Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer Salads, Hold the Lettuce

When we were in Paris for our honeymoon, we noticed a trend when it came to salads. The lettuce was nowhere to be found. You might find a little hiding at the bottom of the plate (because really, a plate is a far superior vessel than a bowl when it comes to salad), but the French are much more into the other ingredients that make up a "salad" - the meats, the cheeses, the vegetables, the beans, the dressings. While I've been doing my best to consume my greens this summer, I've also wholly embraced this French tradition of Salad: Hold the Lettuce.

I mentioned my potato salad obsession, and here is my favorite rendition. It's Ina's recipe, adapted slightly to whatever I happen to have on hand in my kitchen at the moment. This is an easy thing to whip up quickly and have as a side dish when you're grilling. When I'm making it for just the two of us, I usually cut it in half. It makes great leftovers, too! I made it for a party we had last month, and people were crazy about it.

Ina's Old Fashioned Potato Salad

3 pounds small white potatoes
Kosher salt
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup buttermilk (don't go out and buy buttermilk just for this - use half and half, or whole milk, or sour cream, or even some white wine)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped red onion


Place the potatoes and 2 tablespoons of salt in a large pot of water. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the potatoes are barely tender when pierced with a knife. Drain the potatoes in a colander, then place the colander with the potatoes over the empty pot and cover with a clean, dry kitchen towel. Allow the potatoes to steam for 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, buttermilk, Dijon mustard, whole grain mustard, dill, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Set aside.

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in quarters or in half, depending on their size. Place the cut potatoes in a large bowl. While the potatoes are still warm, pour enough dressing over them to moisten. Add the celery and red onion, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Toss well, cover, and refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend. Serve cold or at room temperature.


I tend to go easy on the salt in Ina's recipes - I usually cut it in half and then add more if I need to. It's one fault I find with her - she uses way too much salt sometimes!


I continued my summer theme of Salads: Hold the Lettuce at my friend Allison's baby shower that I co-hosted with my friend Stasi. I was in charge of the food, and thankfully my mother (who came to help me) talked me out of my original idea, which was quiches. Getting 3 or 4 quiches baked and hot and ready all at once would have been a nightmare. So, I decided to do salads instead!
Ina's Chinese Chicken Salad, Classic Egg Salad from ATK, "Fancy Coleslaw" (Mom's recipe and handiwork), and pretzel buns from our local butcher shop.

It was a sweltering 94 degrees the day of the shower, so it turned out to be the perfect menu for such a hot summer day. I also made this Watermelon Lemonade from Smitten Kitchen, which is the perfect refreshing beverage for a 7 month preggos lady.

The chicken salad recipe is linked above. A few notes from me: it makes a LOT of dressing, so I found it's best to put about 3/4 of the dressing on the salad and leave 1/4 on the side and allow people to add dressing to their tastes. I'm also a huge fan of her method of roasting bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts and then removing the meat and shredding it - it makes for moist, lovely chicken in your salad.

Classic Egg Salad
1 rib celery, chopped fine
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 TBSP minced red onion
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley (I substitute dill, because I love dill, but if you don't, parsley is fine)
1 TBSP Dijon mustard
1 TBSP fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper
12 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped coarse*

*Fool-proof method for hard boiling eggs: Put eggs in pot; cover with water. Bring water to a boil. Once the water comes to a boil, remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare ice bath. When 10 minutes is up, submerge eggs in ice bath for 5 minutes. Peel.

**I was once eating a hard-boiled egg at work and a co-worker said "Oh that's a great snack idea", and I said "Definitely, I usually boil a half dozen at the beginning of the week to have on hand for snacks", and she said "Oh, I wish I had time to do that, but you know you can buy them pre-boiled in the supermarket", and I said "...it takes 15 minutes...". And then I shut up before I made an enemy. But I have thought about this conversation non-stop since and how it just about sums up everything that's wrong with our country...but I digress...

Mix the celery, mayonnaise, onion, parsley, mustard, lemon juice, 1/2 tsp salt and a pinch of pepper together in a large bowl. Gently fold in the eggs and season with salt and pepper to taste. Will last for about 4 or 5 days in the fridge.

