillets (about 2 1/2 pounds)
Fresh basil leaves


For the sauce, cook the onions and fennel in the oil in a large saute pan on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the drained tomatoes, smashing them in the pan with a fork, plus the salt and pepper. Simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. Add the chicken stock and white wine and simmer for 10 more minutes to reduce the liquid. Add the basil, capers, and butter and cook for 1 minute more.

Prepare a grill with hot coals. Brush the swordfish with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill on high heat for 5 minutes on each side until the center is no longer raw. Do not overcook. Place the sauce on the bottom of a plate, arrange the swordfish on top, and garnish with basil leaves. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Pretty in an Unconventional Way

I like pretty food.  I don't take pretty over tasty, but all things being equal, I like pretty food.  Who doesn't?

I'm always in a conundrum when I go to Whole Foods.  Have you ever looked at their bakery case, the one with all the fancy cupcakes and cakes?  Everything looks just lovely.  All that swirly frosting, tinted in pink and yellow.  It's just got to be good, right?  I mean, it certainly looks good, doesn't it?

Well, I am here to tell you that those lovely cupcakes look far taster than they actually are.  And, unfortunately, Whole Foods is not alone in it's pretty in place of tasty bakery goods.

My friend Mona and I have discussed this issue many times.  (Yes, these are the kinds of things we discuss over coffee.)  We have decided that more often than not, the prettier the cake is, the less likely that it will be stunningly delicious.

That is, unless you make it yourself.  There's just something about a homemade delicacy.  First of all, you know exactly what you're putting into the mixing bowl.  Second of all, while not always professional looking, more often than not, the homemade or, shall we say, rustic look is rather... charming.

This roasted cherry tomato quiche is a perfect example of pretty and tasty.  Leaving the roasted tomatoes on the stems adds a certain amount of rustic charm.  The goat cheese studded custard is truly delicious when paired with the sweetness of the roasted tomatoes.  The pasty shell is flaky.

This is not a quick and easy to whip up recipe.  But remember, true beauty comes from the sum of all it's parts.

Recipe:  Slow Roasted Cherry Tomato and Goat Cheese Quiche
(Simply Delicious.com)

Makes 6 small or 1 large quiche


For the Pastry:
250g flour
125g cold butter, cubed
1 egg yolk
3-4 tablespoons ice water
1 teaspoon salt

For the Roasted Tomatoes:
100g cherry tomatoes, on the vine
3 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar

For the filling:
100g chèvre
4 extra-large eggs
200g Crème fraîche
1 teaspoon sea salt flakes
1 teaspoon fresh white pepper


To make the pastry, combine the flour, butter and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles course breadcrumbs.  Add the egg yolk and with the motor running, add the cold water, spoon by spoon until the mixture comes together in a ball.  Tip out of the processor onto a floured surface and bring together into a disc.  Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge to rest for 15 minutes.

When the pastry has firmed up slightly, roll it out on a floured surface and cut into rounds which will fit your tart shell/shells. Press into the tart shells and place in the fridge for 20 minutes.

To make the roasted tomatoes, pre-heat the oven to 400. Place the tomatoes in a small baking tray and drizzle over the oil and Balsamic vinegar and season with the salt and sugar.
Place in the oven and allow to roast for 30-45 minutes until the tomatoes are blistered but still keep their shape. Remove from the oven and turn the oven down to 350.

To make the filling, whisk together the eggs, Crème fraîche, salt and pepper.

Remove the pastry from the fridge and place a few tomatoes into each tart shell.  Pour over the egg mixture and dot the surface with some of the chèvre.  Place in the oven and allow to bake for 10-12 minutes (for individual sheets), or 30-45 minutes (for large tart),  until the egg is just set but still a little jiggly in the middle.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before serving.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Passing on Passover

Now that we are empty nesters and no one is around, I have to admit that my enthusiasm for childless holidays is somewhat lackluster.  As a result, Ted and I have become very lazy when it comes to actually celebrating holidays.

