Monthly Archives: April 2009

better than take-out

My dear readers…I’ve missed you!  I won’t apologize because you all were so kind to point out after my last absence that I have no reason to, but I will say that life has been, in one word, busy.  The kind of busy that comes with having a house guest for two full weeks.  The kind of busy that sends you to Florida for an unexpected family emergency.  The kind of busy that keeps you in the office until 3am to meet a deadline.  The kind of busy that leaves you with little time to cook, let alone time to write about what you cook. 

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And, in the midst of all of that busyness, I’ve become completely obsessed with this book.  And this one.  So, the little spare time I’ve been able to find over this last week (you know, like when I should be sleeping), I’ve spent engrossed in the world of Edward and Bella.  Its been so long since I’ve read a romance, let alone a fantastical one involving vampires and werewolves, that I’d forgotten how nice it is to step out of my own busy world for chunks of time to get lost in a fictional one.  I don’t know how I managed to resist the inexplicable pull of the saga for so long, especially with all of the hype the movie created last fall (which I finally watched last weekend in Florida with my stepsisters and which led to my buying the first book in the airport on the way back home) but the escape has been welcome.  I feel a bit silly, especially when I read reviews that state “teens will relish this newest adventure…”, but as a friend pointed out, there’s just something about a good vampire romance that the female population can’t resist, no matter how juvenile the books may be.  And this female can’t disagree.

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When life gets hectic Brian and I try to plan meals that are quick to prepare and last for days.  Our crock pot comes in handy on these occasions, acting as our own personal chef slaving away while we’re at the office.  This particular soup was the result of us running home on our lunch break to read a chapter of Twilight let our dogs out and discovering while hastily making sandwiches for lunch that we had some veggies in the fridge that needed to be used up. Knowing that there would be no time after work to prepare dinner (this was to be the 3am night), I pulled down the trusty crock pot and got to work.  In one hour’s time Brian and I ate lunch, made dinner, cleaned the kitchen AND I got a little reading in.  Talk about productive.

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That evening I hurried home, ladled soup into pyrex bowls, grabbed a bottle of wine and our dogs and got back to work.  Even though dinner was eaten while sitting in front of my computer it felt good to know that it was homemade and healthy, so much better than the take-out that is usually consumed on such late nights. 

This week will be busy as well (I had to work this weekend to prepare for it) but hopefully things will be back to normal soon.  And, I’m halfway through the Twilight saga, for which my kitchen (and my husband!) will be grateful, I’m sure.

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Obviously this recipe can be modified in many ways to suit different tastes.  I personally think that adding a bit of spice to the broth would be delicious.  

Crock Pot Minestrone

serves 6, or 2 for three meals

Ingredients:

  • 1 large zucchini, or 2 small, diced into bite-size chunks
  • 2 summer squash, diced into bite-size chunks
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped ham
  • 28-oz can of diced tomatoes (I used the kind with basil)
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp fresh oregano
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup dried cannellini beans
  • 1 cup Israeli cous-cous, or other small pasta
  • 2 large handfuls of fresh spinach

Method:

  1. Put the chopped zucchini, squash, bell pepper, ham, tomatoes, beans, bay leaves and fresh thyme in the crock pot.
  2. Heat oil over medium heat in saute’ pan.  Add onion and saute’ for 3 minutes.  Add garlic and fresh oregano and saute’ an additional minute.  Add mixture to crock pot and put pan back on heat.
  3. Add chicken broth to saute’ pan to de-glaze the pan.  Pour into crock pot.
  4. Cook soup on high for 6 hours.  When the beans are tender, add the cous-cous or pasta and fresh spinach.  Place lid back on crock pot and continue to cook until pasta is tender and spinach is wilted, about 15 minutes.
  5. Salt and pepper to taste.  (be sure to remove thyme stems and bay leaves before serving)

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their newest fan

Do you ever have nights when you just don’t feel like spending a lot of time in the kitchen? I know you do. I can usually tell early in the afternoon when it is going to be one of those nights because I am  either dreading the process of preparing what we’ve got on the menu or I have no interest in thinking about something to cook. Leftovers come in handy on such nights as do Amy’s pizzas stashed in the freezer. Sometimes a quick batch of guacamole won’t seem too daunting and Brian and I will spend the evening snacking on seven-layer dip, other times we resort to picking up the phone and ordering various tofu dishes from our favorite Chinese take-out place. But my favorite no-effort meal is, by far, of the crusty loaf of bread, hard cheese and simple salad variety.

