Monday, December 3, 2007

Comfort and Joy

I'm back! As many of you know, I recently made a move north (but it feels like I went south!) from Winter Park to Birmingham, Ala. No excuses here, but it's been tough to get back in the blogging routine. I wasn't cooking much when I first moved, but since I've gotten settled, my new favorite thing is cooking on a budget. New job, new financial lessons...Jason and I are trying to stick to a $60-a-week grocery budget for dinners, which isn't measly but it definitely can be a challenge if you want to make fun and interesting things. Anyway, you can be assured that the recipes I share with you are frugal as well as fabulous.

Even though we're only a few states away, the fall weather here in Alabama is very different than it is in Florida. It was extra chilly today—the perfect weather for a bowl of hot soup. Or, as the case may be, chowder. I've always been a chowder lover. Clam, corn, name it, I like it. But I must admit I haven't ever made one that I didn't feel terribly guilty for making, let alone eating. Cream, butter, bacon...all the (good) bad stuff is what makes it delicious. Or so I thought.

Equally inspired by this recipe from Gourmet and by my new YMCA membership, I decided to lighten up a creamy chowder as best I could. The results were, I must admit, surprisingly satisfying. It's a sort of Southwest twist on a corn and chicken chowder with a hint of warm smokiness. (If you've never used smoked paprika, you're in for a treat.) It's slightly spicy and delightfully creamy. Jason even said it was one of the best soups he's ever had. I hope you'll agree.

Smoky Chicken Chowder

serves 4
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large russet potato or 2 medium yukon golds, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 heaping tablespoon smoked paprika
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 canned chipotle in adobo, minced fine (about 1 teaspoon)
1 can diced tomatoes, lightly drained
1 11-ounce can Del Monte Summer Crisp corn (or frozen, or fresh)
1 or 2 chicken breasts, in bite sized pieces
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in a few tablespoons of milk
1 cup fat free half and half
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Garnish: Chopped cilantro

In a heavy pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until softened. Season with a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Add potato and garlic and cook, stirring, 2 minutes.

Stir in flour and smoked paprika, and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Whisk in broth and bring to a boil, stirring. Add tomatoes, corn and chipotle, and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Add chicken and cornstarch mixture, and cook 5 to 10 minutes more, until chicken is cooked.

Off the heat, add half and half and cheese, and stir to combine. Top with cilantro, if desired.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Grill, baby

Have you ever grilled lettuce? Sounds kind of strange, but it's actually surprisingly tasty. And, as you probably know by now, I have been kind of obsessed with grilling these days. Grilling takes romaine lettuce from plain and flavorless to tender and smoky. Crisper, crunchier lettuces lend themselves better to grilling, like romaine, radicchio and endive.

Jason and I love Asian flavors, so we decided to try an Asian-style marinade I read about in Bon Appetit (it calls for tuna, but we went with shrimp). On the side, since we'd already fired up the grill, we threw the lettuce on next to the shrimp. Topped the salad with a light Asian vinaigrette and made some sauteed sweet corn on the side. Lovely.

Grilled Lettuce with Asian Vinaigrette
serves 4
For the lettuce:
2 hearts of romaine
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat (indoor or outdoor, gas or charcoal) grill to medium-high. Cut a thin slice off of the root end of the lettuce if brown, making sure to keep most of the root intact. Cut each heart in half lengthwise and brush each cut side with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and lay each half, cut-side down, on the hot grill. Grill about 2 minutes, covered. Remove and cut into strips or leave whole, serving one half per person.

For the dressing:
Juice and zest from half a lime
2 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 to 3 teaspoons soy sauce
2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 cup vegetable oil

In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine all ingredients. Shake vigorously until everything is well combined. Store leftovers in jar up to one week.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Color Purple

The plums in the market right now are so lush, the skin so purple it's almost black. I love the flavor dichotomy of ripe plums — the first bite of skin and fruit is tart, but as you get closer to the pit, the flesh gets sweeter. There are 2,000 varieties of plums, but only about 20 types are generally sold in the U.S., several of which were available at Publix. I grabbed a few classic purple ones, red ones, a green one and even a red-flecked pluot, which is a cross-breed of a plum and an apricot.

