Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

Behold, my first homemade butternut squash soup - ever. Despite that fact that I adore butternut squash soup, I've never bothered to make it. Frankly, I was put off by the obvious task of pureeing the soup, usually in a blender and in multiple batches. I've seen my less lazy friends do it, and I simply couldn't be bothered. Who wants to deal with all that scooping and blending and pouring? The number of dishes I would have to dirty alone was enough to give me pause. Yeah, I'm lazy sometimes. We can't all be Julia Child every day. However, now that I have a handy-dandy immersion blender, this soup was a cinch. 

The first time I tasted butternut squash soup was in a little Irish restaurant up the street from Mom and Dad's house called Kate's at Milton Hill. My home town didn't really have restaurants, except for the much-loved local pizzeria and a small deli. So, it shouldn't be a surprise that we spent a lot of nights up at Kate's. There was a dining room as well as a small "pub" which eventually became our default dinner out. On nights when Mom had to work late, and even when she didn't, we would trek up to Kate's pub for some soups, sandwiches and a little Red Sox baseball. Katie's wasn't anything special, with its corny, Celtic stencils painted on the walls and the never-ending playlist of airy flutes and hearty fiddles, but it was relaxing, comfortable and close to home. To me, those are some of the same qualities that make up a good squash soup. Maybe it isn't the most remarkable thing I'll ever eat, but I always feel warm and happy having had it.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup 

Adapted from Bon Appetit, October 2003

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium onions, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
4 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 or 3 apples, peeled, cored and diced
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup apple cider
1 cup white wine
Greek yogurt

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, nutmeg and curry powder. Saute onions until they begin to brown. Add squash, apples, broth, cider and wine. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered about 30 minutes, until squash and apples are tender. Using an immersion blender, puree soup until smooth.* Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle soup into bowls and serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt. 

*If you don't have an immersion blender, you can puree the soup in a blender, pureeing a few cups at a time and transferring pureed soup to another bowl or container. When you have pureed all the soup, pour it back into your pot and simmer until the soup reaches your desired temperature. 

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Bahh!! Zombie pumpkins! Grab your shotgun, machete and canned goods and head for the roof! Zombie pumpkins are coming!

Yeah, OK, I am a huge nerd, but this pumpkin makes me think "zombie." Boyfriend and I discussed making a jack-o'-lantern out of one of these guys, but the irony was too much for me. I mean, am I really going to carve out zombie brains?!? Mmmmm, brains.....

Maybe I am taking this too far, but speaking from a purely gastronomical point of view, zombies seem to have veered away from the all-brain diet lately. Have you noticed? The recent batch of zombie movies seem to indicate that the zombie palate is expanding to appreciate skin, intestines or pretty much anything living, even non-humans. This shift made me wonder, are zombies appetites becoming more distinguished or less? Are they intrepid eaters or browsing billy goats? I'll leave you to ponder than one on your own.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Zucchini Ziti

I don't like ziti. In fact, I hate it. Nine and a half times out of ten, I will substitute it out of a recipe. Who needs it? For one thing, it is a boring shape. Tubes. Blah. Two, is has no texture. Sauces seem to slide right off the damn thing on its way to my mouth. And really, what is pasta, if not an efficient means for delivering delicious sauces to my taste-buds? Three, most ziti is just a little too long to fit in my mouth sideways, which means that whatever small amount of sauce was able to desperately cling to the too-smooth surface, does not so much end up in my mouth, as on my face. Really, ziti? Let's just say, ziti and I got beef.

Nonetheless, since there wasn't really a sauce to this dish, I'll thought I would attempt to let bygones be bygones. Not to mention the fact that "ziti" and "zucchini" are really fun to say in the same sentence. Ziti Zucchini. Zucchini Ziti. Ziti, ziti, I love zucchini. Yum.

Savory awesomeness!

Ziti with Roasted Garlic, Onions and Zucchini
(Adapted from Bon Appetit, October, 2010)

2 lbs. zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch rounds
2 cups onions, cut into quarters and thinly sliced
12 garlic cloves, chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 tsp. dried crushed red pepper
1 lb. box of ziti
1/2 - 1 cup fresh basil, chopped
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, combine zucchini, onions and garlic. Toss vegetables with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and crushed red pepper. Spread veggies out across two rimmed baking sheets and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast veggies for 30 to 35 minutes, moving/stirring the veggies a couple of times.

