Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Rugelach and Other Holiday Delights

Hanukkah is over already, but for a Gentile like me, Rugelach never goes out of style during the holiday season. I have been making Ina Garten’s version of this rich cookie for the last four years. Cream cheese gives the dough a nice tang, and the insides are crammed full of apricot preserves, nuts and cinnamon-sugar. I even toss in a handful of mini chocolate chips for good measure. When the dough is mixed together with a purposeful (yet light) hand, these cookies will puff up in the oven, creating flaky layers of goodness.

I made eight dozen last week, and delivered them to the awesome neighbors on our block who have made us feel so welcome in our new hometown. I also made some for my utterly adorable Greek landlady, Sophia. Not to be outdone, however, as I handed her a little cellophane bag filled with Rugelach, she presented us with a GIANT platter of her homemade Greek pastries: honey-soaked Melomakarona, Kourabiedes, and of course, Baklava.

The baklava was positively sumptuous, perfumed with orange flower water. Swoon. “Just a little something,” she said, grinning from ear to ear as she accepted my gratuitous thank-you’s. (Have I mentioned that I adore this woman? Not just because of the frequent offerings of authentic comfort food, but also because she insists on calling me by my full (Greek) name, Alexandra. And when she does this, she rolls the “dr,” making me sound decidedly exotic.)

While I have yet to camp out in Sophia’s kitchen to bask in her culinary aura, I am posting the still delicious recipe for the Barefoot Contessa’s Rugelach. It would be a perfect cookie to lay out for Santa Claus, a nice departure from overly iced sugar cookies that tend to prevail the night.

To the hungry masses out there in the blogosphere, I wish you all a happy and peaceful holiday season. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Rugelach (from Barefoot Contessa Parties!)
Makes 4 Dozen

(Garten notes that these cookies, once assembled, can be frozen and then baked in small batches as you want them. This has worked for me quite successfully in the past.)

8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
½ pound unsalted butter at room temperature
¼ cup granulated sugar plus 9 tablespoons
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup brown sugar, packed
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ cup raisins (I prefer to substitute the same amount of dried tart cherries, chopped)
1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
½ cup apricot preserves, pureed in a food processor
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon milk, for egg wash

1. Cream the cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light. Add ¼ cup granulated sugar, the salt and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour and mix until just combined.
2. Dump the dough out onto a well-floured surface and roll into a ball. Cut the ball into quarters, wrap each piece in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
3. To make the filling, combine 6 tablespoons of the granulated sugar, the brown sugar, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, the raisins and the walnuts in a small bowl. Set aside.
4. On a well-floured surface, roll each ball of dough into a 9-inch circle. Spread the dough with 2 tablespoons of preserves and sprinkle with ½ cup filling. Press the filling lightly into the dough. Cut the circle into 12 equal wedges—cutting the whole circle into quarters, then each quarter into thirds. Starting with the wide edge, roll up each wedge. Place the cookies, points tucked under, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Chill for 30 minutes.
5. Preheat your oven to 350° F.
6. Brush each cookie with the egg wash. Combine 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon and sprinkle on the cookies. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove to a wire rack and let cool.

[NOTE: Do not even think about making these cookies without parchment paper, unless you want a molten sugar mess and many broken cookies. Also, remove the cookies from the parchment to a wire rack to cool within a few minutes of pulling them out of the oven. If you let these cookies cool on the parchment, you run a very high risk of the cookies sticking, which will mean shreds of paper on the bottoms of the cookies. Yucky.]

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

East Meets Midwest- Bi Bim Bob (Bi Bim Bap)

I love our new digs in Denver, Colorado. Sure, it’s barely December and we’ve had two major snow storms—but every time I drive around town running errands, I’m guaranteed amazing views of the Rockies. But this blog isn’t about the weather or the view.

Let’s face it—I was spoiled in Ann Arbor. I wrote for a food magazine that regularly allowed me to eat well above my station, rubbing elbows with talented chefs and local farmers and culinary artisans. What’s more, my constant cravings for Korean food could be satisfied by driving in any direction.

Not so here in the Mile High City. Here, I am just another underemployed stiff with an eating habit I cannot afford. And Korean restaurants are nowhere near my neighborhood. Though I am carving out a new place in my heart for Vietnamese food, particularly phở, I still need my fix of spicy Korean stews bubbling away in iron pots, cute little bowls of Korean side dishes, and of course, Bi Bim Bap. What’s a girl to do?

