Thursday, December 31, 2009

Double-Ginger Spice Cookies

I baked all of my usual treats over the holidays this year--sugar cookies, walnut-cardamom balls, snickerdoodles, chocolate-walnut bars. But my favorite was this little ginger snap.

I found a recipe for a spicy little cookie on Epicurious. The recipe called for vegetable shortening, but I was shopping at Whole Foods, and all I could find that might suit was coconut oil, which is solid at temperatures below 76 degrees. I crossed my fingers and tried it. Delicious! The cookies were crisp on the outside, but soft and chewy on the inside. And the coconut oil added a wonderful, exotic fragrance and flavor to the cookie. One small substitution that had a big impact on the finished product, and a cookie that I will bake again.

Ginger Spice Cookies

2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger
1 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1/4 cup unsulphered molasses

Combine flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt in a bowl. Add the chopped crystallized ginger, and stir to coat with the flour mixture. In a mixing bowl, beat the brown sugar, coconut oil, and butter until fluffy. Add the egg and molasses and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat until just blended. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Roll spoonfuls of dough into 1 1/4 inch balls. Roll the balls lightly in granulated sugar to coat, and place on the cookie sheets. Bake 12 minutes until the cookies begin to crackle on top but are still soft.

Sunday, December 06, 2009


I had never heard of lefse until I went to college in Minnesota. Every year at St. Olaf during Christmas Festival, we were treated to a seasonal Norwegian meal that included lefse, gjetost, pickled herring, a warm fruit soup called sotsuppe, a creamy porridge called rommegrot, and the dreaded lutefisk, a dried cod prepared with lye that has the consistency of Jello. Of all these, the lefse was a favorite. A thin flatbread made with boiled potatoes, we ate it slathered with butter, sprinkled with brown sugar, and rolled up like a cigar.

Making lefse requires some special equipment, including a potato ricer, a lefse griddle, a special rolling pin, and a stick for moving the lefse to and from the grill. The trick is to keep as little flour in the dough as possible, while rolling the lefse as thinly as you can. The dough is very tender and tears easily.

With some help from a Minnesotan friend (thank you, Kate!), I found a good recipe for lefse dough and gave it a whirl this morning. My first few pieces were a little raggedy, but I quickly got the hang of it, and the last batch turned out actually quite good. In addition to the butter and sugar version, I think these would be lovely with a bit of cream cheese and smoked salmon. Looking forward to sharing this unique seasonal food with friends and family.


Prepare dough a day ahead.

5 cups of boiled Idaho potatoes, riced
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt

Mix together and chill overnight.

To prepare lefse, preheat griddle to 500 degrees.

Take 2 cups of the potato mixture and mix in a scant 1/2 cup flour. (Put the rest of the dough back in the refrigerator, it needs to stay cold)

Sprinkle your workspace with a generous amount of flour. Make fist-sized balls of dough - or smaller - and roll each ball out thinly. Slide the lefse stick under the rolled-out dough, and gently slide it back and forth to ensure that it is not stuck to your work surface. Slide the stick down the middle of the dough, and transfer it to the the preheated griddle. It's best to slide one side down onto the griddle, and then rotate the stick to drop the other side onto the griddle.

Cook until slightly browned; flip to the other side and cook until done.

Place between clean kitchen towels to cool. When all are cooled, fold and package in Ziploc bags. Lefse freezes well.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dreams Come True

I had a dream on Monday night that we had onion soup for dinner. I had bought a beautiful bag of yellow onions at Costco this weekend, and had most of the other ingredients on hand, so I decided that's what we would eat on Tuesday for dinner.

This is a simple, but time-consuming recipe. Instead of cooking the onions on the stovetop, most of the cooking is done in the oven. I cheated a little and shortened the oven cooking time, but the final soup was still quite flavorful.

I served this with some roasted delicata squash, simply dressed with butter, salt and pepper. The sweet, creamy squash was a lovely foil to the salty, cheesy soup. Altogether satisfying.

French Onion Soup

6 large yellow onions, halved, peeled, and sliced
3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup red wine
4 cups chicken stock
4 cups beef stock
5 springs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 baguette
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the sliced onions in a heavy soup pot; top with the butter and the salt. While the onions are cooking, make toasts. Slice the baguette into 3/4-inch slices. Paint each slice with olive oil and place on a cookie sheet. Bake until the toasts are just beginning to brown on one side; turn, and bake again until the other side is lightly toasted. Remove from the oven and reserve. After the onions have been cooking for 1 hour, remove them from the oven and stir; the onions will have wilted and given off much of their moisture. Return to the oven and bake for an additional 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on the stovetop over a medium flame. Cook and stir the onions until all of the moisture has evaporated and the onions begin to darken and caramelize. Add the wine. Cook and stir until most of the wine has evaporated. Add the stock, thyme, and bay leaf. Cook over medium heat for 30 minutes. Remove the thyme and the bay leaf. Ladle the soup into oven-proof bowls. Top with toasts and shredded Gruyere cheese. Place under the broiler until cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Turkey Meatball Soup

Here's another cheap dinner largely from the pantry. My son pronounced this a winner after slurping down two bowls!

I've been working a lot with ground turkey lately; it is an affordable, healthy, and versatile protein. I would have liked to add some chopped fresh parsley to the meatballs, but I didn't have any on hand. You could use any combination of vegetables for this soup--celery, spinach, zucchini would all be good.

