Thursday, December 22, 2011

Biscuits for (Wo)Man's Best Friend

The shopping is done.  The presents are wrapped and placed under the tree.  But perhaps there is one member of your family you may have forgotten.  Have you forgotten your best friend?  She is always there for you, through thick and through thin, unconditional love, whether you want it or not.  Why not do something special for your four legged friend this year?  Why give just another stuffed toy that will be ripped apart and gutted in a matter of minutes?  What does your pup love more than discovering that squeaker?  People food, plain and make some doggie treats and show your pup how much you love him or her.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Shortbread, Any Way You Like It

You may find yourself wanting to bake some cookies for Christmas.  Maybe you're not quite up to the big Christmas cookie bake-a-thon.  Maybe you want to bake just one cookie that you can either eat plain or douse in chocolate.  Maybe you want nuts, and maybe you are not feeling too nutty. This is a very adaptable recipe.  I wouldn't call this a kid kind of cookie recipe.  It's more sophisticated.  It's not a dunk in your milk cookie, its more like a nice cookie to have with a cup of tea or a cappuccino.

My mother used to bake shortbread stars for Christmas.  It was her cookie.  As children, my brother and I had no interest.   I guess that's why her shortbread stars were always the last remaining Christmas cookie in the tin.  Oh, did I mention that shortbread cookies keep well, sealed tight in a tin?  Now I get the appeal.  I've made several shortbread cookies over the years and find Ina Garten, a woman with no fear of butter, has a great shortbread recipe.  My mother always made her shortbread using powdered sugar rather than granulated sugar.  Combining my mom's recipe with Ina's produced a crisp, buttery, delicious cookie.  Dipped in bittersweet chocolate, they become something special.  To dip or not to dip....I split the batch and make them both ways.  Whip up a batch and see what a great, versatile cookie this can be .  By the way, it's OK if you want to add this recipe to your bake-a-thon as well.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Creamy Broccoli Soup, Without the Cream

So if you are like most people, you are in the midst of holiday mode.  Almost everyone deviates from their usual eating habits this time of year.  Shopping and eating on the run, the inevitable treats that invade the office, parties and social gatherings can wreak havoc on the diets of the most disciplined eater.  It's always good to have a few light dinner ideas to counteract the evils of holiday indulgences.

This broccoli soup is a perfect antidote for a day of bad eating.  I find myself making a soup like this for a light dinner after Paul spends a Sunday afternoon with the boys watching football.  Watching football really means eating wings, nachos, pigs in a blanket and drinking beer.  He's not usually hungry for dinner on those days, but at 7:30 or 8:00pm he's looking for something to fill "his empty spot".  A bowl of soup served with a crusty bread does the trick.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gingerbread Heaven, Spice Up Your Life!

This is not a gingerbread for anyone who may be afraid of a little spice. It has beaucoup spice.  It has a deep, dark, rich flavor. It is ooey, gooey, and yes, a little bit chewy and did I mention it is delicious?  Well, it is.  I discovered this recipe a few years ago and have loved it ever since.  It was developed by a chef at the Gramercy Tavern.  I don't believe it is offered on their menu any longer, but the recipe is alive and well thanks to the internet.  This recipe has been written about so much, I hesitated to blog about it for fear of sounding redundant.  But if even one gingerbread lover reads it here and decides to give it a try, my efforts will not have been in vain.  I have no personal story about this cake, but I do have some strong words of advice.  Heed my warning and you will be rewarded.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Easy Enchiladas with 20 Minute Enchilada Sauce

We returned from Orlando last week and eased back into the work week.   I needed to do some food shopping before heading back to work.  I picked up a few items to get us started, but soon realized that a run to Costco was in order.  I made a short list of Costco worthy items and convinced Paul to do the Costco run.  I don't know why I did that.  I should know that he will come with everything on the list as well as everything else that tickles his fancy and his fancy is easily tickled.   One of the things that Paul can't seem to pass up is the rotisserie chicken.

Now, if you've been reading my blog you know that I think Costco rotisserie chickens are a shortcut made in heaven.  My Green and White Chicken Chili and Polenta Crusted Chicken Pot Pies are two favorite recipes that use rotisserie chicken.  It's just that we've been eating so much Turkey since Thanksgiving.   Lauren and Matt made a fantastic Thanksgiving turkey, but I had to make another turkey breast for Paul when we got home so he could have the turkey sandwiches and leftovers he so loves.  I was a little roast poultried-out ( yes, I know it's not a word).  The last thing I wanted to see was a Costco rotisserie chicken.  I think I snarled when I saw it sitting on the kitchen counter and said something like, "I hope you can eat a whole chicken"  Well, he couldn't.  So for his penance, he stripped it off the bones, cut it all into bite sized pieces, in hopes that I would transform it into something that doesn't scream chicken.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Herb and Onion Bread

When was the last time you baked bread?   What's that?  Can't quite remember?  Oh wait, you've never even tried to make bread?  I haven't baked bread in quite a while either.  It's not for the lack of desire, it's more like I just don't have the time.  Bread baking requires a day spent at home.  When I was a little girl snow days were bread baking days.  I have fond memories of walking into the house after a day of playing in the snow, to a warm kitchen filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread.