She decides to start making her own Korean food at home, that’s what. I am starting with Bi Bim Bap, a dish that basically means “mixed rice.” It’s such a comforting dish, and can be modified to accommodate any picky eater who cringes over the intense heat of many Korean dishes. The real deal is dolsot bibimbap, which is served in a stone pot. The pot is superheated and coated with a bit of oil at the bottom, crisping up the bottom layer of rice…oooh, I shiver with delight. I could survive without the stone pot, but needed to search out some of the more authentic ingredients. On top of that, I combed the web for a recipe closest to what I enjoyed regularly at BeWon, a little Korean restaurant in my old ‘hood. I found my recipe (and a new culinary goddess to worship) on the blog Maangchi. With clear, pleasant instructional videos, this Korean living in New York shares her ability and traditional recipes with all of us wannabes.

I followed her recipe to the letter, with the exception of adding a little Country Bob’s All Purpose sauce to the seasoned meat. The sauce, which I came to love while serving time in Southern Illinois, lent a subtle flavor of Korean Barbecue to the dish, which scored very well with my hubby.

Aside from actually eating the dish, most of the fun came in finding all the ingredients at H-Mart, which is basically the Super Wal-Mart of Asian stores. I’ll say no more because the magic of H-Mart may very well be its own post one of these days. The trickiest ingredient to find was kosari, or dried fern bracken. Sound kind of nasty? Well, it was. While it was fun to experiment with the kosari as directed by Maangchi, the process of reconstituting the bracken in boiling water and soaking it overnight COMPLETELY STUNK UP MY KITCHEN. And not in a good way, either. For roughly twelve hours, my house smelled like a moldy gym sock.

(Kosari dried (left), and after boiling and overnight soaking (right))

But when all the ingredients came together, my kitchen smelled amazing, and the dish was a complete success. It tasted just as complex and well flavored as the B3 that I enjoy out, and even though it was a tad labor intensive I will definitely make it again.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Home Sick (Breakfast Bruschetta)

I spent all day yesterday taking care of two children—one of them three years old, the other thirty-two— a perfect waste of a sunny Sunday. They are both sick with some unknown bug, and though my husband stumbled off to the office this morning, I am stuck at home with the smaller, much more whiny patient.

She wants nothing more than to watch episodes of Old School Sesame Street on DVD, curl up in my lap, and breathe the Plague directly into my nostrils. I am determined to get her well and back in preschool as soon as possible. So I am feeding her good things, in hopes of hastening recovery.

We made Nigella’s Breakfast Bruschetta for lunch, another perfectly good and speedy recipe from her 2007 book, Nigella Express. The sick patient, who hadn’t eaten all morning, scarfed it down and said (stuffy-nosed and gratefully), “Thanks, Mob. I sure lub abocado.”

One healthy lunch and a dose of Children’s Motrin later, and she was passed out in bed for two hours. Score.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Easy Peasy (Nigella's Pea and Pesto Soup)

I wish I could say this soup was my idea. It’s so brilliant and simple. With 15 minutes and literally four strokes of your knife, you can get this verdant, flavorful soup onto your table (or, as goddess Nigella suggests, into a thermos for a workday lunch).

It's cheap, quick and made fabulous thanks to one of those “all the difference in the world” ingredients I love to use over and over again in my own kitchen- homemade pesto. I grew a ton of basil from seed this past summer, planted it in a border all around my yard, and made several batches of pesto while the bushes were nice and full. I froze my pesto in ice cube trays, which is a great way to store it in smaller portions for use all winter long. So when I came across the recipe this morning while perusing Nigella’s book, I popped a couple pesto cubes from the freezer and made the soup for lunch. It made me feel super healthy, and seemed to justify the handful of mellocreme pumpkins I ate for dessert.


15 Minutes Later:

15 Minutes After That:

Pea and Pesto Soup (from Nigella Express)

(feeds 2, generously)
3 cups water
3 cups frozen peas (I like petite peas)
2 scallions, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon lime juice
¼ cup fresh pesto (homemade or the “fresh” kind you find in tubs in the refrigerated section of the grocery store)

1. Bring water to a boil.
2. Add frozen peas, scallions, salt, and lime juice. Allow to simmer up to 7 minutes. (NOTE: Once I added the frozen peas, I let it all come back to a boil, but only for about 3 minutes.)
3. Discard scallions- blend the peas and the liquid with the pesto in a blender.
4. Test for seasoning (NOTE: I added a little more lime juice to my own taste. When it was all said and done, I used the juice from one small lime.)
5. Serve.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

All the Difference in the World (Your Secret Ingredients)

So many of us these days (myself included) are stretching our food budgets to the limit, trying to save wherever we can. There are tons of websites and resources out there devoted to “feeding your family on a shoestring.” (One of the more valuable websites I've seen is Cook For Good, which helps people develop a healthy, budget-friendly and planet-friendly strategy for feeding a family for about $1.26 per meal. This site has gotten some buzz from Mark Bittman’s blog, if you’re interested in learning more.)

