Monday, December 29, 2008

Dinner for a Buck

The New York Times' Well blog ran a column today featuring 20 healthy foods that can be had for under $1 a serving - not a bad price in this day and age (especially for someone like me who could spend hundreds of dollars on groceries each week). The list originated on the Divine Caroline site and features foods like eggs, tofu, broccoli, and chickpeas (garbanzo beans). Click here for the entire list.

I loved this list (although I could quibble with a few of the choices), and it was both a good reminder to eat some foods I don't use very often and a good affirmation of some of the foods we eat regularly. I try to always keep a can of beans in the pantry, usually chickpeas, cannellini beans, or black beans. They save me whenever I'm looking for a side dish or a super quick lunch to take to work. And they're endlessly customizable. Making something Latin flavored? Spice up black beans with red onion, cilantro, and lime juice. Italian? Stir in olive oil, fresh sage or parsley, scallion, and lemon juice. If you have it on hand, add in tuna canned in olive oil for a great tuna salad on its own or between bread.

You can pretty much taste your way to deliciousness with beans and their seasonings, but here's the recipe for the black bean salad to get you started:


Serve with tacos, quesadillas, chicken or pork tenderloin.

Ingredients: 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 TB canola or vegetable oil
1 TB lime juice, freshly squeezed
2 TB red onion, finely chopped
2 TB cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 tsp. salt

1. Mix all ingredients in medium bowl.
2. Adjust seasoning if necessary.


• For French chickpea salad, stir together chickpeas, olive oil, white wine vinegar, shallot, fresh thyme and salt.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Holiday Baking Results - Chocolate Peanut Butter Squares

Okay. I did not eat all of the squares missing from the pan. But, in all honesty, I could have. This candy is like a drug to me. There is something about the crunch of the graham crackers mixed with the peanut butter and offset by the chocolate that absolutely slays me. A word of warning: it is extremely sweet. The phrase “tooth-achingly sweet” always comes to mind when I take a bite. But then after the fifth, sixth, or seventh bite I’ve forgotten about the sweetness. By the tenth I’m quickly strategizing about how I’m going to force myself to put the pan back in the fridge.

Make these. Just make them.

I would advise, however, having a plan for these candies before you prepare them, e.g., sharing them with office-mates, taking them to a holiday party, etc. Don’t make them just for yourself or your family. They are too irresistible.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Squares

2 sticks butter, melted
1 cup smooth peanut butter (like Jif or Skippy, not “natural” peanut butter)
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (approx. 14 squares/7 rectangles)
1 lb. powdered sugar
12 oz milk chocolate (melted)

1. Butter a 9 X 13 inch baking pan. I use a glass Pyrex dish.
2. In a large bowl stir together the butter, peanut butter, graham cracker crumbs and powdered sugar. Pat into prepared pan.
3. Pour melted chocolate into pan over peanut butter mixture. With a spatula spread the chocolate in an even layer.
4. Refrigerate the candy for 45 minutes. Then cut it into squares (you want to do this before the chocolate hardens completely, hence the 45 minutes).
5. Store in the refrigerator, and if possible, show some restraint!

A couple of tips:

• To produce the graham cracker crumbs, I put the crackers in a large Ziploc bag then bang them with a meat mallet. A rolling pin would also work. So would the back of a pan or possibly even your fist. (You could probably forget the whole bag thing and just use a food processor, although it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.) Or, of course, if your grocery store sells graham cracker crumbs by the box you could just buy one of those.

• Instead of dirtying a bunch of pans constructing a double boiler, I have had great success melting chocolate in the microwave. The trick is to only use 50% power and to run the microwave in short bursts. For 12 ounces of chocolate I usually start with two minutes and then continue in one-minute blocks until the chocolate is just melted. If there are still a couple of solid bits that’s okay. Just stir the whole thing and the small chunks will melt.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday Baking Results - Pumpkin Bread

For baking novices it’s hard to believe that a gently sweet, tender bread studded with plump, chewy raisins can be simple to make. But, it is! Basically you just mix a bunch of ingredients in a bowl, pour it into loaf pans, and then bake it. The bread is delicious spread with peanut butter for breakfast and makes a great hostess gift. (I’ve decided that this is my new hostess gift strategy – bringing them something to eat for breakfast the next day.)

