Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Saturday, February 24, 2007
There are three things she makes that after having, I simply cannot live without. They are: fatoush, tabouli, and baked eggplant. Fatoush is a delicious salad of tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and mint, topped with baked pita bread Tabouli is a chopped herb salad composed of parsley, bulgur, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice. She serves it wrapped in lettuce leafs and it is addictive and refreshing. As for the baked eggplant, I do not know what ingredients she uses. But, I do know that I could happily eat the whole pan if no one was watching.
I came across deliciously ripe eggplant and decided to try and recreate her recipe. I knew I would need garlic, tomatoes, onions, parsley, and a substantial amount of time to let it bake.
The result of my attempt was not the dish I love but nonetheless delicious. After this initial test I now know to use vinegar and less red pepper flakes next time. I also think I’ll slice the eggplant in thin strips rather then cube like triangles. Finally, I plan on adding the onions later so that they keep their taste and crispness.
15-20 pearl onions
½ cup Italian parsley, divided
5 cloves of garlic, diced
2 tbsp. tomato paste (I used sun dried)
1 large can of crushed tomatoes (I used tomato-basil but I think anything would work.)
1 cup water
2 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
Rice to serve ( I like Bastami or Jasmine )
Prepare onions: slice in half and sauté in olive oil until browned. Remove from pan.
Drizzle more olive oil in pan, add garlic and sauté for three minutes.
Add eggplant to garlic and drizzle with olive oil, coating all slices.
Cover eggplant and cook for 5 minutes, toss twice.
Add tomato paste to eggplant and distribute evenly.
Place Eggplant mixture and onions in baking pan.
Pour crushed tomatoes over eggplant and onions, add water and ½ the parsley.
Stir in spices then cover in aluminum and bake at 375 degrees for two hours.
Uncover and place under broiler for five minutes until browned on top. Serve on top of rice and sprinkle with remaining parsley.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Recently I discovered, dare I say it, an even better store to shop in then my beloved Crate and Barrel. (Shocking I know) The store I found is a kind of co-op grocery market, and it is called Russo’s. If you live in Massachusetts you simply must check it out. I don’t know where or how to begin my explanation of this hidden gem so I’ll explain exactly what it’s like when the gates open and (angels and doves fluttering by) you enter.
Located in Watertown, the building resembles a barn or garden nursery from the outside. Once you enter you see how truly expansive it actually is and are immediately blown away by the quality and range of goods offered. The first things that you come across are floral arrangements lined up to the right of the entrance. They carry every kind of flower imaginable and with a fairly inexpensive price tag. (Last time I went they were selling ½ dozen roses for $4.99 and we bought a mixed bouquet for $9.99) You can mix and match the flowers, then bring them inside to be wrapped in tissue paper and ribbon. You may also order custom arrangements ahead of time.
After the flowers you enter the apple section. There you will find every variety of apple sold in wicker baskets for $1.99 a pound. So far, I’ve tried their granny smiths and their red gala and I’ve been pleased with both. After the apples is an equally impressive onion section with red, yellow, white, sweet, mini vidalia, pearl onions, shallots, garlic…. Etc. (Basically every kind of onion you could possibly want.) Beyond there, (before you have even entered the actual store) you will find cabbage, brussel sprouts and potatoes of every variety.
At this point in the shopping excursion, you’ll likely have a cart full of goodies but before you start planning recipes in your brain..... open the double doors and check out what all the fuss is about….
To the left you’ll find nuts, dates, trail mix, greens like you wouldn’t believe, imported cheeses, steaks, tenderloins, yogurts, herbs, eggplant, zucchinis, squashes… I could go on, and on, and on but I realize I can’t possibly capture every item that they carry. Just trust me when I say they have everything you are looking for and then some.
In the right and center sections of the store they carry oranges, berries, tomatoes, nuts, peppers (again, of every variety) and mushrooms. Beneath the vegetables you’ll find imported pastas, italian cookies, brushetta toppings, crackers, homemade bread crumbs, dried fruits, and chocolate spread. Honestly I’m always too overwhelmed by the delicious vegetables and fruits to actually bend down and browse these items but have vowed that next time I will. We did purchase imported spinach pasta from Italy and it was far better then Barilla. I know that it’ll be like rediscovering the store once I truly dig through the other items on their bottom shelf.
Their deli carries boar head meat, imported salamis, homemade pasta salads, fresh pasta (last time we were there they had lemon basil, spinach, herbed, wheat, and plain fettuccini) and bologna, ham, turkey, and pepperoni of every kind. The cheese section won’t let you down and you’ll likely walk out with more then your family can possibly consume. We got some fresh mozzarella and goat cheese feta and Alex said the Feta “tasted like Greece.” Quite the compliment.
