Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Preparing for Fall

We’re in the midst of one of those ‘tweener’ type seasons.  Can’t really decide if it’s summer or fall at the moment.  Our days are warm (too warm for September, in my book), but the evenings are too cool to go running around without a jacket.  Personally, I’d like to pick a season and stick with it.  Maybe I’m just looking forward to some crisp, fall weather.

With the cool temps in the evening, I got a sudden craving for warm pudding.  And since I had just bought a box of those ginger thins I so love, gingerbread pudding sounded really good.  But I had a hard time trying to find a recipe online.  Most of the recipes that came up upon Googling ‘gingerbread pudding’ were either baked, or they were more of a cake than a pudding.  I just wanted something simple to whip up on the stove.  So I decided to experiment, and you know what?  I think I got it right on the first attempt.  This is a super rich and decadent pudding, but with the hominess of spices.  It will find a place with future, more elaborate desserts, I’m sure.  But at the moment, I was content to scarf it down with some of those lovely thin cookies.

It was perfect.


Gingerbread Pudding

¾ cups whipping cream
2 ¼ cups milk (I used 2%)
1 vanilla bean pod, halved lengthwise and seeds scraped out
2” piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into slices
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
6 cloves
1 star anise

3 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
3 Tbs corn starch
1 tbs molasses

3 Tbs butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt

In a medium saucepan, combine the whipping cream, milk, vanilla bean pod AND seeds*, ginger, peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves and star anise.  Heat over medium heat, just until milk starts to simmer around the edges.  Remove from heat and allow to sit for 20 minutes.

Combine the egg yolks, sugar, corn starch and molasses in a small bowl.  Whisk until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Slowly pour about half of the milk mixture through a sieve into the egg mixture.  Whisk thoroughly and then pour this mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining milk mixture.  Place over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and just begins to reach a boiling point.  Remove from heat and add butter, the vanilla extract and salt.  Stir until butter is melted.  Place a piece of wax paper directly on the pudding to keep a skin from forming and allow to cool until ready to use.  Refrigerate any leftovers.

* If your sieve has too fine of a mesh, you might want to keep the vanilla bean seeds set aside until after you've strained the milk mixture and then stir it in.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Now That's More Like It

Enough of this healthy stuff.  Time to get back to the baked goods.

Ok, so this isn’t exactly terrible in the Things that Are/Aren’t Good For You department.  Full of good summer berries, and there’s not a ton of sugar.  But there is a stick of butter in there, so it won’t win any low-fat awards.  I made this for breakfast, by the way.

This was partly an experiment to see how well it would hold up over 24 hours, since I was looking for something to add to my catering repertoire.  I decided to sprinkle the crust with a bit of vanilla sugar before topping it with berries, and this seemed to do a great job as a barrier between the juiciness of the berries and the crust.  And of course you can go crazy with your fillings here.  I opted for blackberries and strawberries because I have a sea of blackberry brambles pushing on my back fence, and it’s a constant battle to keep them from overtaking the yard.  So this was my reward for having to wade through thorns and hack down runners on a too-warm day.  If I had been more ambitious, I would have topped it with some lemon curd, but instead I finished up a container of vanilla bean ice cream.

Ok, so you need to forget the ice cream if you’re going for a more healthy alternative.

And maybe dispense with the additional sprinkling of sugar.

And then there’s that stick of butter…

Mixed Berry Crostata

For the crust:

1 ¼ cups flour
½ tsp salt
2 Tbs + 1 tsp sugar (I used vanilla sugar, but plain will do)
1 stick butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
¼ cup ice water

Berry mixture:

3 cups of mixed berries, rinsed, dried and cut into smaller pieces, if necessary
1 tsp lemon zest
2 Tbs vanilla sugar (again, regular sugar is just fine)
1 Tbs flour

Preheat oven to 425°.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and 1 tsp sugar.  Add the butter cubes and cut in with a pastry blender until the largest butter pieces are about pea sized.  Stir in ice water just until dough begins to come together.  Dump mixture onto floured surface (will still be crumbly) and knead lightly just until it comes together.  Roll into a circle about a foot in diameter.  Transfer onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and sprinkle with the 2 Tbs of sugar.

