Saturday, February 2, 2008

Green Green Everywhere

Not to sound like a broken record or anything, but I’m really trying to make healthier food for my family to eat. That includes more leafy green veggies. This idea presents a bit of a problem as my wonderful hubby has an aversion to leafy green veggies in a cooked form. So I’m getting a little creative to find out just how far I can push the taste experience.

So far, kale, while a truly nutritious green, has not made the cut. I’ve tried some pretty extreme flavors with it to cut the bitterness – vinegar, chili, garlic – but it just doesn’t pass. Spinach is OK as long as it’s a salad. I thought that perhaps trying out a mild green would be a gateway veggie that could lead to more adventurous eating. Enter baby bok choy ...

We love Asian food so I thought a little stirfried bok choy would be a great accompaniment to a simple steamed fish entrée. I shopped at Whole Foods to find my baby bok choy. It was a little bigger than I wanted but beggars can’t be choosers. I was a little miffed when I visited Pacific Ocean Market the next day after eating pho for lunch to see some itty bitty baby bok choys. Such is life … I’ll go there next time.

Baby bok choy is super fast to prepare. That, in and of itself, makes it a fabulous weekday evening side dish. It’s good for you too. I used very little fat to prepare it and the Asian flavors really made the dish sing. I’m happy to report that after a little nudging, my hubby even ate the green parts. Give it a go … your meatitarian might actually like it.

Baby Bok Choy with Braised Shiitake Mushrooms
Adapted from Bon Appetit February 2007

2 handfuls of fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 baby bok choy, quartered lengthwise
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 cup low-salt chicken broth
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled, cut into very thin matchstick-size strips (about 2 tablespoons)

Cut off stems of the mushrooms; discard or save for stock. Thinly slice caps.

Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Add bok choy; cook just until wilted, 30 seconds. Drain. Transfer to platter; cover.

Whisk 1 teaspoon tapioca starch and 1 tablespoon water in bowl. Heat the oil in small skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and ginger; stir 30 seconds. Add shiitakes; stir 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium; add broth and next 4 ingredients. Whisk in tapioca mixture; cook until sauce thickens, about 30 seconds. Season with salt and pepper. Add wilted bok choy and stir fry quickly. Garnish with black sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Seasonal Produce - In the Bag

Being a farm girl I was raised to respect seasonal produce. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as non-seasonal produce until I was fully adult. Now that might have been due to the non-globalization in my youthful years or the fact that the little town I grew up in STILL has problems getting produce of reasonable quality. But I think that was a blessing; after all, how could I have learned to appreciate the seasonality of fresh raspberries right off the cane, or tomatoes off the vine, fresh corn on the cob just picked or springtime rhubarb tossed together with strawberries for pie?

While preparing to post my Lemon Meringue Pie for the January Daring Bakers Challenge I noticed a few other challenges in the sidebar. One of special interest was the In the Bag challenge presented by A Slice of Cherry Pie and Real Epicurean. I thought to myself, “Self, this is right up your alley. Go for it!” And so I did …

This month’s virtual bag included pears – in season, a lemon, and a handful of nuts. While this instantly brought to mind a lovely pear tart with an almond and lemon crust I talked myself off the precipice. I’m trying to feed my family more healthy foods and dessert, while fabulous, cannot be considered all the healthy when offer every night of the week.

The second and much healthier thought was salad. I love a nice green salad with bits of sweet fruit mixed with tangy vinaigrette. I also love the crunch and texture of nuts in there. So, with a healthy heart and a full tummy, I present my In the Bag dish … Pear, Cardamom Glazed Walnuts and Gorgonzola Salad.

This is such an easy dish to prepare after a long day at work. Really there is no recipe … I just melted a little sugar with cardamom thrown in for a bit of zing. After that I tossed in a few toasted walnuts and let set up on a Silpat mat. I sliced a pear in thin slices and tossed with a bit of lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. I dug in the fridge because I knew there was a nice chunk of Gorgonzola Dolce hiding in there. A little bit of mache salad mix and a dash of superior balsamic vinegar I scored in Nice a few years ago, and TaDa … dinner!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Pie in the Sky - A Daring Baker's Challenge

Being a Daring Baker and all I participated in this month’s challenge of Lemon Meringue Pie other wise known as Ferengi Pie in our geeky household. This kind of pie is also known as Calf Slobber Pie in my mom’s house … I guess that makes sense as we’ve always raised cattle and meringue looks a lot like baby calf slobbers. We’re an odd bunch around here.