Turkey Meatball Soup

1 slice bread
1/2 cup milk
1 lb ground turkey
1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 leek
1 onion
2 carrots
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 cups chicken stock
2 cups uncooked macaroni
1 1/2 cups green beans

Cut the bread into small cubes and place in a saucer with the milk. In a medium bowl, combine the ground turkey, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, garlic, and Parmesan cheese. Squeeze most of the milk out of the soaked bread, and crumble the bread into the meat mixute. Combine well. Form into 3/4-inch meatballs and set aside. Prepare the vegetables. Slice the white part of the leek in half lengthwise and clean well under running water. Quarter and dice the leek. Peel the carrot and cut into small dice. Chop the onion and cut the green beans into 1/2-inch pieces. Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot, and saute the leek, onion, and carrots for about 5 minutes until translucent. Add the stock to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the meatballs to the soup; simmer gently for 10 minutes. Add the pasta and the green beans and cook for another 10 minutes, or until the pasta is done. Serve with additional Parmesan cheese for a garnish.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Homemade Gnocchi

I've been afraid to make gnocchi. I'm really a novice pasta maker, and I was fearful my first effort would culminate with chewy little bullets of starch. But recently purchased a potato ricer in anticipation of making lefse over the holidays, and I had a free afternoon and a bag of potatoes, so I decided to give homemade gnocchi a try.

I followed Heidi Swanson's recipe, except that I used a potato ricer instead of a fork to break up the boiled potatoes. I just about burned my fingertips off peeling the hot potatoes. In addition, I had some trouble scoring the nuggets with a fork; my final gnocchi were a little misshapen and lumpy looking.

Appearance aside, the gnocchi were delicious! Light little pillows of goodness, velvety in texture, with a delicate potato flavor. Much better than any store-bought product and surprisingly good for my first effort.

I dressed my gnocchi with a rich tomato-vodka-cream sauce, accessorized by a sprinkling of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. My family lapped it up.

Tomato-Vodka-Cream Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup vodka
3/4 cup heavy cream

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over a medium flame. Add the garlic and shallots and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Don't let the garlic burn! Add the tomatoes; smash the whole tomatoes up with the back of a spoon in the pot. Add the basil leaves. Reduce the heat to a simmer; cover and cook for 15 minutes. Uncover; add the vodka. Cook for an additonal 5 minutes until most of the alcohol has burned off. Add the cream and heat through. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Autumnal Chicken Soup

This week I've been challenged to cook from my pantry as much as possible in an effort to cut my grocery bill. I'm reaching the end of the line with proteins from the freezer, and I'm limited to the few root vegetables left in my crisper drawer. I invented this light but satisfying soup from what remained in my refrigerator. Roasting the sweet potato before adding it to the soup adds a lovely, burnt-sugar complexity to the dish. Barley is more toothsome than pasta and a nice textural contrast to the soft sweet potato. The orange zest brightens the soup and subtly reminds diners of summer as fall begins to wane.

Autumnal Chicken Soup

4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
2 chicken breasts
3 medium sweet potatoes
1 cup barley
1 orange

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. In a large soup pot, combine the chicken stock, water, and chicken breasts. Heat over a medium flame until the liquid begins to boil; reduce to a low simmer. Cook until the chicken is done, approximately 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, in another pot, combine the barley with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the barley is tender, about 30 minutes. While the barley and the chicken are cooking, peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into 1/2-inch cubes. Toss them on a sheetpan with some olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast in the preheated oven until the sweet potatoes begin to brown around the edges, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and reserve. Drain the cooked barley and reserve. Remove the chicken breasts from the broth and let cool on a cutting board for a few minutes. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, pull the meat off of the bones and shred into bite-sized pieces. Add the chicken, barley, and roasted sweet potatoes back to the stock. Zest the orange and add that to the soup. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Variation: Add a bunch of chopped spinach or swiss chard at the finish and cook until wilted.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

White Chili

I'm not a big fan of traditional chili. It can be pretty heavy, heartburn-inducing, and sometimes greasy. Years ago, when my mother lived in Park City, Utah, I was introduced to a delicious white chili made with turkey by the Deer Valley Ski Resort. Although I haven't made it in years, I thought it might be a good dish for Halloween, because it would hold well and could be personalized by each of our guests with toppings of their choice. Previously, I made this with the mix sold by the resort; this time, I thought I'd try making it from scratch. Instead of turkey meat, I used ground turkey, which is readily available and affordable. I also packed as many vegetables in as I could, for a lighter, more healthful chili. With a side of fresh-baked corn muffins, this is an easy, crowd-pleasing meal.

Deer Valley Turkey Chili

2 pounds ground turkey
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 medium Anaheim chilies, seeded, chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 red bell peppers, chopped
2 leeks (white part only), chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled
1 teaspoon cayenne
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 teaspoons salt
1/8 cup sugar
4 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 1/2 cups frozen corn
1 29-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup corn flour

Brown the turkey in 2 tablespoons of the butter. Drain and reserve. Melt the remainder of the butter and saute the chiles, onion, red bell pepper, leeks, and garlic until softened, about 7 minutes. Return the turkey to the pan. Add the spices (oregano, cayenne, cumin, coriander, and salt), and stir over the heat until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes at a low simmer. Add the corn and the black beans and heat through. Add the corn flour to thicken the chili. Serve with shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, and chopped cilantro.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Comfort from the Pantry

Early this week, I woke up with a sore throat and, as the day went on, I began to feel worse and worse. Sickness calls for soup. But I was snuggled up under a duvet on the sofa and in no shape to trudge to the market. The solution: a comforting, hearty tomato soup made entirely from ingredients on hand and in the pantry. This is a simple recipe that can easily be made grand with the addition of a fancy garnish. It is a very happy dinner served with open face cheese toasts and a glass of milk. I'm feeling better already.

