Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Serve this dish to others, and they'll wonder
when you had time to go to cooking school

I love when we cook something that could compare with a dish served at a good restaurant, and especially when it took no time at all the make.
   Steak Salad with Shaved Fennel and Dried Cherries (click for the recipe) from Fine Cooking magazine is just such a dish. It’s simple yet elegant, with ingredients whose flavors blend perfectly.
   Serve it to others on a weeknight or at casual dinner party, and they will wonder when you had time to go to cooking school.
   The highlight for my husband and I was the shaved fennel bulb, which added a perfect crunch to the salad. It’s important to make sure the fennel bulb is shaved thinly with a mandolin or vegetable peeler as the recipe directs – big hunks of fennel will take away from the salad’s appeal.
   As I mentioned at the start, the dish took a short time to make, and was easy to prepare.
   Sherry vinegar (I used white wine vinegar instead), fresh thyme, Dijon mustard, sugar, salt and pepper are mixed together in a small bowl, then olive oil is drizzled and whisked in slowly to create a vinaigrette.
   Mache or lettuce (we used lettuce) torn in bite-size pieces, the shaved fennel bulb, crumbled ricotta salata or feta cheese (we used feta) and dried cherries are tossed together in a large bowl, then tossed with enough of the vinaigrette to coat lightly. I found that took a little more than half of the dressing. This is an important direction – you don’t want to weigh down the salad with gobs of vinaigrette.
   A skirt, flank, or strip steak is sprinkled with fresh thyme, salt and pepper, then cooked on one side then the other. It’s left to rest for five minutes, then sliced thinly.
   My husband found the steak to be a little undercooked after slicing it, and so he popped in the microwave for about a minute to cook it a little more.
   To serve, spread the salad on a plate, drizzle with more dressing, then put a fan of steak slices on top and drizzle with dressing again.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Peanut butter and jelly in dessert form?
Yes, please!

There are few people in this world who don’t like the combination of peanut butter and jelly.
   I have yet to meet such a person, anyway.
   My husband loves the combination in iconic sandwich form, so when I saw the combination in dessert form, I knew I had to try it.
   Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars (click for the recipe) from Bon Appetit magazine are developed by easy-cakes-and-cookies wizard Lauren Chattman.
   Chattman really delivers with this recipe – these bars are terrific. Everyone will go gaga for them. Few recipes are more family-friendly than this one.
   I found the bars cut from closer to the centre were the most awesome. Although all of the bars are soft, the ones from the centre were the softest.
   They were extremely easy to make.
   Smooth peanut butter, sugar, and butter are beaten together with an electric mixer, then egg and vanilla added and mixture beaten some more. A mixture of flour, baking powder and salt is added on low speed just to blend.
   Half of the dough is pressed into to an 8 x 8 x 2-inch metal baking pan that’s been lined with aluminum foil, and jelly or jam is spread on top in an even layer.
   The other half of the dough is transferred, in a bowl, to the freezer for 10 minutes. After this, the dough should, according to the recipe, “break” into grape-size pieces. I didn’t found it “broke” at all. The dough just firmed up a bit but was still soft. Nevertheless, it was still easy to form into grape-size pieces and put over the jelly layer.
   Coarsely-chopped salted dry-roasted peanuts are sprinkled on top.    The bars are baked until golden brown, about 30 minutes, then left to cool completely.
   Using the foil overhang, the bars are lifted from the pan and cut into squares.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Stumbled-upon savory prompts
cooking of delicious zucchini soup