I got home and realized that, on impulse, I'd gotten far too many and they'd probably be overripe before I could eat them all. I decided to cut them into chunks and mix them with some cantaloupe, some fresh lime juice, mint and a touch of sugar for a salad. The combination of the flavors and textures of the different plums made for a lovely mix. The smaller, green ones are tart and firm, while the darker ones are sweet and softer. The melon added another layer of flavor, while the lime and mint added some depth. You could certainly sub out the cantaloupe for honeydew, and add in some peaches, blueberries or any other summery fruit you think would work well. This keeps well in the fridge — I ate it for three days and it was just as good (if not better) the second and third day.

Plum and Melon Salad
makes about 2 1/2 cups
1 or 2 medium purple plums, pitted and cubed
1 small green plum, pitted and cubed
1 medium red plum, pitted and cubed
1 pluot, pitted and cubed
1/4 t0 1/2 cantaloupe, peeled and cubed
Juice of one small lime
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon fresh chopped mint

Combine everything in a large bowl, toss to coat fruit in juice and sugar. Cover and refrigerate at least 1/2 hour. Stir before serving. Keeps up to four days, refrigerated.

Summer's Last Stand

If you've read this blog before, you know I have a serious love affair with pasta. Same goes for summer. So on my own for dinner last night, I decided to combine these loves in a light, perfect-for-hot-weather supper. To me, the flavors of shrimp, corn, lemon and dill blend seamlessly, and tossed with pasta, it was my nod to the last few weeks of summer.

Summer Pasta
serves 2
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
12 to 16 medium shrimp
3 ears of fresh corn, kernels cut off
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 lb fresh or dried linguine (any pasta would do, really)
1 tablespoon lemon zest
3 tablespoons fresh chopped dill
Juice from one lemon

In a large nonstick skillet, heat butter and olive oil together over medium-high heat until butter starts to bubble. Add shrimp and corn to skillet and add salt and pepper. Meanwhile, cook pasta per package directions. (If using dried pasta, start cooking pasta before you start the shrimp and corn.) Cook corn and shrimp, stirring often, until shrimp are opaque and just barely firm. Lower heat to medium, add zest and dill, and toss to combine.

When pasta finishes, drain, reserving 1/2 cup of cooking liquid. Toss pasta with corn mixture, adding pasta water a few spoonfuls at a time until everything is combined. Off the heat, add lemon juice and toss once more to combine. Serve topped with additional fresh dill, if desired.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

A Food Tour of New York

I just got back from New York City, a place I visit first largely for the food. I don't have hundreds of dollars to spend at Per Se or Nobu, mind you. I just love that whatever you're in the mood for, you can find a restaurant that makes it, and makes it well. Sushi, Italian, sandwiches, hot dogs, cupcakes...the list is endless.

Vanessa, my willing dining partner, and I made it our mission to find cheap eats that deserve high marks for value (meaning the restaurant could charge more, but it doesn't.) We did quite well on our mission. Following is a peek at our love affair with inexpensive New York dining.

thursday night
Republic in Union Square is a place I discovered when I lived in the city for a summer. I try to go back every time I visit for the fresh, inexpensive Asian food. We shared some small dishes — salmon sashimi salad (my all-time favorite...raw salmon, cucumbers in a spicy mustard dressing), fried wontons (perfectly crisp), and veggie dumplings (full of a delicious assortment of Asian veggies). We also washed them down with Republic's delcious summery cocktails (a tequila mojito for me, Asian sangria for Vanessa). Delcious and under $20 a person. Not bad!

For lunch, we had a hankering for good Cuban, so we braved the close quarters of Cafe Habana in the west village. Small and tight, Vanessa tells me the space is where they filmed the Lenny Kravitz video for Again. It's tiny, but the food was incredibly good. Grilled corn on the cob with lime, chili powder and creamy cheese and a hot, crisp Cuban sandwich, stuffed with tender roast pork, ham and melty Swiss cheese. About $10 a person.

As a snack, we just had to try the California-based celeb-favorite, Pinkberry. Frozen yogurt (actual yogurt, frozen, not at all ice cream like) with fresh fruit (I got raspberries) is a great snack on 100-degree days. It was fresh and delicious, and yes, total swirly goodness.