In same mixing bowl, combine the berries, zest, sugar and 1 Tbs flour.  Mound this mixture in the center of the dough, leaving 3 – 4” all around.  Brush the exposed edges of the pie dough with a little water.  Bring the dough up, partially covering the berry mixture and ‘pleating’ it where it comes together.  Press slightly to get a good seal.

Place in oven and bake 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden, and the berry mixture is bubbly.  Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Going Against Character

Soon I’m going to have to stop with all of this healthy nonsense and get back to my usual, butter-laden dishes.  But I did this one a while back, and it’s been languishing in my ‘unposted’ pile for too long (with many others), so I thought I’d post.

You may (or may not) notice that the recipe calls for black beans when the photo, clearly, is missing them.   I know I intended to use them (for a catering job), and I can’t for the life of me remember why they were left out.  But then, I don’t like beans, so it’s not like they’re the first thing that pop into my head when raiding the pantry.

Also, in addition to the limes called for to be used in the dressing, I tossed my avocado cubes with a bit more of the juice to help keep them from browning.  I also read somewhere that if you’ll run the flesh of a newly cut avocado under cold water, it will stall the browning process.  I can’t say definitively that this works, although my experience is that it does seem to help, at least.  As a general rule in our house, avocados don’t stay around long enough to go brown, anyway.

If you don’t want to use quinoa here (although I’m getting more and more enamored with the stuff), you could always use cooked rice.  But if you haven’t tried quinoa yet, you really should.  It’s surprisingly tasty for being so darn good for you.

Southwest Quinoa Salad

1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 Tbs olive oil
1 ½ cups broth or water
1 tsp salt

3 Tbs olive oil
Juice of 3 limes (about 6 Tbs)
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp chipotle chile powder
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp Mexican oregano powder
½ tsp each salt freshly ground black pepper

1 ear fresh corn, shucked
1 Roma tomato, finely diced
1 avocado, dices
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 green onion, finely sliced
½ cup cooked black beans, rinsed and drained
¼ cup cilantro, finely chopped

Heat a saucepan over medium heat.  Add 1 Tbs olive oil and the quinoa.  Allow to toast for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the broth and salt, bring the heat up to medium-high and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to stand, covered, for another 5 minutes.  Remove lid and fluff with a fork.  Allow to cool.

Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a jar or plastic container with a lid.  Cover and shake until mixture comes together.

Cook the corn until crisp-tender, either in the microwave or by toasting in a skillet (allow to char slightly).  Allow to cool a bit and then cut the kernels from the cob.

Add the vegetables to a large mixing bowl.  Top with the cooked quinoa, followed by the dressing.  Toss to coat.  Allow to stand about 15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.  Serve at room temperature.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Simple. Healthy. Delicious.

I’ll admit to a tendency to want to tweak things.  But I try to recognize when less is more.

While at the Farmer’s Market, I was inspired to make this simple salad.  Simple, of course, doesn’t have to mean boring.  This has all of the markers of a well-rounded dish.  A bit of nuttiness from the cheese and walnuts, the sweetness of the fresh vegetables and pea shoots, and tang from the lemon come together nicely.  The pea shoots, obviously, are not something you’re going to see every day in your standard grocery store, but you could substitute a bit of parsley.

See?  No muss, no fuss doesn’t have to put you into a coma.

Summer Squash Salad

1 medium sized zucchini
1 medium sized yellow squash
2 tsp kosher salt
3 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
1 ear sweet corn
1/3 cup walnut pieces, toasted
Shaved Asiago cheese
Pea shoots

Slice the squash lengthwise using a mandoline (you could also use a vegetable peeler).  Place slices in a strainer and sprinkle with the kosher salt.  Allow to sit for 30 minutes.  Rinse thoroughly and allow to drain again, about another 5 minutes or so.  Dry on paper towels.

Meanwhile, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, thyme and salt and pepper in a container with a lid.  Shake thoroughly until emulsified.