On a fresh basil run recently, I came across an herb that I’d never seen in the store before, and that I’d never used: Savory.
   I grabbed a couple of packages. It looked so tempting, with its little green leaves. I couldn’t wait to try it in a dish.
   The package didn’t specify which type of savory it was, summer or winter. I suspect I bought the summer variety, which is apparently more common and readily available than winter savory.
   I went home and started to comb a couple of trusty recipe sites on the web until I found one that used savory and looked right up my alley: Summer Squash and Onion Soup with Toasted Almonds (click for the recipe).
   Although the recipe called for summer squash and/or zucchini, which are in their best in August and September, I wanted to try the soup right away. It looked hearty and delicious for a winter evening.
   It was a good choice – this was one delicious soup. Everyone in the family will love the hearty mix of zucchini and angel-hair pasta.
   We used zucchini as no other type of summer squash was available. Since we weren’t able to find sweet onions such as Vidalia or Walla Walla, which the recipe calls for, we used yellow onions. And if you can't find savory like I did, thyme can be used instead.
   For the angel-hair pasta, we also substituted Catelli Smart spaghettini, which is thinner than spaghetti.
   The soup was easy to make.
   Four thinly-sliced medium onions, minced garlic and minced ginger are cooked until golden in melted butter. The recipe says to use a large sauté pan for this, but my husband used a large stock pot instead, as ingredients were to be added that ultimately would result in soup.
   The onions will cook down until golden in color, just as the recipe says, and they will go from crisp to very mushy. It took my husband slightly less than the recommended sauté time in the recipe to cook the onions – he needed about 17 minutes as opposed to the called-for 20 minutes.
   Dry sherry, chicken stock, the dry pasta and zucchini are added. The mixture is brought to a boil, then boiled for about three minutes. The soup is removed from the heat and the savory or thyme added.
   The soup is served sprinkled with toasted sliced almonds and freshly-grated Parmesan cheese.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Acquisition of fresh crab meat allows
for creation of delicious pasta dish

In the small city where I live, I have been able to find many ingredients I need for the recipes I want to make. However, there are a few items that play hard to get.
   One of them is fresh crab (or lobster) meat.
   Our local supermarkets are devoid of it, even the one with the half-decent fish and seafood section.
   Sure, I could buy frozen crab legs and retrieve the meat myself, but who wants to do that? It’s only fun when you’re just eating the crab legs themselves. The other option is canned crab meat, which doesn’t work well in most recipes -- it dries out very quickly.
   On a recent trip to my parents’ house at a larger city an hour away, we made a special stop at a seafood market to buy fresh crab meat in containers, and I was elated.
   Now I could try some recipes that use the stuff, such as Linguine with Crab, Lemon, Chile and Mint (click for the recipe) from Bon Appetit magazine.
   This delicious pasta dish made it worth holding out for fresh crab meat. It was fresh and bright, making nice use of all of its title ingredients.
   Although it was easy enough for a weeknight, this pasta would also work for a casual dinner party.
   The recipe calls for one to two Fresno chiles, red jalapenos or red Thai chiles. We used a green jalapeno pepper, since we weren’t able to find any of the others. And we used only one pepper in the dish – we both aren’t fans of overly-spicy dishes.
   The first step in cooking the dish is boiling linguine (we used Catelli Smart), and reserving one cup of the cooking water before the pasta is drained. (We scoop out some water from the pot with a soup ladle and put it into a glass measuring cup, then drain the pasta).
   Butter and olive oil are heated in a large skillet, and shallots, garlic, and the chile are added and cooked until fragrant. Lemon juice and some of the pasta cooking water are stirred in.
   The pasta is transferred to a skillet and more pasta cooking liquid is added. The linguine is tossed in the pan for a couple of minutes, then butter, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest (finely-grated lemon peel) and crab meat are added. The pasta is stirred until the butter melts and coats the noodles well.
   The linguine is served sprinkled with lemon zest and mint.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Braised Italian Chicken is a
comforting bowl of food on a cold night

Earthy, filling, delicious – that’s how I’d sum up Braised Italian Chicken with Green Beans, Tomatoes & Olives from Fine Cooking magazine.
   It’s a comforting bowl of food on a cold night that goes well with a glass of red wine and a piece of crusty bread.
   Thanks to red pepper flakes and Kalamata olives, the dish has a very slight smoky flavour and a bit of heat. To scale back the heat, use less than the ½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes listed in the recipe, (we used ¼ teaspoon) or leave it out altogether.
   The leftovers warmed up magnificently in the microwave.
   Although the recipe is quite easy to make, it does have several steps that make it a bit labor intensive. Working together, it took my husband and I about 50 minutes to make the dish from start to finish.
   Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are cut into uniform pieces, seasoned with salt and pepper, then dredged in flour. In two or three batches, the chicken is cooked in a large Dutch oven until well-browned.
   After all the chicken is returned to the pot, these ingredients are added in different stages: Cut green beans, smashed garlic, salt, pepper, red wine, diced tomatoes, chopped fresh rosemary and red pepper flakes. The mixture is brought to a bowl, then simmered for 15 minutes.
   Pitted and quartered Kalamata olives are added, and the chicken simmered for about five minutes more.
   Serve immediately.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Proscuitto, Apple and Brie Monte Cristos
not like the soggy sandwiches of our youth