I’ve made my fair share of lemon pies in the past but this recipe was a first. I loved, with a deep and lasting passion, the pie crust in the recipe. It was A) easy-peasy, B) a dream to roll out, and C) didn’t melt during blind baking. I will be keeping this crust recipe in my archives for the many pies of the future.

The filling went together as planned. The one serious glitch in the whole procedure was my lovely husband jumping in to snag a “taste” at very inopportune occasions, i.e. the raw but warmed egg yolks with just a touch of the cornstarch mixture. That totally threw me off my game. The filling seemed to be thicker than wallpaper paste but not so grasshopper!

The actual meringue was a beautiful thing to behold. In fact it was my son’s favorite thing about the whole process. You just can’t beat a comment like, “Gee, Mom, is that alien pie?!?” That’s a mighty big compliment from a 9-year-old. Once baked the whole pie was a veritable picture of a country diner’s pie special of the day.

Alas, for all this pie’s exterior beauty, once cut the filling was a tad bit runny. I blame it on the family’s haste to take a bite, honestly. The bloody thing wasn’t even room temp yet! That not withstanding, we enjoyed it but thought that lemon tart was more our style. Meringue is cool to look at and little crispy ones are fun to eat but meringue on pie, well, just not for us after all.

Many thanks to Jen of the Canadian Baker blog for this month’s selection. I am in your debt for introducing me to a fabulous pie crust that I will use from now on. Bake on!

Lemon Meringue Pie
Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie

For the Crust:

3/4 cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/3 cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Filling
2 cups (475 mL) water
1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 mL) cornstarch
5 egg yolks, beaten
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
3/4 cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
3/4 cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

To Make the Crust: Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt.Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes. Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of 1/8 inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about 1/2 inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.

To Make the Filling: Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated. Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

To Make the Meringue: Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Back on the Pony

Well, then … Nice to see you after all this time. It’s been a rough couple of weeks adjusting to working full time again. The joys of returning after a very nice vacation …

Now, it’s not that I haven’t been cooking at all, mind you. I’ve just not had much of an opportunity to sit down and write about but that is about to change. I’m trying to goal-set to post at least once a week. Yay … my version of New Year’s resolutions.

Last night my family celebrated my nephew, X’s, 6th birthday. The birthday boy is highly into Transformers and rocket cake but disdains veggies. Because the rest of us need our beta-carotene and fiber I made baked butternut squash. This is a sweet/savory dish good with nearly everything. I’ve found I kinda like it for breakfast. Or lunch… or just a random snack.

This recipe is a nice one for the day when you’ve got a couple of spare hours but can’t be hovering around the kitchen… say for instance getting ready for a casual dinner party. The dish doesn’t require a lot of attention but needs an hour to cook. I took that opportunity to get a massage! Thanks a bunch Amy, I feel great.

Anyway, some people discover that butternut squash can be a bit tricky to peel. My tip for the day is to purchase yourself a Y peeler. It is indispensable for this task. Yes, I’ve multiple peelers in my kitchen. They don’t take up much space and having the right tool for the job makes that job oh so much easier. The second tip is to whack the thing in parts. Just cut the neck away from the bulb portion and life will be simpler. Peel the neck in long strokes and the bulb in an around the world fashion (just food pr0n here folks!). Tada that’s it.

So enjoy a little bit of tasty goodness and in the words of Steve Eley, “Have fun!”

Baked Butternut Squash with Apples adapted from Bon Appetit 1996

2 1/2 to 2 3/4 pounds butternut squash (about 2 medium), peeled, quartered lengthwise, seeded, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 6 cups)
1 pound medium-size tart green apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled, quartered, cored, but crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 6 cups)

I did a 3 parts to 1 part squash to apple mix. You can decide how much of each you like.

3/4 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350°F. Toss chopped up squash in a pot and cover with cold water. Salt it liberally and turn on the heat. Bring to a boil and cook for about 3 minutes until the squash is almost tender. Drain well. Combine squash, apples and currants in the pot and then pour into a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Season generously with salt and pepper. Combine maple syrup, butter and lemon juice in a glass measure cup with room to spare. Microwave until the butter is melted and blend with a tiny whisk or fork. Pour syrup over squash mixture and toss to coat evenly.

Bake until squash and apples are very tender, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. Cool 5 minutes. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with foil; chill. Rewarm covered in 350°F. oven about 30 minutes.)

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


Over the last several years a group of my friends have developed a New Year’s Day tradition – the gentlemen get together and play poker for the pot and the ladies go to the Indiana Springs Resort and Spa. Now this isn’t just any spa but a natural cave system with hot pools and vapor. We hang out in the quiet caves, get massages and salt glow treatments and have a nice lunch.