As a matter of fact, my mother only baked bread on snow days.  Maybe a snowstorm meant we wouldn't be getting our bread delivery that day.  Back then, we used to have bread delivered to the house. The Dugan's Bakery truck, a.k.a. the Dugan man would deliver baked goods to our neighborhood once a week.  I loved the Dugan man.  What's not to love?  A good looking man in a uniform would ring the doorbell bearing crumb cake, chocolate cupcakes and bread.  I think I had a crush on him.   I remember inviting him into our house after Christmas to show off my new toys.  Either he was truly a nice man and liked kids, or he feigned interest, a shrewd business move.  Be nice to the kids, and mom buys more.

The Dugan man is long gone, and most of the bread we eat today comes from the grocery store or an occasional bakery purchase.  But nothing can quite compare to a loaf of homemade bread.  I recently resurrected an old bread recipe I used to make.  The recipe comes from an almost 40 year old cookbook, The Vegetarian Epicure, that I've had since my Santa Cruz days.  It's not your typical bread recipe.  From start to finish it takes less than 2 1/2 hours to make, and most of it is rising and baking time.  It goes perfectly with a piping hot bowl of soup.  A turkey sandwich made on this bread tastes just like Thanksgiving.  Give it a try.  It's quick. It's easy. It's delicious.  Start it late in the day while you are making dinner and serve it warm.  If you're a newbie to bread making, its a great place to start.  I used my Kitchen Aid Mixer, but you can easily mix this by hand.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pumpkin Cheesecake Squares

Are you sick of pumpkin yet?  I'm not.  Pumpkin is one of those things that most people either love or hate.  I fall into the first category.  As much as I like pumpkin, I only cook with it in the fall.  Thanksgiving is the end of pumpkin season for me.  Earlier this week I made penne with a pumpkin sage sauce for dinner.  I used some canned pumpkin to make the sauce leaving me with a cup of pumpkin to either use, or let it sit in the fridge for the week and eventually end up in the compost bin.  A cup of pumpkin usually finds its way into a small batch of muffins, but I was feeling somewhat adventurous and decided to do something different.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Philly Fluff Cake

Yesterday was a freakishly cold and snowy day here in NY.  It was the kind of day that begged for the oven to be turned on.  It would have been the perfect day to have something slow roast in the oven, adding a little extra warmth to the house.  We were meeting friends for dinner, so there was no need to cook.  If it were December, it would have been the perfect day to bake Christmas cookies.  But it was not December.  I sat in front of the fire for a while and read through a bunch of recipes I had clipped from magazines and newspapers.  I remember cutting out a recipe for Philly Fluff cake a while back, and was hoping it was in that file.  My memory did not fail me.  I found the clipping taken from the newspaper on May 10, 2000.  Seriously, I remembered that?  After reading the recipe, I realized it called for an odd sized kugelhopf pan???  Definitely don't have a kugelhopf pan.  I jumped on the internet to research an equivalent, and came across an updated recipe that called for a larger bundt pan.  That, I had.

When I do my grocery shopping, I am always on the lookout for good sales on baking staples.  I'm talking about butter, cream cheese, chocolate, nuts, different flours and sugars among other things.  Last week I picked up a bunch of cream cheese and some 60% cocoa, bittersweet chocolate.  As I was putting the cream cheese in the fridge, Philly Fluff came into my head.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Swedish Apple Cake

October is flying by all to quickly.  I've wanted to share this recipe for some time now, I just haven't had the chance. It's a simple coffee cake, that tastes and smells like autumn.  Apples are the star in this cake, accompanied by a little cinnamon.  It's really nothing fancy, just plain old fashioned goodness.

Most of the apples from this year's apple picking adventure have been turned into apple sauce or apple butter and are tucked away on a shelf in the basement.  I had promised Paul an appley dessert, but had difficulty narrowing down what I felt like making.  He was pushing for a pie, but I prefer to make a pie when there are enough mouths around to consume it in a day.  Day-old pie just doesn't cut it in my book.  I wanted to make something that would last a few days, have an apple forward flavor, and not be overloaded with spice.  Oh yeah,  and I wanted something that Paul could put vanilla ice cream on so he won't think about the fact that I didn't make him a pie.  And then I remembered this recipe...Sockerkaka Med Applen, aka, Swedish Apple Cake.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mom's Biscuits, and a Jam Tasting

My son Matthew was in town for a few days and as always,  there was too little time and too much to do.    He is a sucker for anything I cook, and always looks forward to home cooked anything.  Matt hates to make any specific food requests because as much as he enjoys my cooking, he doesn't want me to be slave to the kitchen when he is in town.  We usually strike a good balance with some home cooking and a visit to someplace for seafood, and the mandatory pizza.     

