Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

How does Wednesday come around so quickly again? Here we are, and here's what I'm reading.

Last Father's Day my son and I bought my husband all the Kitchen Aid attachments for making homemade sausage. We'd tried them out before and seeing my husband with links and links of homemade Italian sausage was the best-he was a pro, and the sausage was amazing. Figured we should have all the gear on hand to make it again. After all, when you make your own sausage you know exactly what goes in it-a huge bonus. In today's LA Times they make the "Case for Homemade Sausage", not that I need to be convinced. From Chicken Apple to Spicy Merguez, and even a Bratwurst, the recipes look delicious. Great part is, if you have your butcher grind the meat for you, you can skip the casings, make sausage patties, and avoid all that gear. That said, I can promise you it won't be nearly as much fun!

Melissa Clark of the NY Times just writes a damn good recipe. This is a woman I'd like to have a meal with-I love everything she writes about. Today it's a Fig Tart with Caramelized Onions and Stilton-what's not to love about that? She makes her with prepared puff pastry and my hint there is to seek out one made with all butter. The common supermarket brands use vegetable shortening instead of butter, no where near the true flavor the dough should have. I also LOVE Nick Malgieri's recipe for Quick Puff Pastry. Tastes rich and flaky like the laborious stuff and you can make it in a lot less time.

The Washington Post aims to get you out of your lunch-packing rut, and they do a great job. You'll love the flow-chart like graphics that help you mix and match all the right stuff.

I love Bolognese-thick, rich meat sauce that is just right when the weather turns cold. I make mine with beef and a little pork. In today's Seattle Times there is a recipe (from Everyday Food) for a version with pork and bacon, no beef. With today's pork crazy eaters, I think this version will be a huge hit. You can make the sauce ahead and it keeps just fine for two days in the fridge-it also freezes well. Or, try it in lasagna mixed with a bechamel...yum!

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!


Thursday, September 24, 2009

If I only knew how to....

...how to-what? That's my question, in regards to the kitchen, of course. I'm curious. If you could be better at anything in the kitchen, what would it be? I'm thinking about future posts and wondering what kinds of things you'd find most helpful. A few ideas to get you thinking:

-knife skills need some work
-tired of the same old recipes
-want to be a better baker
-need a properly stocked pantry
-tips on fitting cooking into a busy schedule
-don't know how to cut up a chicken

What do you think?? Be general or specific but be honest. I'm interested in anything and everything...if ever there was a time to comment on the blog, this is it.

Thank you!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

Happy Food Section Wednesday. Here's what looks good today...

Russ Parsons, of the LA Times, just returned from New Mexico. His article about true green chile made my mouth water, even at 6am. The real deal isn't so easy to find outside NM. He says imagine a poblano with about 10 times more heat-sounds fantastic. For his Green Chile Enchiladas he says you may find real NW green chile frozen at your supermarket. My suggestion? For the 2 cups of chopped green chile, use mostly poblanos with 1-2 serranos for the heat. You should stem the chile first and, if you want to cut down some of the kick, take out the seeds. I do this by cutting the stem off, turning the chile cut side down, then using my knife to cut the outside "meat" of the chile off, vertically, leaving the ribs and seeds intact so I can throw them away. It's like peeling away the good stuff...works like a charm. PS...the best part of these southwestern lovelies? A fried egg on top! Mmmm....

I LOVE coconut rice. I don't make it too often, feeling just a tad guilty when I pour in that can of thick, rich coconut milk. But, there is something about the fragrance and texture of rice cooked in coconut milk that makes it divine. Burma Superstar, in San Francisco, does a really amazing, and seemingly light version that I crave. In today's NY Times Melissa Clark shares her spontaneously created recipe for Coconut Barley Pilaf with Corn, Chicken, and Cashews. Inspired by her own craving for coconut rice, she cleaned out her fridge and ended up with a damn good dish (love it when this happens!). Don't be daunted by the 40 minutes of cooking-it's largely unattended and probably well worth it.

OK, I couldn't get through my morning without a little something sweet. Bittersweet Chocolate Bars? Sold! I guess they are really brownies but packed with cocoa, bittersweet chocolate, and unsweetened chocolate (plus 3 sticks of butter) they looks over the top in just my style. One thing I love about brownies is that you can freeze them without compromising their taste or texture. Just wrap them tightly in plastic wrap. If you have the patience, wrap each brownie individually-they keep better and you can pull them out one at a time (oh so convenient when that cookie jar goes empty) . Thank you Washington Post!