But cheap and healthy eating can become very monotonous. Lots of beans. Lots of homemade yogurt. Lots of homemade bread. Simple recipes are too often missing the special few ingredients that, while adding to the cost of the dish, punch up the flavor or add a richer mouthfeel that makes an otherwise lame-o dish truly satisfying.

A recent example: Last week I bought a very sub-par wedge of Parmesan (I use the name loosely) cheese. I didn’t want to cheap out completely and get the old Kraft-in-a-Can standby, but frankly, I might as well have. It was almost flavorless, with no discernable aroma, no nuttiness, no creaminess, no bite. Just rubbery and bland. In fact, it kind of ruined my homemade tomato sauce. Dammit!! Now I don’t even want to use the half a wedge that’s left, and I should have just spent the extra 3 bucks on a piece of real, well-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Are you feelin’ me out there?

So I want to know: What are the crucial ingredients that give a boost to your home-cooked, shoestring dishes? When is it a bad idea to substitute a more economical ingredient for the real deal called for in the original recipe? Winter is coming, and we all need some fresh ideas to keep us inspired and healthy.

Monday, October 19, 2009

At The Stroke of Midnight...Pumpkin Cornmeal Pancakes

I love pumpkin. Not just because it has the power to transform almost any banal baked good into an incarnation moist and flavorful, but because every time I eat anything infused with this intensely-flavored squash, I think of my friend and surrogate sister, Nicole.

Nicole and I have been eating and laughing together since we were thirteen, and it is ridiculous how many memories of her and I involve the following: pumpkin bread, pumpkin spice, and mellow crème candy pumpkins. We used to gift each other with a bag of candy pumpkins every year, eating them by the handful as we curled up on the couch watching trash TV in our crappy little college apartment.

Nicole also used to whip up batches of pumpkin pancakes on occasion, in our tiny kitchen with the sloping floor, on cold mornings when we’d have the thermostat cranked down to 58° to save money. This recipe is an homage to hers—moist, dense, and replete with assertive spices and cornmeal for a surprising crunch. Make some. They are enough to turn even the grumpiest eater in your home into a morning person.

Pumpkin Cornmeal Pancakes (serves 2 adults generously)

½ cup cornmeal
½ cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
½ cup pumpkin (pureed, from a can) (TIP: Portion out the rest of the can into half-cup servings and freeze for later use.)
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
¼ cup brown sugar
¾ cup milk
1 egg
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
Maple syrup

1. In a small pan warmed over medium heat, toast walnuts, stirring frequently, until they are browned on all sides and pleasantly fragrant. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.
2. In a large bowl, whisk to combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, and spices.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk to combine pumpkin, milk, egg, brown sugar and orange peel.
4. Add wet ingredients to dry, stirring to combine (but don’t over mix).
5. Heat a large frying pan or griddle over medium heat. Grease pan with a bit of oil or butter (I use a tad of both…butter for flavor, oil because it doesn’t scorch in the pan), and cook pancakes in batches, flipping once when bubbles form and burst on the surface of the cakes.
6. Serve warm, topped with toasted walnuts and maple syrup.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Summer's Last Gasp

Knowing full-well that fall in Denver could easily mean a foot of snow covering my lawn, we had a guest over alfresco to celebrate the last few days of Colorado summer. I also wanted to share some of my favorite flavors from Chef Eve Aronoff, talented owner of Ann Arbor’s eve.

I wrote a story about Eve for Edible WOW magazine last year, and instantly became smitten with her surprising mix of global flavors and classical French technique, all lavished on the very best of what is seasonal and local. Eve is a lovely person as well; warm, humble, but absolutely driven and meticulous in her craft. She was also a contestant on this season of Bravo’s Top Chef, and though she was eliminated early in the season, the fact that she earned a spot on the show in the first place speaks greatly to her talent.

For this last meal of summer, I served some tasty country-style ribs, rubbed with Eve’s chili mélange (a spice mix) and then braised in a cast iron skillet on the grill (too hot to have the oven on inside). With no time for a grocery run that day, I improvised using only the ingredients in my fridge and pantry, so I rubbed the ribs with the spice mélange, let them sit for a couple of hours, and then used Dr. Pepper and a sliced onion as the braising liquid. That’s right—Dr. Pepper. Don’t knock it till you try it. These ribs turned out tender and spicy-sweet, with minimal effort and expense.

The ribs were served with a simple Caprese salad using tomatoes and basil from the garden. And for dessert, I made Eve’s luscious Pots-de-crème, which is about as velvety and melt-in-your-mouth as chocolate can get. Best of all, each person gets their own portion of Brown Sugar Cream to accompany the cup of chocolate. My husband endearingly describes this dish as “being threatened by chocolate,” which means it’s perfect. It was also gluten-free, as required for our guest that evening. (And hey, if you’re going gluten-free, Pots-de-crème is a hell of a way to go.)