While the vegetable are roasting, cook the pasta in a large pot according to the directions on the box. Drain, reserving about 3/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Return the pasta to the pot and toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cover until the vegetables are done roasting, then mix in veggies and 1/4 of cooking liquid. If your timing is a little off and either the vegetables or the pasta gets cold, just warm everything in the large pot over medium heat until heated throughout. Mix in basil and cheese.* Add more of the cooking liquid, a little bit at a time, if necessary. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Did I mention yum?

*There was a little bit of a trade off with the cheese. I get very annoyed when adding grated cheese to hot pasta dishes because the cheese so often wads up and encases a smattering of random ingredients in giant cheese balls, while the rest of the dish goes virtually uncheesed. (Yeah, "cheese" can be used as a verb). So I tried to add the cheese about 1/4 cup at a time and mix well before adding more. The trade off is that all the additional mixing (perhaps I was too forceful?) tore apart the zucchini. Oh, well, I'll trade pretty for delicious (and no cheese bombs!) any day.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Apple Cake with Lemon Sauce

Apple picking! Hooray autumn! Thank bloody goodness. I am practically giddy about the crisp, cool, sunny weather. I kicked off autumn this year with a day of apple picking and baking. Regrettably autumn only lasts about 4 days in D.C., days on which I can stand in the sun in a light sweater and breathe in the sickly sweet smells of rotting leaves, before the temperature drops to 40 or below, and I have to dig out the scarves and winter coats. Inconceivable! I do my best to encourage my own little mental lapses, pretending that autumn is a real season in this swampland. I bake as many spicy, sour-sweet recipes full of pumpkins, cranberries and apples, as I can. (And for the record, my love of autumn has nothing to do with the fact that so many of my favorite seasonal flavors translate so harmoniously into desserts. Pure coincidence). Mostly, each autumn I'm determined to make the season last a little bit longer than it did the year before, mostly.

First up, is another recipe card from Great-Grammie's recipe box. After a few hitches earlier this week with her fig square recipe, I thought I would go with an easy one. (I'm coming back to those fig squares, even if I have to make several batches to get it right!) The original apple cake recipe was a little fuzzy on the details, listing "apple slices" and "lemon sauce" but not including the number of apples or how to make the lemon sauce. (I think the lemon sauce recipe may be lost to the annals of cookery). Honestly, as Great-Grammie's recipes go, a few missing instructions are usually the least of my worries.

I was surprised how great this cake came out. While I was mixing the batter, it seemed a little plain; I was worried it wouldn't have enough flavor. I couldn't have been more wrong. The cake itself was light and bouncy, so much so, it was tricky to get out of the pan, squishing down under the pressure of my spatula and popping right back up when I took the spatula away. The apples were also a surprise. I thought they would be dried out, which they were a little, but they were still crisp and juicy when I bit into them. The cinnamon and lemon sauce gave everything a little depth and moisture, which made me want to lick my fingertips and dab up any stray, sticky crumbs. Now I understand what Mom meant when she said, "This cake never got cold in our house."

Apple Cake
(Adapted from Great-Grammie's recipe)

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for topping
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs, well beaten
7/8 cup milk (2% or whole)
2 small apples, cored and sliced (I used Jonagold)*
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Lemon Sauce
(Adapted from Bon Appetit, December 1998)

1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 1 or 2 lemons)
2 or 3 teaspoons grated lemon peel

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8x8-inch baking dish. In a large bowl, cream together butter and 1/2 cup sugar. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, salt and baking powder. Mix eggs, milk and dry ingredients with creamed butter and sugar alternatively. Pour batter into greased baking pan. Press apple slices into batter in concentric circles, starting at the outside then moving into the middle. Mix together 2 tablespoons sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over cake. Bake 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve with lemon sauce.

*To keep your apple slices from turning brown while they wait to be added to your cake, put them in a bowl of water with a couple of splashes of lemon juice. I cut up my apples last, but, of course, forgot to preheat the oven, so they had to wait a bit before being added to the cake.

Lemon Sauce
In a small saucepan, mix together sugar and cornstarch; add water and bring to a boil. Boil for a few minutes until the mixture gets thick. Add lemon juice and grated peel. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Spoon over pieces of cake.