Pantry Tomato Soup

1 onion, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 springs fresh thyme
4 14-ounce cans chopped tomatoes
1 32-ounce box chicken stock
1/2 cup cream or half and half

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter in the olive oil. Saute the onion over medium heat until translucent. Add the tomato paste and the garlic, and saute for one minute until fragrant. Add the chopped tomatoes, chicken stock, and herbs, and heat to a slow simmer. Cook, uncovered, for half an hour. With an immersion blender, whiz the soup until velvety smooth. Add the cream and heat through. Serve.

Lovely garnishes (choose one): chunks of feta cheese, homemade croutons, a drizzle of basil oil....

Monday, October 05, 2009

Autumn Delight

The weather is turning cool, and I am turning to stews and soups and other warming comfort foods for dinner. I stopped at the Chicago Farmstand on the way home from work this afternoon for inspiration, and found a nice butternut squash and a pretty bunch of rainbow Swiss chard. Pulled some arborio rice and a box of chicken stock from the pantry, and I whipped up this soothing (and inexpensive!) meal. The sweetness of the roasted squash pairs nicely with the slight bitterness of the greens. The kids scraped their bowls clean and pronounced it a winner.

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Swiss Chard

1 butternut squash
1 bunch Swiss chard
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups arborio rice
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Peel and core the squash and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Spread in a single layer on a large sheetpan. Sprinkle with olive oil and mix until the pieces are well coated. Salt and pepper. Roast until the edges of the squash cubes begin to brown, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, trim the stems off of the chard and chop them into small pieces. Chop the leaves and keep separate.

When the squash is finished roasting, remove from the oven to cool. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat and saute the onion and the chopped chard stems until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the rice and cook until the rice begins to absorb some of the oil. Add the stock, about 1 cup at a time; stir while the rice cooks; when most of the liquid has been absorbed, add another cup of stock. When the stock has been fully absorbed, add 1 cup of the water and cook down. Just before adding the last cup of water, add the chopped chard leaves; cook and stir. When the water has been mostly absorbed, add the roasted squash and heat through. Add the Parmesan and stir until well incorporated. Taste for seasoning and serve, passing additional Parmesan at the table.

Serve six; less if your children are voracious eaters like mine.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Beets Can't Be Beat

I stopped at the Chicago Farmstand on my way home from work this afternoon, and they had some lovely beets from a local farmer on sale. I can't resist beets; they can be prepared sweet or savory and marry well with so many other flavors. I knew I had a small chunk of feta at home in the fridge, the rest of this salad I threw together with found ingredients. A little chopped parsley would be a nice addition to this salad.

Impromptu Beet Salad

3-4 medium beets
1/2 English cucumber
1/2 yellow onion
4 oz feta cheese
juice of 1/2 lemon
olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim the root and greens from each of the beets. Place one beet on a piece of foil; drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper. Fold the foil around the beet to seal in a hobo pack. Repeat with remaining beets. Place the hobo packs on a cookie sheet and roast in the oven for an hour; beets are done when you can easily pierce them with the tip of a knife, like a baked potato. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile, halve the cucumber and thinly slice it. Thinly slice the onion as well. When beets are cool enough to handle, remove them from the foil and peel the skins off. This will turn your fingertips a lovely shade of pink. Quarter the beets and slice. Combine the beets, cucumber, and onion in a bowl; toss with the lemon juice and olive oil to taste. Crumble the feta over the salad, toss again, and salt and pepper to taste. May be served chilled or at room temperature.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

In a Pickle

For the last several years, I've spent at least part of annual vacation in East Otto canning the best the summer has to offer. This year, inspired by the fantastic products offered by Rick's Picks, I thought I'd try some pickles.

I was able to source some locally grown cucumbers at the market in Springville. I wanted my pickles to be sweet and spicy, so I added some ginger and some sliced jalapeno peppers to the brine. I made two brines for my pickles; one with tumeric, and one without. I also used a mix of white and apple cider vinegars, to add a depth of flavor and sweetness to the brine.

The process is pretty simple if you have ever canned before. The only difference is you must salt the sliced cukes and onions down for a couple of hours before you jar them. This draws quite a bit of water out of the vegetables, and allows them to absorb the flavorful brine.

Spicy Pickles Two Ways

6 cucumbers
3 onions
½ cup pickling salt
large knob ginger, peeled and sliced into 1/8-inch slices
3 jalapenos, sliced into rounds
1 tablespoon cloves
2 tablespoons allspice berries
4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
4 cups white vinegar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons turmeric

Wash the cucumbers and slice them ¼ inch thick. Cover with about 2/3 of the salt; gently mix with your hands to ensure that the slices are evenly salted. Peel and slice the onion and cover with the remainder of the salt. Let the cucumbers and the onion sit for up to 4 hours.
Once the vegetables have rendered much of their liquid, rinse them well under cold water.

Prepare the pickling brine. In a large saucepan, combine 2 cups of sugar, 2 teaspoons turmeric, 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, 2 cups of white vinegar, and 1 cup apple cider vinegar. Heat until the sugar has dissolved. In a second large saucepan, combine the same ingredients, omitting the turmeric.