Our dinner spot was also housed in a teensy space, but the food was worth every elbow bump. 'Ino, a charming neighborhood place also in the west village, serves a dizzying array of panini, tramezzini (small, cold sandwiches) and seasonal bruschetta. I went a little crazy for all the options, and ordered two pieces of bruschetta (they were only $2) — one with pea puree and pecorino, and one with white anchovies topped with arugula oil. Heavenly. Followed by a panini with bresaola (like prosciutto, but beef), asparagus and pecorino, and a glass of dry Italian rosato, it was a great meal. And it only set me back about $22.

It's only just begun...

For a great burger, look no farther than the super-casual, shoebox-sized (I'm just now noticing the trend of tiny spaces and great food) Burger Joint inside the otherwise very fancy-shmance Le Parker Meridien Hotel in midtown. With just 3 food items on the menu (hamburger, cheeseburger, fries), it's simple and fabulous. The burgers are perfectly cooked to order and the fries were crisp and hot. Yum.

After our carnivorous lunch, we stopped by th Union Square Greenmarket, which is one of my favorite things to do in New York. We stopped and sampled peaches, fresh currants, sweet cherry tomatoes and the most incredible blueberries I've ever tasted. The samples, of course, were free. I also got a cup of ice-cold mint tea sweetened with maple syrup for $2. Fabulous.

Dinner brought us back to the west village for some thai food at Galanga. While good and inexpensive, it was nothing to write home about. (Or to blog about, for that matter.)

Any New Yorker will tell you that Sunday brunch is as much a part of New York culture as taking the subway. We Southern girls were craving a good bowl of grits and some cornbread, so we ambled over to Great Jones street downtown to the (also tiny) Great Jones Cafe. The brunch menu features simple, straightforward breakfast classics like huevos rancheros (what I got), pancakes and biscuits and gravy. The Southern-style side items were actually delicious, even though were were made in Yankee territory. $12 for brunch is a steal in this city.

Snacktime rolled around, and after a long day of train riding and a visit to Brooklyn, I knew just the place. I have an unnatural obsession with buttercream frosting, and only one place in the world makes it exactly how I like it. Made famous by an appearance in Sex and the City, the Magnolia Bakery in the west village makes the best cupcakes in the world. The crumbly yet moist cake and mounds of buttercream frosting are otherworldly, in my opinion. The confections couldn't be simpler, and yet people wait in half-hour-long lines just to grab a few. At $2 a piece, it's simply ridiculous to get only one. It's also ridiculous to consider eating more than one at a time, so save the second (and third...and fourth...) for later.

Dinner was at a delightful, cozy spot on the upper west side called Kefi. This place serves authentic Greek cuisine at fabulous prices (think under $20 for a fish entree — and on the UWS no less). Vanessa, who recently visited Greece with her family, and I decided to share some of the mezze (small plates), because they just looked too good to pass up. I am a salt fiend, so the warm feta with olives, capers and anchovies seemed like it was made just for me. Served with warm pita, it was a perfect, salty start. Vanessa's Greek salad was piled high with fresh veggies, tons of olives and big caper berries. Big, tender meatballs in a spiced tomato sauce and grilled octopus were the main event for us. Vanessa said the octopus was better than that she had in Greece, and I was inclined to believe her. It was tender, seasoned perfectly and just delicious. I could have eaten all eight tentacles, but had to settle for one. Even with a glass of crisp Greek white wine, tax and tip, I still made it out spending less than $30.

After a long, humid walk in Central Park (and a Beyonce sighting...), I headed straight for one of my very favorite New York spots — Gray's Papaya. If you're of the 'if I've had one hot dog, I've had them all' school of thought, you've obviously never been to Gray's Papaya. Now, these aren't fancy or gourmet. In fact, they're just the opposite. The place is small, kitschy and bright and you have to stand to eat, but the skinny dogs are cooked on a super-hot griddle so that the skins snap when you bite into them. The buns are warm and crisp and the whole package is sublime. The tropical drinks are housed in aluminum coolers, and I always get the namesake Papaya. It's frothy and sweet and faintly reminiscent of fresh Papaya, but it's just the "so-bad-it's-good" way to complete the meal. Two dogs and a drink sets you back only $3.50. I can't think of a more perfect New York lunch.