In the back of the store you’ll find the prepared foods, the bakery and baked goods, and the floral department. I’ve never tried anything from their prepared section but it makes my mouth water just thinking about it. The lasagna slices look like they weigh a good ten pounds each, and the chicken parm and meatballs are soaking in perfectly thick Italian gravy.
I love to browse through the baked goods and tease myself but I’ve never, and probably never will, allow myself to test these out. We did try their almond cookies which were quite good, (although then we had them in the Northend and realized they were incomparable) and their cinnamon almond biscotti which are the perfect companion with my nightly mug of tea.
The floral section is impressive and they sell potted plants and seeds for your garden. I’d probably have more to say about it if I had a garden, but I don’t so you’ll have to check it out for yourself.
There are so many reasons to love this store. I love it for the fruits and vegetables which are comparable to Whole foods but a fraction of the cost. Aside from that, their selection is four times as large and I assure you, you’ll come across a handful of items you’ve never seen or heard of before. It inspires me to try new and healthy things and for $50.00 stocks my fridge with enough to last at least two weeks. (For us this is quite the feat since at Shaws / Stop & Shop we spend nearly $120)
It’s a great place to go before hosting a dinner party. You can get everything you need in one place and even purchase the centerpiece. I love it, and if you go, you will too.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Our fridge was not empty, so luckily this is not a nightmare tale of greasy food we were forced to order in. We had plenty of ingredients on hand and it was just a matter of whipping something together quickly. We had a bunch of basil from Russo’s and some fresh mozzarella. I crossed my fingers that I hadn’t eaten all the cherry tomatoes and was ecstatic when I finally found them hiding behind the cranberry juice.
I was in the mood for something hearty so a simple salad would not suffice. I decided instead on pasta. The impromptu recipe that follows is delightful and the balsamic dressing finishes it off perfectly. While it was such a simple and easy dish it is still pretty enough to serve when company comes.
1 cup chopped fresh basil, divided
¼ cup fresh mozzarella, cubed
½ cup balsamic viniger
2 tbsp. tomato pasta ( I used sun-dried )
¼ cup oil
1 tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Linguini / pasta of your choice
Salt and pepper to taste
1.) Prepare Pasta according to box directions.
2.) Slice cherry tomatoes in half, place on baking sheet, drizzle with oil and sprinkle on salt. Roast for at least twenty minutes.
3.) Place Roasted cherry tomatoes and their juices in sauté pain, add ½ the basil, the tomato paste, the balsamic, the red pepper and the oil. Saute over low heat for 10 minutes or until the sauce thickens and reduces.
4.) Add pasta to sauté pan, turn off heat.
5.) Toss in the mozzarella and remaining basil.
6.) Add Salt and Pepper to taste
Thursday, February 15, 2007
I am a fan of slow cooked food and, I hate to admit it, the crock-pot. It’s one of those kitchen tools that you hide away and take out in the blistering cold of winter when nothing but a thick beef stew will suffice. It’s a tool that does all those things I love. It allows you to prepare the ingredients before hand and it takes your taste buds on a winding tour of the slow cooking process-- through the herbs, the vegetables and the sauce. The final product always begs for something fresh and crisp on top and comes together so easily that all you have to do is plate it, or make a side of mashed potatoes / rice to soak up all that saucy goodness.
A crock-pot was one of my first purchases when I got an apartment. My mom, while not the cook of our household, often used one. I used to love returning home from school to the aroma of slow cooked meats and veggies and found her dishes to be the most comforting. Believing that Alex would embrace the dishes with my same delight, I decided to “treat” him one day to slow cooked BBQ ribs. Well, it turns out not everyone likes the aroma of the crock pot. He complained about the scent of onion for at least two weeks straight. Granted, our clothes (even those that were hung in the closet of our bedroom) did reek. It was a fair enough complaint. However- I hoped that it was just that one dish that would produce those stinky results.
After the scent had FINALLY disappeared I warily took out the crock-pot and attempted to make the filling for a chicken pot pie. After work, before I even opened the apartment door, I could smell it lingering on our floor mat….. the same smell that the ribs had produced……the dreaded crock pot smell. I threw open the windows and sat shivering trying to waft it out the door and praying it would go away before Alex got home. Didn’t happen, and I haven’t used the crock pot since. I guess our apartment is just too small. We’re lacking ventilation so the crock-pot is out.