Makes about 9 servings.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Being a Grown Up is Kinda Like Fish Tacos

I cooked a piece of fish. Several actually. This is a big step. If you know me, you know, I don't eat fish - not cooked fish anyway. Can't stand it. I keep trying, hoping I'll come around, but until this week, I had never cooked a piece of fish in my life.

When I was a little, Mom and I had a deal at dinner time. If I didn't like something, I had to have at least three bites of it or I couldn't get up from the table. Pretty fair, right? And who likes a fussy eater? However, on the nights we had fish for dinner, I felt the need to take a stand. I would sit and sit and sit, stubbornly poking and breaking up my bites of fish into smaller and smaller chunks, while Dad, Mom and the Mayor finished eating, did dishes and adjourned to the den for some family TV. One night, while I stewed in my disobedience, I could hear them watching Flight of the Navigator, one of my favorite movies! Traitors! I did my best to close my eyes and picture the scenes I knew by heart in my head, but after a few minutes, I couldn't take it; I scooped up all three bites on my fork and forced it into my mouth. I frantically gestured for Mom to inspect my clean plate. Look! Look! Yet, as soon as my parole was given, instead of plunking myself down between Dad and the Major for some fabulous 80s Sci-fi, I stubbornly refused to submit. That's right, I held that fish in my mouth, ran upstairs and spit it out.

Yeah, I was wicked mature. Get over it. I've totally grown up since then. As an adult, not only do I order fish in restaurants, but I often use my wine to help me wash it down. ( No spitting here! I'm a lady). Be that as it may, when Boyfriend came home from a recent fishing trip with several pounds of rockfish (pounds!! blerg!!) I decided to be mature, act the grown-up and face my three bites of fish phobia head on.

Fish Tacos with Fresh Salsa
(Adapted from Simply Mexican, by Lourdes Castro here)

The best thing about fish tacos, or any tacos really, is that you can add and subtract ingredients to suit your tastes. I really like avocado and lime, so I filled mine up with extra of both. Despite that fact that I had no source for comparison, I liked my fish tacos. They did seemed a little tame compared to their beef and cheesy cousins, but I still considered these tacos a success. Besides, Boyfriend tells me they tasted top notch.

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 and 1/3 lbs. rockfish fillets* (or any white flaky fish)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. ancho chile powder
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 jalapenos, seeded and minced
4 medium or 8 small flour tortillas

1 avocado, cut into small chunks
handful of fresh cilantro leaves

3 or 4 cups tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
juice of 1 lime

* I left the skin on my fillets.

1. Onions: place onions in a small bowl and cover with red wine vinegar. Cover and set aside.

2. Marinade: Mix together olive oil, chile powder, oregano, cumin, cilantro and jalapenos in a small bowl. Place fish in a baking dish (skin down, if you left the skin on) and spoon marinade over fish. Make sure to evenly distribute over all the fillets. Cover and marinate for at least 1 hour.

3. Salsa: Meanwhile, mix together all the ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste. Give the whole thing a turn or two in the blender or food processor if you like your salsa less chunky.

4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake fish, uncovered, for 15 to 25 minutes. (Mine took 20 minutes). To test the doneness of the fish, insert a fork and twist slightly. If the fish is opaque and flakes apart, it should be done. Flake the fish into a bowl.

5. Tacos! Assemble tacos in a tortilla with a couple scoops of fish, onions, avocado and salsa. Add lime juice or cilantro leaves to taste. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Gazpacho: Soup and Superpowers

I have been thinking about superpowers a lot lately - and how much I want them. Yeah, I know, spending my time daydreaming about superpwers doesn't really smack of grown-up responsibility or maturity. Yeah, yeah, well that's how I look at most things in my life. I'll be an adult when I have to be, but I'm going to be a kid as often as I can. So this is where I rationalize fantasizing about superpowers. And if you're all honest, what person with the smallest amount of imagination doesn't? Right. That's what I thought.

Last month, I was watching a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which really made me want super strength - just for the badass factor. Then, after Boyfriend and I stuffed ourselves stupid with seafood while on vacation last month, I wished I had a superpower that would cook me excellent food, which little or no effort on my part. Oh, wait, they call that delivery. No, really, I got to asking myself, what superpower would be best for the kitchen?