Prepare eight pint jars for canning. Into each jar, place 4 cloves, 8 allspice berries, and a few slices of jalapeno and ginger. Pack the jars with the onions and the pickle slices, adding more jalapeno and ginger about halfway up the jars.

Fill four jars with the turmeric-spiced pickling brine, and four jars with the other brine. Seal the jars, and process them for 15 minutes.

Yield: 8 pint jars of pickles

Friday, September 11, 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tortilla Soup

One of my favorite lunch spots when I go downtown is Frontera Fresco at Macy's, which serves the most fantastic, flavorful tortilla soup. I've been rooting for Rick Bayless on Top Chef Masters; he has brought terrific food to Chicago, as well as a lot of good works.

Last night, I thought I'd try my hand at my own version of tortilla soup. My daughter has a nasty summer head cold, and I thought a hot bowl of spicy soup might comfort her. Plus, my husband was returning from out of town in the early evening, and I figured the soup could wait on the stove to welcome him home.

It was not as good as Rick's, but still pretty tasty. Served with a side salad of chopped romaine, sliced purple onions, grated cotija cheese, and roasted yellow bell and serrano pepper dressing.

Tortilla Soup

2 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeno peppers, minced
2 small onions, chopped
2 boxes chicken stock (8 cups)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 boneless chicken breasts
1 can fire-roasted tomatoes
1 lime
2 ears corn, cut off the cob (or 1 cup frozen corn)
1/2 bunch cilantro

avocados, cut into bite-sized chunks
chihuahua cheese, grated
tortilla chips, broken into pieces
lime wedges

In a large soup or stock pot, saute the garlic, jalapeno pepper, and onion in a little corn oil until the onion is translucent. Add the cumin and the cayenne, and saute until the spices become fragrant. Add the chicken stock and the chicken breasts. Heat to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and let cool. Meanwhile, add the canned tomatoes, corn, and cilantro to the soup. When the chicken has cooled enough to handle, shred it and return it to the soup. Check for seasoning and keep warm until ready to serve.

To serve, place a small amount of grated chihuahua cheese, some avocado chunks, and some broken tortilla chips in the bottom of a soup bowl. Ladle soup over and enjoy.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Summer Salad and Souffle

Last week, Nick wanted to try his hand at souffle. A dish that I didn't attempt until I was over 30, here he is making it at age 12. Souffle is kind of magic; taking a simple egg and transforming it into an ethereal bearer of whatever flavor (cheese, chocolate, herbs) you choose.

Making souffle gave Nick a chance to practice separating eggs, whipping egg whites, and folding. Actually, I think his favorite part was buttering the ramekins with his bare hands.

This is an excellent light summer dinner with a raspberry salad and miniature, open-face ham sandwiches.

Goat Cheese Souffle

5 eggs
2 tablespoons butter, plus more for buttering ramekins
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/3 cups milk
5 ounces goat cheese
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Separate the eggs, being very careful to not let any yolk break into the whites. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and cook the flour for a minute. Add the milk and cook and stir with a whisk until it thickens into a nice bechamel or white sauce. Remove from the heat and whisk in half of the cheese until it melts. Set the sauce aside to cool for a few minutes. While you are waiting, butter six ramekins generously. Drop a tablespoon or so of bread crumbs into each, and swirl the ramekins on their sides over the sink to coat the bottoms and the sides with crumb. Place on a cookie sheet. When the reserved sauce has cooled to lukewarm, whisk in the egg yolks and pinch the reminder of the goat cheese in to the pan in small bits. Salt and pepper to taste. In a mixer, whip the egg whites and the tartar sauce until stiff peaks form. Fold the yolk/cheese sauce mixture gently into the whipped egg whites. Divide the mixture between the ramekins. Bake for 25-30 minutes until they begin to brown on top. Serve immediately.

Raspberry Salad

1 pint very good quality raspberries
1 head Boston lettuce
1/2 purple onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil

Tear the lettuce into a salad bowl and toss with the raspberries and the onion. Mix the vinegar and oil in small bowl; add salt and pepper to taste. Toss the salad with the dressing just before serving.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

George's Tomato Pie

Nick's friend George came over for the day, and he taught us to make tomato pie. George likes to put bacon in his, but we didn't have any, so ours was vegetarian. It was so good, it disappeared almost as soon as it came out of the oven!

George's Tomato Pie

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
1 cup flour
pinch salt
3 large plum tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 green onion, sliced very thin
pinch oregano
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
4 tablespoons mayonnaise

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the vegetable oil, milk, flour, and salt and mix until it is pulling away from the sides of the bowl. If the mixture is too sticky, add small amounts of flour until it forms a ball. Grease the bottom of an 8" x 8" brownie pan with a little oil. Push the dough into the bottom of the pan to cover. Bake the dough for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 375 degrees.