(from Eve: contemporary cuisine- methode traditionelle by Eve Aronoff, 2006, Huron River Press)

(Serves 6)

(Note: the cookbook specifies the brands of chocolate used; I used the same types and percentages of chocolate, but not the same brands)

6 ounces Callebaut semi-sweet chocolate
4 ounces Cuizel 72% dark chocolate
2 ounces El Ray 41% milk chocolate
1 ¾ cup half and half
6 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon instant espresso (The restaurant uses Medaglia d’oro brand; I did too.)
Pinch of kosher salt
7 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla

Brown Sugar Cream (recipe follows)

1. Chop chocolate.
2. Bring half and half and sugar to just below a simmer in a medium, heavy
bottomed saucepan. Add chocolate, and whisk until smooth.
3. Add espresso and kosher salt.
4. Whisk yolks just to combine being careful not to over-mix.
5. Ladle chocolate mix into yolks, beating on low- just to incorporate and being careful not to over-mix.
6. Stir in vanilla.
7. Pour through strainer into pitcher, and divide equally into 6 small cups.
8. Chill until set, about 4 hours.
9. Garnish with a dollop of Brown Sugar Cream and an additional cupful of Brown Sugar Cream on the side so you can alternate bites.

Brown Sugar Cream
(makes 4 cups)

1 pint heavy whipping cream
¼ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons sour cream

1. Whip cream with whisk in mixing bowl or electric mixer until slightly thickened.
2. Add brown sugar, continue to whip. When still peaks form, add vanilla and sour cream.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Smoke and Mirrors (Fishy Restaurants)

I just picked up on this interesting article on NPR's health blog. I'm disappointed but not surprised to hear that there are restaurants out there that will switch the expensive fish you ordered (like grouper or red snapper) on the menu with a less expensive species like...wait for it...catfish. Geez.

My take? Eat out at restaurants that you trust and get to know your chef. Pick eateries that have a seasonal, local focus. Your fish many not come from a local source, but chefs that care about where their ingredients come from typically have a high level of culinary ethic and integrity.

Also...Learn To Cook Fish At Home. I know, I know. It's expensive and intimidating. But just try it...do something simple like broiled fillets seasoned with a little olive oil or butter, salt and pepper. Notice texture, subtle flavors and aromas that different fish bring to the table. Get some farm-raised salmon and some wild-caught salmon and compare flavor, color and texture.

I'm not even going to try to delve into the ethics of eating seafood, because it's a totally convoluted nightmare and others like Mark Bittman handle the subject with far more expertise than I. Plus, I'm not one to preach food ethics. As a food writer, I eat good food when I'm out--not necessarily ethical food (ie: veal, fois gras). And as a home cook on a very tight budget I've been known to succumb to bags of frozen shrimp raised on farms in Vietnam rather than the wild caught ones that cost nearly twice as much. So there you go.

But when it comes to restaurants that swap out your order for something of lesser quality, hoping that you just won't notice? For shame, for shame! I guess your mama didn't raise you right.

(photo above: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Plum-Nectarine Buckle (à la Martha)

There may be no dessert I like more than the buckle. It is perfect for those of us who appreciate the juicy succulence of seasonal fruit, but demand that be delivered to us wrapped in cake and sugary crumb topping. Buckles are the ultimate hybrid for the indecisive—sinful cross-breeds of cobbler and crisp wrapped up in one.

And if you are going to make a buckle, why settle for just one fruit? This Plum-Nectarine Buckle is one of my all time favorites. The sweetness of the nectarines (or peaches, if you prefer) and the tang of red plums compliment one another in the same way that the under-layer of buttery cake gives a harmonious nod to the orange-scented crunchy crumble topping.

This recipe came from one of my many archived back issues of Martha Stewart Living magazine (August 2005). I started collecting them in 1995 when I was fifteen, and though I no longer have a subscription, I always pull out and have handy the issues corresponding to both the current month and the upcoming month. No joke—they are indispensible references for home, kitchen and garden. Don’t judge me. Martha is a goddess as far as I’m concerned. And this buckle is heaven-sent. Enjoy.

Plum-Nectarine Buckle
(Serves 8-10)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (NOTE: I often cut the butter to 4 tablespoons and then supplement with 3 tablespoons of unsweetened applesauce; especially because I know deep down that I will end up scarfing down four of those “8-10” servings.)
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 large egg
2/3 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¾ pound plums, halved, pitted, and cut into ½ -inch thick wedges (2 cups)
¾ pound nectarines, halved, pitted, and cut into ½ -inch thick wedges (2 cups)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Crumble Topping (recipe follows)

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Brush a 9-inch square cake pan or 10-inch cast iron skillet with 2 tablespoons melted butter; set aside. Whisk together flour, ¾ cup sugar, the baking powder, allspice, and ¾ teaspoon salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
2. Whisk together egg, milk, vanilla, and remaining 4 tablespoons butter in another medium bowl. Add egg mixture to flour mixture; stir to combine. Spread batter evenly into buttered pan.
3. Toss plums, nectarines, lemon juice, remaining ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Spread fruit mixture evenly over batter. Sprinkle with topping. Bake until a cake tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack 1 hour before serving.