When I told my personal Facebook pals that my husband and I were going to make Proscuitto, Apple and Brie Monte Cristos (click for the recipe) for supper, one of them responded less than enthusiastically.
   She remembered, and not fondly, the Monte Cristos that had been served by the cafeteria at the university we both attended.
   The bread of the Monte Cristos of our youth was oversoaked with egg so “French toastiness” overwhelmed the sandwiches.
   Not to worry – these Proscuitto Monte Cristos from Fine Cooking magazine are fresh and delicious. If you follow the recipe closely, they won’t be too eggy or soggy. You will know you’re eating a sandwich, not French toast.
   The recipe calls for thinly-sliced Brie. Thinly slicing Brie is not the world’s easiest task, but I found wetting the knife I was using helped a bit. We didn’t bother cutting off the rind on the Brie, but it can be if it freaks you out.
   The first step in making the sandwiches is combining Dijon mustard and honey in a small bowl, then spreading the mixture on slices of crusty bread.
   Brie slices, prosciutto and apple are placed on the other slices of bread, and the ones spread with Dijon mustard and honey are placed on top.
   Four large eggs and allspice are lightly beaten in a shallow bowl (my husband used a nine-inch glass pie plate).
   The sides of two of the sandwiches are dipped into the eggs, then cooked in a skillet for about five minutes total. The sandwiches are removed from the skillet, transferred to a plate and kept warm while the other sandwiches are cooked.
   Slice the sandwiches in half and serve.

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

A salad for the night when
you don't feel like cooking

As I dragged myself home from work one night last week, completely exhausted, I hoped the recipe I chosen for us to make that night wasn’t too difficult.
   You see, I organize a week of dinners on Sunday and we get the groceries we need for them in one shopping trip on Monday night. I try to pick recipes that seem quick and easy for weeknights.
   But very occasionally, I’ll wonder as I’m driving home from work if I bit off more than I can chew for the night’s dinner, to use an apt phrase. Will I have the energy to happily make what I planned?
   On the night in question last week, I was thrilled to find when I got home that we were going to make Slivered Celery Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing (click for the recipe) from Eating Well magazine.
   It was a no-cook, super easy salad that took minutes to make. It turned out that I had planned wisely.
   And happily, it was absolutely delicious too. It’s terrific as a side to pork chops.
   The recipe calls for mixing half of the blue cheese into the salad, then sprinkling the rest on top. I simply mixed all of the blue cheese into the salad.
   We used a ¼ tsp of hot sauce instead of the full ½ tsp recommended in the recipe (or it can be left out entirely).
   To make the dressing, buttermilk, low-fat plain Greek yogurt, hot sauce and salt are mixed together.
   Chopped celery, celery leaves, scallions (also known as green or spring onions) and crumbled blue cheese are added to the dressing and the salad is tossed.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Carbonnade à la Flamande: A fancy way
of saying beef simmered in beer

The dish has a fancy name: Carbonnade à la Flamande (click for the recipe), but it’s essentially sliced beef steak and onions simmered in beer.
   And man, it’s delicious.
   This dish, the name of which translates to Flemish Beef Stew, has been a favorite of my husband and I since we first made it several years ago.
   I was thrilled to find that Jacques Pepin, the superstar chef from whom the recipe comes, has included it in his Essential Pepin cookbook.
   It definitely deserves a place there.
   I do recommend this recipe with a warning, though.
   Its smell is pervasive. It will waft through the house, and stay for at least a day.
   If you don’t close doors to bedrooms, bathrooms and closets an onion odor may even stick to towels or clothing!
   If you close doors in your home while you make this, or even crack a window while you do, it will definitely help.
   It’s worth taking these extra steps to smell-proof your home – this dish is a cinch to make and its flavor is deep.
   Stew lovers will be in heaven.
   There is two hours of simmering time, so this is a recipe for a late Sunday afternoon.
   The recipe calls for using an enameled cast-iron casserole, but we have always used a Dutch oven or large stock pot and it works fine.
    In a casserole dish, Dutch oven or stock pot, pieces of beef flatiron or blade steaks are lightly browned in batches and then taken out of the pot.
   Three cups of thickly-sliced onions are then browned in the pot, then flour is stirred in. The beer from three 12-ounce (354 ml) cans or bottles is slowly poured in, and the meat is returned to the pot.
   Thyme and bay leaves are added, then the pot covered and simmered over low heat until beef is tender, about two hours.