Husk corn and toast slightly, either on the grill, or in a grill pan.  If cooking on the stove, add a little water to your pan once you have a bit of color on the corn and cook just until tender.  Allow to cool.  Cut kernels from corn cob.  Combine corn and squash in a bowl.

Pour enough of the dressing mixture over the squash and corn and toss to coat lightly.  Arrange in serving dish.  Season with a bit more salt and pepper, if desired.

Top with walnuts, cheese and pea shoots.  Serve immediately.

Note:  the squash and dressing can be prepared in advance.  Store separately and then prepare as directed just before serving.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Too Good Not to Share

I never ate a pear growing up, at least not that I can remember.  I don’t know if it was because they weren’t readily available in the area, too cost prohibitive to buy or they just weren’t on my mom’s radar.  Whatever it was, I was an adult before I ever tried one.

And I’ll have to admit I wasn’t hugely impressed when I did.  It’s the texture thing.

But then I discovered my all-time favorite cocktail, the Pear Blossom, and I was suddenly on board with the idea of pears.  Not long after, Carley made this delicious dish for one of our themed dinners, and I was fully appreciative of this fruit I had ignored most of my life.

So it wasn’t much of a leap for me to decide to try them out in dessert form, and this was what I pieced together from a variety of sources, but mostly from Dorie Greenspan’s recipe.

I’ve prepared this both ways:  by poaching my own pears (as I mention here), and by using canned (make sure they're water packed and not in syrup).  The home-poached method gets an edge in results in my book (and the pears themselves seem to be easier to deal with), but the canned variety are perfectly acceptable.  The result is delicious and ‘light’ tasting, although with all of the butter involved, obviously it isn’t really light.

But it contains fruit, so that practically makes it a health food, right?

Almond Pear Tart

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick plus 1 Tbs very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

3 medium pears, firm but ripe
1 lemon
1 stick cinnamon
3 cups water
1 cup Riesling (you can also use only water if you’d like)
1 1/4 cups sugar

Almond Cream
6 Tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup ground blanched almonds
2 tsp flour
1 tsp cornstarch
1 large egg
2 tsp dark rum or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Prepare the dough:  Preheat oven to 350°.  Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Pulse briefly to combine.  Scatter the butter pieces evenly over the flour mixture.  Pulse until the butter has been evenly distributed with the largest pieces being the size of peas.  Add the egg yolk and pulse in longer bursts of about 10 seconds each, just until dough begins to clump together.  Turn out on to work surface and very lightly bring the dough together with your hands.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 15 minutes.  Press dough into a tart pan with a removable bottom.  Press a sheet of foil evenly over the dough and weight down with beans or pie weights.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Remove the foil and weights and set aside until ready to fill.

Prepare the pears:  Combine all of the ingredients for the pears, except for the pears themselves, in a large saucepan and place over medium-high heat.  Peel, halve and core the pears.  Submerge in liquid in the pan.  Bring just to a simmer and allow to continue to simmer for 15 minutes, or just until the pears are tender.  Remove from liquid onto a plate and allow to cool.

In the same food processor you used for the dough (I don’t even bother to wash it first since the ingredients are so similar), combine the butter and sugar and process until smooth.  Add the almonds, flour and cornstarch and pulse to combine.  Add the egg and rum or vanilla and process just until combined.

Bringing it all together:  Spread the almond cream evenly over the partially baked tart shell.  Slice pears cross-wise and fan slightly by pressing down.  Transfer to tart pan over almond cream with the bottom end of the pear at the edge of the pan, fanning the pear toward the center.

Return tart to oven and bake an additional 40 minutes, or until almond cream is puffed and golden.  Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Playing Catch-up

What’s that saying about being so far behind, you start to catch up with yourself?


I was skimming through the photo folder on my computer and realizing just how far behind I really am in posting.  I had, for example, every intention of posting about all of the food I prepared during our little family getaway on the coast.  Managed to post…  one thing.

I fail.

And that’s a pretty recent thing, too.  I’m not even going to try to tackle the dozens of recipes backed up and awaiting their day.

If we’re placing blame on my seeming lack of time management skills, here’s the main culprit…

What can I say?  I’d rather be chasing him around the house than typing out recipes any day of the week.  Which means that HIS blog is way behind, too.  I’m an equal opportunity procrastinator, apparently.