Here’s the recipe, and I highly recommend it:

Pumpkin Bread

2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 cups or 1 can pumpkin
1 cup raisins (or cranberries or a mix of the two)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I like pecans but walnuts would also work)
1/2 cup coconut
1 egg
1/2 cup vegetable oil

1. Preheat the oven to 350º. Grease four small loaf pans.
2. In a large bowl stir together the dry ingredients (flour through baking soda).
3. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until the dry ingredients are just incorporated.
4. Divide the batter evenly between the four loaf pans and place in the preheated oven. Bake for approximately 50 minutes or until the tops of the bread are firm and golden and a toothpick inserted into the breads comes out relatively clean.
5. Cool for 10 minutes in the pans. Then remove the loaves from the pans and cool them completely on a wire rack.

P.S. These loaves freeze extremely well. Once they’re completely cool, wrap them in aluminum foil and then place them in a zip-top plastic bag. Thaw on the counter.

P.P.S. Check out the great four-loaf pan above -- they're all connected! From New York Cake and Baking.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Big Weekend

This is it – the big holiday baking weekend. I spent some time over the last couple of weeks deciding what to make. It’s always a balancing act. I don’t want to let go of my tried-and-true Christmas favorites, but every year I find more and more recipes I want to attempt…. That’s a problem unto itself, really, because since I’m making most of these goodies to give as gifts I need sweets that I KNOW will deliver. And, unfortunately, this year I just didn’t have the time to test a bevy of cookie and candy recipes.

So, I’ve settled on a combination of the classic and the au courant:

Chocolate Peanut Butter squares – These little beauties are so outrageously delicious that I’m actually a bit of an addict. My mom made them when I was a kid, and with only five ingredients and no baking there’s no way I could strike them from my list.

Pumpkin Bread – Another childhood recipe that has stood the test of time (although I usually cut the amount of sugar the recipe calls for). This is a pumpkin quick bread studded with nuts, raisins, and coconut. Timeless – and for a reason.

Maple Nut Granola – A new one! Some of my friends don’t like getting cookies for the holidays (I know, I can’t fathom that either), so I’m going to make a big batch of granola, a moderately healthy alternative. I tested this recipe from Gourmet last weekend, using maple syrup instead of honey and switching up some of the dried fruit. I loved the cardamom flavor and the sesame seeds, but I think I will tweak the recipe a bit more, borrowing here and there from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.

Chocolate Pistachio Cookies – Finally, the real gamble. I’ve been holding onto this recipe (which I can’t seem to find on-line), also from Gourmet magazine, for these shortbread-like cookies for a few years. I’ve never tried them, but I am so confident in their deliciousness that I went to New York Cake and Baking today to buy beautiful little cellophane bags to stack them in. Fingers crossed…

A note on New York Cake and Baking Distributors – I visited this store for the first time today and immediately fell in love. The shelves on the walls are lined with cake, muffin, and bread tins of every shape and size (crosses, hearts, dogs, cartoon characters, etc.). Tables in the middle of the store are packed with nifty gadgets and tools (tiny rolling pins, small Microplane graters, Silpats, and pastry tips), plus rows and rows of sanding sugar, sprinkles and other edible decorations. And all of this is just the tip of the iceberg. This store is just one more reason to love living in the Big Apple.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


I’ve always wanted to throw a cocktail party, especially around the holidays. Everyone would look chic, my sophisticated apartment would glow with candlelight, beautiful glasses would be filled with ruby-colored cocktails, and the food would be plentiful and gorgeous. In short, at least for one night, my life would resemble a glossy spread in Gourmet magazine.

My husband does not share this fantasy, which is probably okay since it would take an enormous amount of time and money to make our apartment resemble a home worthy of Gourmet. Not even a truckload of candles would do the trick.

However, if I were to throw a cocktail party I would definitely make canapés – delicate finger sandwiches that look impressive and taste delicious. They also don’t take long to prepare, with one caveat: when assembling these lovelies, one must use a light touch. Raggedy edges and sloppily-placed toppings have no place in the canapé realm.

The other beautiful thing about canapés is that you can really employ any savory toppings you choose. I would say that it’s essential to include a spread on the bread to moisten the canapé and anchor additional toppings – although I’m not sure if it really is essential. After the spread, add a topping for flavor and height. A garnish rounds out the elegant presentation. So use your imagination! While this may seem INCREDIBLY downscale, I’m already plotting a peanut butter canapé with a dab of artisanal jelly on top or maybe just a few slivers of grape. I’m still thinking about what the garnish would be…

Courtesy of Francine Segan, here are the recipes for the canapés we made Saturday night at the French cocktails and snacks class I took at ICE. The recipe and photo above come from The Opera Lover’s Cookbook, Francine’s latest book.