Fancy Coleslaw
(This borderlines Semi-Homemadeness, but it's seriously so good that I don't care. Flavor packets, quel horreur! My mom is slowly but surely turning me into Sandra Lee...I kid, I kid! But she did suggest I get a powdered lemonade mix for the party, to which I replied...start juicing lemons crazy lady.)

1 lb pkg coleslaw cabbage
1 bunch green onion chopped
1 c. slivered almonds
1 c. sunflower seeds
2 pkg ramen beef noodles - not cooked
(save powdered packets for sauce)
3/4 c. veg. oil
1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. red wine vinegar
garlic to taste
2 season packets from noodles

break up noodles into very small pieces
add almonds and seeds.
1/2 hr before serving add coleslaw to the above and
dressing. mix thoroughly.

When you can't bear to turn on your oven, turn to one of these recipes for a refreshing summer lunch or dinner!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer = Good Eats, No Fuss (ok a little fuss)

Sheesh, seriously, it's been a month and a half since I last posted a recipe? Eeegads. My paltry excuse is thus: I've been eating scads of fresh local produce, most of which need little to no cooking to make taste good. Try this tonight: Go to the market or farm stand and get some fresh ears of corn. Wrap them tightly in plastic wrap; microwave for 3 minutes. If you're me, slather in butter and lightly salt. If you're my husband, skip the butter (wah?) and salt heavily. Eat. Floss. Fin.

I have actually made some delicious things lately and have even had the balls to turn on my oven. God bless central air. Topping the list has been the Tomato Corn Pie from Smitten Kitchen. People, I cannot even begin to explain how good it is. It's everything wonderful about summer wrapped up in a light biscuity crust, with some rich cheese and little lemony mayo to round it out. Make this tonight.

Took this pic with my new iPhone. Pic does not do it justice. Head over to Smitten Kitchen and drool over her pics.

I've been receiving my CSA box for about 4 weeks now and have gotten some really lovely salad greens, cucumbers, and radishes. One way I've discovered to get me to eat more salad greens is to have a homemade dressing on hand at all times. Make a dressing at the beginning of the week to keep in a plastic jar in the fridge. Shake, pour on salad greens, and voila, it's something to cancel out all the butter I normally consume a healthy lunch. Here's my favorite one via America's Test Kitchen (with a few notes from me):

Basic Vinagrette (makes about 1 cup)
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 TBSP red or white wine vinegar (I prefer red)
2 tsp minced shallot (I use a little more than this, about 1 shallot)
2 tsps Dijon mustard
1 and 1/2 tsps minced fresh tarragon, dill, basil, or oregano or 1/2 tsp dried
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Shake all ingredients together in a jar with a tight fitting lid. It can be refrigerated for up to 7 days; bring to room temp then shake vigorously to recombine before using.

CSA week one loot: salad greens, snap peas, shelling peas, radishes, squash

Glorious radishes!

And lastly, here is a lovely meal we had a couple of weeks ago using basil and green beans from the CSA: Pesto potato salad with green beans. (smittenkitchenwhoelseimobsessed) and this amazing chicken from another blog that is quickly becoming a favorite, The Wednesday Chef.
Lately, I just can't get enough potato salad. This was a great way to quickly use up basil before it turned on me. The green beans were sweet and crunchy and amazing, and I kind of wished I'd just left them alone, but they were also terrific in this salad. The chicken is wonderful - recipe is linked above. I did use a whole cut up chicken rather than just legs as it states in the recipe, as my husband is not really into dark meat.

This meal is an easy weeknight creation and will provide substantial leftovers if you are a twosome, as we are. I was, however, on a bit of a rampage at the local grocery where the pine nuts were an outrageous $7.99 for 4 ounces and they were out of Panko for the chicken. (I ground up 2 slices of Pepperidge Farm Country White in my food processor and used that instead, good results, but will probably go with the panko next time). Amazingly, just two rows down on the shelf, I found the exact same pine nuts for $6.99 - only this was the ORGANIC version of the same brand - for $1 cheaper - ?????? I guess I'll just chalk it up to another of the many things that baffle me about our food system. Lesson learned: don't grab things at eye level, look above and below because you just might find the same (or better) thing for cheaper! (Note: I was still appalled at the cost of the pine nuts - Mark, could you pop over to Harvestime and remind me how much they are going for there? Methinks it is way less).