Matt's last visit was in June during strawberry season.  We all went strawberry picking back then.  He never got to see the fruits of our labor in jam form.  I made strawberry jam and strawberry rhubarb jam from that bounty.  As a matter of fact, he missed my whole jam packed, jam making summer.  I thought it would be fun to include a Jam Tasting in Sunday's breakfast.  You just can't taste jam straight out of the jar.  It needs a vehicle.  Well, when Matthew is home, the only vehicle of choice is biscuits.  Matthew loves biscuits.  I mean, he LOVES biscuits. So...I made some biscuits...and he tasted.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Pumpkin Pecan Belgian Waffles

Have you ever had one of those days where you just felt like you had eat something pumpkin?  Weird right?  I was out east for a few days where everything looked and felt like fall.  The wineries were buzzing as the grapes were being harvested.  Farm stands were at their best, brimming with cauliflower, broccoli, apples and beautiful fall chrysanthemums.  There were bales of hay, corn mazes and the most sincere pumpkin patches.  I was so looking forward to this little trip, a few days of tasting wine, dining on local seafood, and soaking up the NOFO ambiance,  but unfortunately the weather did not cooperate and I had a nasty head cold the whole time.  Head cold + wine tasting= bad combination.  I went through "the motions" with everyone else, so not to be the party pooper,  but I felt as if my head was in a cloud and secretly longed to be under the covers in my own bed.  I did manage to shoot a few pictures one day.  The sun poked in and out between showers.
Looking toward Shelter Island
A break of sunshine

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Roasted Eggplant and Vegetable Spread

September is winding down and so is my vegetable garden.  This week we said a sad goodbye to our tomato plants.  Last year our tomatoes lasted well into October, but I think the volume of rain that has fallen since the end of August just plain did them in.  Tomatoes were splitting on the vine even though we were picking like crazy.  Paul managed to pick about 4 more pounds of tomatoes before those vines met their fate in the compost heap.   I still have some jalapeƱos growing and will most likely pick and pickle them by next weekend....and yes, the eggplant is still going strong.  

We planted 2 Black Beauty eggplant vines this year.  At first I wasn't sure they would make it.  They were a slow go, but once the summer heated up and the rain fell, those vines have been producing like gangbusters.  Right now there are about a dozen eggplants left on the vines and I am running out of eggplant enthusiasm.  I have made eggplant Parmesan, eggplant gratin, roasted eggplant, stuffed eggplant, grilled eggplant, ratatouille and given quite a bit of eggplant away.  One of my favorite ways to get rid of  prepare eggplant is to roast it with some aromatic vegetables and create a delicious and versatile "spread".  I put the word "spread" in quotes because you will see, it is much more than a spread.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Brandied Peaches, Tucked Away for Winter

If you recall, the weekend before last was my frenzied weekend of canning, cooking, baking and general stickiness.  I think this year was a stellar year for peaches.  It saddens me to think that they will soon be gone.  I picked up a few pounds of peaches that weekend to tuck away for a dreary winter's day.  Peaches go great with booze, as you may already know.  I posted a simple recipe for Peachy Boozy Turnovers a few weeks ago. The turnovers were spiked with bourbon.  I decided to preserve my peaches with the addition of brandy this time.  After all, it was still sitting on the counter having just finished making my fig jam.

To be honest, I have not made brandied peaches in years.  I believe fruit is best eaten fresh.  I never, ever, ever buy canned fruit.  We only eat fruit in season or occasionally use frozen fruit to make a smoothie.  I just couldn't bear the thought of the end of peach season.  A few jars tucked away will be a welcome treat in the midst of winter.  Canning the peaches in an a light syrup spiked with brandy is not a substitute for fresh fruit.  I like to think of brandied peaches as an ingredient for something bigger, like a peach shortcake or a crepe stuffed with peaches and vanilla ice cream.  How about serving them on Christmas morning with your French toast?  Use your imagination!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Italian Prune Plum Jam and Some Reflection

     I really did not intend to write anything about the 10th Anniversary of 9-11 in this post.  What could I possibly say that hasn't already been said?  On the other hand, how could I ignore it?  It was a day that changed our world forever.  It was a day that touched the lives of my family, friends and neighbors.  It was a day that changed our country and maybe for the first time, made us feel vulnerable as a nation.
     After hearing the news, I left work and after what seemed to be an endless commute home, I turned on the TV and watched in utter disbelief.  I kept thinking to myself... this could not really be happening.  I would walk out my front door and look to the sky.  It was eerily silent.  No planes coming or going from nearby JFK.  Occasionally I would hear the scream of a military jet, an unfamiliar sound around these parts.  The sky was a different color and the smoke obscured the western sky for days.  I remember going down the beach with Melissa and seeing U.S. Naval ships sitting off the coast of Long Beach.  I remember telling her that they were there to protect us and that everything would be OK.   I think I was trying to convince myself.  This really was happening, and it was too real.
     The weeks and months that followed were filled with sadness and fear.  What I came to realize in the following days, is that I should never take anything for granted.  All these years, I would say goodbye to Paul and my kids as they left the house in the morning, but never really bothered to be truly thankful upon their returned.  They were supposed to return.  It was expected that they would return.  It was something that I just took for granted.  On September 11, 2001,  too many people who were expected to return,  never returned home to their loved ones.
     Every year, the world becomes a more complicated place.  I was thinking about that a lot when I started this post a few days ago.  Sometimes I wish we could just go back to that safe and secure feeling that we had as children.  Perhaps we were really no safer, we just didn't know any better.