The SF Chronicle published a great little article last Sunday called Terrific Dips and Sips. Packed full of quick and easy dips from some basic pantry staples, this list of recipes is worth saving for next time you are entertaining on the fly. I like the Smoked Trout "Brandade", the Pimiento & Cheese Spread (I've always wanted to try this), and the Chicken Liver Paté with Green Peppercorns.

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

What I Read Yesterday

My bad...worked to meet a big writing deadline and didn't get to my Wednesday blog. Better late than never! Here you go.

Artichoke Hearts with Harissa Salad - oh my that looks fantastic. It's from an article in yesterday's LA Times about Rosh Hashana foods with a Sephardic (specifically Tunisian) bent. We ate a lot of amazing Sephardic food growing up but, ours hailed from Spain, Greece, and Turkey. This is decidedly more north African and the spicy Harissa looks like a perfect match for the buttery rich artichoke hearts. Yum.

I'm a huge giant sucker for a good crab cake but, add a bunch of filler, sweet peppers, and other things that aren't crab and don't waste my time. I'm loving Mark Bittman's Thai Style Crab Cakes from the NY Times because they've got gorgeous Thai elements without being stepped on with a bunch of extra ingredients. One great things about crab cakes, you can refrigerate the mixture for up to 8 hours before you actually cook them, making the dish perfect for entertaining or even just a make-ahead dinner.

The Washington Post has a feature in their food section called Homemade Fast Food. Brilliant! Your own Double Whopper or Sausage McMuffin...tastier, better for you, and saves gas!

Finally, if you're watching Top Chef like I am, you absolutely can't miss these recaps from comedian Max Silvestri. As of early this morning, the recap from Episode 5 (last night) wasn't posted yet but, go back and read the old ones. They will have you laughing harder than you have in a long time. My favorite line? "Top Chef Las Vegas is like "The Hangover", except without all the funny stuff."

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lenti Soup with a Recipe

I love lentil soup. It's quick to make, super simple, very inexpensive, and can be seasoned any way you like it. It's great vegetarian and delish with a little sausage too. I made some yesterday and thought I'd try to share the 'recipe'. I put recipe in quotes because I didn't use one. I guess I cooked it by feel, watching the pot and adding more liquid or seasoning as needed. I didn't want stew, I was aiming for more of a brothy soup. The thing about lentils, or any dry legume, is that they absorb all the liquid they can as they cook, and even more if you refrigerate the soup overnight. It's an easy fix, just add more until you get the consistency you want. I've tried to write up what I did so you can give it a try. Feel free to play with it to you're liking.

I made my soup without sausage but, if you want to add some, I'd cook it first, in the pot where you are making your soup. Take off the casings, crumble it into chunks, and brown it in the pot. Once it has nice color (it doesn't need to be cooked through), transfer it to a paper towel-lined plate. Leave about 1 tbs of fat in the pot, discarding the rest. If there isn't enough, just add olive oil until you have 1 tbs...One the lentils are almost cooked, add the sausage back in and you're good to go.


Lentil Soup

1 tbs olive oil

1/2 large onion, diced

1 large carrot, diced

1 large celery stalk, diced

1 garlic clove, minced

coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, optional

1 1/2 cups lentils, rinsed

1 28-ounce container chopped tomatoes, and their juices

4 cups stock or water (veggie stock, chicken stock, and/or water-a combo of stock and water is fine)

2 sprigs Italian parsley or cilantro



Heat a stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the oil and, when hot, add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook until vegetables are lightly browned and tender, 5-7 minutes, stirring often. Add the cumin, coriander, and cayenne and cook until the spices are very fragrant, 1 minute more. Stir in the lentils, tomatoes, stock/water, and parsley and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it boils, reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils taste tender. This could take anywhere from 20-60 minutes, totally depends on the size and age of your lentils (older ones take a lot longer to cook). Go by taste-the lentils should be tender with just a little bit of a bite, but not falling apart. As the lentils are cooking, feel free to add more stock or water if the mixture seems to get too thick. Once the lentils are tender, season the soup to taste with additional salt and pepper.