Anyway, the point of this rambling is to introduce a dish I discovered on fellow blogger Brilynn’s site. The recipe, “Spicy Black Bean- Sweet Potato Burrito” was so good, and so multi-dimensional that I am inspired to experiment with as many new spices, peppers, and random vegetable combinations that I can come up with. The smooth and mushy texture of the mashed sweet potatoes, the black beans and chili spiced onions, the crispy whole wheat burrito, the cold sour cream and the spicy salsa—mmm….mmm…. and more mmm!! Thank you Brilynn.
The dish reminds me of all those slow cooked recipes my mom used to make. I think the flavor combination is perfect and if you are looking for a layered dish that produces different tastes with each bite- this is it.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Anytime I try to cook for someone other then Alex the results are always sub par. I feel like I am doomed in that sense. Take last night for example; I decided to make spicy black bean- sweet potato burritos from the Definitely Not Martha blog sight. (This is a new blog I just discovered and am completely enthralled by. The writing is brilliant and entertaining and her recipes all sound do-able and delicious.) Anyhow, the dish DID turn out delicious and I would have been proud to serve it to just about anyone. Yet the day before when one of Alex’s friends came to dinner I made a Mediterranean vegetable pizza with whole wheat dough and of course, it burnt. The same thing happens whenever my parents come. I can be on a roll with wonderful dinners but somehow the night they arrive, after so much careful prep and planning, the dinner is just…. Eh…… edible. Well anyhow this is the way I feel about my valentine packages. Just “eh.” Maybe it’s all those high hopes.
Hazelnut cookies are one thing I do recommend. I’ve made them before and every time I do, they receive rave reviews. The recipe I use is from Giada’s Family Style Dinners Cookbook, and everything about it is divine. While I must say that these are not “pretty” cookies, they are tasty, and the aroma and texture of the roasted hazelnuts blends perfectly with oozing bittersweet chocolate. If you want something to serve alongside tea or coffee, this is it.
Chocolate Chip Hazelnut Cookies:
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats (not instant)
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter (softened)
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract (Trader Joe's bourbon blend is delicious)
1 cup hazelnuts (slow roasted, husked, & chopped)
1 (12 ounce) bag semisweet chocolate chips
1.) Preheat oven to 325F.
2.) Finely chop oats in food processor. Transfer the oats to a medium bowl.
3.) Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugars in a large bowl until fluffy.
4.) Drop the dough onto prepared baking sheers by rounded tablespoonful, spacing them 1 inch apart.
5.) Cool the cookies on a baking sheet for five minutes
Since I was so unsatisfied with the others, I’m not going to include those recipes. However, I have to say that the idea behind the banana bread is a good one. Rum, coconut, and lime are three ingredients that belong together. Therefore, the reason this dish turned out bad isn’t the “Jamaican” component. It’s the “banana bread.” The base just was not good. The texture was really rubbery and lacking sweetness.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
While I had never made this soup before it seemed pretty straight forward and simple, although I did worry about the success of it without a pressure cooker. After browsing through several cookbooks and some websites I saw that the pot was unnecessary. Thank heaven for small miracles because I don’t have room for another pan in the kitchen and would have been tempted to buy one to suffice my craving.
Dad always made pea soup with a thick and somewhat fatty slab of ham on the bone. Some of the recipes I looked at called for the same thing while others left meat out altogether. I was looking for a similar flavor to that of my dads so I set off to the grocery store in search of a hunka pig (sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
After an unsuccessful search I learned that Shaws “does not carry” ham on the bone. I also found out that I must not be the only one craving pea soup. Wholefoods “just sold out,” but they did have slabs of boneless ham which were “just as good.” At this point I was set on digging into a bowl of the creamy concoction. I could no longer feel my toes from the trek around Boston, and decided that the boneless would have to do.
Luckily, boneless or not, the soup turned out exactly as I had hoped. It was nice and thick and the chunks of carrot and ham were just the right size. It was also a cinch to prepare and required only one pot. Also, I didn’t have to go through the mess of cutting the ham OFF the bone after cooking. (Although next time I will still seek out the boned version as I’m sure it’ll bring the flavor off the charts)
This is one of those recipes that I have to love. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s exquisitely gratifying.
Couldn’t be better- split pea and ham soup:
1 small vidallia onion chopped
¾ cup chopped carrots
¾ cup chopped celery
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
3 bay leaves
2 cups dried split peas
1 ½ quarts chicken stock
2 cups water
2 tbsp. dried thyme
1 cube chicken bullion
2 cups cubed boneless ham (I used applewood smoked.)
Pepper & Salt
In a large Dutch oven sauté first five ingredients until onions are translucent (about seven minutes.) Stir in the dried peas then add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil over high heat then cover and reduce heat to low, simmering for 1 ½ - 2 hours. (Try to avoid the temptation to peak as it’ll let out all the heat and the soup may stick.) After the soup has reached a thick consistency and the peas are no longer in “pea” form, turn off the burner and let it sit for 10-15 minutes before serving.