French Canapés
From: Opera Lover’s Cookbook, by Francine Segan
Serves 6

For 12 ham canapé:

3 thin slices white bread
2 tablespoons butter, softened
3 thin slices smoked ham
Dijon or honey mustard
3 cornichons, thinly sliced

Butter the 3 slices of bread and top each with a slice of ham. Using a very sharp knife cut off the crusts. Cut the sandwiches in half diagonally to create 2 triangles and then in half again diagonally, creating a total of 4 triangles per slice. Top each triangle with a tiny dollop of mustard and cornichon slice.

For 6 watercress canapé:

6 thin slices black bread
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika plus more for garnish
1 hard boiled egg, minced
Freshly milled pepper

Using a 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter cut out circles from the center of the black bread. Mix the butter, paprika and egg in a small bowl until very well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spread the butter-egg mixture onto the 6 circles and gently press watercress leaves in the center of each circle. Garnish with a sprinkle of paprika.

For 12 aioli shrimp canapé:

2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, finely mashed
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
Freshly milled pepper
3 thin slices white bread
6 small shrimp, poached
Zest of 1/2 lemon

To make the aioli, combine the mayonnaise, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil in a small bowl until well mixed. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spread the aioli onto each slice of bread. Using a very sharp knife cut off the crusts from the bread. Cut the sandwiches in half to create 2 rectangles and then in half again, creating a total of 4 squares per slice.

Thinly slice or chop the shrimp. Top each section with shrimp and a sprinkle of lemon zest.

[Jenna’s note: In class we replaced the shrimp with Italian tuna packed in olive oil. It was delicious.]

Monday, November 10, 2008

My pâté epiphany

Saturday night I took a recreational cooking class at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), the school where I earned my culinary arts diploma. The theme of Saturday’s class was French cocktails and snacks, and the course was taught by Francine Segan, a culinary historian and cookbook writer who also gives numerous food and drink-related talks around the city. Each of the recipes we prepared are in Francine’s latest book, The Opera Lover’s Cookbook: Menus for Elegant Entertaining. As I reviewed our menu for the evening, my mouth started watering…pâté with Chambord glaze, herbes de provence onion tart (a.k.a. pissaladière), tapenade red potato bites, red pepper coulis shrimp toasts and French canapés… just to name a few. My group made the pâté, the canapés, and the steak au poivre. They were all delicious (and the canapé recipes will be posted soon), but the pâté was a revelation.

In my last few weeks of culinary school we made more pâtés then I cared to count, and since then I haven’t been inspired to make a one of them. But this chicken liver pâté with the Chambord (black raspberry liqueur) glaze was so easy and so delicious. The livers are blended with dried apricots and cherries, whose sweetness makes the entire spread divine. Francine was kind enough to let me post the recipe.


Pâté with Chambord Glaze
From: Opera Lover’s Cookbook, by Francine Segan
Serves 8

1 large red onion, minced
5 tablespoons butter
1 pound chicken livers
2 dried apricots, finely minced plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon dried cherries or cranberries, minced plus more for garnish
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon allspice
3/4 cup Chambord or other black raspberry liqueur
1/3 cup heavy cream, plus more as needed
Freshly milled pepper
1 teaspoon powdered unflavored gelatin
1 loaf French baguette bread, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1. In a medium skillet sauté the onion in 3 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat for about 15 minutes, until the onion is golden. Add the liver, apricots, cherries, thyme and allspice and cook for about 3 minutes. The liver should be pink in the center. Add 1/2 cup of the Chambord and cook for about 1 minute until the liqueur is absorbed. Remove from the heat and cover until cool.

2. Place the liver, the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the cream into a food processor and purée. Add more cream if needed until the pâté is smooth and creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Place the pâté in a shallow serving container roughly 9 x 7 inches and top with a scattering of apricots and cherries. Reserve.

4. Place the gelatin in a small bowl and stir in 1/4 cup of boiling water until the gelatin is dissolved. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of Chambord and stir. Carefully pour the gelatin over the pate and refrigerate for 1 hour or until set.

5. Just before serving, preheat the broiler. Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and brush with the olive oil. Toast each side of the bread under the broiler until light golden brown.

6. Place the pâté on a serving platter surrounded with the warm baguette toasts.


Also on the menu Saturday night was coconut berry dacquoise, the gorgeous cake on the cover of Francine’s book. I have to admit that when I first saw the recipe I wasn’t excited about it. I’m usually a chocolate, caramel or lemon dessert person – I like cakes, bars, and custards with density. Dacquoises with their frothy layers of meringue and whipped cream don’t really appeal to me. BUT it was (and is, since I’m eating leftovers as I type) sensational. The chewy coconut, luscious berries and sweet whipped cream are, as the French would say, a combination formidable.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Mothers & Menus

When Rosa was a baby I planned to start her on solid foods the first weekend she was six months old. Even though I knew some people fed their babies solids a little earlier there seemed to be no reason to rush it. (Why spend even one extra weekend cleaning up baby food mess??) But one week before the scheduled start date I was looking at Rosa, looking at her mouth move and watching her eye my lunch, and I knew she was hungry. And not just for milk, but for food. She got her first taste of rice cereal that day and a couple days later some homemade applesauce.