Crumble Topping

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt

Combine butter, brown sugar and orange zest into bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until creamy. Stir in flour and salt. Work mixture through fingers until it forms coarse crumbs in size from peas to gum balls.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

So Damn Lazy Dinner (Fresh Cucumber Ranch Dressing)

Ah, the joys of high summer. The garden is giving you baskets upon baskets of tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and peppers. The farmers markets offer variety seldom found at the grocery store—wax beans, French Breakfast radishes and Ichiban eggplant.

Every year, I either overplant or overbuy summer vegetables…and then there they are, sitting in my fridge, impatiently waiting for me to get on the ball already and prepare them for the dinner plate. I always have good intentions, but then the inevitable happens; plans change, kids divert my energy, and suddenly it’s 6 p.m. and I have no cohesive dinner plan whatsoever. On top of that, it’s hot as hell outside and the thought of turning on the stove is, well, unthinkable.

That, my friends, is where crudités begin to make their appearances at the family dinner table. Screw the pork tenderloin. Screw the pilaf. Just a fresh baguette and a catch-all platter of all the vegetables that need to get eaten pronto….Oh, and a giant glass of chilled Reisling, if you please.

A freshly made dip, like this Cucumber Ranch dressing, comes together fast and makes you feel like you actually made dinner. (The recipe comes from the August 2005 issue of Martha Stewart Living.)

Cucumber Ranch Dressing

(NOTE: I used low-fat sour cream and low-fat mayonnaise to shave off some calories...Still rich, but refreshing.)

1 medium cucumber (peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and grated on the large hole of a box grater)
1 Tablespoon finely chopped shallot
¾ cup sour cream
¼ cup low-fat buttermilk
¼ cup mayonnaise
3 ½ Tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
1 ¼ Teaspoons salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
3 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives

Stir all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Season with additional salt or cayenne, if desired. Dressing can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fancy Pants: Golden Beet Caviar with Goat Cheese and Belgian Endive

Entertaining with beets. Is it possible to serve them to company and not come across as some doily-knitting, Borscht-toting grandma? Yes, yes it is. Enter Golden Beet Caviar with Goat Cheese and Belgian Endive. Sweet, bitter, tangy and creamy. Really good.

This recipe is a variation of one from Deborah Madison’s book, “Local Flavors,” and it is a total guiltless summer treat. I have mentioned in a previous post, and I cannot sing its praises enough. Her recipe is a lovely composed salad that uses three beets; red, golden, and Chioggia (those cute little bi-colored ones that resemble a bulls-eye). I chose to make the recipe more of an hors hors d'oeuvre, and stick to one color beet, since red ones tend to turn the whole lot blood-red as soon as you mix them together. Besides, the golden beets looked great at the farmers market.

As Madison notes in her book, the beet caviar is bright and refreshing, and I took her suggestion to make a batch and just keep it in the fridge. Even after the endive was gone, I was spooning the caviar onto rye crackers and mixed green salads…or straight into my mouth every time I passed through the kitchen.

Golden Beet Caviar with Goat Cheese and Belgian Endive

6 golden beets (though you can use any variety)
1 very small sweet onion, finely diced (I despise raw onions of any other variety—the original recipe calls for red onion, so go with your own tastes here.)
3 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
2 Belgian endives
4 ounces fresh goat cheese
Olive oil

1. Remove leaves and stems, and trim root tips of beets. Steam the beets until they are tender-firm when pierced with a knife, 25-45 minutes, depending on their size. Cool, then slip off the skins. Dice finely by hand—or, alternately, cut into chunks and pulse in a food processor until finely chopped, but not mushy.
2. While beets are cooking, toss the onion in the vinegar and ¼ teaspoon salt, and set aside. Toss the beets with the onion and vinegar. Taste for salt and season with pepper. Toss again with parsley and chill.
3. Slice bottoms from endive and remove cores. Remove leaves individually, wash, and let dry.
4. Assemble: Scoop a spoonful of the beet mixture into each leaf, top with crumbled goat cheese. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and serve.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Summer Pizza with Peaches and Prosciutto

Growing up, Fourth of July picnics in our neighborhood always involved the following:

1. One sacrificial pig: roasted all night long by a troupe of beer-soaked men who saw it as their patriotic duty to stand a drunken vigil as it reached succulent perfection;