Meanwhile, combine the chopped tomatoes, basil, garlic, onion, and oregano in a small bowl. Combine the cheese and the mayonnaise in a separate bowl. Dump the tomato mixture on top of the crust and spread to cover. Plop spoonfuls of the cheese mixture on top of that, and spread with the back of the spoon to cover the tomatoes. Cover loosely with tin foil. Cook for 1/2 hour. Remove tin foil, and cook for an additional 1/2 hour. Serve.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Crepe Madness

Here's why you should make some crepes:
  • You have all of the ingredients already on hand. Two cups of milk, 2 eggs, 1 1/2 cups of flour, 1 stick of butter, melted, and a pinch of salt. Couldn't be simpler. Whiz the batter in a blender, and let it rest for 30 minutes before cooking.
  • They are fun to make. Heat a medium saute pan over high heat, brush with a little melted butter, and pour about 1/3 cup of batter into the pan. Swirl it around to make a thin, even layer. Cook until the edges begin to brown and look dry. Flip with a spatula and cook on the second side for a few seconds. Slide onto a waiting plate. You can stack them like pancakes.
  • They can be used in so many ways. Stuff them with cottage cheese and fresh fruit for breakfast. Spread them with Nutella and line them with banana slices for lunch. Dress them with sauteed vegetables and ricotta cheese for dinner. Fold them up and nap them with some cheese sauce for a snack.
Last nigh, Nick and I made Tyler Florence's recipe for crepes suzette with orange-butter sauce. I was surprised at how easy it was--although our first crepe tore into several pieces, the subsequent efforts came out of the pan flawlessly. Nick learned how to handle a hot pan, swirling and flipping and sliding the finished cakes onto a waiting plate. He also had his first taste of Grand Marnier, which he pronounced "strong" but "tasty."

The final dish was delicious, sweet and rich, bright and citrusy. Next time, I'd use less butter in the orange-butter sauce and maybe cook it down a bit longer. I'd also add a sprig of mint to the ice cream for fun.

The next morning, this is what Nick made himself for breakfast: crepe stuffed with scrambled eggs and garnished with fresh chives from the garden. You know you've got a budding cook in the house when he starts to garnish his breakfast!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Nick Cooks Indian

Just when I think that this Nick-cooks-dinner-on-Monday-nights thing is getting old for him, he comes to me and wants to know what we should cook together. Tonight he was back in the kitchen, making curry. We were inspired by a recipe for vegetable curry that we saw on America's Test Kitchen, which I have adapted below. Nick has been a lover of Indian food since he was a baby, when we took him to Devon Avenue and fed him dal and rice while we feasted on tandoori and murgh masala.

Vegetable Curry

2 tablespoons curry powder (we used hot curry powder from the Spice House)
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
2 onions, chopped
3 potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic
1 Serrano chili, diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 14-0z can chopped tomatoes
1 can garbanzo beans
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
1/2 cup half and half

Toast the spices in a dry skillet until fragrant and beginning to smoke. Remove the spices to a cool plate or bowl. In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and potatoes, and cook until they are beginning to brown, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Push the vegetables to the side of the pan and add an additional tablespoon of oil. Add the garlic, chili, tomato paste, and spices, and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add the cauliflower and stir to coat with the spice mixture. Add the tomatoes and the garbanzo beans and a teaspoon of salt. Add enough water to make the mixture loose but not soupy. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the cauliflower is crisp-tender. Add the peas and the half and half, and stir to combine. Serve with hot basmati rice.

This is a fairly simple recipe, and it gave Nick a chance to practice his knife skills, chopping onions, potatoes, garlic, chilies, and cauliflower. He also learned how to peel ginger root with a spoon and grate it with the ginger grater. I am learning how to stay on the "other side" of the kitchen island and let him do his thing.

The final dish was quite spicy. We agreed we might cut back on the chilies next time, or perhaps use a sweet curry powder instead of the hot one.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Finds at the Chicago Farmstand

I came downtown today for a meeting that was canceled while I was in transit. Drat. Frustrated at the dent this knocked in my afternoon's productivity, I decided to stop at the Chicago Farmstand on the way home to see what I could find.

Turns out, it was my lucky day. I found delicious end-of-season strawberries, hearty rhubarb, and fresh, green garlic scapes. I've only cooked with garlic scapes once before. I worked them into an impromptu stir fry with a bunch of other vegetables, and their subtle, green garlic flavor was lost in the melange. This time, I wanted a recipe that would feature their garlicky goodness.

At the suggestion of a friend on Twitter, I decided to try a pesto.

Garlic Scape Pesto

1 bunch garlic scapes
3/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
juice of one lemon

Cut the garlic scapes into 1-inch pieces. Drop into a food processor and process until well chopped. Add the Parmesan and the lemon juice. With the processor running, slowly add the oil until well incorporated. Pepper to taste.

I tossed this with some spaghetti and four chopped heirloom tomatoes. The pesto was delicious, but a bit too sharp for the delicately sweet tomatoes. Next time, I would use a can of good-quality chopped tomatoes (maybe Muir Glen), and perhaps add a pound of cooked shrimp.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Foodiedad's Adventure in the Woods

My dear husband had been away at our cabin with our son and his best friend for the past week. He spent the week hiking, fishing, playing games, and rebuilding our deck. Amazingly, despite these distractions, he also found time to do a little cooking.

Last year, he built a grill and pizza oven in the outdoor kitchen. One tool we lacked was a functioning rotisserie--the old one broke about halfway through a chicken last year, and we all took turns for the next hour rotating the bird. Before this trip, he ordered a new rotisserie, shown above in action.

I am told that the roast was delicious, a fitting way to cap off their time in the woods. Even more impressive, it made a repeat appearance the next day, reconfigured as hash, crowned with a poached egg.

Hats off to Foodiedad for taking the time to cook while on vacation and making memories around the table with the boys!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cooking for One?