This week starts Passover.  In past years, I would have spent the entire three days prior to the first seder cooking.  And then cooking some more.  I would have put together a lovely menu, incorporating not only the traditional foods of the holiday, but also some new twists on tradition.  I would have set a beautiful table.  I would have pulled out the good china and the crystal stemware.  Yup, I would have gone all out.

But things have changed.  I can finally admit that I really don't like matzo, and as such I am declaring my house a matzo free zone this Passover.  I don't eat much bread or bread products anyway, nor does Ted, so we'll just think of the next week as a low-carb holiday.  No need to run out to the store to purchase kosher for Passover substitutions for leavened foods.  We'll just do without.  No fuss, no muss.  When the holiday ends, there'll be no leftover matzo, potato starch, matzo cake meal, or Passover Gold noodles to chuck into the trash.

I'm feeling good about this.

For those of you who are observant, good for you.  I admire you for removing every last crumb of leavening from your house.  I admire you for cleaning your kitchen top to bottom so that it's kosher for Passover.  Most of all, I admire your creativity in finding recipes that make an unleavened cookie palatable.  I wish I wanted to do it.

But for now, I'm taking a year off from Passover.  This doesn't mean that I'm not going to observe the rules of the holiday.  It just means that I'm not going to buy $150 worth of kosher for Passover products that I don't think taste good.  I'll be creative within the confines of the holiday.  And I won't cheat.

There is however, one Passover food that, when done well, is sublime.  The coconut macaroon is a thing of beauty.  For years I made Ina Garten's coconut macaroons, and as far as I was concerned, they were the Passover Gold standard.  This year, I'm going rogue.  This recipe from Smitten Kitchen makes a coconut macaroon so delicious I might be tempted to make it at other times of the year too.

Recipe:  Dark Chocolate Coconut Macaroons
(Smitten Kitchen)

Yield: About 4 dozen small cookies


4 ounces (115 grams or about 1/3 cup) unsweetened chocolate (sometimes sold as 99%), chopped small
14 ounces (400 grams) sweetened, flaked coconut
2/3 cup (130 grams) granulated sugar
6 tablespoons (30 grams) cocoa powder
3 large egg whites
Heaped 1/4 teaspoon flaked sea salt or level 1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


Heat oven to 325°F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Heat approximately half of chocolate chunks in a small saucepan until just melted, then, off the heat, stir in the remaining chunks until they’re smooth. The residual heat should be enough to melt them and leave the mixture lukewarm; if it’s not, heat the mixture again until just melted, but not very hot.

In a food processor, blend the coconut for one full minute. Add sugar and cocoa powder, blend another full minute. Add egg whites, salt and vanilla and blend until combined, then the melted chocolate until smooth. With a tablespoon measure or cookie scoop (I used a #70 scoop), scoop batter into 1-inch mounds. You can arrange the cookies fairly close together as they don’t spread, just puff a bit.

Bake cookies for 15 minutes, until the macaroons are shiny and just set. Let them rest on the tray for 10 minutes after baking (or you can let them fully cool in place, if you’re not in a rush to use the tray again), as they’ll be hard to move right out of the oven. They’ll firm up as they cool, but still remain softer and less dry inside than traditional macaroons. Thank goodness.

Dust them with a little powdered sugar once they’re cool. They’ll keep in an airtight container for about one week.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Slow and Steady

Here's the good news.  On the heels of yesterday's successful zucchini bread, I actually had a little hankering to flip through a cookbook.  This may not sound like a big deal to you, but as we have discussed, I haven't been much in the mood for cookbook perusing.

It's amazing what you can come up with when you look at a cookbook that you haven't looked at in a long time.  It's almost as rewarding as pulling on a pair of jeans that you haven't worn in a while only to find they're loose.  Things like that just put you in a good mood for the rest of the day.

Such was the case as I paged my way through Weeknights with Giada.  I'm not sure I've ever made anything from this cookbook, despite having owned it for several years.  In fact, I'm not even sure I've ever spent the time to really consider what was inside because everything, and I mean everything, sounded really good to me.  Go figure.

But I digress.  I am a big fan of meatballs.  I just love them.  I'm especially fond of the little ones, kind of the size of Swedish meatballs.  (In my opinion, the only reason to ever go to an Ikea is because they have those cute little meatballs.  Otherwise, who really needs a Durg or an Iptu?)