     When I was growing up, my best friend's father had a beautiful vegetable garden.  He also had a few plum trees in the backyard.  One tree produced beautiful, juicy red plums.  The other tree produced small dark plums with green insides.  Those small dark plums with the green insides were also very tart and just didn't compare with the taste of the red juicy plums.  The red plums were the prize plums.  The little dark plums were usually left on the tree, feeling sad and dejected, until they fell to the ground and turned to mush.  We called those plums "ockies".  I have no idea why, but that became their name for all time.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Drunken Fig Jam

So much to do, so little time.  That's how I feel lately.  This weekend has been a whirlwind of canning, cooking and baking and feeling somewhat pressured.  This pressure was all brought on by myself.  I have an obligation (I hate that word) to not waste the gazillion sweet millions tomatoes and bumper crop of eggplant in my garden.  I have herbs that need to be dried, frozen or turned into something else.  Oh, and prolific jalapenos need pickling, add that to my to do list.  Before I get into the eggplant and tomato mess,  I found myself running to the market on Friday to pick up a baguette and some garlic.  I decided to cruise through the produce section since I was there anyway.  I noticed the new crop of early apples creeping in and it suddenly dawned on me, summer is fading away and will soon be just a memory.  I walked straight past the peaches and quickly did an about face and decided to pick up just a few more pounds.  Then I zoomed in on some Italian prune plums, and thought to myself, isn't there something I wanted to make with those?  Oh, I'll pick up just a few pounds of those too.  And then there were figs, beautiful plump fresh figs.  Now how much longer are these babies going to be around?  Yes, I talk to myself mostly because I like my answers.  There were so many fig recipes I had planned to try.  A few pounds of figs magically jumped into my basket.

I soon returned home with my figs, plums, peaches and yes, my baguette and garlic. They all joined the  eggplant, tomatoes, jalapenos, herbs and I forget to mention, the over-ripened bananas that I promised to magically turn into muffins for Paul.  Like I said, so much to do, so little time.

It is now Monday morning.  My frenzy is over, at least for now.  My kitchen is sort of sticky and is crying out for a good cleaning.  I have lots of blogging material and tons of pictures to sort through.  But this weekend was not all work.  We got to go out one night for a nice osso bucco dinner and last night we went to Jones Beach to see Stevie Nicks in concert. (yea Groupon!)  Yup, its Labor Day.  The unofficial end of summer.  Today I may just take the day off, because tomorrow at 8:30AM my quiet summer is over, but that's another story.  I won't go there.  I don't even want think about it.  I do want to tell you about this drunken fig jam.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hurricanes, Earthquakes and Avocado Shrimp Salad

It's been a crazy week here in NY.  Last week started out with an earthquake and ended with a hurricane.  By the grace of God, my immediate neighborhood escaped the hurricane unscathed.  When I ventured out after the storm, I was shocked to see the damage just a few blocks away; fallen trees and branches that crushed roofs of houses and cars, sidewalks damaged by uprooted trees and downed wires leaving homes and businesses without electricity.  Closer to the water, people were pumping out their basements, and in some cases,  main floors of their homes.  But in the grand scheme of things, it could have been a lot worse, a whole lot worse, and I am thankful for having escaped the wrath of Mother Nature.

The earthquake was a real shocker.  It had been many years since I'd felt the earth move like that.  When I lived in Santa Cruz I experienced my share of quakes, so I immediately recognized that familiar "wave-like" motion of my office chair.  I felt that quick rush of adrenaline that only an earthquake brings.  The earthquake was the topic of conversation for the next few days (until we learned that a hurricane was headed our way) and made me think a lot about Santa Cruz.  I was long gone from Santa Cruz when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit in 1989.  That earthquake destroyed several buildings downtown in the Pacific Garden Mall, one of which was The Cooper House.  It broke my heart to learn that the beautiful old building that was once a courthouse and withstood the 1901 earthquake was damaged beyond repair.  The Cooper House was the heart of downtown.  In the 1960's it was converted to house shops and eateries, my favorite was the Cooper House Cafe.  I spent many days basking in the sun at this outdoor cafe, sipping wine, listening the sounds of  Warmth, the jazz band that played there for years, and watching the pajama people.  Pajama people is the name we affectionately gave to the regulars who danced on the sidewalk, swaying to the jazzy sounds of Warmth, oblivious to the world around them.  They were one with the music.  They would occasionally ensnare an unsuspecting tourist into their web of dance.  Some people got into it, others would squirm away in disgust.  It was my favorite place to people watch.  And yes, they looked like they were wearing their pajamas.  They dressed like colorfully mismatched Hare Krishnas.