I was in one of these moods on Sunday after arriving home from the cabin. We’d spent the weekend cooking in a foreign kitchen for extra people – which was a blast – but by the time we got back to our own house and unloaded the car and the coolers of leftover food I knew that there would be no cooking happening that evening.  Even so, a grocery trip was on the afternoon agenda so that I could pick up necessary ingredients to eventually make this and these for Meghann’s blogger bake sale [during which she made an incredible amount of money and exceeded her fundraiser goal by over $1000!!!].  I hadn’t made a menu for the week so spent the first 10 minutes or so wandering through the produce department looking for inspiration.  And I saw these:

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Radishes and I don’t have much of a history.  In fact, until Sunday, I didn’t think that I even liked radishes.  But as I stood in front of the deep scarlet globes in the middle of a very busy produce department and racked my brain trying to think of why I didn’t like them I could not come up with one recollection of ever actually eating a radish.  Maybe once or twice, shaved over baby greens on a salad, but never on their own or displayed proudly and prominently as a key ingredient in a dish.   And, since I’d been reading Molly’s book while in West Virginia and had come across this recipe, I decided it was time to give the bright red beauties a fair review.

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I even, coincidentally, picked up Plugra.  The same salted European butter that Molly recommends on Orangette for this very treat, although I didn’t know it at the time.  Armed with a French baguette I arrived home and happily announced to Brian and our last lingering house guest that we would be having sliced, salted radishes on fresh bread for dinner, along with a salad.  Though they weren’t convinced at first (and we did add a hunk of fresh sheep’s milk cheese from the local farmer’s market to the mix, separate from the radish ensemble) they came around after the first bite.  For thinly sliced radishes with delicately shaved butter and sea salt on a fresh baguette is a delicious combination.  Truly.

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So impressed was I with my first official radish experience that I came home from the office today to make a salad with radishes for lunch, stopping first at the local market for an avocado.  I made this soup [scroll to bottom] for dinner last night and knew that it was destined to be my mid-day meal, but couldn’t resist the urge for fresh Spring greens to accompany it.  A quick search on epicurious for a good radish salad [remember, I'm new to them] yielded this recipe. The avocado and fresh cilantro seemed to be the perfect compliment for the radishes and ultimately my spicy tomato-based soup, and I wasn’t disappointed. Oh radish, I’m your newest fan.

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The recipe describes a lovely presentation for the salad on the plate, but in the name of time [and simplicity], I just dumped everything in a bowl.  It was still delicious, although the display would be lovely if you have the time.

Radish and Avocado Salad with Fresh Cilantro
modified from epicurious

serves 2

Ingredients:

  • leafy green lettuce, such as butter or bibb
  • 1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced
  • 4 medium radishes, halved and sliced thinly
  • 2 tbsp fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 tbsp minced shallot
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp cabernet vinegar (I’m out of champagne vinegar, which the recipe calls for)
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard

Whisk last 4 ingredients together to make dressing.  Divide first 4 ingredients into 2 bowls and drizzle dressing on top.

The recipe describes a lovely presentation for the salad on the plate, but in the name of time [and simplicity], I just dumped everything in a bowl.  It was still delicious, although the display would be nice if you have the time.

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lost river modern

I am aware that my posts have been a bit sporadic lately, but I think I’ve had a pretty good excuse.  Life.  And the house guests that come with it.  Brian and I have been playing host and hostess to a slew of old friends these last couple of weeks, which has been just fabulous but also very time-consuming.  We’ve had a barbeque on our back deck, nights out on the town, quiet evenings in with a bottle (or two!) of wine and, the best by far, a weekend get away to West Virginia.  Specifically, LostRiverModern, our favorite modern, pre-fabricated cabin in the woods.

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I know that this is a food blog.  But you have to understand that I am also a designer, armed with 6 years of education at two different architecture schools and several years of practical experience.  And I simply cannot return from such a fabulous place with such wonderful memories and not share it with you.  I just can’t.  So please bear with me – there are plenty of food photos and I even have a recipe for a simple and healthy chicken salad waiting for you at the end. And, when you’re through, you should really check out LostRiverModern’s website and blog.  And then book yourself a weekend get-away.  You won’t be disappointed.  

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I’ll be back to regular recipe posting this week, as I have a backlog of drafts to publish.  And, thank you all for the very sweet comments on my last post for key lime butter cookies. I’m glad that you enjoyed it.  As for the cookies, I made a batch (for the third time – in one week) to take with us to the cabin.  They were gone the first day.  

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[taken when we visited last October]

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[potato salad with olives]

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[burgers with roasted cherry tomatoes and pepper jack cheese]

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[turkey and veggie chili mac]

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[many games of rummy - I had to throw this in because of my incredible, once-in-a-lifetime lead.  In case you can't read it, my column says "550" while Brian's says "20".  Oh yes.]

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[the owners are dog-friendly!!!!!]

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[love.]

We can’t wait to return.  Many thanks to Chris and Sarah for sharing their beautiful home.