Back on the upper west side for dinner, my friend and UWS summer resident, Davey took me to Josie's, which serves healthy food like organic produce, eco-friendly seafood and free-range meat, poultry and eggs. We both got fish, and my organically raised, hand-farmed salmon was prepared perfectly with sweet potatoes and mango salsa.

I heart New York.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

It's not's HOMEMADE!

I like to grill food. Shrimp, corn, steak, might be in my head, but something about grilled food screams summer and summer makes me happy. Almost anything you make in a skillet or in the oven works on the grill. So why not pizza? (Nothing against Pizza Hut, by the way...but why get delivery pizza when you can make one yourself in almost the same time it takes for one to show up at your door?)

Simply put, grilling pizza is fabulous. Our go-to favorite toppings are caramelized onions and crisp pancetta (an Italian pork product, similar to bacon but not smoky...look for it at the deli counter), but any toppings can work. Think of the grill as one of those fiery ovens in the really good pizza joints. It crisps the crust with a hint of char that you just can't get from the regular oven.

I've only made it once, so this is my attempt at explaining the technique. Experiment with your grill, as charcoal will probably produce a different result than the gas grill I used. And again, top it however you like, but if you enjoy salty pork and sweet onions, this combo is to die for.

Grilled Pancetta and Onion Pizza
serves 4 to 6
16 oz prepared pizza dough (Publix makes a great one -- ask for it in the bakery.)
2 good-sized sweet onions
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for brushing
6 1/4-inch-thick slices of pancetta, diced
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cups baby arugula, stems removed and roughly chopped
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat outdoor grill to medium-high heat. (I suppose an indoor grill would work, but it's just not quite the same...)

Divide dough in half and roll into thin circles (or as close to a circle as you can get). Brush each side with olive oil and set aside.

Slice onion into half-moons. Put 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet and set over medium-high heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt and stir often until onions are golden brown and very soft, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a smaller skillet over medium heat and add pancetta. Stir occasionally until crisp at the edges, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towel-lined plate.

When onions and pancetta are finished, carefully place dough on grill. After about a minute to a minute and a half (when air bubbles start to appear on the up-side), flip the dough. Remove after one minute. (You want this side to be a bit under-done so it won't burn when you put it back on.)

Off the grill, top each pizza with half of the onions, pancetta and cheese. If using a gas grill, turn off the flames and place pizzas back on grill. (If using a charcoal grill, move coals to one side and place pizza over the now cooler side of the grates or just finish in the oven so the crust doesn't burn.) Cover grill to finish cooking pizzas and to melt the cheese, about 3 to 4 minutes.

While pizza is finishing, toss arugula with lemon juice and remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. When pizza comes off the grill, top with arugula salad and serve.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Like Buttah

When I got to choose a special meal for my family birthday dinner, I thought about things I don't often make myself. I landed on the perfect celebratory, once-a-year kind of dinner: New Orleans-style Cajun barbeque shrimp. If you've never had it, trust me: you're missing out.

Shrimp (head-on, mais oui!) are slowly cooked in a bath of Cajun-spiced butter. Rumor has it, it was created at an Italian/Cajun restaurant called Pascal's Manale in New Orleans. Served with a hunk of fresh French bread and a simple green salad, it's one of the most decadent, delicious meals ever. And even though it seems rich, it's truly not too heavy.

Be ready to get messy. This isn't the meal for your finest linens. Spread some newspaper on the table and set out a roll of paper towels for napkins. Serve the shrimp in a big bowl with empty bowls for the discarded shells. Serve with a simple green salad, lots of French bread and cold beer or a crisp white wine, turn the music up, and enjoy.

Cajun Barbeque Shrimp
serves 6
4 pounds shrimp, heads* and shells on
1 pound butter
1 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
3 tablespoons black pepper (the stuff in the can is just fine here)
1 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tablespoon salt
Juice from 2 lemons

Rinse and dry shrimp and set aside. Combine butter and oil in a large saucepan or stockpot
over medium-low heat. When butter melts, add spices, Worcestershire and salt, and stir to combine.