2. A festive parade through the subdivision led by “Uncle Sam” waving from the bed of an old pickup truck (with a chintzy beard of cotton balls adhered to his face with Vaseline, he was predictably hung over from his previous night of Pig Duty with the other “Founding Fathers”); and

3. A huge pot-luck picnic by the neighborhood pool.

While the pig was always the centerpiece of the spread, I always saved room on my plate for what I like to call the Pillsbury Housewife Pizzas. You know exactly what I’m talking about here—a base of ready-made crescent roll or sugar cookie dough from the tube, cream cheese mixed with ranch salad dressing powder or powdered sugar, and topped with either salad veggies or mixed summer fruit. Spoon yourself some Suddenly Salad and a dollop of potato salad from the Piggly Wiggly deli counter, and you’ve got yourself a plateful of old school summer picnic magic.

Fast-forward twenty years to my adulthood. While I long for the mustard sauce-doused pork of my youth, I can leave the soggy, saccharine dessert pizzas behind. This Summer Pizza with Peaches and Prosciutto plays on all the elements of a sweet pizza, but stops just short of being a real dessert. Gorgonzola cheese is the creamy, piquant counter to ripe peaches. Fresh basil and mint lend a bright herbal flavor, and prosciutto and a little brown sugar perpetuate my favorite combination of salty and sweet.

If you’re drinking (and why shouldn’t you be?), try this pizza with a chilled Rosé or a yeasty, spicy, unfiltered Belgian wheat beer.

Prepared pizza dough, your favorite recipe (Note: I like to use the pizza dough recipe from the Joy of Cooking, which makes enough dough for two pizzas)
2 small to medium-sized ripe peaches, chopped
6 tablespoons crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
5 thin slices Prosciutto
5 basil leaves
8 mint leaves
2 tablespoons brown sugar
cornmeal for dusting
olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 475° F. If using a pizza stone (recommended), preheat it in the oven as well.

2. When oven and stone are preheated, stretch and shape pizza dough on a floured surface. Sprinkle pizza stone/baking sheet with cornmeal, and transfer the dough to the stone. Brush crust lightly with olive oil. Par-bake for approx. 5-7 minutes, or until crust is just barely starting to show signs of browning.

3. While crust par-bakes, lay slices of prosciutto in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook briefly, just long enough to brown it gently, about 2-3 min. on each side. Transfer to a paper towel-covered plate. Prosciutto will crisp up as it cools. Once cool, break prosciutto into small pieces/strips.

4. Once par-baked, remove pizza from oven. Sprinkle on brown sugar, then peaches, prosciutto and Gorgonzola cheese. Place back in the oven and bake for 5-7 minutes more, or until the cheese has melted and the crust has browned nicely. (Peaches will be heated through and perhaps a tad browned, but not broken down.)

5. Remove pizza from the oven. Allow to cool for 3-5 minutes, top with a chiffonade of basil and mint. Slice and serve.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Last week, while my husband sweated out 4 days of interviewing with a Denver architecture firm, I roamed the city on my own, exploring the culinary terrain (not to mention a few dozen apartments and rental houses). Denver seems to be a growing food city, and I found some quality eats that I just had to share with you.

Snooze: This kitschy-cool diner specializes in breakfast. They do it right—while some joints have a morning menu that reads like a novel, Snooze takes the high road with a smaller menu of expertly prepared dishes, particularly their pancakes and Benedicts (categorized on the menu under “The Art of Hollandaise”). It was so good, I ate there twice. The pancake selection is tempting, and so they offer a Pancake Flight—a choice of any three pancakes—to satisfy those of us with a fear of commitment. I chose the Chocolate Cherry Pancake (chock full of semi-sweet Ghirardelli chips and covered with sour cherry sauce and drizzled melted chocolate), the Sweet Potato Pancake (with a bourbon-caramel glaze and toasted pecans), and my favorite, the Pineapple Upside Down Pancake (embedded with fresh, caramelized pineapple and drizzled with homemade crème anglaise). We also had the Ham Benedict III, which was a savory indulgence. Snooze makes their English muffins from scratch, does a mean smoked cheddar hollandaise sauce, and the soft-poached eggs were gathered from a local purveyor.

Moe’s Original Barbeque: It’s pretty simple, really—great pulled pork, beer specials and four lanes for bowling. We ate for under thirteen bucks apiece (including a beer), and our platters included from-scratch jalepeno cornbread and two sides. It was a little southern trashy, and a little Lebowski—in other words, a perfect date.