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Chicken Salad with Cranberries and Walnuts

serves 4 as a filler for a lunch wrap or a side with dinner

Ingredients:

  • 3 medium chicken breasts, cooked (I baked mine for 35 minutes at 350*, with a bit of olive oil and salt + pepper]
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 3 tbsp plain, nonfat yogurt
  • 3 tbsp honey mustard dressing (I make my own and keep it in the fridge, always, using this recipe)

Method:

  1. Mix it all together.
  2. Chill for 1 hour before serving.

its in my blood

When I was a little girl I spent a lot of time at my grandfather’s house.  We were lucky enough to have him living just 2.1 miles from us, a distance I wouldn’t think twice at running these days but didn’t even dream of walking back then.  I never had the experience of having a teenager down the street sit with me when my parents went out with friends because Papa was so close – he was always my babysitter.  Staying with him was such fun.  I am his only grandchild so, of course, I could do no wrong.  

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One of the best aspects of going to Papa’s house was his well-stocked kitchen.  And by well-stocked I don’t mean fresh produce, top-quality olive oils or a superb selection of dried fruits and nuts (my grandfather used his oven for storage and ate most of his meals at the local all-you-can-eat buffet).  Instead, he stocked all of the classic junk food that I wasn’t allowed to eat at home – “t.v. dinners”, Little Debbie cakes, KoolAid popsicles, frozen Snickers ice cream bars, Campbell’s Chicken + Stars soup.  I’d run straight to the kitchen as soon as we arrived to see what goodies he had picked out especially for my visit (because of course, it was all about me).

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My favorite treat, and his too, were the Danish Butter Cookies that were always on his counter.  You know the kind I’m talking about…blue tin, 5 or 6 different varieties of perfectly crunchy yet melt-in-your-mouth, bite-sized, sugar-topped, golden, butter cookies.  I loved them all, but my favorites were the squarish sugar-crystal topped variety – Papa saved them just for me and I ate them by the handful.

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Papa was recently moved into a new assisted living facility that provides a more home-like environment than his last residence.  For some reason, when discussing his new home with my mother, I get images of him sitting in his wheelchair at a sunny window with a butter cookie tin in his lap.  I’ve had him, and those cookies, on my mind for the last couple of weeks.  It was only a matter of time before I searched out a recipe to replicate them, and only appropriate that my adaptation of them involved another of Papa’s favorite flavors – key lime.  He is the 6th generation of Floridians in our family after all, making me 8th until I moved 5 years ago.  Key lime juice is practically in our blood.

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The above picture is misleading…please don’t follow its direction.  My first batch of these delights was baked on a cookie sheet with no grease, as the recipe specified.  The result?  Cookie shrapnel, as pictured below.

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My trusty Silpat saved the day, as always.  I really don’t know why I even bother to try baking without it, except that this time the recipe specified an ungreased baking sheet.  The recipe is wrong, and the Silpat is necessary.  Also, lean closer to the 1/4″ dimension when slicing the log than the 1/8″ – I think that thinness may have contributed to my first batch of shrapnel.

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I sprinkled unsweetened coconut over the tops of my cookies (except for one batch, on which I forgot it and regretted it) and loved how the subtle toasted coconut flavor complimented the key lime.  Also, I really like citrus.  Really.  So if you don’t, you might want to reduce your key limes to 4 instead of 6.  

One last thing – these cookies are addicting.  If you don’t want to eat all 36 of them I highly suggest that you share them with friends and co-workers.  Because if they are in your kitchen you will eat them.  I promise.  By the handful.

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Key Lime Butter Cookies

adapted from epicurious

makes about 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1-1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • zest of 6 key limes (about 3 tbsp)
  • juice of 6 key limes (about 3 tbsp)
  • course sugar or shredded coconut for topping (optional)

Method:

  1. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
  2. Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes in a stand mixer, 6 with a hand-held mixer. Beat in egg, vanilla, lime juice and zest.
  3. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture.  Mix until just combined.
  4. Form dough into a 12-inch log (2-inches in diameter) on a sheet of plastic wrap.  Roll dough log in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours.*
  5. Put oven rack in middle of oven.  Preheat to 375F.  Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or other silicon baking mat.
  6. Cut dough log into 1/4″ slices, just enough to fill baking sheet with 1″ between cookies.  Refrigerate the rest of the dough until ready to bake.  Sprinkle cookies with course sugar or shredded coconut.
  7. Bake cookies until edges are golden, 14-16 minutes.  You may want to rotate the cookie sheet midway through baking if your oven bakes unevenly, as mine does, or you will have some brown cookies and some golden.  Watch the cookies CAREFULLY.  Each of my batches took a slightly different amount of time and it doesn’t take long for them to over-bake.
  8. Cool on sheets for 3 minutes, then remove to wire rack to cool completely.  Bake remainder of cookies on cooled cookie sheets.  Cookies will keep in an airtight container for several days, but don’t count on them sticking around for that long.