Add shrimp. Toss to make sure shrimp are completely coated and cook until pink and firm. Off the heat, stir in lemon juice and serve.

*Though they're kind of hard to find, shrimp with the heads still on are crucial for the flavor of the dish. Also, whenever possible, I look for wild American shrimp. The flavor is incomparable.

Creamy Comfort

One of my favorite go-to comfort meals is pasta with tomatoes and sour cream. I think my mom created this dish out of empty-fridge/late-dinner frustration, but there's something about the combination of the creamy, lightly tangy sour cream and the freshness of tomatoes (especially delicious summertime tomatoes*) that just works. With a heavy dose of freshly grated Parmesan and a handful of fresh spinach wilted in, it could just be my perfect comfort supper.

Creamy Tomato Pasta

serves 2
1/2 pound dried short pasta (such as orzo, penne, rotini...)
1 large or 2 medium tomatoes*
1/3 cup sour cream (reduced fat works fine here)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 or 3 big handfuls of washed baby spinach, stems removed

Cook pasta according to package instructions. While pasta cooks, score the skin of the tomatoes with a paring knife in an X shape. Dunk tomatoes into the boiling pasta water for about 30 seconds or until skin starts peeling away from flesh. Remove with a slotted spoon and run under cool running water for a few seconds to cool.

Peel skin from tomatoes and cut in half. Discard seeds and excess liquid, then roughly chop. Set aside. In a small bowl, mix together sour cream and Parmesan. When pasta is al dente, drain and return to pot over very low heat. Add olive oil, stir, then add sour cream mixture. Toss in tomatoes and spinach and stir until everything is combined and the spinach is wilted.

This is best eaten on the couch in comfy clothes.

*You can use canned tomatoes, drained, when the tomatoes aren't in season but it's not quite the same. "Amarosa" tomatoes in the grocery store tend to be pretty good almost year round. They're pricey, but worth it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

I smell summer...

It's starting to smell like summer. I know that sounds kind of strange, but when you think about it, there are certain smells we associate with every season. For me, freshly cut grass, the after-rain smell (due to the daily afternoon rain Florida summers are known for) and the pervasive smell of charcoal grills all scream summertime.

I'm not picky: throw just about anything on a hot grill and I want to eat it. Maybe it has more to do with my consuming obsession with summer than the actual flavor of grilled foods, but to me, there's nothing better than an outdoor BBQ with friends, especially if there's a swimming pool nearby.

Burgers and hot dogs are tasty and cheap, but I wanted to think of another option that's just as simple, but has the potential to take a little backyard cookout from expected and ho-hum to fresh and impressive. Served with some ice-cold watermelon and homemade lemonade, you just may forget about the old standbys.

Summertime Steak with Grilled Corn & Dill Butter
serves 6
For the steak
2 2 lb flank steaks, trimmed of any big pieces of fat
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 juicy lime

For the corn
6 ears of sweet corn, silk removed but husks on
1 stick of softened butter
1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
Light squeeze of lemon juice

Combine the oil and spices (everything except the lime) in a small bowl and mix well with your fingers (it should make a paste.) Rub mixture evenly over entire steak and let marinate on counter top for 30 minutes.

Completely submerge corn in cold water (either in a large stockpot or in the sink) for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the butter, dill, salt and lemon juice in a small bowl and set aside.

Prepare your grill and lightly brush grates with oil. Shake excess water off of corn and place directly on the grill. Close top to control flames. After 10 minutes, turn corn with tongs and cook, with the cover on, 8 to 10 minutes more. Pull corn off grill and set aside.

Brush grates with oil again and put steaks on. Cook 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. When finished, set aside for a few minutes to let juices re-distribute before slicing. When slicing, find the grain of the meat and slice against it. The more thinly you slice it, the more tender it will be.

Just before serving, squeeze the juice of a lime over the sliced steak. Peel back corn husks and slather generously with dill butter, or serve corn with butter in a bowl on the side.