Pho 79: We definitely ventured into what some would consider “the wrong side of the tracks” for this dinner, but it was worth it. We enjoyed a refreshing appetizer of shrimp and chicken summer rolls, followed by monstrous bowls of Phở (a Vietnamese beef and noodle soup), chock full of rare steak, brisket and finely chopped tripe. Pho 79 is light on cost, but heavy on the condiments—we received a heaping platter of bean sprouts, Thai basil, lime wedges, sliced hot peppers and sauces to adorn our steaming soup. We slurped hot tea and our noodles as the Vietnamese waiters improved their English by staying glued to Wheel of Fortune blaring on the dining room television (which was perched right above the rickshaw- Classic!) (Post-relocation note: We have moved on from Pho 79. Now it's Pho 95 all the way. Both are on South Federal, where you could pretty much blindfold yourself, spin around 10 times, take ten paces and wind up a Vietnamese restaurant. Overall, I think that Pho 95 has a richer broth and was more consistent in quality from visit to visit.)

Lucile’s Creole Café: This lovely little eatery is nestled near the Washington Park neighborhood of Denver, but it might as well be a block off of Bourbon Street. With hot beignets, chicory coffee and dishes like the ever-indulgent Eggs Sardou, it reminded me of a breakfast I enjoyed in New Orleans years ago (one that admittedly followed what I barely recall as "The Night of a Dozen Hurricanes"). Lucile’s serves breakfast and lunch, and aims for authenticity, from the Crawfish Etouffee to the homemade condiments (a kickin’ ketchup, strawberry jam and apple butter). Some dishes are executed better than others--the shrimp on the Eggs Sardou were very small and poorly seasoned--but overall Lucile's did not disappoint, and the crowd of weekend diners waiting for a table on the front porch suggests that this is one of the city's hot spots.

I also think that a meal at Lucile’s might also bring good luck, because an hour after we ate our breakfast there, I found our new home—a cute little postage stamp of a house just a few blocks away. Emmett was offered the job on Friday, and we signed the lease to the rental on Saturday morning before hopping a flight back to Michigan. The house itself is small, but it has a huge kitchen and a garden in the back yard.

Now we have a big move upon us--from Ann Arbor to the Mile High City. And I can’t wait. There is more to come, as The Hungry Masses relocates to Denver, Colorado.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Arugula and Mint Pesto wtih Spicy Seared Shrimp

Every summer I grow and buy copious amounts of basil for pesto, making batches every other weekend or so, and then freezing it for the year ahead. Bright and lemony, with plenty of garlic and toasted pine nuts, pesto is like a magic elixir during the wintertime, and it refreshes the palate after one too many hearty stews or braises. My homemade basil pesto (which I freeze in individual portions in ice cube trays) tops tilapia, minestrone soup, dresses up roasted vegetables and coats spaghetti all year long.

But alas, I ran out early this year, and I just couldn’t bring myself to buy clutches of fresh basil from the grocery store; it’s highway robbery! So I came up with an alternative from ingredients already in my fridge—arugula and mint pesto, which I tossed with mini farfalle pasta and spicy seared shrimp. Baby arugula was used here—that’s what I had on hand—but I would recommend using more mature arugula leaves if you appreciate a more peppery bite. Toasted walnuts provide an unexpected velvety creaminess and depth of flavor that give pine nuts a run for their money. This pesto would also work very well with lamb chops or a simply seasoned pork tenderloin.

Arugula and Mint Pesto

1 cup packed arugula leaves (if using mature arugula, remove stems)
1 cup packed mint leaves
¾ cup chopped walnuts
2 cloves garlic
Juice of 1 ½ to 2 lemons (this depends on your taste; I tend to err on the side of more lemon, rather than less)
3 T finely grated parmesan cheese
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed or desired
Freshly ground black pepper

1. In a sauté pan, toast the walnuts over medium heat, tossing frequently to prevent scorching. Nuts are done when they are lightly browned and fragrant.
2. Toss warm nuts, ½ cup olive oil, arugula, mint, garlic, cheese, and juice of 1 ½ lemons into a blender or food processor. (NOTE: I use a blender and find it helpful to pour in the olive oil and lemon juice first, so it facilitates blending of the other ingredients). Blend ingredients until smooth. Add more olive oil and/or lemon juice in order to reach desired consistency and flavor. Add salt and pepper to suit taste (if you use mature arugula, you’ll likely need less pepper).
3. Freeze or use immediately on your favorite pasta.