So you are probably wondering what this has to do with avocado shrimp salad.  When I had some extra money, (I was young and poor back then, except on payday) and I wanted to be extra nice to myself,  I would splurge and get an avocado stuffed with shrimp to go along with my wine.  I think that was the only thing I ever ordered at Cooper House, but it was all I needed.  Shrimp and avocado are such a natural combination.  Now my favorite way to make shrimp salad is with diced avocado.  I add citrus and a relatively small amount of mayo.   A ripe Haas avocado seems to melt when combined with the citrus and makes a creamy dressing that is so much better than the run of the mill mayo shrimp salad.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Summer... Baked in a Tart

     My dad loved bakeries.  Actually, what he really loved were baked goods.  If my mom did not keep him supplied in his favorite desserts, he would eventually find his way to a local bakery.  Not all bakeries were created equal in his mind, so different bakeries filled different needs.  Everbest Bakery was the place to go for Sunday morning rolls, coconut buns and danish.  George's was the place to get a California crumb cake to bring to Aunt Ann and Uncle Joe's down in Rockaway on Saturday night.  Riesterers had the best Christmas specialties, like Linzer torte and gingerbread.  Malverne bakery was his go to place for open fruit cakes, tarts and pies.  I loved to go to the Malverne Bakery with him.  On a RARE occasion, he would bring home a 7 layer cake.  I always hoped that he would spring for a chocolate cake, but oddly enough, the man who loved his desserts, hated chocolate cake.  The Malverne bakery had the BEST chocolate cake!  I had experience their chocolaty perfection many times at my friends' birthday parties.  I don't know why I went with him.  It was such a disappointment when he picked the fruit tart or french apple cake.  When I was 8 years old, I firmly believed that fruit had no place on a cake, and peach skin, BLAH!  Now that 8 years old is just a distant memory, I've learned that there is life beyond chocolate and fruit has its place in the world of desserts.
      I love the look of a fresh fruit tart.  I love the delicate golden crust.  I love the perfection of the fruit.  I love the glisten of the glaze.  The perfect fruit tart is a feast for the eyes and as well as the soul.  A fresh fruit tart is a fitting dessert for weekend BBQ or a New England Clam Bake.  It is a celebration of the season baked in a crust.  I usually bake simple tarts.  I choose a fruit in the season, bake it in a sweet buttery crust and lightly brush the whole thing with an orange or apricot glaze.   But every once in a while, I pull out all the stops and go for the bells and whistles.  I'm talking custard, berries, peaches, kiwi and yes, just a touch of bourbon.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Grilled Tequila Lime Chicken

I bought a sack of limes at the market the other day.  After I brought them home, I realized that I now had an obligation.  I hate having a food commitment.  I'm more of a shop-as-you-go kind of person.  What was I thinking?  One cannot live on Margaritas and Mojitos alone, so I decided to grill up some Tequila Lime Chicken, the quick version.  I've made Ina Garten's version many times.  I've also modified it many times.  Ina uses a LOT of citrus in her marinade and she lets it sit in the marinade at least 8 hours.  I've had two major issues with this.  For one thing, all that lime juice reacts with the chicken and starts to "cook " the chicken.  Not cook, in the sense that you will be able to eat it, but the thinner parts of the chicken start to look opaque.   Sure a long marinating time helps to impart flavor into the chicken, but  I'm kind of turned off by that "white edged" chicken.  My other issue with the original recipe was the length of time it needed to marinate.  Long marinating times = planning.  Planning is not always practical, and hey, why shouldn't you enjoy a flavorful grilled chicken that you didn't have to think about the day before?   I figured out that if I give the chicken a little extra kick of spice,  I can marinate it for an hour and get a version of tequila lime chicken that I liked even better.
Meet the main players:

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Peachy Boozy Turnovers

I'm making my adjustment back to the civilized (or so they say it is) world slowly.  After spending some time enjoying the peace and quiet of the Adirondacks, it's hard to dive back into the rat race.   I ran out to the farmer's market early this morning to pick up some lettuce (mine bolted) and corn, then ran home in record time.  I'm not ready to deal with traffic and people just yet.  My mind is stuck somewhere between a mountain lake and a field of wildflowers.
I've spent the day sorting through photos, catching up on my reading and generally wasting time.  I had a brief spurt of ambition and decided to check out the fridge.  Melissa stayed at our house and dog sat while we were away, so I hadn't emptied the fridge before our trip.  I had hoped that she used the produce I left behind.  I bought some very firm peaches the day before we left and I guess Melissa was not into peaches.  A peach dessert,  I thought to myself...but it has to be quick and easy with minimal oven time since the AC is running full blast.  Still in vacation mode, I decided to pair up the peaches with something boozy like bourbon.  Sure I thought, bourbon will do just fine...and so my easy, peachy, boozy turnovers were born.  Hmmm, right before we went away I made Apricot Riesling Jam,  I have chicken marinating in tequila and lime.  Do I see a trend here?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Attack of the Roasted Cherry Tomato Plants

Recipe: Mediterranean Pasta 
I've written about my crazy tomato plants in previous posts, but they have gotten a bit crazier lately.  I'm not quite sure how to describe them, but if they were human, I'd say they are bionic or maybe some kind of mutant possessing super human strength.   Last year I grew one of these crazy Sweet Millions tomato plants.  I named her Audrey II.  Remember Little Shop of Horrors?  It took on a life of its own.  This year I have two Sweet Millions.  Well, two that I planted.  Remember that cult movie "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes"?  I'm beginning to wonder about mine.  Let me show you.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Harvesting Fresh Herbs for Pesto