He had been raving about a stir fried spinach and garlic that he made for his sister and I wanted to try it. This suggestion seemed to suffice his desire for menu direction and the sirloin at Russo’s gave him another push. He decided on scallops, steak, and spinach- a bit of a twist on the traditional surf and turf but one that I happily embrace. I’ve written before about my “take it or leave it” attitude towards lobster.
I don’t love steak; in fact I hardly even like it unless slathered in a gorgonzola or blue cheese sauce. If I do eat steak it’s usually when I’m visiting my parents and it’s ALWAYS done on a charcoal grill.
Since we have an apartment in Boston there is no option of charcoal grilling, in fact I believe it’s illegal. Therefore, I never make red meats since I know I can’t make them “the right way.” Without a grill, what’s a steak?
Alex isn’t quite so pessimistic and as it turns out he has every reason not to be. The sirloin he prepared exceeded any sort of expectation I may have had. It was juicy and peppery and the Montreal seasoning made it taste like home. Surprisingly it was not the broiler he used but a frying pan. I would never have chosen that route when faced with a challenging ingredient such as sirloin. However, his decision was right and his steak was perfect.
Ginger-Lime-Soy Sauce; the scallop marinade may sound questionable, but I assure you- all the flavors work beautifully. I think he is more of a foodie then he admits to me. I don’t know where he came up with the idea but what I do know is that we’ll be making it again and I suggest you give it a go as well:
Ginger, Lime & Soy Scallops:
1/3 cup lime juice
Zest from 2 limes
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 tbsp. freshly grated ginger
Pepper & salt
8 jumbo / 12 regular sized scallops
1.) Place scallops in Zip-log bag
2.) Mix remaining ingredients
3.) Pour marinade over scallops and distribute evenly
4.) Refrigerate for at least one hour
5.) Saute scallops with marinade until browned on both sides.
6.) Serve (to your giddy girlfriend who sits waiting with her feet propped happily on the coffee table!)
After this triumphant royal therapy I have begun to question my role in the kitchen as well as my boyfriend’s true calling. Is it possible that he is a foodie like me? Maybe he flips through cookbooks and is enthralled by food blogs. Maybe when I’m away he browses through magazine clippings, mixing the ingredients and interpreting the suggestions. I don’t know how else to explain his expertise in the kitchen as I know he did not cook much growing up. (Why would he when his mother makes the meanest sauce dishes I’ve ever had?) I also know he doesn’t cook much now since I have our menu’s planned six months in advance. (But all that’s about to change.)
I guess it doesn’t matter how he learned. Either way, I am grateful of his talent and proud to have him be the man in my kitchen. I eagerly await his next urge to queen-ify me!
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
I'll let you know what actually makes it into those cute & crafty boxes come V-Day!
Thursday, February 1, 2007
To suffice a crab craving on a smaller budget, I turn to crab cakes. One of my favorite restaurants in Rochester (where I grew up) is Tapas 177 Lounge. They serve the best crab cakes I've ever had. Rather then stuffing them full of bread crumbs, the crab is the star of the show and in each bite you get one or two huge pieces. Another thing I love about their crab cakes is the spice. It doesn't overwhelm the dish but it definitely gets your taste buds dancing and craving more.
I've made crab cakes three times and each new attempt is better then the last. With the above goals as my guide, I've adapted the amount of filling as well as what spices I throw in. While I still can't recreate the dish I did come close this time. A couple of ingredients that I believe are crucial in a delicious crab cake are: Lemon, worcestershire sauce, cajun spice, mayonnaise and scallions. NEVER leave out the scallions.
On Thursday I suggested crab cakes and a left over arugula salad for a quick dinner. Alex not only happily agreed but offered to make the cakes himself. Lucky me!! The recipe below is what we wound up with. They had the perfect amount of spice and a good consistency that stayed together during the flipping process. Like I said, this is one of those recipes you can play around with- just make sure you include the ingredients above. If you can afford fresh crab then by all means use that- otherwise the canned tastes just fine.
- 2 large cans of crab (back and claw meat)
- 1/4 cup chopped scallions
- 1/2 cup crushed saltine crackers
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tbs. lemon juice
- 1 tbs. Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tsp. Cajun spice
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- salt & pepper
Mix all the ingredients together. Add extra mayonnaise if it is too dry and extra saltines if it is not sticking together. Shape mixture into thick patties and fry in olive oil until both sides are browned.
Try not to eat them all, I dare you!!