Since that point Rosa has rarely, rarely, rarely eaten processed foods off the grocery store shelf – not baby food, not canned soup, not jarred pasta sauce. We kept some organic baby food in the pantry in case of emergency, but just opening one of those jars made me lose my appetite. I couldn’t even bring myself to taste that food; why was I asking Rosa to eat it?

I believe in eating food cooked at home, not “food” plucked off the grocery store shelf – that’s just who I am.

There is one time in life, however, when I can wholeheartedly justify and endorse buying your meals – and that’s for the first few months after giving birth. When you’re not getting any sleep, nursing, and becoming accustomed to being a parent, eating healthful, delicious meals can keep moms sane – a big plus for moms, dads, and babies. Preparing wholesome meals at this time of your life can be daunting. Enter Mothers & Menus.

Founded by mother of three Karen Gurwitz, Mothers & Menus is a meal delivery service for new moms. Sign up, and Mothers & Menus deposits a day’s worth of organic, balanced meals at your door each morning. The food sounds delicious, but what I like even more about the company is the great content on its website. Karen believes in whole foods, real foods and her site offers straight-forward, important information on organic, natural, and genetically modified foods.

Karen has also written The Well-Rounded Pregnancy Cookbook: Give Your Baby a Healthy Start with 100 Recipes that Adapt to Fit How You Feel. (And she does video podcasts. Wow!)

So in addition to helping new moms eat well (and inspiring small business owners everywhere), Karen has also made Mothers & Menus a place where all moms can learn how to better feed themselves and their families.

Sounds good to me!

Monday, November 03, 2008

What I learned in Montreal

* On Halloween, many Montreal households give out savory as well as sweet treats – in addition to her candy, Rosa received numerous small bags of Ruffles, Cheetos, and Old Dutch chips. Most people gave candy along with the chips. One lady gave us a walnut.

* When you’re making a tomato salad, skip the vinegar – the tomatoes are acidic enough. I’ve always added a dash of balsamic or red wine vinegar to my tomato salads, but darn it if my mother-in-law's sans vinegar method didn’t taste even better.

* Cardamom-spiked truffles are delicious – spicy and exotic. For a mouth-watering selection of chocolate truffles and a variety of rich, silky hot chocolates, I will visit Juliette et Chocolat on Laurier again la prochaine.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pumpkin Time

Rosa carved her first pumpkin with Daddy last weekend. Sadly, we then left it too close to the radiator, and the pumpkin started to "wilt". So, we had to say good-bye to Mister Jack-o-Lantern -- to Rosa's continuing wistfulness.

In happier times:

Monday, October 20, 2008

In Cannes: Macaron Mania

French macarons are gorgeous things – perfectly round, chewy, and often brilliantly colored cookie-like confections made of egg whites, almond powder, and sugar. I tried making them once (pre-culinary school, I should say) and the results were not pretty. I quickly decided that macarons should be left to the macaron professionals.

I stumbled upon some of those professionals while walking through a winding pedestrian street in Cannes off of the famed (expensive) shopping street Rue d’Antibes. L’Atelier Jean Luc Pelé calls itself a “Créateur de Goût” or Creator of Taste. So maybe these macaron professionals aren’t modest… but they are pretty darn creative.

When I first walked into the shop I saw row upon row of brightly colored macarons to my left. To my right and in the back were artisanal chocolates and other decadent delights. But the macarons were too enticing to ignore. In addition to traditional varieties, Jean Luc offered flavors like rosewater, apricot-lavender, fig, and green tea. Even more surprising were the savory macarons, creations that looked just as jewel-like as their sweet counterparts: fois gras and spice, anchovy, olive, foie gras and apple, and tomato and basil. Jean Luc sells 21 flavors of macarons in all and makes them all on-site.

I picked up a few sweet flavors and conducted a taste test with my colleagues Cara and Nicole. Here were the results:

• Caramel sea salt – My favorite. The confection tasted of deep caramel, almost burned, but pleasingly so. The sea salt made the caramel dance on my tongue.

• White chocolate and rosewater – Rose is my new flavor obsession (I also bought rose petal jam at the Cannes Monoprix), but it’s definitely not for everyone. I also loved this macaron. The beginning of each bite tasted like marzipan; it was in the aftertaste that the rose made its presence known.