At first I thought I might like Superman's lazer eye business, so that I could cook food with my eyes, but that didn't seem right. Then I thought I could be like Magneto and move all my pots and cooking utensils around with my mind. I finally settled on being like Wolverine. I can't get away from how handy those claws would be for chopping and dicing. (Snikt! Snikt! Gazpacho!) Plus, if I were like Wolverine, I get to drink beer and be irreverent. Bonus.

What superpower would you like to have in the kitchen?

28-ounce can diced tomatoes (include juices)
1 cucumber, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 yellow pepper, finely chopped
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 big handful of cilantro, chopped
2 tbsp. lime juice
1 cup white wine
1/4 cup olive oil (I would use less next time)
salt and pepper
dash(es) of Sriracha (optional)

Combine first 8 ingredients. If too thick, add wine and oil. Adjust heat by adding a dash or two of Sriracha or your favorite hot sauce. Cover and chill for an hour to let flavors combine. Taste and readjust heat, salt and pepper to taste.

P.S. The great thing about gazpacho is that you can thrown in whatever you like. I like mine chunky, but you could also toss it in the food processor and make it smooth. This was my first time making it and I am already thinking of things I can add or change next time. Hey, carrots, come on down!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Peach and Blackberry Cobbler

Do you ever get the feeling that life is moving too quickly? Do you wonder: did I really get enough sun-soaked outdoor time or smokey, campfire-roasted marshmallows this summer? Did I swim enough? Did I take full advantage of those golden afternoons on my balcony, when a cold beer and a cool breeze can feel just shy of heaven? Did I savor the overwhelming freshness and clarity that is so essential in summer foods? Call me a pessimist, but as the summer draws to a close, I can't help but wonder if I lived it to the fullest, catching every last morsel of that special joy that only summer can provide. At those times, I think back to all the things that define the season for me, like peaches.

Mom loves peaches. I have vivid memories of vacationing down the Cape, sitting around whatever cottage the family had rented, playing gin and watching Mom eat peaches. It is always amazing to me, the kind of subtle, non-traditions that seem to seep into my memory such as Mom's love of peaches. For me, peaches mean comfort and an easy relaxation that can only come with time spent at the beach, with no cell phones, blackberries or laptops. Just good food and good company. Away from the things of man, my love. Away from the things of man. 

Peach and Blackberry Cobbler
(Adapted from Ruth Reichl's blog)

4 large peaches, peeled
8 or 9 oz. blackberries
1/2 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp. cornstarch

1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
pinch of salt
1/2 stick of cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1/3 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice peaches over a glass pie plate, making sure to capture any juices from the fruit. Add blackberries. Squeeze half a lemon over fruit and toss with sugar and cornstarch.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Using your hands, work in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Slowly mix in the buttermilk, making sure the dough is not too moist. Plop spoonfuls of dough on to the fruit. Sprinkle dough with sugar and bake for 30 minutes. Serve immediately, preferably with vanilla ice cream.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Raspberry Lime Popsicles

These days it seems like everyone has a strategy for dealing with the heat. The blogs are buzzing with homemade ice creams and frozen treats. So when Mom handed down these Tupperware Ice Tups molds, I knew I had to find a use for them. (Raspberries!)  The Tupperware molds are totally timeless and work great, but I can't help but want these Cuisipro Sailboat Popsicle Molds. How cute are they? What could scream summer leisure time more than cute little sailboats? Adorable!

These pops were super tangy, which I love, but the thyme wasn't as pronounced as I would have hoped. Oh, well, I guess I'll just have to make more!

Raspberry Lime Popsicles with Thyme 
(adapted from this Gourmet recipe)

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 or 3 springs of fresh thyme
4 cups fresh raspberries (about 16 oz.)
2/3 cups fresh lime juice (from about 3 limes)

Combine sugar, water and thyme in a small saucepan. Heat until sugar completely dissolves. Cool.  Discard thyme.

Blend half of the raspberries and half the lime juice in a blender until smooth. Add syrup, remaining raspberries and lime juice and blend until smooth. Force puree through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl, pressing on the raspberry seeds and then discard them.