Hope I've given you some ideas for dinner this week! Stay tuned for a post on Summer Salads: Hold the Lettuce. Happy Summer!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Summer Grillin'

Ah, summer. Nothing beats an evening spent out on the deck, grilling something delicious, sipping a beverage, and spending time with loved ones. The hubs and I are somewhat novices at the grill, having spent the last 3 summers in a third-floor walk up apartment with hardly any outdoor space. We did once have a tiny hibachi that we kept on the balcony of his Lincoln Park high-rise apartment. We had two plastic chairs and would sit out there, looking out over a lovely...parking lot. Needless to say, we've upgraded our view a bit:
Last week we bought an inexpensive charcoal grill at Home Depot and have been grillin' fools ever since. I'm coming to the realization that you can grill just about anything - last night we did these colorful veggies:
Simply brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and grill until they reach your desired doneness, turning every so often. I like mine a little on the charred side). The asparagus and pepper will cook rather quickly, while the onion takes a bit more time (be sure to leave the skin on the onion to keep it from falling apart on the grill - and don't slice it too thin). Asparagus would benefit from a grill basket, (we lost one in the charcoal), but we haven't found one we like yet.
I found a great website that shows you exactly how to grill corn (it's so easy). Click here.

And then there's meat, of course. My favorite thing to do is just go to the butcher shop and see what looks good that day, then bring it home and grill it! Last week I got a lovely flank steak, then came home and found this great marinade recipe online. We already had all the ingredients in our pantry, and I'm guessing you might too!
I served it with some oven-roasted sweet potato fries. Such a tasty meal, and so simple. Make this tonight!

Yesterday we had an All-American suburban day - we bought a lawn mower, mowed the grass, and then grilled burgers. I guess it's official now, we're suburbanites!
Perfect Hamburgers
from America's Test Kitchen
Note: ATK says that it is imperative you do not push down on the hamburgers as you grill them - this will squeeze out their juices and they will be dry and nasty. (My wording, not theirs).

1.5 lbs ground beef
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Vegetable oil

Place the ground beef on a large plate, sprinkle with the salt and pepper, then work it into the meat with your hands. Form into 4 balls, rolling the meat around in you hands, then patting flat into a patty (approx 1 inch tall). With your thumb, make a little indentation in the center of top of the patty. Coat each patty with 1 tsp of vegetable oil.

Grill over high heat (a single layer of charcoal) for about 5 minutes per side or until they reach your desired doneness. My husband insisted we cook them to well done (it was Sunday and the good butcher shop was closed, so we had to get supermarket meat) so we used the instant read thermometer to check for doneness (170 degrees). They were still quite juicy and delicious.

Do share your favorite grilling recipe in the comments! I've got endless summer nights ahead, need more things to grill!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Sole Meuniere

My husband and I had the loveliest honeymoon in Paris last August. One of the things I was dying to eat while I was there was sole meuniere. I did, and it was delicious - totally lived up to my expectations.

The other day I was feeling particularly nostalgic for Paris, so I decided what better way to transport myself there than through this amazing dish? I ventured over to the butcher shop where I've been buying fish these days - no sole. Rats. I decided to go with halibut in lieu of the sole, but you could substitute just about any mild white fish fillet and it would still be delicious.

I used Ina Garten's recipe from Back to Basics - I cut it in half even though she says it serves 2 people. It was plenty of food for the two of us. Serve with some good bread to mop up all that delicious buttery sauce.

Sole Meuniere

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 sole fillets (or any mild white fish, such as halibut)
3 TBSP unsalted butter
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
3 TBSP freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1 TBSP minced fresh parsley

Combine the flour, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper in a large shallow plate. Pat the sole fillets dry with paper towels and sprinkle one side of each fillet with salt.

Heat the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat until it starts to brown. Dredge the sole fillets in the seasoned flour on both sides, shake off the excess, and place in the hot butter in the pan. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook for 2 minutes. Turn carefully with a metal spatula and cook for 2 minutes on the other side. While the second side cooks, add the lemon zest and lemon juice to the pan. Carefully remove from the pan to a plate and sprinkle with parsley. Serve immediately!