• Fig – I also love figs! (I guess it’s not surprising since I was the one choosing all of these flavors…). Dusted with poppy seeds, this dusky purple macaron was delicately flavored and just a bit figgy.

• Lemon – Bright yellow and chewy like a lemon square, this was Nicole and Cara’s favorite.

• Lavender-apricot – This one didn’t do it for us. The flavors were too subtle, and only Cara could detect the lavender at all. (And she’s pregnant – doesn’t pregnancy enhance your sense of smell?)

For the spectacle alone, Jean Luc is definitely worth a stop in Cannes, and according to the card they also have a shop in Paris. I’m not able to find a working website, but here’s the address in Cannes: 36 rue Meynadier.

Friday, October 17, 2008


I went to bed last night at 8:30 PM and woke up this morning at 5:30 PM. That can only mean one thing -- I'm back from Cannes and a little jetlagged. Cannes was beautiful, as usual. (I go to Cannes for almost a week every October for my television work). There is nothing like the hour before the sun is fully down when the lights begin to twinkle on the Mediterranean, the boats bob in the water, and the promise of champagne is in the air. And having sensational buttery, flaky croissants on demand is not such a bad thing either.

For the most part the food was terrific; we visited some old favorites and tried some new places that will become favorites. Pictures, links, and stories to come!

Friday, October 10, 2008

French breakfast ... in New York

Yesterday I had a breakfast meeting at Pastis in the Meatpacking District. It’s one of New York’s iconic French bistros – hard-to-book, pitch-perfect decor, great food, and frequent celeb-sightings. But it’s often overrun by tourists. The last time I was there for brunch, about three years ago, the server asked where we were from, and I vowed never to brunch there again.

But, weekday breakfast is another story. With no reservations required, Pastis is relaxed and extremely civilized. Smooth cappuccinos and flaky croissants made it a tasty warm-up for our French sojourn.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A Rich Weekend

Every Monday or Tuesday I start puttering around, looking through my latest food magazines, checking what pages I cornered on my current favorite cookbook, seeing whether I need to test anything for Leite’s Culinaria -- beginning to decide what to cook next week.

When I thought about the dishes I wanted to make last week I realized that my culinary cravings had advanced to autumn – I wanted warm, comforting food. In fact, for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday I planned all creamy, cheesy dishes: leek tarte, butternut squash lasagna, and potato gratin (to accompany salmon and lacinto kale).

The leek tarte was from Molly Wizenberg’s (a.k.a. Orangette) column in Bon Appetit. The tarte was inspired by her trip to Belgium and is basically a thin quiche enveloping rich, creamy leek confit. It turned out beautifully, although I did make a couple of ingredient swaps: gruyere for the aged goat cheese and whole wheat flour in the place of one-third of the white flour for the crust. The crust swap was a great success. The wheat lent a nutty flavor to the tart, and the crust was still buttery and flaky. The gruyere was good, but didn’t pack enough punch. I will try the tart again with the aged goat cheese.

The butternut squash and sage lasagna, from Martha Stewart Living, was heavenly – rich, cheesy, and creamy. A bit sweet thanks to the squash; deep and woodsy courtesy of the sage. The lasagna was a big hit and will be making another appearance at my table Friday night when my parents come to visit from Colorado.

Last night’s potato gratin was also lovely, with nutmeg-spiced cream and a golden, crunchy top. I have to say that my favorite part, though, was the ultra-thin slices of potato compliments of my life-changing mandoline.

I’m not planning next week’s meals tonight, since Dave and I will be in Cannes beginning on Saturday. Something tells me I won’t be taking too much of a break from my rich, creamy diet in France, either… Spa food for me later in the month?? With even colder weather on the horizon? Probably not.

*Photo from Martha Stewart.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Pop Quiz

Rosaberry’s awesome web designer just forwarded me another project he worked on: a fun, interactive quiz about portion size on Prevention magazine’s website. Sample question: is one standard serving of rice about the same size as four dice, a half tennis ball, or a tennis ball? Some of the answers will surprise you!

The correct answer, by the way is a half tennis ball, a serving size that Dave and I regularly exceed. And, according to the quiz we don't eat large enough servings of vegetables. While we may not radically decrease our rice servings, I will work to up our veggie intake. I always like it when someone tells me to eat more of something...

Click here to take the quiz.

Friday, October 03, 2008

A Night in the Village

I met a woman last week who has only been out with her husband three times since their first child was born seven years ago. Granted, they also have four and a half year-old triplets, but that still seems pretty extreme to me.