Pour mixture into molds. Freeze. If using molds without lids, wait a an hour or two, until pops are slushy and insert sticks. Freeze for 6-8 hours.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Vacation Edition: Boston

While I was visiting the Fam in Boston this weekend, the Mayor (an affectionate nickname we have for Brother, who is not, in fact, an elected official) and I went to the 1st Annual Boston Food Truck Festival. This dog, from Boston Speed's Famous Hot Dog Wagon, was well over a food long - and I waited for over an hour for it. (I got it "loaded" with homemade mustard, barbecue sauce, relish and onions. Tangy!). I really wish I had put something in this picture for scale. The only downside to the day was that there were not quite enough food trucks to meet the demand (the lines were long!). Luckily, the Mayor was there with me. While I waited in line for this gigantor, the Mayor spied a shorter line and fetched us some of my favorite snacks: PICKLES!

Hot pickles...
... and sour pickles.

All in all, it was a great day. Plus, I heard a rumor that the group which organized the festival may be organizing similar events in other cities. With so many great good trucks in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia), I can only hope someone puts one together here.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Interstellar Renegades and Cast Iron Cookware

So I learned something about myself since starting this blog. I really enjoy watching Sci-Fi while I bake. I know; I'm baffled by it, too. I think it has something to do with the fact that when I first got big into baking, I coincidentally received Star Trek The Original Series season one on Blu-ray. It goes without saying that I was watching Star Trek more or less non-stop and there just so happened to be baking involved. Now, I have some sort of Pavlovian association between baking and Sci-Fi. Stranger still, it totally doesn't carry over to savory or meal type dishes. Figure that out.

Recently, someone reminded me how much I love the now defunct series Firefly. If you haven't seen it, Netflix it. It is wicked awesome. So, I thought, what could be more appropriate for a Western set in Space than a little cooking with cast iron, right? I said to myself, Self, if I'm ever an interstellar renegade, hopping from third world planet to third world planet, I am sure as shootin' gonna be clinging to my cast iron cookware. You never know when you might need it, for cooking or self defense.

"We're not gonna die. And do you know why? Because we are so very pretty." 

I love tomatoes. I really really do. Fruit, veggie, whatever. I will never get tired of the tomatoes. Tomatoes as a dessert was too darn temptin' to pass up. You mean I can sneak tomatoes into a whole 'nother course? Hot damn! This dessert was a leap of faith, but I was handsomely rewarded. It was sweet and fresh tasting, with a funny kind of dessert pizza feel. Enjoy!

Tomato Tarte Tatin
(Adapted from this August 2010 Bon Appetit recipe)

8 or 9 large roma tomatoes
3 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 sheet of frozen puff pastry dough, thawed, (rolled out, if necessary) and trimmed to a 10" round (to suit the size of your skillet)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Fill a medium saucepan with water and boil. While the water is warming up, cut a shallow X in bottom of each tomato. Blanch tomatoes, a few at a time, until skins begin to peel, about 15 to 30 seconds. Using slotted spoon, transfer blanched tomatoes to a bowl of ice water to cool. Repeat with remaining tomatoes. Peel tomatoes, halve lengthwise, cut out cores and remove seeds. (This step takes a few minutes to do). 

(These tomatoes totally look like the eggs from Alien, don't they?)

Slice butter and spread over the bottom of an ovenproof skillet. My skillet is a 10" cast iron skillet, but any size, give or take an inch should work. Sprinkle sugar evenly over the butter. Arrange tomato halves, rounded side down, bottoms pointing out, in concentric circles.

Warm skillet to medium heat. Cook until sugar and butter are reduced to a deep amber syrup, about 25 minutes. Move tomatoes around occasionally to make sure they aren't burning or sticking.

Meanwhile, tackle the pastry. I used the better part of a 14 oz. frozen pastry sheet, which was a little smaller than the diameter of my skillet.  If you need to roll out your pastry a bit, do so on a lightly floured surface, using a floured rolling pin. Once you have to size you like, cut pastry into a round a little bit bigger than your skillet.

Remove skillet from heat. Pour vanilla extract over tomatoes and transfer pastry round to skillet. It is ok if you're pastry doesn't exactly fit the skillet. If the pastry is larger than your skillet, tuck the extra pastry down with a knife or spatula. Cut a couple of slits in the pastry, and bake until it is deep golden brown, about 20 - 25 minutes. 

Remove from oven and cool in skillet for 10 minutes. While the tart is cooling, mix together confectioner's sugar and cream in a medium bowl. Using a hand mixer, beat together until stiff peaks begin to form. 