This soup is great the day it is made and even better the next day. Because the lentils will absorb a lot of the soup's liquid when they sit overnight, you may need to add a bit of stock or water when you reheat it. You can also freeze lentil soup in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

Welcome to Wednesday! Here's what I'm reading today.

"30 Days of Ripe Tomatoes"...what more do you need? The esteemed Russ Parsons, over at the LA Times will motivate you to use the best of my favorite fruit, at its peak right now. From gazpacho to ratatouille, these very simple recipes will keep things interesting every night for a month. You'll find great tips like perfect caramelizing and true marinara sauce, everywhere.

With about 50 pounds of Alaskan salmon in our new freezer, we're on the hunt for inventive things to do with it these days. In today's NY Times I saw this recipe for Almost Aunt Sandy's Sweet and Sour Salmon. I love the combo of onion, thyme, balsamic, and brown sugar and think it would actually work with any fish you like. The method of oven steaming the fish is so simple, even those of you afraid to cook fish at home will find it a snap. It keeps the fish moist and tender while infusing it with all those luscious flavors.

My dear friend Deana emailed me recently after finding herself with a beautiful box of fresh figs. She wanted some creative ideas for using them, beyond just popping them in her mouth. I love figs in salads, raw or roasted. In today's Washington Post a roasted fig salad is paired with grilled lamb chops. The dressing is a combination of Greek style yogurt, honey, and goat cheese. The salad alone would be fantastic but the dish in its entirety is gorgeous, easy, and perfect for entertaining. Hope you like it Deana!

I've been on a grilled eggplant kick lately. I love slicing it, giving it a soak in a simple vinaigrette, and grilling it until just tender. In today's Seattle Times there is a recipe for Roasted Eggplant Spread with Onion and Sweet Pepper. This riff on Baba Ghanoush is done in the oven instead of the grill and sweetened with onion and peppers. This kind of spread is great to have around, not just for a dip but as a sandwich spread or even as a sauce for grilled meat.

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!


Monday, September 7, 2009

Loving Breakfast

If I had to pick a desert island meal (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) my vote would be breakfast, hands down. It is my favorite meal of the day and has been for as long as I can remember. I don't know if its the homemade cottage cheese pancakes we ate growing up or the 'breakfast for dinner' nights when my dad was in charge of cooking. I think breakfast is the perfect mix of textures, temperatures, and tastes. Crispy crunchy hash browns nestled on a plate with soft cooked eggs and rye toast-mmmmmm. Our moms were right-breakfast is the most important meal of the day.


I cringe when I walk my son to school and see kids running into the building with a Cliff bar for breakfast. I've written about the importance of breakfast before but, with school in session I think its worth repeating. Think of breakfast like fuel. What you, or your kids, eat in the morning fuels you (or them) for a good part of the day. While it is so easy to order a scone or muffin with your morning coffee, easy doesn't always equal good. The sugar high you get initially will come crashing down soon enough, making you hungry and tired.


The better choice is the 10 minutes it takes to make something else for breakfast. Whether its homemade pancakes or French toast (SO easy!), eggs cooked just the way you like them with whole wheat bread, or oatmeal with dried fruit, these simple breakfasts keep you going hours longer than something sweet (or worse, nothing at all). Same goes for your kids-get up a few minutes early and make them breakfast. You will be shocked at how much better their days go. They have the energy to focus and pay attention, they don't get tired and bored, and their stomachs wont be growling an hour later.


My cottage cheese pancakes take literally 2 minutes to mix together and another 2-3 to cook (and so much tastier than any mix). Homemade French toast? Just whisk together an egg or two, a pinch of cinnamon and sugar, a pinch of salt, and a bit of vanilla. Add an equal amount of milk and you've got a batter (ok, a custard). Heat a non-stick skillet with a bit of butter over medium heat, dunk your bread in the batter, and cook in the pan until nicely browned on both sides-total time, probably 10 minutes. Serve these things with yogurt or fruit and you will start your day off much happier than usual.


Now don't get me wrong. I love to bake and am a sucker for a home made coffee cake or a cinnamon roll. I just try to make these things special treats instead of every day things. Save them for Sunday brunch or a day when you are gathering with friends. The rest of the week, set that alarm 10 minutes early and try make a real homemade healthy breakfast. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Snack Inspiration

I was never one to buy lunch when I was a kid. Part of it was economics, my mom gave us a 1/week ration to 'buy' and I usually saved it for pizza day. She made our lunches until we were old enough to do it ourselves. While I did kind of envy Bobby who got the Ding Dong every day, I still loved being surprised when I opened the bag to see what I had. Following in her footsteps, I make my son's lunch most days. Cafeteria food is certainly better these days so he finds a few more appealing things than I did-he doesn't like the pizza but is a big fan of the meatballs. Make it or buy it, I still have to send him with a snack every day.