Dave and I get out every few weeks or so, but it’s usually only for a drink after work or maybe a quick dinner. Wednesday night we did the whole shebang – drinks, dinner, and dessert, at three different places. I realized that that’s actually my favorite kind of night out. Experiencing different bars/restaurants, but still focusing entirely on the food! (I suspect Dave would like to mix it up a bit with a show or something non-food-related thrown in. Next time.) But, we had a great time Wednesday night with the added bonus that we tried three new places!

We started with drinks at Pegu Club, an atmospheric bar on the second floor of a building on Houston St., near Dos Caminos. Pegu Club is named after a bar in Rangoon, Burma during the British colonial days. At the New York version, the pretty servers wear kimonos, and subdued lanterns barely brighten the cozy tables. It feels like you’ve stepped into another world – a slightly glam, very grown-up place. Check out the website, and you’ll know what I mean.

Pegu Club well-known in the food world for its carefully-mixed, old-fashioned cocktails using fresh juices and high-quality ingredients. Basically it has taken the artisanal food movement into the cocktail milieu. I drank a French Pearl (actually two French Pearls) – gin, mint, pernod, lime and simple syrup. It was served in a delicate tulip glass and tasted divine. Dave enjoyed a whisky smash, although he did say it was a touch too sweet for his taste.

After cocktails we walked a few blocks to ’Ino, a tiny restaurant and wine bar specializing in pressed sandwiches. We were lucky to get a table, but by the time we left around 9 PM the place was jammed. We started with a plate of bruschetta including the excellent white bean with thyme and fig with arugula and proscuitto. Dave chose a panino with roasted pork loin, while I ate a delicious panino with proscuitto, bel paese cheese and sweet onion. No more alcohol for us.

While I was eating my sandwich I remembered with a happy jolt that
Grom was near the West 4th subway entrance, where we’d go to head home. Grom is a gelato chain that started in Italy a few years ago using only top-notch ingredients (lemons from the Amalfi coast for example). Its New York branch opened last year, and I’d been dying to try it. For my flavors I chose dark chocolate and caramel. Dave had hazelnut and chocolate chip. They were all good, but the hazelnut was to die for.

We were home by a little after 10, but it was really a wonderful night. I think I fell in love with New York again (I didn’t need to fall in love with Dave again!). The food and beverage choices in this city are happily overwhelming. These spots were all within a few blocks of each other and just three of over a hundred places that we could have tried. But even more thrilling was just being out with everyone else – all the different people going about their own lives in close proximity to each other, all ages, backgrounds, and interests. Who knows who else was in ‘ino Wednesday night: singers, actors, writers, accountants, designers, students, trust fund babies, teachers. The variety is endless, and I love it -- it feeds me.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Rosa in the Kitchen

For over a year Rosa has had an apron and a chef hat. She often asks to wear them so she can “make” soup or pasta with a bowl and spoon I’ve given her to play with.

But on Friday I decided it was finally time for Rosa to participate in the kitchen – just add some ingredients to a bowl, maybe help me stir. Cookies seemed to be the natural, homiest choice. I found a simple recipe in my Dorie for midnight crackles: chocolate gingerbread cookies. I put on an apron, and dressed Rosa in her apron and chef hat. She asked that I don my chef hat as well, so I did.

I stood Rosa on a chair and we go to work. I measured the dry ingredients and then, with my help, she dropped them into a mixing bowl. She taste tested the chocolate for me – a very important job. Everything was going great…until I made one little mistake: suggesting she smell the ground cloves.

I love having Rosa smell ingredients, especially fresh herbs and ground spices. I think it connects her to what we’re going to eat and opens up her senses to aromas she never before dreamed of, from mint leaves and cinnamon, to fennel and pomegranate molasses.

The ground cloves were beautiful and fragrant; to me they smell like Christmas. But, the jar was new, and the cloves were filled to the brim. And, I forgot that often when she smells something Rosa breathes out first, with a big burst of air. Soooo she blew air from her nose, and in an instant ground cloves covered her face and the countertop. She started to cry, startled for sure, but I think she also inhaled some cloves, which I’m sure wasn’t a pleasant experience. I quickly cleaned her off and gave her kisses. A second tasting of the chocolate helped ease any lingering discomfort. But, that was the end of Rosa’s helping that day (and despite baths, she smelled like cloves for the next 48 hours).