Loosen pastry around the edges with a knife or spatula. Place large plate over skillet. Using oven mitts, invert skillet over plate, and give a little shake until you feel the tart drop onto the plate. Carefully lift off the skillet. Rearrange any tomato halves that may have moved. Serve warm with a dollop of whipped cream.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

You still there?

Oh, hey there, Internets. How's it going? Me? I'm good, good. You know how it is. You get a little busy. You forget to return a phone call or an email and then you're like, should I even bother? Will she even remember or will I just remind her how disorganized and/or lazy I am? Blerg. In my humble opinion, it is always good to make the call, send an email, write up the Thank You note, whatever. People like to be remembered.

So, thank you, Internets, for not forgetting about me. I promise not to forget to write to you for three months ever again. For serial.

That said, I really can't fill you in on all the new recipes I tried in the last few months. However, the most promising addition to the weeknight rotation is this quick, bursting-with-complementary-flavors! shrimp recipe. Oddly enough, Best Girlie and I both made this recipe within a week of each other. (We love the food blogs). All I can say is that this dish was easy and delicious. I didn't change a thing, so you can read the original recipe here: Spicy, Lemon, Garlic and Fresh Basil Shrimp over Israeli Couscous. Remember, never skimp on the zest and make sure your garlic is fresh! Enjoy!

And now for something completely different. 


Even though you haven't heard from me, I have been a-cooking. Here are just a few of the things I've been up to.

Action Shot!

Artichoke, Black Olive Macaroni and Cheese 

Looks weird. Tastes Good. 

Guinness Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Apple Turnovers

Sunday, May 9, 2010

"Beer Soup" or "How Much I Love the Boy"

Sometimes Boyfriend feels a little left out of my cooking adventures. I usually plan to make dishes I think he will like, but, seriously, we can't have fried food all the time. (I tease, I tease). Honestly, Boyfriend and I love a lot of the same foods, but there are some dishes on which we simply disagree. For example, we all know how I feel about bread pudding. Boyfriend can't stand it. (More for me!) Meanwhile, he loves all seafood, while my feeling is that if it is cooked and has fins, it tastes like low tide. (I am strictly a raw bar/crustacean kind of girl). How do I keep the domestic peace? Every once in a while I throw the kid a bone and make a dish I have little or no interest in eating - and that's exactly how I ended up making beer soup.

Last weekend, Boyfriend and I were watching Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" Prague episode. Boyfriend, being of Czech descent, could hardly contain his excitement: "Can you make that? - Or that? - And that?" I told him he could pick any recipe out of our Czech cookbook and I would make it for him. Of course, he chose the beer soup, the one thing in the book that sounded more like an elaborate dare than a traditional recipe. At first Boyfriend didn't believe I would make it, but a promise is a promise. Beer soup it is.

"Dude, my dad is going to be so jealous." - Boyfriend

Beer Soup

1/2 loaf dark bread (about 10 oz.), cut into small cubes
16 ounces good Czech beer
6 cups beef broth
1 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup half and half

1. Place bread in a bowl and cover bread with beer. Let it soak for a few minutes.

2. In a large pot, bring the broth to a boil. Add the beer and bread mixture. Cook for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender. If using a blender or food processor to blend, let cool for a few minutes first.

3. Return puree to the large pot and bring to a slow boil. Stir in caraway seeds, salt, whole eggs and the yolk, using a big whisk or immersion blender to mix thoroughly. Take off the heat and mix in cream. Makes 6 servings.

P.S. You could probably play a lot with the flavor, depending on the bread you used. I used some kind of whole wheat everything bread from Whole Foods, but I would be interested to see how it tasted with a heartier dark bread. The soup was good, but wicked heavy. I feel full just thinking about it. That said, while I might not recommend making this specific recipe, I will say that this cookbook is great. Boyfriend and I have made several dishes, such as breaded veal cutlets with horseradish cream sauce and Chicken Paprikash, and will continue to use it frequently. Check it out - and be ready with a good store of butter.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Fig "Pop-Tarts"


Do you want to know something crazy? When I was little, I didn't know that figs were a kind of fruit. For some reason, I thought the "fig" in Fig Newton was part of a proper or brand name like Isaac Newton. I seriously thought that the stuff inside a Fig Newton was some kind of processed jam composite that Nabisco had invented. I should note that when I was five, I also thought that Han Solo was Luke Skywalker's father, so I guess I wasn't always big on details.