With every vegetable garden comes responsibility.  I planned for hours, planted the seeds, tended and nurtured the little seedlings, then patiently watched them grow.  The excitement at the appearance of the first flower or fruit, made me feel like a proud mama.  As the days grow hotter,  my garden has begun to look like a jungle.  Now we are into the thick of summer and for the most part my garden has been a success. My herbs did particularly well this year.  I love to use fresh herbs in my cooking.  I feel the addition of fresh herbs to a dish can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.  Some of the more tender herbs will not be around forever.  I feel like I have a responsibility to use my herbs as they reach their peak and before they go to seed.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

When Life Hands You Cucumbers, Make Pickles

Summer is in full swing and so is my garden.  The past few weeks have been full of broccoli, zucchini, green beans and finally...tomatoes and cucumbers.  I've been training my cucumber vines to grow up a trellis that was the former home of my spring sweet peas.  I don't recall the exact variety of cucumber I planted, but I do know they were in the Kirby family.  Before I had a garden, I would seek Kirby cukes out at the produce market.  Sadly, they were not always available.  I love their crisp crunch, their fresh flavor and their thin, edible skin.  Kirby cucumbers are pickle cucumbers.
When I planted my cukes, I had pickles in mind.  I've never made pickles before and when I got to thinking about actually making pickles, I came to the realization that I am very picky about pickles.  I like pickles from "The Pickle Guy" at the farmer's market.  I used to love pickles from a pickle barrel at good deli, but stopped buying them because the thought of other people fishing around in the pickle barrel sort of grosses me out.  I like pickles that are in the refrigerator section of the grocery store and generally avoid the sad looking pickles on the shelves.  It's early in the season so I'm not yet knee deep in cucumbers.  I wanted to experiment with small batch refrigerator pickles before the bumper crop starts happening.  After doing some research and experimentation I turned to a recipe that was posted by Marisa from Food In Jars.  It looked looked like a great starting point for this pickle novice.
The greener the pickle the better.  The ones with the white on the ends are beginning to bloat
and are not the best for making pickles.
How I love these pickles!  They are everything a dill pickle should be.  I feel like kicking myself for never having made pickles before.  This was absolutely the simplest recipe to make.  I think the key to a good pickle is to start off with good, fresh cucumber.  The other secret of success is to have a balanced brine.  I added some mustard seed to the brine since I noticed one of my favorite commercial brands listed mustard seed in its ingredients.  I'm also partial to a garlicky pickle, but be careful!  Garlic is a powerful thing when it sits in pickle brine.  I lightly smashed my garlic to give my pickles some extra punch...perfection!  

Small Batch Refrigerator Dill Pickles

Recipe slightly adapted from Food In Jars, Urban Preserving Refrigerator Dill Pickles
Yields 2 pints of pickles

  • 1 1/2 pounds of Kirby cucumbers - I used 6 cukes
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup spring or filtered water
  • 2 teaspoons of pickling salt or sea salt (do not use table salt)
  • 2 teaspoons dill seed
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seed
  • 4 cloves of garlic, lightly smashed (or leave whole for less punch)
  • 1 shallot cut in half and thinly sliced, about 2 tablespoons (or use a small mild onion) 
Have 2 pint size jars with lids, clean and ready.  Since these are refrigerator pickles and have a limited shelf life - about a month- you do not have to sterilize the jars.  Running them through the dishwasher or washing them with hot, soapy water should do.

Heat vinegar, water and salt in a non-reactive saucepan. Bring just to a boil.

While vinegar mixture is heating, scrub your cucumbers.  Cut off both ends of the cucumbers and cut each cucumber into quarters (spears).  Ideally, they should be the same length. 

Add 1 teaspoon of dill seed, 1 teaspoon of mustard seed, and 2 smashed cloves of garlic to each jar.  Add the sliced shallot divided between the 2 jars. 

Pack the cucumber spears into the jars so they are a snug fit.

When the vinegar mixture reaches a boil, remove from heat and carefully pour mixture into the jars of pickles, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace in each jar.

Screw on lids, and pop them into the refrigerator and allow to cure for at least 24 hours...48 is even better!   Remember, these are not processed so the must go in the fridge, they are not shelf stable.

That's it!  Why didn't I do this sooner?  I may turn into a pickling fool this summer....I have some cauliflower that's calling my name.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cedar Planked Salmon with Dill Sauce, Heaven on a Plank

Have you ever tried cedar planked salmon?  For that matter, have you ever tried cedar planked anything?  Well if you haven't, it's time you did.  You can cook almost anything on a cedar plank, but my favorite is salmon.  The cedar imparts a wonderful flavor to the fish.  I have converted non-salmon loving people into salmon-eating monsters.  As salmon recipes go, I think this one is my favorite.