Friday, May 14, 2010

We're Back! (and Grilled Swordfish with Tomato-Braised Cauliflower)

Aaaaand we're back after a month-long hiatus! For most of the last month, my life has looked a little something like this:

The hubs and I moved across a state-line, into the 'burbs. And while I miss my old, walkable neighborhood dearly (Seriously, why are the suburbs so anti-walking? We tried to walk to a nearby strip mall the other day and were nearly killed by oncoming traffic), I get to live in this big beautiful house with a big beautiful kitchen and laundry room.

The interior is still a work in progress (wallpaper is dead to me), but it's mostly cosmetic issues, and the kitchen is an absolute delight. I adore my dishwasher and garbage disposal and miles of counter space. And my new stainless-steel, french-door, bottom freezer refrigerator makes me smile every time I walk into the kitchen. It's refreshing to have an appliance that doesn't have 20+ years of someone else's dirt and grime in it.

So, I unearthed my cookbooks and have been cooking up a storm these past couple of weeks. Fresh Michigan asparagus has been abundant in the local groceries (which leave something to be desired, but more on that later), so we've been eating loads of it. If you're looking for a kick-ass recipe with asparagus, look no further than this gem from Smitten Kitchen. We had it for brunch last Sunday and it was amazing.

You know how when you move, you find things you forgot you had and make resolutions to actually use them? Well, I have made a resolution to cook from more of my cookbooks and not just my usual standbys (ahem, ATK and Smitten Kitchen). When we were in Greece, I bought this lovely book called "How to Roast a Lamb" by Michael Psilakis. Some of the recipes are quite advanced, but this Grilled Swordfish with Tomato-Braised Cauliflower is so simple and full of delicious flavors. If you're near a body of water or in a big city, you can probably get amazing swordfish, and if you're in the sticks like me (and you google "Fish Markets" in your zip code and come up with Long John Silvers) you may have to go with a flash frozen variety, which was actually quite delicious. This cauliflower is so good, I ate it the next day for lunch, just by itself. Don't be alarmed by the cinnamon in a savory dish - just trust me, it is fabulous.

Grilled Swordfish with Tomato-Braised Cauliflower
from "How to Roast a Lamb" by Michael Psilakis

2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
1 medium head cauliflower, broken into florets
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
Large pinch ground cinnamon
1/2 large Spanish or sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 fresh bay leaf or 2 dried
2 cinnamon sticks
1 TBSP tomato paste
2 TBSPs red wine vinegar
1 and a half cups of water
2 whole sprigs thyme
2 tsps Dijon mustard
4 swordfish steaks, about 5 oz each

In a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat, warm the oil until it is very hot. Add the cauliflower florets. Season with kosher salt and pepper, and dust with the cinnamon. Shake the pan for 2 to 3 minutes, until nicely golden. Add the onion, bay leaves, and cinnamon sticks. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Deglaze the pan with the vinegar. (This means pour it in and stir, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom). Add the water, thyme sprigs, and mustard. Partially cover the pan and braise over low heat until the cauliflower is tender. Remove from the heat and discard the bay leaves and cinnamon sticks.

Preheat a charcoal or gas grill (or cast-iron grill pan or skillet) until very hot. Season both sides of the swordfish steaks with salt and pepper and grill for 1 and a half to 2 minutes on each side (Psilakis says that swordfish should be cooked to the same temp as you would enjoy a tuna steak, so somewhat raw on the inside - you can cook it slightly longer if you prefer it more done on the inside). Rest steaks for a few minutes before serving.

This all comes together VERY quickly, which makes it perfect for a weeknight dinner, but it's also fancy enough for company. And you probably already have most of the ingredients for it in your pantry and fridge. I'd serve it with some crusty bread and maybe a Greek salad. Enjoy!

Friday, April 16, 2010

By Popular Request: Pastitsio

Pastitsio is essentially "Greek lasagna". It is undoubtedly on the menu at every Greek restaurant in America - along with moussaka, it's one of the most popular Greek-American dishes. Unfortunately, restaurant pastitsio often disappoints. Sometimes they drench it in a red sauce, often times you can't taste the nutmeg in the sauce, or the sauce is bland, or the bechamel is like glue. The good news is: you can easily create delicious pastitsio in your own kitchen! I've adapted (slightly) this recipe from the Greektown Chicago cookbook. We've made it for friends and received rave reviews.

adapted from Greektown Chicago cookbook

Note: for this recipe, it is best to use Greek pasta that is made for pastitsio. If you live near an ethnic grocery, they likely stock it. Greek Misko No. 2 is what you want. If you can't find it, substitute penne or macaroni pasta. Your ethnic grocery will likely have Myzithra cheese as well. If not, substitute grated Parmesan - but I really urge you to get the Myzithra, as the flavor will be much more authentic!