But I’ll throw this in for grins.  Because it was super tasty.

Now, where did that little rugrat go???

Smoked Salmon Risotto

2 Tbs olive oil
1 leek, washed and thinly sliced (white part only)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed
1 cup Arborio or Carnaroli rice
¼ cup champagne
1 lemon, halved
3 cups (or so) chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste)
1 Tbs butter
½ cup Asiago cheese, freshly grated
¼ cup finely chopped Italian parsley
6 oz smoked salmon, flaked

In a large saucepan, heat the chicken broth and half of the lemon over medium heat.

In a large skillet over medium to medium high heat, sauté the leak in the olive oil until it begins to soften.  Add the garlic and continue to sauté another minute.  Add the rice and stir to coat with the oil.  Cook for a minute or two and then add the wine.

When the wine is almost evaporated, add a ladle of the chicken broth (about half a cup) to the rice.  Stir slowly until the broth is almost ‘gone’ and then add another ladle of broth.  Continue this process until the rice is just al dente (about 30 minutes).  If you run out of broth before the rice is cooked, you can add a little hot water.  The rice mixture should be creamy at this point and not dry.  About halfway through this process, season the rice with salt and pepper

Stir in the butter, cheese and parsley at this point.  Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly.  Stir in about half of the flaked salmon, adding the remainder to the top.

Serve immediately.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Gourmet Leftovers

Last weekend I took the entire family for a much needed getaway on the coast.  Opted to rent a house vs. staying in a hotel – best decision I made.  Chose this particular house because of this kitchen…

Going to be difficult to go back to the cramped quarters in my own little kitchen after being spoiled with so much counter space!

On our final morning, I was trying to clear out as much stuff in the fridge as I could.  The night before I had made a tequila pineapple chicken (which I will share at some point), and as a side, I made the potato tacos that the girls love so much.  I had quite a few left over, so for breakfast, I decided to reheat them and top them with bacon, some sautéed onion and jalapenos, a fried egg, and whatever toppings we had left from the night before. 

I think I’ve mentioned that I’m not really much of a breakfast person, but this was a pretty spectacular use of leftovers, if I may say so.  Would make for a great hangover cure, too, with just enough spice and richness to help cope with the ‘day after’ blues.  But even without the need for a ‘cure’, we still enjoyed the heck out of these, and it was one of the best meals of the weekend.

Kind of took some of the sting out of having to come home.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


I have a little secret to impart…

I don’t really like pizza.

There.  I said it.

I blame it on the weekly treks my family would make to a mediocre pizza joint in a nearby town that offered free pop if you brought in their plastic cups, and discounts on their pizza thanks to a never-ending supply of coupons.  Apparently I get my frugality from my mother.

Anyway, while I have HAD pizza that I admitted was ‘good pizza’, it just isn’t really something I’m going to get all emotional over.

This stuff, however, may be a different story.

I blame Food Network for sending me here.  My Sunday morning ritual has become tucking Peanut in bed with me for a little snuggle while watching TV.  We (well, I, actually, since he’s not interested in TV) just happened to catch a show called ‘The Best Thing I Ever Made’, and Scott Conent made a Stromboli that just looked so enticing, I had to try it for myself.

Stromboli, like pizza, are only limited by your imagination.  You can go crazy with the fillings here.  The trick is to keep everything pretty dry and save your sauce to use for dipping.  I went with a really simple oil and balsamic dipping oil, flavored with garlic and herbs.

Oh, and O2, who also is not a fan of pizza, proclaimed it ‘amazing’.

Since I basically used the recipe exactly as written, I’ll just send you there.  The only change I made was to use peppered salami and omit the pepper called for.

* * *

All ready for rolling, and dressed for the oven...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Jumping on the Bandwagon

Just when I’d determined that I was going to make a MUCH more concerted effort to eat healthy, I ran across marbled halvah at Safeway yesterday, marked half off just for me.  I mean, seriously?  Would anyone NOT see that as the fates trying to tell you to accept yourself as you are and forget about chewing on wheat grass and rice cakes?