Happily, the midnight crackle cookies turned out wonderfully: dark, velvety and moist. Overall, Rosa enjoyed her first of what will surely be many baking experiences. And I learned a valuable lesson: only ask a two year-old to smell something that is guaranteed not to blow away.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Subbing for Starch

Like many cooks before me, I frequently rely on the much-maligned “protein-starch-veg” combo when planning my weekday (and some weekend) meals. Frankly, I think the combination is unfairly criticized, since a protein, starch and vegetable is a lovely, satisfying, time-honored tradition. Often I could personally skip the veg, but I know that’s not a good idea. And, if I don’t eat the protein and starch I won’t feel satisfied and usually find my spoon in the peanut butter jar later in the evening. For me the starch is usually the highlight of my meal: coconut rice, garlic roasted potatoes, sweet potato fries, quinoa, risotto, pasta salad, or even warm, crusty bread.

Recently I have been cooking for clients who don’t want gluten, potatoes, or rice in their diets. Creating menus for their dinners has been a fun challenge, because I want the meals to be both well-rounded and satisfying. So far I’ve found two strategies that seem to work.

One is to make a soup the stand-in for the belly-filling starch. A smooth carrot-ginger puree was particularly successful. Tomato and butternut squash are also looking like winners.

Another trick is to employ beans and lentils in the place of rice or potatoes. Roasted salmon on a tangy white bean salad with steamed vegetables on the side leaves even me satisfied, and when red lentils accompany a meal of rosemary-grilled shrimp and a classic Greek salad, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.

While I don’t plan on giving up my potatoes anytime soon (such amazing variety! such toothsome texture!), creating these menus has helped me think outside of my traditional meal-time box and encouraged me to add some variety to my own meals at home.

That said, on tonight’s menu: beer-battered tilapia, mango salsa…and rice.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My New Favorite Pan

This is yet another chapter in the saga I call, “What was I waiting for????” Other entries have been written along similar lines: the Microplane grater, for example. Tongs. (How on God’s green earth did I ever live without tongs?) A small strainer to strain the seeds out of lemon juice. A citrus reamer. Silpat. (Thanks Allison!)

None of these things cost more than $15, most much less. Yesterday, I upped the ante a bit and spent $40 on something that I can’t believe I haven’t bought before now: a grill pan.

On sale for $39.99 at Bed, Bath and Beyond my new, square, nonstick Calphalon grill pan is, in a word, awesome. It requires virtually no oil, heats to sizzling hot very quickly, and makes absolutely beautiful grill marks. Yesterday I grilled chicken paillards, a thick tuna steak, and turkey burgers (which I detest by the way). It was easy to cook each protein to its proper level of doneness, and they all tasted light and healthy. The pan is super-easy to clean, and unlike cast iron it doesn’t require me to use two hands to lift it. The grill pan is a star!

I am far from done with the grill pan. Next I may try Asian shrimp on skewers, courtesy of a recipe I saw Corinne Trang make once. And of course, salmon, hamburgers, pork chops, vegetables….

By the way, here’s the trick to making lovely crosshatch grill marks. When you put your piece of chicken, say, on the hot pan make a mental note which end is facing “up” (12 o’clock), towards the back of the stove. After a few minutes turn the chicken 90 degrees, making the end that was once facing the top now face 9 o’clock or 3 o’clock. It’s easy, but easy to mess up, too, as I do sometimes when I forget to notice which end is at 12 o’clock. Just make that mental note and you’ll be fine.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fish = Cake

Fish is confusing. Many nutritionists and public health advocates call it one of the best foods you can eat to promote good health. Many species are high in the famed omega-3 fatty acids, and almost all fish is high in protein and low in calories. But… and of course there’s a but…

Many species are overfished, leaving our oceans depleted. Some species that are farmed are done so in a way that’s terrible for the environment and for your health (farmed Atlantic salmon for example). Then there’s the whole mercury issue, which I know has scared some people off of fish entirely.

Personally, I err on the side of eating more fish. It’s been the basis of healthy diets for millennia AND I always feel so darn virtuous after I’ve eaten it. Like I could easily justify a piece of cake for dessert!

But, I try to choose my fish responsibly, so the seafood is good for my family’s health and the environment’s health. My favorite way to do this is to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch site. You can browse fish by type, and the site will fill you in on health and environmental concerns. And, if that’s too much work for you you can simply look at Seafood Watch’s clear-cut recommendations: “Best Choice”, “Good Alternative”, and “Avoid”.

The site also shares some astonishing fish facts. Did you know that orange roughy live up to 100 years or more? And, even more amazingly, the fish is sometimes called a “slimehead”? Yummm. But, don’t worry about eating slimehead, because according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, orange roughy is a fish to AVOID.

Photo courtesy of Colin Purrington.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Meal-time Mistakes

You have probably already guessed that food and eating are among my very most favorite parts of life. I love the fact that every meal is a new opportunity to experience pleasure and to feel good about what I’m putting into my body. The fact that I have the chance to get this buzz three times a day is pretty darn amazing!