Side note:
If you have a gas grill, lucky you. Hit the switch and you're set. But if you fall into the old-school charcoal grill category, there is one grilling sin that you should never, ever commit. I went to a party a few years ago where all of the otherwise delicious-looking BBQ had the distinctive and unpleasant flavor of lighter fluid. Nothing ruins hard work and incredible grilled food like the noxious aroma of gasoline. Do yourself and your guests a favor and outlaw those squeezy bottles of lighter fluid. Your best friend when lighting those stubborn little black nuggets is a charcoal chimney. For little more than $10, they ignite charcoal with zero chemicals. Plus it's a great way to recycle newspaper. Win-win!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Easy Being Green

I really can't think of a vegetable I don't like. Honestly. Even Brussels sprouts. It's all in the preparation. Roasting is usually my favorite way to make my veggies, especially Brussels sprouts, eggplant and broccoli. (Trust me, even if you thought you never liked broccoli, try it roasted. You'll change your tune.)

Generally, my favorite way to eat green beans is the good ol' Southern version — slow cooked in broth with salt pork. Not the healthiest, but still delicious. But my mom recently mentioned she made some green beans that she had to urge my 15-year-old brother to
share, rather than begging him to eat more.

Cooked in a super-hot pan in a mixture of butter and olive oil, the sugars in the beans caramelize and the starchy, bland beans are transformed into sweet, juicy, crisp-tender bites of goodness. (Overboard? Make them yourself and tell me then.) Here's the thing: these are best when the beans are the skinny, French
haricots verts. We tried the recipe with both skinny beans and regular beans, and the smaller, tender ones are the best. Look for them in the grocery store, pre-washed and bagged.

Mom's Green Beans
serves 4
2 bags haricots verts
1 1/2 tablespoons butter*

1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Generous pinch of Kosher salt

Put butter and oil in a large skillet over medium-high to high heat. When butter stops bubbling and starts to turn light brown, add beans. Sprinkle with salt and sautee, tossing frequently at first to coat in the oil, then less often, letting beans brown in places. When the beans are tender and mostly browned, they're done. This u
sually takes 3-6 minutes. You want to see an even, golden-brown to dark brown color on the beans, but if they get too dark before they seem tender, turn the heat down.

*On a side note, I recently used
Plugra brand butter for risotto. It's got a higher butter-fat content and less water than regular butter (the name is a play on the French words plus gras meaning more fat.) I have to say, we really tasted the difference. (You may remember that I am a big fan of butter...) The price was comparable to the other butters in the dairy aisle, and although it's obviously not the healthiest choice, I think if you're using butter, you may as well go all the way. Look for it and give it a try if you're a butter lover like me.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Dinner for One

When I'm on my own for dinner, I always have a silent debate with myself: cook and deal with the dishes and cleanup or take the easy road and order takeout. Tonight, my inner cook won out and I went straight to my go-to dinner for one — pasta. I don't know that I've ever met a pasta dish I didn't like. Simple or fancied up, it's one of the easiest and most satisfying things you can make.

I went to Publix and wandered the produce aisle for inspiration and my eyes landed on some bright green asparagus. I wanted shallots, but there were none, so a Vidalia onion went in the basket. Goat cheese with fine herbs and some "fresh" (soft, refrigerated) fettucine completed my shopping spree.

At home, I thought some herbes de Provence (a dried blend of rosemary, marjoram, basil, bay, thyme, and sometimes lavender), pine nuts and lemon zest might round out the dish. I was right. It was creamy, fresh and satisfying...a perfect meal for one. (Though it would easily double.)

Fettucine with Asparagus and Goat Cheese
serves 1
1/4 pound fettucine
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Half a small onion or 1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence
10 asparagus spears
10 grinds fresh black pepper
1/2 tablespoon pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 to 2 ounces soft goat cheese

Cook fettucine per package instructions. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion or shallot, a pinch of salt and herbes de Provence and cook, stirring, until onions are opaque and tender, about 3-4 minutes. Add in asparagus and pepper, and cook until asparagus are bright green and tender and the onions are golden in places. If skillet seems dry, sprinkle with a bit of water.

Meanwhile, heat a small skillet over medium heat and toast pine nuts until golden and fragrant. Set aside.

When pasta is done, drain and add to skillet and add a few spoonfuls of the pasta cooking water. Sprinkle with the lemon zest, add goat cheese to taste and toss. Top with toasted pine nuts and serve.