Until recent years, I didn't have a whole lot of experience with salmon.  Having grown up in New York,  salmon conjured up visions of lox served with cream cheese and bagels.....not the kind of salmon I'm talking about.  I'm talking about fresh wild caught salmon.  I remember when my mother returned from a trip to Ireland, how she raved about the wonderful poached salmon served with dill sauce that she had eaten several times on her journey.  She said the salmon and fresh dill were the perfect combination and worth a trip to Ireland just to experience it!
I've experimented preparing salmon with glazes and breadcrumbs and sauces and different cooking techniques over the years, and then last weekend I came to the realization,  this is the one!  I made this recipe for a small gathering last winter and everyone asked how the salmon stayed so moist.  Sure I could poach the salmon to keep it moist and juicy, but once again I have to remind you that I hate the smell of fish cooking in the house.  If a fish dish can be prepared outdoors, I'm a happy camper.  I think by basting and planking the salmon,  keeping the fish off of the direct flame, the salmon cooks up moist, flakey and delicious.   The dill sauce is the perfect accompaniment.  Serve it with a seasonal green vegetable and some garlic-dill roast potatoes.  Add a nice glass of Pinot Noir, and I am in heaven!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Summer Fresh Corn Chowder

Sometimes a vegetable just speaks to me.  It tells me what it wants to be.  This corn was so fresh the kernels looked as if they were going to burst.  It just screamed corn chowder to me.  Seriously, it must have screamed because I would never even think of making soup in the summer with the exception of something cold like gazpacho.  Corn is one of those vegetables that I only buy in the summer.  Its silk has to look fresh, shiny and yellow.  Corn is best when it is eaten within hours of being picked.  Since I have no control over how long the corn takes to  get to my market,  the rule of my kitchen is to cook the corn the day it come into the house.  I usually serve corn on the cob when I BBQ or maybe in a clam bake.  This corn deserved to be center stage, hence my decision to make a hot soup in the summer.  I figure to have a truly fresh corn chowder, you have to make it when the corn is at its best.  So that's exactly what I did and it did not disappoint.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Grill Master Paul Does Ribs

Did that title get your attention?  He may be a self-proclaimed Grill Master, but nevertheless he is my Grill Master.  After all, I did buy him the grill for father's day three years ago.  I think he likes grilling because it gives him the opportunity to cook something without my interference.  Yes, he may ask me what the internal temperature of a pork tenderloin should be, but for the most part he is on his own.  There are four things I will never, ever, ever cook in the house...steak, hamburgers, fish (excluding shell fish) and ribs.  I dabble with the outdoor preparation of fish, but the meat is his domain.  He also makes an awesome beer can chicken.
Last summer, Paul, I mean the Grill Master, spent quite a bit of time perfecting his ribs.  He did a lot of experimenting with dry rubs which impart flavor throughout the meat.  As the ribs cook, they form a nice crust and seal in the juices.  He would cook the ribs long, low, and slow over indirect heat  to produce moist, succulent and tender ribs.  Since he cooks on a gas grill, he adds some wood chips to give it that smoked flavor.  At the very end, he brushes on just a bit of BBQ sauce which makes those ribs finger lickin' good.  I have to admit, dry rubbed ribs without any sauce taste mighty fine on their own.  I suggest you try some both ways.

These ribs take a bit of time to make, so you can't decide you want to make ribs an hour before you want to eat.   I think I will run through the actual process for you before I get to the recipe so you see what I mean.  First thing you will do is buy your ribs and trim them of excess fat and any silver skin.  Next you will massage the ribs with the dry rub (recipe to follow) and seal in a plastic bag for at least 8 hours.  Now go to the beach for a while or clean your house.  I chose the beach.  By the way, these are made on a gas grill, but you can certainly make them over charcoal using an indirect method of cooking. You're on your own as far as the timing goes if you use charcoal.
1/2 hour before you start grilling, soak your hickory chips in water.
Fill a can with water and cut up pieces of citrus - to be used for mopping and cooling (and adding some moisture to the environment)
3 hours before you want the ribs to be ready, get your grill warm and your wood chips smoking and get to grilling!
Remember, keep it low and slow....

Just a note about buying ribs:  Generally speaking, spare ribs are have more meat than baby back ribs.  Of course the amount of meat on a rack will vary.   A portion of baby backs is a half a slab.  A rack of meaty spareribs will feed 3 hungry people.  Multiply recipe to feed as many as your grill can hold and feed a crowd.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Saucy BBQ Sauce

The July 4th is just a few days away.  In our house, the 4th of July usually means beach, BBQ and fireworks.  We head out to the beach early in the day.  I usually cut up some melon and berries for a fruit salad, throw some yogurt in the cooler, and pick up some bagels on the way down to the beach.  Long Island beaches get rather crowded on the Fourth, so when Paul finishes eating all the food, by the time the crowd gets thick, we head home.  Late in the afternoon,  Paul fires up the Weber and gets into serious BBQ mode.  If anyone is coming to watch the fireworks later that night, they have to arrive to our house by 5:00.   Our neighborhood gets blocked off by the Village to prepare for the invasion of the firework gawkers.  Sometimes dinner can be elaborate and sometimes dinner can be straightforward BBQ fare. Whichever it is, you can always count on something being slathered in a little BBQ sauce.  After dinner everyone grabs a beach chair and walks down the road to watch the fireworks with a cold drink in hand.   We come back to the house for dessert...and that pretty much sums up our Fourth.  Tradition...isn't that what holidays are about?