Spicy Seared Shrimp

In a bowl, combine peeled and deveined raw shrimp with a sprinkling of sea salt, a few grinds of black pepper, and a shake or two of crushed red pepper flakes. Heat a sauté pan over high heat. Add 1-2 tsp of olive oil into hot pan, add shrimp and allow them to cook for about 1 minute or so on each side. The key to perfectly cooked shrimp with a nice crusty sear is simple:

1. A HOT pan…super hot. Don’t be afraid.
2. Don’t crowd your pan with shrimp; work in batches so that any released liquid quickly evaporates. Accumulated liquid steams your shrimp, and you lose any hope of that nice crusty sear (I only fit about 6 large shrimp in my 12 inch pan at a time).
3. Turn them only ONCE! (Mom)
4. Do not overcook! (Again, Mom) As soon as those puppies lose their translucence, get them off the pan!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mexicantown Tamales and Tomatillo Sauce

I have Detroit's Mexicantown Bakery and their tasty tamales to thank for my most recent family meal worth mentioning. The Bakery sells big bags of the steaming hot bundles, some filled with shredded and seasoned pork, others filled with jalapeño peppers and cheese. (Mexicantown Bakery is also one of those all-around fun stops to make when you are in Detroit. Click here to see Kitchen Chick’s post on the tasty little bodega) The tamales are quite good, and they freeze well. Draped in a tangy homemade tomatillo sauce and served alongside a cool jicama and orange salad, it all made for a perfect springtime meal.

Tomatillo Sauce (based on a recipe by Mario Batali)

2 pounds husked tomatillos
5 cloves garlic
2 serrano chiles, stems removed
Juice of 2 limes
Small bunch of cilantro
Salt (about 2 ½ tsp when it was all said and done)

1. Drop tomatillos, garlic and chiles (all whole) into boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes.

2. Drain and plop it all into the blender or food processor while still warm (NOTE: you may want to do this in batches so as not to cause a steamy explosion in your kitchen). Blend the mixture together with the lime juice and cilantro until smooth.

3. Place the mixture into a medium saucepan and simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Season with salt; the mixture will thicken and reduce slightly.

1 jicama, peeled and chopped into ¾ inch cubes or sticks
2 navel oranges, skins removed and cut into large dice
2 avocados, large dice
Juice of 1 orange and one lime
Slightest pinch of cayenne pepper

Let’s not get too technical with this: just combine to suit your taste and eat!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Recently, we spent a very chilly weekend in Chicago, hanging out with old and dear friends and exploring the neighborhoods of the city’s north side. Here are the culinary highlights of the weekend.

Lunch on Friday was enjoyed at Cozy Noodle & Rice, a quirky Thai café in the Lakeview/Wrigleyville neighborhood. It is the kind of place that thrifty people like me are always hoping to find—a snug little spot with plenty of character and delicious, cheap food. Decorated from ceiling to floor with toy robots, vintage trinkets and Route 66 signs (yet not omitting the obligatory waving Lucky Cat statue…do Asians just emerge from the womb grasping these things in their little hands?), Cozy provided the perfect refuge from the city’s below-freezing wind chill. (Note Below: The PEZ motif in the restroom of Cozy Noodle and Rice)

My friend, Sarah, and I ordered off of the lunch specials menu: Pad Thai and Pad Woon Sen. Both were tasty, plentiful of portion, and at $4.99 each they still came with a choice of spring roll, baby egg roll or cucumber salad. I also ordered a bowl of spicy Tom Kar, a coconut soup flavored with galangal and lime and packed with straw mushrooms, tomatoes and other vegetables.

After walking off our lunch, we set out on what is apparently Sarah’s ongoing quest to find the city’s best cupcakes (Note: I deeply respect someone who would take on such a noble quest). Although we tried an offering from the homey Swedish Bakery in Andersonville, the clear cupcake winner of the day was Swirlz in Lincoln Park. They do it rich—copious amounts of butter in both the cake and the not-so-sweet frosting. Are they the best I’ve ever had? No. I like my frosting with a little less butter and a little more sugar. I also prefer a lighter crumb to my cake. But with flavors like Banana Nutella and Bittersweet Chocolate (chocolate cake with a layer of ganache peeking out from underneath the chocolate buttercream frosting), they were almost worth the $3.50 per cupcake price tag.

The next day we went exploring again, perusing Roscoe Village, Lincoln Square, Lakeview and Evanston, this time with our husbands in tow. We enjoyed a predictably unremarkable lunch at an Evanston Irish pub, but really lived it up on Saturday night for dinner at Otom in the Warehouse/meatpacking District.

Otom is the sister restaurant (and next door neighbor) of Moto, which is the place for experimental cuisine in Chicago at the moment. Otom’s menu places a fun spin on traditional comfort foods—no anti-griddles or a test tubes here. But it was a great experience; the waiters were attentive and charming, and the food was rich without being over the top. Among the culinary standouts: truffled macaroni and cheese, oxtail stew, and the pork chop, which was served with bacon-sage dumplings, tangy red cabbage and apples. Dessert was also nodworthy—flourless chocolate cake garnished with candied hazelnuts and crispy fried tarragon leaves with a blood orange sorbet. The dessert, along with the pork chop dish, both had the right mix of components on the plate (flavors and textures) that would allow for that perfect bite.

It was a great weekend—many thanks to Mike and Sarah for their hospitality and stellar company.