My New Buzz

I'm a coffee drinker from way back. I love a
cafe au lait in the morning and iced latte in the afternoon. But I discovered something that's giving my old love a run for its money. My new favorite buzz-worthy drink is a South American tea called Yerba Mate (pronounced 'mah-tay').

It's the national drink of Uruguay and Argentina and has been drunk for centuries all over South America. Traditionally imbibed through a metal straw (called a
bombilla) from a hollow gourd, it's shared family-style at gatherings and special events. When I was in Ecuador last fall, I saw instant yerba mate powder in a grocery store and on the shelf of a guinea pig farmer's kitchen. My Argentinian friend Vanessa's mom drinks it several times a day and swears it's the source of her boundless energy.

It just may be, because it has caffeine but doesn't cause jitters like the caffeine in coffee or regular tea, which is great. It's also considered a cure-all in South America (though I haven't seen any magic healing effects thus far) and it contains a bunch of antioxidants — even more than green tea.

The flavor is hard to describe. It's herbal and grassy, kind of smoky, and maybe it's just my overactive imagination, but it tastes almost ancient to me. My favorite way to drink it is in a "mate latte" with soy milk and honey. I've also had it iced — a company called Guayaki bottles it with fruit juice and also sells loose tea and tea bags.

I wouldn't say I'm a convert — I'll always be a coffee girl — but yerba mate is a definite keeper. If you enjoy herbal tea, give it a try...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Like a (French) Schoolgirl

I recently read about a classic children's snack from France: a sandwich of radishes on buttered bread. Though it may sound random to those of us who grew up eating Goldfish crackers or saltines and peanut butter, I thought it was such a fun idea for a little snack.

I love the peppery bite of radishes, and must admit that I'll eat anything made with butter. (When I was little, I'd sneak bites of cold butter from the stick when no one was looking.) There are beautiful radishes in the market now, so I decided to give it a try.

I had some dill in the refrigerator that only had a few good days left, so I softened the butter and mashed in some chopped dill and a bit of Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. With the cold, pinky-red radishes on fresh baguette from the 2nd Street Bakery, it was a simple, perfect combination. I think I'm in love.

Radishes with Herb Butter on Baguette
serves 1
3 tablespoons softened butter
1/2 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 radishes, sliced
4 slices fresh baguette

Combine butter, dill, salt and pepper. Spread mixture on bread, then top with radishes.

Simple Asian Supper

I have a confession to make: I am a sucker for marinades. I love the way the full-flavored ingredients translate into a tastier version of plain-old chicken (or shrimp or beef...) It's the easiest and simplest way to add tons of flavor and extra moisture and, at most, requires the use of a whisk or blender and a zip-top bag.

I've been on an Asian kick lately. Since wild American shrimp were on sale at the grocery store (I never buy any other kind), I decided to make a marinade that incorporates all of the Asian flavors I was craving.

I started with a little inspiration from a Bobby Flay marinade and then pared it down. Soy, lime zest and juice, ginger, garlic and shallots went into the blender with some peanut oil and voila! a perfect marinade was born. It tasted so good on its own I debated saving some to drizzle on the cooked shrimp, but then realized that would be taking my marinade-love a bit too far. The shrimp came out tender and full of flavor. I imagine the marinade would be delicious for a meaty fish like tuna or mahi, and might make for a tasty flank steak marinade, as well.

I thought a slaw-like salad would be a good accompaniment with the shrimp, so at the market, I picked up a head of Napa cabbage, a red bell pepper, a jalapeno and some cilantro. To dress, I made a simple, Thai-inspired peanut dressing. It was a light but satisfying dinner that came together pretty quickly.

Asian-style shrimp and slaw
Serves 2
For the shrimp:
1 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup peanut oil
Zest and juice of one lime
1/2 pound of medium or large shrimp

Place everything except shrimp in a blender and puree. Pour marinade in a zip-top bag, place shrimp inside and put bag in refrigerator to marinate for 30 minutes.

Preheat a large skillet over high heat. Remove shrimp from bag, shake off excess marinade, and sear, two minutes per side, or until shrimp are opaque.