Now that I have discovered the fabulousness that is figs, I am catching up with a vengeance. Figs are such a gift to the kitchen (and the cook). They are so versatile. Figs can go sweet or savory at the cook's whim. My favorite way to eat them is combined with salty or tangy flavors and watch the wave of taste sensations ensue. For example, they make a great late night study-break snack. Cut some dried figs in half, put a crumble of blue cheese on top and lightly warm the fig halves in the toaster oven (or zap in the microwave). Pop them into your mouth while they are warm. This little snack also makes a good hors d'oeuvre, if you can stand to share them.

For this adventure, I decided to try for the sweet, rather than savory. These tarts are my first attempt at cooking with figs in a straight up desserty way. The tarts came out wonderfully; they were flaky and buttery, with scrumptious, gooey fig centers. The recipe itself is pretty easy. (Note to self: I still need to work on rolling out and transferring dough). You can use whatever kind of preserves or thick jam you like, as long as it has some chunks to it. If you're planning to bring these tarts anywhere, be sure to note that the dough needs to chill and the prepared tarts need to freeze before baking.

Fig "Pop-Tarts"
(Adapted from this Bon Appetit recipe)

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour, plus additional for shaping and rolling
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) chilled, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 tablespoons ice water
8-12 tablespoons fig jam
powdered sugar

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter. Mix in butter until the ingreditents resemble coarse crumbs. I find using my fingers works best. Add ice water a couple of tablespoons as at time, mixing until moist clumps form. Divide the dough in half, shaping each half into a disk, and wrap in plastic. Chill at least 1 hour.

Line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out dough. The original recipe recommends 13x11-inches, but I am not that good at rolling out dough. As long as you can divide your dough evenly into same-sized rectangles, you should be fine. I rolled each disk out to about six rectangles, about 9x8-inches.

Arrange 3 rectangles on each sheet. Spoon 1 or 2 tablespoons of preserves or jam down the center of each triangle. Top with another dough rectangle. Using a fork press down all the edges of each tart to seal (and make look pretty). Using a fork, poke a few holes in the center of the tart. Repeat with the second disk of dough. Freeze tarts for at least 2 hours before baking.

Position oven racks in top and bottom thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake frozen tarts for 25-30 minutes, reversing baking sheets after 15 minutes. Remove tarts form sheets and cool on a cooling rack. Put a kitchen towel or paper towels under rack, optional, but helpful for clean up. Sift powdered sugar over tarts.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Carrot and Cumin Soup

Carrots, so obviously awesome, so often overlooked. I used to eat carrots like they were going out of style. I'm not really sure why I stopped. I think somewhere along the line they stopped being a super flavorful afternoon treat and became "diet food." And baby carrots. Everyone got so exited about baby carrots; buying the big bags just wasn't "in" anymore. At least, that is how it went down in my head. Recently, I've begun to remember how much I love this veggie. Carrots have so much going on, how could you not throw them in everything? They are good raw, as a side dish, in stir-fry or salad; how could I forget about them? Last month I tossed them in my shepherd's pie, so this month I pureed them in this quick, but flavorful soup. (Special shout-out to Boyfriend for the immersion blender Christmas present).

Carrot and Cumin Soup
Adapted from this Bon Appetit recipe

1 lb. carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/2" dice
1 large yellow onion
2 tbsp butter
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp lemon juice
1/8 tsp allspice (or more to taste)
1 small container plain yogurt

1. In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium high heat. Saute onions for about 2 minutes, just until they begin to soften. Add carrots and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes or until the carrots are tender.

2. Remove soup from heat. Puree with an immersion blender or in a food processor, until smooth. Return to pan and whisk in cumin, honey, lemon juice and allspice. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Ladle into bowls and add a dollop (or a generous tablespoon) of yogurt to each bowl. Sprinkle lightly with cumin and serve.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Mustard by Any Other Name

The Wicked Cranberry origin story #1.

I really like condiments: Mustards, hot sauces, A1, malt vinegar, Worceshire. You name it, I like it on something. I have been known, once, in a moment of extreme desperation, to put Grey Poupon on a Swedish Fish. (It was a rash and bold move, but not as much of a poor choice as one might think).