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Friday, February 3, 2012

A cake with universal appeal:
Sour Cream-Orange Coffee Cake
with Chocolate-Pecan Streusel

Most baking is adult-and-kid-friendly.
   You don’t have to do much to convince adults and children to try cookies or cakes. It seems baked goods are universally appealing.
   Once in a while, though, I’ll bake something that goes just a few miles further down that lane of universal appeal -- something that’s equally at home on a plate for afternoon tea with grandma or in a six-year-old’s school lunch.
   Sour Cream-Orange Coffee Cake with Chocolate-Pecan Streusel (click for the recipe) is an excellent example: It’s playful and portable, which kids love, but parents can also sit down and enjoy a piece after supper.
   I loved the fact that chocolate chips were used in the streusel. It’s a speedy and fun way to add texture and flavor and appeal to kids at the same time. And the word "coffee" is just to describe what the cake might be eaten with -- there is no actual coffee in the cake.
   Although there is orange peel and juice in the cake, there is very little orange taste to it. It’s so subtle, it’s seems to be simply a flavor enhancer for the moist cake.
   It was easy to make.
   For the streusel, golden brown sugar and cinnamon are whisked together to blend, then chilled unsalted butter is added and rubbed in with fingertips until the mixture holds together in small, moist clumps (the texture of wet sand). Chopped pecans and semisweet chocolate chips are mixed in.
   For the cake, sugar, room-temperature butter, eggs, orange peel and vanilla extract are mixed together with an electric mixer. A mixture of flour, baking soda and baking powder is added in alternately with sour cream, then orange juice is mixed in.
   Half of the batter is poured into a buttered and floured 13x9x2” inch metal baking pan, and is sprinkled with half the streusel. The remaining batter is dropped over by heaping tablespoonfuls and carefully spread to make an even layer. The remaining streusel is sprinkled on top.
   The cake is baked for 30 minutes, then a sheet of aluminum foil is tented loosely over the pan. The cake continues to bake, about 35 minutes longer.
  The foil is removed, and the cake is cooled in the pan for at least 20 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Chefs hand over their best recipes
to Food & Wine magazine for good causes

The February 2012 issue of Food & Wine magazine is full of recipes shared by 10 superstar chefs.
   And not just any recipes – their best recipes.
   The chefs are offering their recipes in the hope people might donate to a charitable cause that’s dear to their hearts, and often one that they started themselves. It’s called the Food & Wine Chefs Make Change campaign.(To read more about it, and perhaps donate to one of the chef’s causes, visit - this will take you to a Facebook Page.)
   Alice Waters, Rick Bayless, Cat Cora, Bill Telepan, Emeril Lagasse, José Andrés, Michel Nischan, Art Smith, Mario Batali and Dan Barber each contributed two terrific-looking recipes to the magazine.
   You might be suspect that the recipes look hard to make, given they come from star chefs and they are their best recipes.
   It’s exactly the opposite. The recipes look quite simple to prepare. It's possible that either the chefs or Food & Wine magazine made each of them accessible for the home cook – whatever the case, I felt like I’d struck pay dirt when I flipped through them.

Here are some of the recipes I’d like to try from these star chefs. All of the recipes are available now at
- Alice Waters: Hummus with Whole Wheat Flatbreads, Red Kurl Soup
- Rick Bayless: Mushroom and Goat Cheese Tortas, Pork Tinga
- Cat Cora: North African Fish Stew, Warm Quinoa Salad with Carrots
- Bill Telepan: Latin-Spiced Chicken in Lettuce
- Emeril Lagasse: Pasta with Roasted Squash, Sausage and Pecans
- José Andrés: Roast Chicken Thighs and Lentil Stew
- Michel Nischan: Braised Pork with Cherry Gravy
- Art Smith: Turkey-and-Pinto Bean Chili
- Mario Batali: Grilled Polenta with Spinach and Robiola Cheese, Italian Sweet-and-Sour Chicken

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