A few years ago I made up a bunch of sugar scrubs and gave them to my friends for a gift. Donna thought it was one of the best scrubs she had ever used and wanted the recipe. Well, life gets busy and I’ve been remiss in getting it to her. So, today, in lieu of a foodie recipe for your stomach I’m giving you one to feed your soul.

I found this on the Ponte Vedra Soap Shop website. You can find the supplies to make your scrub there as well. Enjoy and have a fabulous new year!

Brown Sugar Body Buff

½ c brown sugar
½ c kosher salt
¼ c or less of a combination of sunflower, sweet almond, and jojoba oils (I like a little evening primrose as well)
1 T white clay (kaolin or china)
1 T honey
1 tsp vitamin E oil (I use the capsules – just poke a hole and squeeze)
1 tsp of essential oil to scent (I like lavender and orange – use whatever suits your fancy)

Mix up in a bowl and store in a jar. The oil will rise to the top when sitting. Just stir up and use. Try not to get water into the jar as the scrub will spoil more quickly.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Cooking Mario Style

Here’s a little more vacation cooking for you. In fact, it could also be a “I got home early on Friday” dinner as well. It’s all up to you I suppose.

I’ve been dying to try out my brand spanking new Mario Batali pan and last night was the night to do it. I had leftover chicken from my last posting and a whole bunch of Arborio rice. What’s a girl to do??? Well, make risotto of course!

So, here’s a good one from Mario’s Molto Italiano. This cookbook has tons of inspiration. Everyone should check it out if only for the fantastic writing. Enjoy!

Saffron Risotto (this is half the recipe to serve 2 people)

½ tsp saffron threads
4 c chicken broth, warmed
4 T olive oil
½ medium onion, diced
¾ c Arborio rice
¼ c white wine
2 T unsalted butter
¼ to ½ c grated Parmesan

Heat broth with saffron until hot. Keep it that way to add to the rice. In a sauté pan (or a sparklely Mario risotto pan!!!) heat oil until almost smoking. Add onion and cook until translucent but not brown. Add rice and stir until toasted and opaque, about 6 minutes.

Add wine and then a ladle of stock. Cook and stir until broth is absorbed. Continue adding stock until the rice is al dente and will not hold any more. The dish will be creamy.

Remove from heat and add butter and Parmesan. Stir until well mixed. Season with salt if needed. I eventually topped mine with sliced leftover chicken .

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Vacation Cooking

There’s something special about vacation cooking for me. A plethora of time both for prep and cooking cinches it. There isn’t that rush to have everything ready ½ hour after you get home from work- just the luxury of time.

I’ve been wanting to try out the Chicken in a Pot recipe in the January/February 2008 issue of Cook’s llustrated since receiving it. This recipe is the epitome of vacation cooking – easily obtained ingredients (some may say pedestrian), little prep time, and a long cooking period, not to mention, a promised fabulous end product. I was not disappointed in the least.

I will say that buying quality ingredients when there are so few involved is a fundamental part of cooking. I found a beautiful natural chicken at Whole Foods. I opted for that rather than the organic for two reasons: a) the 50¢ per pound difference and b) the natural just looked better. Maybe it’s me but a pallid chicken is not one I want to buy. Give me a nice yellowy fatty chicken any day!

I didn’t have the celery called for in the recipe but I did have carrots. I planned on roasting a bunch as a side anyway so I did a little aromatic switch-a-roo. I don’t have any complaints based on the final product.

So here’s a little vacation cooking courtesy of Cook’s … my family enjoyed it and I hope yours will as well.

Chicken in a Pot
Serves 4ish

1 whole chicken (4 ½ to 5 pounds), giblets removed
2 tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 T olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 small carrots, chopped
6 medium garlic cloves, peeled
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of fresh rosemary (optional)
1 tsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 250ºF with oven rack on the lowest position. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a heavy cast iron Dutch oven (I have a Le Creuset that I love) until just smoking. Add the chicken breast side down, scatter aromatics and herbs around it. Cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Flip the bird over by shoving a wooden spoon in the cavity and manhandling it over. Cook until well browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Cover the entire shebang with aluminum foil then with the lid of the Dutch oven. Place in the preheated oven for 80 to 110 minutes. Check the thigh temp with an instant read – it should be 175º.

Transfer the bird to a cutting board and cover with foil to keep warm. Let sit for 20 minutes. In the meantime strain out all the lovely bits left in the pan, keeping the liquid. Defat and warm up. Add a little lemon juice for brightness.

Serve the carved bird with a little pan sauce. Should there be leftovers I’ve a recipe coming in the next few days that will look after them.