For the slaw:
1/4 cup unsweetened peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Zest and juice of one lime
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 1-inch piece of ginger, finely grated
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 small head Napa cabbage, thinly sliced
1 bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced
3 scallions, thinly sliced on a diagonal
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

Whisk together peanut butter, soy, lime zest and juice, vinegar, oil and ginger. If thick, add a tablespoon of water. Set aside. In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast sesame seeds until light brown and fragrant, about 3 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine cabbage, peppers and cilantro, and add dressing until lightly coated. Garnish with sesame seeds.

To serve, mound a pile of slaw in a large bowl and top with shrimp.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


There's a wonderful bakery and coffee shop in Gainesville called 2nd Street Bakery that is just about the coolest place I've seen open in Gainesville since I've been here. (Tied with Satchel's Pizza, of course.)

The bread and pastries at 2nd Street are addictively good, especially the crusty French baguette. It's so big, though, that Jason and I rarely eat the whole thing before it gets stale.

We've done everything from fresh bread crumbs to French bread pizza (this Cooking Light recipe is especially good) but I have to say my favorite use-up of the last bits of baguette is panzanella salad. Italian cooks waste nothing, so this salad was likely born out of necessity as a way to use their stale bread and just about any veggie their gardens grew.

Whether your bread is a little stale or fresh from the bakery, the croutons are definitely my favorite part. I've seen a million different varieties of this salad, but to me, the simpler the better. Choose tomatoes that are sweet and in-season. If you can't find big tomatoes that meet the taste requirement, grape tomatoes are almost always sweet. I don't love raw onions, but if you do, red onion is a traditional addition.


serves 4
1 medium or 1/2 to 3/4 of a large crusty baguette
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Big pinch of Kosher salt
5 grinds of black pepper
3-4 tomatoes, seeded or 1 pint grape tomatoes
1 cucumber

Juice from 2 lemons
1 clove of garlic, finely minced or grated with a microplane
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut baguette into bite-sized cubes. In the salad bowl, toss cubes with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes or until golden.

Meanwhile, cut tomatoes in bite-sized chunks. Peel cucmber, cut in half lengthwise and with a spoon, scoop out seeds. Cut cucumber into bite-sized chunks and toss with tomatoes in salad bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients. Stir in croutons and toss everything with dressing. Let sit for a few minutes before serving.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Update on a Classic

I never really thought the first post on my blog would be devoted to egg salad. First, I always thought it seemed like a strange food, mushy and smelly and generally unappetizing. Second, it's not exactly haute cuisine and it seems to be one of those love/hate foods — the sheer mention of its name brings either looks of disgust or dreamy smiles.

But recently, I saw an episode of Barefoot Contessa on Food Network where Ina Garten made an updated, fresh version of egg salad that looked neither gloppy nor soggy. Hers had dill, my very favorite herb, and was served as a French tartine — basically an open-faced sandwich — atop smoked salmon. It looked delicious.

Then, Heidi from posted another version with celery, lemon juice, chives and about half the mayo the traditional recipe uses. Hers also looked lovely.

I was intrigued. I decided to try my hand at making a tastier version of the deli classic. A combination of those two recipes was the inspiration for my update of the egg salad sandwich. I decided to contrast of the soft egg salad with crusty bread and made it open-faced. The whole thing takes less than 20 minutes, and half of that is waiting for the eggs to cook. It's super cheap to make, and served with a salad, it's a perfect, light lunch.

Updated Egg Salad Sandwich
serves 2

5 eggs
Scant 1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon capers, drained and lightly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh chopped dill
Light squeeze of lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Crusty French baguette cut diagonally into 1/4-inch-thick slices

Put eggs in a pan and cover with about 1/2 inch of water. Cover and bring to a boil. When the water boils, turn off heat and let sit, covered, 9-10 minutes. Drain and plunge into ice water or run under cold water for a few minutes to stop the cooking.

Peel eggs and place in a large bowl with the mayo and mustard. Using a fork, lightly mash eggs until they are in small pieces, being careful not to over-mash. Stir in capers, dill, lemon juice and salt & pepper.

To serve, toast the baguette (or any crusty bread) at 350 degrees for 10 minutes until crisp but not dry. Mound egg salad on baguette slices and serve.