My boys are out of town this week, and I am home with my teenage daughter, which basically means that I am home alone. This has actually been quite enjoyable thus far, as I have had more time and attention to pay to my vocation by day and my avocations by night. Since I am invariably home alone for dinner, I have not bothered to cook much, choosing to pick up a container of soup or a salad at the grocery instead. But I find I miss getting my pots and pans dirty after a few days. Plus, the teenager eventually comes home, usually hungry, and complains about the lack of "anything to eat."

So, tonight I am back in the kitchen cooking for one, plus another who will raid the fridge later. I had an eggplant in the crisper, which I had planned to curry, but I felt more Meditteranean than Asian tonight. Here is a simple play on eggplant Parmesan, featuring a few other veggies, that does not involve frying.

Roasted Vegetable Parmesan

1 large eggplant, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
1/2 lb mushrooms, stemmed
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
olive oil
1 jar good-quality marinara sauce (I used Club Lucky marinara)
1/2 lb shredded mozzarella cheese
4 bobbolini fresh mozzarella
small bunch of fresh basil and thyme, from the garden
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the eggplant rounds, the mushrooms, and the onion on baking sheets. Brush liberally with olive oil, and salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until the veggies are soft and beginning to brown. Keep an eye on them; you may want to flip them halfway through cooking. Remove the vegetables from the oven, and turn down the temperature to 350 degrees. Rough chop the onion after it cools a bit; halve the mushrooms. In a glass baking dish, pour a little of the marinara and spread it out across the bottom. Line the pan with a layer of eggplant and dot it with the mushrooms and the onion. Sprinkle with a bit of the herbs and a layer of mozzarella. If you are feeling particularly evil, chop up some fresh mozzarella and add it here. Repeat the layers (sauce, veggies, herbs, mozzarella/fresh mozzarella). Finish with the remainder of the sauce, mozzarella, and a generous sprinkling of Parmesan. Bake until bubbly and golden on top. Let it sit for at least 15 minutes after you take it out of the oven. The slices will hold together much better if you let it cool some before you cut it (plus you will be less likely to burn the roof of your mouth off when you eat it). Warm a fresh baguette in the residual heat in the oven while you wait. Leftovers keep well in the fridge for a couple of days, and heat well in a microwave (the only oven teenagers know how to use).

Friday, June 19, 2009

Easy Peasey

When fresh peas are in season, how can I not cook with them? They are sugar sweet but have a firm but creamy texture like no frozen or canned pea. And they are fun to shell, unzipping their little containers and plucking them from their pods. It's good work to share with a friend, over conversation and delicious anticipation of a good meal.

Here is a quick pasta dish featuring peas. The other ingredients are mostly staples around my house; this can be thrown together in less than an hour.

Angel Hair with Shellfish, Bacon, and Peas

1 pound angel hair pasta
8 strips bacon
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 lb scallops, halved bilaterally if large
1 1/2 lb English peas
1/2 cup Parmesan, grated

Chop the bacon and fry in a large, heavy-bottomed pan until crisp. Remove the bacon to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain. Cover with another paper towel and hide from pilfering children. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Get the children to help you shell the peas, thereby distracting them from the bacon. Pour most of the bacon grease out of the pan you used to cook the bacon, and put the pan back on medium-high heat. Dry the scallops and the shrimp on paper towels; season with salt and pepper. Cook the scallops and shrimp in the hot pan, in batches. Remove to a plate and reserve. Salt the boiling water. Add the peas and cook for two minutes. Add the angel hair and cook for three minutes. Drain the pasta and peas and place in a large bowl. Add the cooked shellfish and the bacon, and sprinkle the Parmesan on top. Toss to combine, adding reserved pasta water to moisten the dish and make a little "sauce." Serve immediately; garnish with additional Parmesan if desired.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Chicken meatballs

Week two of Nick makes dinner:
We decided to tackle the chicken meatballs we read about in the New York Times magazine last Sunday, which are flavored with fresh chives, mint, and basil. We have lots of herbs in the kitchen garden, and Nick was intrigued by the possibility of using the food processor to grind meat. After work, we went to Whole Foods for some chicken thighs, along with a few other necessities. In the produce department, we found fresh English peas, and I thought it might be fun to change the recipe up a big. So, we turned it into a pasta dish, tossing the fried meatballs with the raita sauce along with some fresh corn and peas. Garnished with home-grown chive blossoms, the dish was declared a winner.

Skills Nick learned:
How to work the food processor
How to fry meatballs
How to shell fresh peas (mostly how to eat fresh peas out of the pod)
How to mince chives
How to cut corn kernels off the cob

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

New Chef in the House

It's summer vacation, and my youngest is looking for fun things to do. This is a kid who professes that he wants to be a chef someday. Right now, the dream restaurant he plans to own serves only eggs. So, how encourage him to expand his repertoire of recipes while having a little fun? Monday night dinner.

We've made a deal that Nick will cook dinner on Monday nights during the summer. The menu is up to him. If he plans, I will help him with provisions; if not, he is limited to what he can find in the fridge and in the pantry. I figure this is a good way for him to start learning some basic cooking skills and for us both to have a little fun together.

Yesterday, we found a bunch of broccoli in the crisper and he decided to make an easy soup with some cheese crispies.