But enough with Ikea.  Back to the meatballs.

These are little balls of heaven.  First of all, they're lamb, and who doesn't love lamb?  Secondly, they're packed full of all those delicious Greek flavors: cumin, oregano... You have the idea.  They're lightly fried and then simmered in a jar of marinara sauce.  What could be easier?  What could be tastier?

So things appear to be looking up on the dinner front.  I cooked and it was good.  I didn't even mind getting my hands dirty and rolling those cute little meatballs.

All in all, I think the slump is lifting.  Let's see what tomorrow brings, shall we?

Recipe:  Sweet and Spicy Greek Meatballs (Keftedes Me Saltsa Domata)
(Giada DeLaurentiis)


1 pound ground lamb, or 20-percent fat ground beef
1 cup cooked and cooled couscous
3 scallions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 egg, at room temperature, beaten
¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons dried mint
1 ½ tablespoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Sauce and Finish Meatballs:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 (25-ounce) jar marinara sauce
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon


In a large bowl, mix together the lamb, couscous, scallions, garlic, egg, parsley, olive oil, mint, oregano, salt, cumin, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper. Form the mixture into 15 to 16 (2-inch diameter) meatballs.
To make 1 cup cooked couscous, bring 1/2 cup water or stock to a boil. Add 1/3 cup uncooked couscous and cover the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed. Fluff with a fork and a

Sauce and Finish Meatballs:
Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs and cook until brown on all sides, about 6 minutes. Add the marinara sauce, cinnamon sticks, and ground cinnamon. Bring the sauce to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, turning occasionally, until the meatballs are cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. Discard the cinnamon sticks. Transfer the meatballs and sauce to a large bowl and serve.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Baby Steps

It's official.  I am in the worst cooking slump of my life.  Not just the worst slump in recent years, but the worst slump ever.  This slump is so slumpy that it harkens back to the days when I though cooking was dumping a can of cream of mushroom soup over some chicken pieces.  In fact, given my lack of motivation, I am somewhat surprised that I haven't resurrected that delectable recipe and served it up to Ted for dinner.

Yes.  It's that bad.

Not that there's anything wrong with cream of mushroom soup.

But here I am.  Another week.  More dinners to slog my way through.  This is not, by the way, an attitude that suggests delicious multi course meals awaiting Ted when he gets home from the office.

What to do?  What to do?

Start small.  Make something I like.  Make something for which I have all the ingredients already on hand.  Make something I know will work.  That's the ticket.  No fuss.  No muss.  No disasters.

What could be better than a quick little quick bread to get the dust off and get me back into the mood?  I always find making a loaf of something, anything, to be very satisfying.  And easy.  And successful.

I had a couple of zucchinis hanging out in the frig, probably from when I thought I would make them to go along with dinner.  Well, that didn't happen, now did it?  Nope.  But here they are, a couple of weeks later, looking a little tired.  Clearly they're a little past their prime and in no condition for even a supporting role at dinner.

Zucchini bread it is.  And since I'm all about success in this venture, who better to turn to than Smitten Kitchen?  I always say: "Check Smitten Kitchen first".  And so I did.

And I am happy to report that the results were encouraging.   The loaf rose nicely and looks pretty.  And it tastes really good too.  Too bad I can't make a main course out of zucchini bread for dinner tonight.

Maybe tomorrow?

Recipe:  Zucchini Bread
Adapted from several sources/Smitten Kitchen


3 eggs
1 cup olive or vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 cups grated zucchini
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
1 cup dried cranberries, raisins or chocolate chips or a combination thereof (optional)


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grease and flour two 8×4 inch loaf pans, liberally. Alternately, line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk. Mix in oil and sugar, then zucchini and vanilla.

Combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder and salt, as well as nuts, chocolate chips and/or dried fruit, if using.

Stir this into the egg mixture. Divide the batter into prepared pans.

Bake loaves for 60 minutes, plus or minus ten, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Muffins will bake far more quickly, approximately 20 to 25 minutes.