*Dough can be chilled for up to 5 days or frozen (wrapped in a double layer of plastic wrap) for 1 month.  If frozen, thaw dough in refrigerator just until it can be sliced.

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low effort, maximum return

A few years ago Brian and I bought a house.  Its a small house, just 800 square feet, but it has a large backyard for the dogs and a great central location in the city.  Its been a work in progress since before we moved in – first the bathroom, then a new air conditioner and after that a full replacement of all of our plumbing, with lots of little projects in between.  The kitchen has been on the list for quite some time and while we’ve been able to make a few changes, it still hasn’t gotten the full overhaul that it needs deserves.

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We love to entertain and, as everybody knows, company gravitates towards the kitchen.  Why wouldn’t they, when that’s where the good smells, conversation and open bottle of wine are located?  Because our kitchen is small with little space for two cooks let alone extra conversationalists, our guests typically wind up in the doorway, leaning on the frame and trying to stay out of the way as Brian and I hustle about preparing a meal.  We’ve gotten good at the “kitchen dance”, one of us putting a hand on the other’s back as we pass behind them with a hot pan or using a hip to “bump” the other aside so that the oven door can be opened.  Its fun and amusing, but less than ideal.

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Eventually the kitchen will be re-designed and our guests will have a proper place to sit with a spot to rest their drink as they watch us cook.  Until then, when entertaining, we will continue to try and prepare as much as we can ahead of their arrival so as to limit the amount of time that two of us are required in the kitchen together.  Getting the meat in the oven, assembling the cobbler for dessert, chopping the veggies to be sauteed just before the meal – anything that will allow us to enjoy our guests without worrying that in our frenzy we might miss a step of our dance and burn an arm.  

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If you’re looking for a main dish that has a maximum return for your relatively low effort, – that you can dress quickly, pop in the oven and after 40-60 minutes and a few bastings be rewarded with a beautiful and delicious star component of your meal – this is it.  Not only does it make a lovely presentation, but the pork stays incredibly moist with the figs at its center and the flavors compliment each other wonderfully.  There is a wine and fig sauce that came with the original recipe but in the interest of saving time and minimizing effort we chose not to make it.  I’m sure it would be delicious.

And the pork is perfect for sandwiches the next day, if you’ve got any leftover.

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Pork Roast Stuffed with Figs

recipe from The New York Times

Ingredients:

  • 1 boneless pork loin, about 2 pounds
  • 1 cup dried figs
  • about 1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
  • salt and pepper
  • wine, if necessary

Method:

  1. Cover figs with hot water and allow to soak.  Preheat oven to 425.
  2. Trim pork loin of excess fat as necessary.  Wriggle a thin, sharp knife into each end of meat, making a hole.  Then, use the handle of a long wooden spoon to force a hole all the way through meat, making it as wide as your thumb.
  3. Drain figs when they are tender, but not mushy.  Reserve the liquid.  Stuff the figs into the roast, all the way to the center from each end.
  4. Combine salt, pepper and rosemary and rub it all over meat.  Place meat in a roasting pan and pour about 1/2 cup of fig liquid over top of it.  Roast undisturbed for 20 minutes.
  5. Lower heat to 325 and continue to cook, basting with pan juices every 15 minutes or so.  Add liquid (wine or water) if necessary.  
  6. When an instant-read thermometer registers 145-150 degrees – probably after 40-50 minutes – remove roast to a warm platter. (when checking temperature, be sure that thermometer is in meat, not fruit)
  7. Let sit for 15 minutes.  If you wish, make sauce described here.  I did not, and the roast was still delicious.

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In The Blog World:

My cousin Meghann is hosting an Erin Baker’s Wholesome Baked Goods Giveaway!  Be sure to check out her blog and enter to win by midnight Friday. Also, don’t forget that she is hosting another Blogger Bake Sale starting next week.  She’s been posting daily Baker’s Spotlights to introduce all of the talented and generous bakers who are donating their goods for a great cause.  Get to know the bakers so you’re ready to bid on your favorite items!

The lovely ladies over at Keep It Simple Foods are hosting a Quaker Giveaway…who wants a free box of Quaker Simple Havest Trail Mix Bars?  Me!!!

Click here for a FREE Barney Butter sample!  Thanks Hangry Heather for mentioning it.  I’m intrigued by this stuff, aren’t you?

Bobbi of NHerShoes is giving away a Danskin workout jacket in a beautiful honeysuckle color…one can never have too many workout clothes!

I hope you all have a great Friday and weekend!!!