Broccoli Soup

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
2 small onions, chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups broccoli florets
3 cups chicken stock
4 oz cheddar cheese

In a large soup pot, saute the garlic, shallot, and onion in a little olive oil until it becomes translucent. Add the potatoes and the broccoli. Add the stock. Salt and pepper. Cover the pot and cook until the vegetables are tender. Turn off the heat. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Return to a low simmer. Shred or finely dice the cheese and add it to the soup. Stir until the cheese melts. Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Cheese Crispies

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut a baguette into slices and place the slices on a large cookie sheet. Paint each slice with a little olive oil. Toast the bread in the oven until it is beginning to crisp on top. Remove from the oven and let cool a little. Peel a clove of garlic and rub the toasts with the raw garlic. Flip the toasts over, paint with a little more oil, and toast the flip side. Remove from the oven again, and top the toasts with a small slice of really good cheddar or Parmesan. Return to the oven just until the cheese melts. Serve.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Kitchen Garden

Does the fact that I have no yard dissuade me from having a kitchen garden? Hell, no. My postage-stamp balcony is replete with containers. This year, we again have tomatoes, basil, rosemary, and chives. Plus, I've added a bell pepper, two types of thyme, mint, and sage.

OK, I will never have enough basil to make a batch of pesto, but I do have enough to dress a salad. And the rosemary and thyme flavors marinades all summer long. Best of all, my children can connect some small measure of the food we eat with the growing process, and the patient work that entails.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fun with Bivalves

Mussels are a great weeknight go-to meal for the family. Kids love them because of the "eww" factor, and they are one of your less-expensive seafood options. Make sure that the grocer packs them on ice but leaves the bag open to the air so that they don't suffocate on the way home. (My bagger at Whole Foods tried to tie the plastic bag containing my mussels shut.) When you get home, decant your mussels to a colander set in a large bowl and store in the fridge until you are ready to cook them. Here's one of my favorite ways to prepare them.

Weeknight Mussels for Four

1 stick butter
6-8 cloves garlic or a couple of shallots, minced
1/2 bottle decent white wine
2 lbs mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1 lb spaghetti

Clean the mussels under fresh water and pull any "beards" off of them. (Fun fact: Saavy fishermen have historically knit gloves from the fibers that comprise mussels' beards.) Make sure that the mussels are all closed; enlist children to help you bang the open ones gently on the counter; if they don't close within a couple of minutes, throw them away (they are dead). Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the garlic or shallots (or both) and saute until fragrant. Add the wine and the mussels. Cover the pot and cook over medium high heat until the mussels open and are cooked through (about 8-10 minutes). Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti. Add the spaghetti and the chopped parsley to the pot and stir to combine. Serve immediately. Teach kids how to use an empty mussel shell as a tool extract mussels from their shells and eat them. If you are feeling really decadent, heat up a baguette and serve with the mussels and pasta (good for soaking up the yummy sauce).

Frugal Chicken Dinner

Here's something I threw together tonight with some chicken from the freezer and pantry staples. Pretty easy to cook, and family pronounced it yummy.

Glazed Chicken Thighs

8 chicken thighs
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup chicken stock or water
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon siracha
2 oranges
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 onions, sliced

Salt and pepper the chicken. Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Brown the chicken in batches. Meanwhile, supreme the orange segments and squeeze the juice into a medium bowl. Add the soy sauce, stock, honey, and siracha; stir to combine.. Remove the chicken to a plate. Pour off most of the rendered fat from the pan and return to the heat. Add the onions to the pot and saute, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook the onions until they begin to brown. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. Return the chicken to the pot; layer on top o f the onions. Pour any reserved juices from the chicken into the pot. Add the orange/sauce mix and cover the pot. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 20-30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the lid, and cook until the sauce thickens and begins to glaze the chicken, another 10 minute or so. Serve with rice.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Pad Thai

Last time I was on Devon Ave., I picked up some tamarind paste, thinking it would be the magic bullet for some homemade pad thai. I was right. This is a pretty simple dish, suitable for a weeknight. It's also pretty inexpensive if you use tofu for the protein. Of course, when I mentioned at breakfast that we were having tofu for dinner, I got moans of disapproval, so I supplemented the pad thai with a quick chicken satay on the side.

Pad Thai

1 package rice noodles

1 package extra-firm tofu
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp corn starch

1 tbsp tamarind paste
2 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp brown sugar
3 tsp siracha

3 eggs
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 green onions, sliced
1/2 cup snow peas
1 package bean sprouts
1 bunch coriander, chopped

lime wedges

In a large bowl, soak the rice noodles in very hot tap water. Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a small bowl, mix together the tamarind paste, soy sauce, brown sugar and siracha. Set aside. Combine the soy sauce and corn starch. Cube the tofu and marinate in this sauce. Heat a wok over a high flame. Mix the eggs in a small bowl. Add a little vegetable oil to the wok and pour the eggs down the sides of the pan. Scramble. Remove from pan and reserve. Add a little more oil to the pan, and saute the garlic and the tofu until lightly toasted. Drain the rice noodles and add to the pan along with the sauce. Stir fry until the noodles are well coated. Add the green onions and the snow peas and continue cooking until the noodles become sticky and the vegetables are crisp-tender. Turn off the heat. Add the bean sprouts and the coriander. Serve with lime wedges.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lemony Chicken Thighs

This is adapted from a recipe that I got from my grandfather many years ago. Gramps was an old skool foodie--ingredients like soy sauce and rice wine vinegar were exotic in his day. (Wonder what my kids will be cooking with in 20 years?) Chicken thighs are an inexpensive yet satisfying protein. Serve this with steamed rice and a green vegetable.