So if you are a true American, or if you are not an American but would like to prepare an American BBQ, you might consider making your own BBQ sauce this year.  Homemade BBQ sauce beats the heck out any bottled sauce I've ever tried.  I'm not just talking about taste, I'm talking about having control over the viscosity of the sauce (is it OK to use the word viscosity here isn't it?), its texture, sodium and my desire to have a BBQ sauce that does not contain high fructose corn syrup.   I'm sure you can get  a decent "gourmet" BBQ sauce, but why not make your own and control EVERYTHING?  I guess I am a bit of a control freak.  Hey, nobody's perfect.

Homemade BBQ Sauce (with a little heat)
Click for Printable Page
Makes 1 pint
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 1/4 cups ketchup -look for brands without high fructose corn syrup like Muir Glen or Whole Foods 365
  • 1 tablespoon Srirachi chili sauce
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (you will add to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chili pepper
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  1. Heat olive oil in a saucepan.  Add diced onion and cook over a medium heat until onion is nicely caramelized.
  2. Add the ketchup, Srirachi, molasses, spices and 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar to the pan containing the  cooked onion.  
  3. Combine and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.  Stir sauce often.
  4. After 20 minutes, taste and add the additional vinegar if needed.  (If you are using sauce for chicken or ribs I recommend using the additional vinegar)
  5. Cook another 5-10 minutes.  Cook longer if you desire a thicker consistency.
  6. Remove from heat and transfer sauce to a bowl or jar.  Allow to cool and refrigerate.  
  7. Sauce keeps 2 weeks in the fridge.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Cocopinabananut Muffins

My inspiration to bake these muffins was twofold.   I has some speckled bananas, some very ripe pineapple and some shredded coconut that has been hanging around in the fridge for a while.  I've been watching these bananas grow more and more speckled for the last 3 days.  They were on the verge of death and I know Paul was hoping for a banana bread.  It was Saturday morning and I was doing my - let's see what we forgot to eat this week in the veggie bin drawers - clean up.  I feel less guilty nowadays if I have to chuck a piece of fruit or some sad over-ripe veggie because they go straight to my compost bin.  Nothing is a complete waste anymore.  But still, if it can be eaten, that is the preferable route.  I was taking inventory of the things I stick on the bottom shelf of the fridge door when I came across a small bag of coconut and a bag of pecans.   I felt a wave of inspiration.

It was Saturday morning and I was looking at a three day weekend.  That translates into, I have plenty of time to waste and play with my camera.  I'm still getting used to my new Nikon and I'm determined to learn to take photos using manual settings.  If I am going to rely on "auto" there was no point for my upgrade.  That gave me the second reason to bake some muffins.  I need something to shoot.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Spicy Shrimp on the Barbie

Some inspiration is not born from a long story.  Some inspiration comes from a simple idea.  Paul wanted shrimp for Father's Day dinner.  We headed to the farmer's market.
Paul eyeing Casey's Catch at the farmer's market
I was content to make the usual scampi.  Matt called his dad for Father's Day and said, "why don't you make them on the BBQ?"  (We gave Matt a grill for his birthday and he's been in BBQ mode)  Why not indeed?  I could do that.  Such an easy clean-up, and since the big guy wouldn't be doing the clean-up (it was Father's Day after all) I liked the idea.  I'm flexible.  I started scouring the pantry and fridge, then headed out to the garden in search of marinade fixins.  I didn't want boring shrimp; I wanted spice. Some Asian ingredients called to me and some fresh herbs screamed to be picked.
Maybe it was the gnomes screaming!
I started mixing and tasting, and before I knew it I had a Thai-ish tasting marinade ready to bathe some shrimp.
It was sort of evil looking
I marinated the shrimp for a little more than an hour and made a HUGE salad.  Thank you garden.  We picked up a heavenly loaf of bread at the farmer's market from Orwasher's .
Only 9:00AM and almost sold out
It was a light dinner followed by a hearty dessert.   Oh, and maybe just a little of this....

Grilled Spicy Shrimp

Serves 2-3
  • 1 pound of jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons Thai red curry sauce (I used Trader Joe's)
  • 1 teaspoon sriracha
  • 1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  1. Whisk all marinade ingredients in a small bowl.  
  2. Place cleaned shrimp in a zip lock bag.  Pour marinade over shrimp.  Seal bag. Refrigerate for an hour.
  3. Heat gas grill to medium high heat.
  4. Be sure to oil the cooking surface of grill (olive oil)
  5. Thread shrimp onto skewers.
  6. Grill shrimp for 3 minutes over medium high flame.  Brush with marinade, flip, and grill another 3 minutes.
  7. Serve immediately.
It's that simple.
Just an afterthought....these shrimp would be outstanding with coconut rice and stir fried vegetables.
Oh I feel I must confess, the big guy did the dishes anyway!