2 lbs ground beef
2 TBSP water
2 medium size onions, chopped fine
1 lb macaroni
1 cinnamon stick
2 TBSP tomato paste, mixed with 1 cup water
2 cups grated Myzithra cheese
10 TBSP butter
5 eggs, separated
1 qt milk (best to use whole)
3/4 cup cake flour
cinnamon and nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Bechamel sauce: Make this first so it has ample time to cool. In a 2 quart sauce pan, bring milk to a boil. In a separate saucepan, melt butter and slowly stir in cake flour, until it forms a smooth paste. Add hot milk. Stir continuously over a low flame until it thickens. Set aside to cool.
Pasta: Boil macaroni in salted water according to package instructions (you want it quite al dente since it will bake in the oven later). Drain and let stand while you prepare the meat sauce.
Meat sauce: In a large skillet, cook onions in the 2 TBSP water until transparent. Add ground meat and cinnamon stick. Cook until meat is lightly browned. Add diluted tomato paste, and stir well. Add cinnamon, nutmeg (a healthy amount - you want to be able to taste a good amount of these!), then salt and pepper to taste. Cook slowly until the meat is cooked and most of the water has been absorbed. Remove from heat.
Combine: Place macaroni back into large pot, then add meat mixture. Blend well. In a seperate bowl, beat 5 egg whites with 1 egg yolk and add this to the mixture. Slowly mix well (use your hands for best results). Add 1/2 cup of the grated cheese, and continue to mix.
Bake: Spread the meat/macaroni mixture into a 9x13 or square baking dish. Sprinkle remaining cheese and some cinnamon over the top. Beat the remaining 4 egg yolks in a large bowl. Slowly add the cooled Bechamel sauce to the beaten yolks. If it's too thick, add a little milk while beating. Spread evenly over the meat/macaroni mixture. Bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour.

Whew! Seems like a lot of steps, but it actually doesn't take too long to get it into the oven. The meat sauce is easily prepared ahead of time - and actually we have even prepared it up to the baking point one day in advance of a dinner party and baked it right before guests arrived.

If you're tired of the same-old lasagna, give this a try to mix things up a little. It has a much different flavor profile than Italian lasagna. The cinnamon and nutmeg in the savory sauce gives it a wonderful depth of flavor, and the creamy Bechamel on top gives it a rich, stick-to-your-ribs kind of goodness. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bread Making Success!

I have a confession: I am afraid of yeast. I haven't had a whole lot of luck with bread making so far, and I'm always terrified that I haven't properly activated the yeast and the dough won't rise. Well friends, let me introduce you to this light wheat bread recipe, which if I can make, you can too. It uses instant yeast, so no worrying about liquid temperatures and dissolving and activating the yeast. I literally did a little happy dance around the kitchen when it came out of the oven looking beautiful and perfect. Knowing that my husband is eating his daily turkey and cheese sandwich on freshly homemade bread has brought my heart joy this week (it's the little things, really).

The recipe, of course, is from Smitten Kitchen. I can't praise this blog enough. I feel like Deb and I would be friends if we met. Also, I think she's a good teacher. And a bread baking enthusiast to boot, so what better way to learn the fine art of bread baking? Watch out, I might start making a loaf every week!

The original recipe is from Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart, a book that I'm thinking of buying. Give this a try on a Sunday afternoon when you don't have a lot going on - the actual "hands-on" time is only about 15 minutes or so, and the rest is done while you do other things around the house, or catch up on your DVR, or whatever! It's the perfect sandwich bread. Once you have a taste of this, you won't want to go back to pre-sliced, store-bought bread! And you avoid all the crazy ingredients they put in that stuff these days (read an ingredient list, it's scary).

I've dispelled my fear of bread-baking, now it's your turn!