Lemony Braised Chicken Thighs

6-8 chicken thighs
2 onions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup chicken stock or water
2 lemons, sliced

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy saucepan and brown the chicken on both sides. It's important to do this in batches of no more than 3-4 thighs at a time; if you overcrowd the pan, the meat will not brown. Remove the chicken to a plate and reserve. Pour off most of the oil and rendered chicken fat from the pan and return to the heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent. Add the garlic and saute for a minute until fragrant. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, and stock, and stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cover the onion mixture with a layer of lemon slices. Lay the reserved chicken thighs on top. Top the chicken with a layer of lemon slices. Cover tightly. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20-30 minutes until chicken is cooked through.

Easter Island Carrots Playing Chess

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Not Your Usual Side Dish

Potatoes and rice, potatoes and rice, sometimes bread. These are side dish staples in my household, and I am bored. A couple of weeks ago, I had a lovely bulgur wheat salad with my sea bass at Farmerie 58, so I decided to try my own take on bulgur tonight for dinner. We are having balsamic glazed pork chops for a main dish, so I thought it would be nice to flavor the grain with apples and raisins. Next time, I might add a little apple juice to the cooking liquid for the grains, or use a little olive oil instead of all butter (ran out of olive oil making the glaze for the chops!).

Bulgur Salad

1 onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 cup bulgur
2 cups water
1/2 cup raisins
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Heat the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the bulgur and raisins and stir. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Turn heat off and let sit for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, saute the onion, celery, and apple in 1 tablespoon of butter until softened. Add the last 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan and melt with the sauteed vegetables. Add the bulgur/raisin mixture and the cider vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Comfort Food, Veggie Style

I'm tired tonight, still recovering from all of the bar food served at our Super Bowl soiree (chicken wings, sliders, guacamole, and white bean dip), and craving comfort food that's good for you. So, I stopped at the market on the way home, picked up some oranges and some asparagus and a butternut squash, and I'm cobbling together a vegetarian risotto with a fresh winter salad. Risotto is a simple and satisfying main dish; make sure to get real Parmesan, not the canned wood shavings that they sell in the grocery aisle. The peppery arugula salad is a nice counterpoint to the creamy, unctuous risotto. And the whole thing can be prepared and served in an hour.

Vegetarian Risotto with Butternut Squash and Asparagus

Peel a medium butternut squash and core out the seeds. Chop into 1/2 inch pieces; toss with a little olive oil and spread out on a sheet pan. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in a 425-degree oven for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, clean a bunch of asparagus and chop into bite-sized pieces. Toss with a little olive oil. Chop a large shallot and set aside. When the squash looks hot and is beginning to brown on the bottom, pull it from the oven and toss with a spatula. Add the asparagus to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and return to the oven for another 15 minutes or so until the asparagus is tender.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat a little olive oil. Add the shallots and saute for a couple of minutes until tender. Add two cups of arborio rice and saute until the rice becomes translucent and shiny. Slowly add chicken stock, about a cup at a time, stirring with each addition and bringing the risotto to a low simmer. The rice will take 5-6 cups of stock. When it looks as though the rice may be done, start tasting; keep adding stock until the rice is cooked but al dente. With the last addition of stock, add the roasted vegetables, and stir and cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add a couple handfuls of Parmesan; taste and season with salt and pepper.

Winter Arugula Salad

Supreme two oranges, squeezing the pulp to extract as much juice as possible. Separate the orange sections from the juice. Toss the sections with three generous handfuls of baby arugula and some thinly sliced purple onion. For the dressing, whisk together 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 3 tablespoons reserved orange juice, 1 minced clove garlic, 6 tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. If the dressing is too sweet, add a dash of rice vinegar. Toss over the salad and serve.

Friday, January 30, 2009


Yesterday, Nick and I found these strange Japanese sodas called "ramune" at World Market. The soda bottle is "capped" with a marble that is held in place by the carbonation of the soda. Ever a sucker for a gimmick, I bought one and brought it home to see how they work. Fun! And tasty--the lychee flavor is delicious.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Good for What Ails You

Why do people open cans for soup, when homemade soup is so easy to make and so much more delicious? Here's a simple chicken noodle soup that is rich and satisfying for dinner. Serve with a warm loaf of ciabatta bread and a glass of wine.

Hearty Chicken Noodle Chowder

1 medium onion, chopped
3-4 carrots, chopped
3-4 ribs celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 14-0unce can chopped tomatoes
6 cups chicken broth
2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 bag egg noodles
1/2 cup cream

In a large soup pot, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter. Saute the onion, carrots, and celery of medium flame until they are softened. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and thyme and heat for a minute until fragrant. Add the chicken, the canned tomatoes, and the broth. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer on low heat until the chicken is cooked through and the carrots are tender. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary. Add the egg noodles and cook until the noodles are tender. Add the cream. Serve.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Spicy Thai Chicken

Spicy Thai Chicken
Originally uploaded by mickeynick
Another recipe from Martha, this time she is a good influence with this light, tasty dinner. Dear husband was a bit put off by the prep work (I made him pick cilantro leaves off of their stems, grind toasted rice with a mortar and pestle, and grate carrots), but he was happy with the result. I mixed ground chicken breast and thigh, thinking that the breast only would be too dry and flavorless. Next time, I would increase the amount of lemongrass in the rice.