Maybe it’s just me.

I also made a huge error in judgment by determining that we could just ‘wing it’ for dinner, knowing I had promised to help O2 make a cake for her boyfriend’s birthday.  You know how teens sometimes assume things like, there’s an endless supply of money to serve their every whim?  Or that the dinner dishes just magically wash themselves?  Well, they also think that baking and decorating a cake can be done (apparently by elves) in part of an evening. 


Anyway, as the evening wore on, and it became glaringly obvious that I was not going to get a meal of any kind, I started hunting around for stuff to snack on.  Dinner turned out to be a bakery hamburger bun and a big handful of kale chips.

Kale what???

Ok, if you read as many food blogs as I do, you see this stuff mentioned all the time.  But I can’t say that the idea of cooking up a bunch of kale to snack on really jumped to the forefront of my list of must tries.  But, in the interest of not dropping dead of a massive coronary before turning 50, I decided I should give them a whirl.  Turns out it’s pretty good stuff.

Don’t go thinking you’ll be able to substitute these for your favorite potato chip and dunk them in ranch dressing or anything.  They’re super delicate and almost disintegrate as soon as you pop them in your mouth.  But they do win big points for flavor when you dress them up a bit.  This is just a basic idea.  Take it and run with whatever crazy concoctions you deem fit.

Kale Chips

3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 bunch Italian kale (washed and completely dry), ribs removed and torn into bite-sized pieces
Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375°.  Add kale to a large mixing bowl.

In a small skillet, add the olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes.  Turn heat to medium-low and cook the garlic just until softened.  Pour contents of pan over the kale in the bowl and toss to cover completely in the garlic oil.

Spread kale in a single layer over two baking pans.  Place on two racks in the oven and allow to bake for 12 – 15 minutes, or until crisp, rotating the pans halfway through baking time.

Allow to cool completely on sheets.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

What Kind of Couscous?

When I first began catering regularly, I kept things pretty simple and relied on a few tried and true recipes.  Now that I’ve developed a little ‘system’, I’m starting to branch out more in terms of trying new recipes.  Some have worked better than others (I generally judge the level of success by how much, or little, is left over), but there have definitely been some hands down favorites, especially in the area of sides.

My approach has been to put myself in the shoes of the people I’m feeding.  I know when I walk up to a buffet line and see yet another tray of cold cuts with the obligatory potato salad alongside, I want to stifle a yawn.  So especially when it comes to side salads, I want to offer something a bit more enticing.

I had a number of people comment about this salad after the last lunch I did.  Several wanted to know what type of pasta it was (“I thought it was some kind of couscous, but I’ve never seen it that big before”, “Was that what’s-it-called??  Kwin-Oh-Ah??”).  Most just commented on how tasty it was.

As an added bonus, I reserved about half of the dressing I made for this and used it as a marinade for chicken thighs, which I grilled and put on skewers.

And the crowd went wild.


Greco Israeli Couscous Salad


1/2 cup light olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil
2 - 3 Tbs fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp dried ground oregano
3 cloves fresh garlic, mashed into a paste with 1/2 tsp of salt
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp finely chopped fresh mint
2 Tbs red wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Place all ingredients in a glass jar. Cover and shake well.  Or, combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until emulsified.


3 cups water
1 ½ cups dry Israeli Couscous
¼ tsp salt
1 cup Chinese snow peas
½ medium English cucumber, cubed
½ cup sliced green onions
1 tsp lemon zest
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
¼ - ½ cup Dressing (to taste)
½ cup crumbled feta cheese

In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil.  Add salt and the couscous.  Stir and reduce heat to a simmer.  Simmer until couscous is just tender, about 10 minutes.  Drain into a fine mesh strainer and rinse with cold water.  Set aside.

Combine remaining ingredients, except for dressing, in a large bowl.  Add the cooled couscous and stir to combine.  Add ¼ cup of the dressing and toss.  Add more dressing if needed.  Season with more salt and pepper if needed.

** To make ahead of time, make dressing and store separately.  Combine all salad ingredients, except for the feta and basil.  Just before serving, add the feta, basil and dressing.  Toss to combine.