When I was little, I put ketchup on everything: turkey, rice and macaroni and cheese. In some circles I was known as the Ketchup Kid. I have since learned that putting ketchup on turkey is wicked gross. In high school, I took a big step and tried mixing up balsamic vinegar and dijon mustard for a delicious, if pungent salad dressing. In college, I carried bottles of Cholula and Worceshshire sauces in my knapsack to dress up the dining hall food. (Man, did I get funny looks pulling them out of my pack). And now, at any given time, there are about eight (yup, 8!) different kinds of mustard in my fridge. (Can you find all five in the picture?) One for hot dogs, one for burgers, one for sandwiches, several for sausages, and that doesn't include the miniature sample packs I've acquired over the last year (read: pretzel dippers). Whateva, I do what I want.

There was a big day in my life a few years ago, a day that knocked poor Ketchup down a peg or two or six. I met Brown Sauce. Malt Vinegar and I had a brief and tangy affair when I went to London for two weeks in high school. Brown sauce was there, like a dutiful wingman, present, but silent, but I only had eyes for vinegar. Then, when I moved to DC, I ran into Brown Sauce at a Irish bar in Alexandria and spent the whole night catching up over some shepherd's pie. I was smitten.

Thses early flavoring experiments and mistakes, we're like my first baby steps towards manipulating flavors and really cooking. For instance, I don't like Frank's Red Hot on pepperoni pizza, but if I mix one part Red Hot and two parts Worcestershire sauce, it an amazing pizza/bread stick dipper. And tuna fish always tastes better with a little dijon mustard thrown in. And if you wanna get a little weird, Wheat Thins taste really good dipped in cocktail sauce. Snackerrific!

These days, I've outgrown most of my craziest experiments, (I do put brown sauce on my Annie's shells and cheese, which Boyfriend tells me is gross), but sometimes I totally feel like Jennifer Connelly in the final scene of Labyrinth, when she is looking all sad and lonely, putting away her childish things, and all of a sudden Ludo is in the mirror, and Hoggle is all: "Should you need us." And it is comforting to know that I can still rely on my sauces on those days when I just can't face cooking anything particularly complicated. On those days, I just wanna open up my fridge and say, "every now and again in my life, for no reason at all, I need you. I need all of you." Then it's a party.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I Did a Bad Thing: The Infamous Double Down

Oh my good god, what have I done to myself? I wish I had some means to recommend myself to your sympathies, but the honest truth is that I have been a lazy, grump-a-lump, this month and have no blog posts to show for it. Perhaps this evening's gastronomical adventure was a subconscious attempt at foodie flagellation. I have the sinking sensation that some where, some foodie collective will soon be voting to revoke my membership. Or maybe that feeling is just my stomach. All I can say is that I am sorry, so sorry.

In case you don't know, today, KFC released its newest menu addition, the Double Down sandwich. The Double Down is made up of 2 slices of bacon, 2 slices of cheese and Colonel's sauce stuck between two fried chicken filets. That's right boys and girls, no bun. Apparently, there is just too much fried goodness to accommodate a bun. - Oh, I know. Ew. 

When Boyfriend made the suggestion that we try the "sandwich" a few weeks back, I was sure he was kidding. Little did I know the powerful sway which fried foods hold over his heart (and belly). Witness his unparalleled joy, as he savors the last few bites. ("Homp!") At one point Boyfriend looked at me and said: "This is the first day of the rest of our lives." To which I replied, "Assuming we don't die."

Angry Face

Some of the comments I caught from other Double Down dinners, all of whom were male:

"Awesomeness explosion."

"Dude, what I am about to eat isn't normal." 

"After all that wait, it was totally worth it." 

And Boyfriend's words of wisdom: "When eating a Double Down, always bring a buddy in case of spontaneous heart attack."

Honestly, I have eaten at KFC about four or five times in my life. Being from Massachusetts, what I don't know about the art of frying chicken could probably fill Nats Park. However, if you tend to like the somewhat soggy taste of KFC and deep fried bacon, chances are you'll like this sandwich. All I can say is that it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I doused it in some hot sauce and it was fairly edible. So it's got that going for it, which is nice. 

On the drive home Boyfriend summed up the entire experience succinctly when he said: "This situation will call for constant monitoring for the next two hours. I feel fine now, but I could die in two hours.... or throw up in 45 minutes."