Despite the note we get from the teachers to send the kids with a "healthy snack" it blows my mind how "healthy" gets interpreted. I've caught a peak at a few snack bags and while I find myself mostly satisfied, it's hard for me to understand things like Lunchables, Pop-Tarts, or gummy fruit snacks.


When packing a snack, or even a school lunch, think about why your kid is eating it. It's half way between breakfast and lunch and about a third of the way through the school day. Kids are getting hungry and if they didn't eat a decent breakfast (more on that later), they are dragging. Teachers want them to get an energy boost without the sugar spike that finds them crashing down in no time. Think proteins, fruit for a natural sweet, and healthy carbs-these are all things that will satisfy their hunger and still give them that jolt they need to focus and pay attention until lunch time.


Some easy proteins to pack are hard boiled eggs (do a batch at the beginning of the week and use them for 4-5 days), cheese, slices of meat (salami, turkey, chicken, etc-a great place for leftovers from dinner), almond or peanut butter, or beans (my son loves garbanzos in a little container). When you think good carbs try to avoid the empty carbs-our bodies treat them like sugar so that rush/crash cycle will still ensue (I'm talking white bread/bagels, crackers, etc.). Better carbs are things like popcorn (preferably without sugar/sweetener), whole wheat pretzels, hummus with whole wheat pita, whole grain crackers or breadsticks, even whole wheat or whole grain pasta. Fruit and veggies are of course a must too. I've been given the strict order by my son not to pack too much or else it takes too long to eat hence a shorter time for recess...too funny. Just keep it simple and healthy.


A lot of parents I know have crazy mornings-work, lots of kids, or crazy schedules. It doesn't mean any of the choices above are impossible. It probably takes 5 minutes, max, to pack these snacks and most of them can be done the night before.


Your kids will thank you and so will your teachers. Think about it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

The first official day of school is here. Thankfully for me today is a half day so I have another 24 hours to think about packing lunches. In the meantime, here's what I'm reading.


Speaking of feeding your kids, today's LA Times has a fantastic article on getting kids excited about healthy foods. I am a staunch believer in kids eating all kinds of foods from an early age, introducing them to fruits and vegetables often. I believe parents who say their kids wont eat anything but mac and cheese and grilled cheese are parents who don't make enough of an effort. I love the idea in this article about taking your kids on a scavenger hunt at the market. Let them pick out a fruit or veggie they don't recognize. Take it home, share it together, figure out what it is, how it grows, and what to do with it. When kids are part of the process you will surely be surprised about what they'll actually eat.


About 8 years ago I had a meal at WD-50 in New York. At the time, Wylie Dufresne's food was hyper experimental. I remember lots of surprises on the plates but, more than any other dish, it was a white gazpacho that stood out. I'd never had anything but the red variety of gazpacho so for me this was new. I've come to learn this version is one of the classic ways to serve the cold soup in Spain and I love it. I played with the recipe a lot before I came up with one I liked. In today's NY Times there is a recipe from Casa Mono, another fantastic NY spot. It couldn't be easier and is so refreshing any time if year. The combination of almonds, grapes, and bread is spiked with vinegar for a great balance of flavors. I like mine with cucumber too-feel free to throw some in if you want your soup to have a bit more body.


If you've got a gas grill, don't let the end of the summer stop you from using it all year round. In today's Washington Post they fire up the grill to make soup, yes soup! A Grilled Chicken and Corn Chowder uses not only grilled chicken but grilled corn, onions, and peppers too. Combining these smoky ingredients with broth, basil, cream, and green onions looks like a perfect one pot meal. You could make a big batch and use the leftovers in a Thermos for your school lunch the next day.


I love braised Romano Beans. The flat green beans are best when cooked long and slow, especially with tomatoes. This recipe, from the SF Chronicle, adds baby eggplant to the mix which sounds fantastic. Hit your local farmers market for this one-you should find almost all the ingredients at their peak right now.


Happy reading and Happy cooking!
 
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