So, rushed, stress-filled, tear-inducing mealtimes are not high on my list of fun times. But, as pretty much every parent of a toddler knows they are a sad fact of life. When we put Rosa in her high chair and place her plate in front of her, 80% of the time she eats without incident. She doesn’t always eat everything, which is completely fine with me, and she often makes a little mess, but, jeez, she’s two years old.

What haven’t been going well lately are our weeknight dinners. Anyah feeds Rosa supper at 5:30. I get home around 7 PM, and Dave and I sit down to dinner about 45 minutes later. Rosa is still awake, so she sits in a chair at the table, and essentially begs for food during the entire meal. We make her ask politely (“May I have some chicken please?”), and give her small bites. But all too frequently whining and raised voices ensue. Rosa will try to grab food on my plate, or yell, “Bread! Bread! Bread!” Neither Dave nor I enjoy our meal, and even worse, we don’t enjoy Rosa. (Although I can’t help to crack up when she says, “Give a friend a bite?”)

Plus, last night I had a flashback to every Helen Keller movie I’ve seen, with the blind and deaf Helen making an utter mess of the dinner table, grabbing food off of everyone’s plates, and basically acting like a wild child. So, I decided that a change of strategy is in order. From now on, even if she’s only eating a little bit Rosa will sit in her high chair. I expect a much more civilized dinner!

It’s amazing how many pitfalls can come with feeding your child, just beginning with what they’re eating. Yesterday I read a great article in the New York Times: 6 Food Mistakes Parents Make, from pressuring them to take a bite to serving boring vegetables. The article has been one of the site’s top two most popular reads since it was published, and I can see why: it offers practical advice that will hopefully make everyone’s dinnertime a true pleasure.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tofu Recipe

Last time I wrote about the yummy tofu dish I made I forgot to include the recipe. It's from Bon Appetit and here's the link.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Tofu Toddler

Rosa likes to "cook". One of Dave's friends gave her a small wooden cutting board, wooden fruits and vegetables, and a small wooden knife. She also has various cups and spoons. She regularly makes us "vegetable soup", offering Dave or me a spoon to "taste" her creation. We always tell her that it's delicious, sometimes reminding her to add a little salt. ;) Occasionally she makes pasta, her hands-down favorite food. Last week she came to me with a spoonful to taste, and I asked her what it was. She said "tofu" and my heart melted.

I know tofu gets a bad rap. My dad detests it (although his food preferences are a bit suspect; that's the subject of another post!). I'm not rapturous about it, but it's hard to beat as the building block of a weekday meal. It's rich in protein and relatively low in calories. It's inexpensive ($2.29 for nearly a pound at Fresh Direct), and it takes on the flavors of whatever you're cooking. I usually include it in Asian-flavored foods since that seems the most natural, and the spicy sauces help give the tofu some, um, taste. Think of it like chicken - a blank canvas. Plus, I actually like the smooth, crumbly texture.

Last week I made a simple meal of tofu and vegetables. I put it over rice, and we had a satisfying two-dish supper. I made it primarily for Dave and me, so it was a bit spicy for Rosa, but she still devoured the tofu.

So now tofu is already a part of her cooking repertoire! I couldn't be more proud, although I'm sure her grandpa is sorely disappointed. Don't worry, Dad. Rosa still won't eat raw tomatoes - just like you.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Olive Lamb Burgers

A few weeks ago I blogged about the olive lamb burgers Dave and I were raving about. I tested the recipe for Leite's Culinaria (I am a volunteer tester for the site) and, for someone who doesn't adore lamb, I strangely loved them. I couldn't link to the recipe, though, since it wasn't for public consumption. But, it's up now; here's the link. You'll also see my comment below the recipe.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Happy September

Because Labor Day is on September 1 this year, I have to admit, I feel like we were cheated out of a few days of summer.

But happily the end of summer does bring some wonderful culinary pleasures. I promised Dave that over the next week or two he would grow so sick of heirloom tomatoes that he wouldn’t want to look at another one until next August. And I’m gorging Rosa on the “peachy peachy”s that she loves since she won’t have another one until next summer.

Another annual end of summer treat for us is zucchini bread. My mom made this quick bread when I was a kid, and my brother and I always loved it. It's sweet with a hint of cinnamon and a brown top crust that adds a bit of crunch to the chewy, almost gooey interior. But looking over the recipe a few years ago I was frankly APPALLED at how much sugar there was in it. I’ve made a few tweaks over the years (subbing in some whole wheat flour, reducing the sugar, and cutting back on the oil), but it’s just as good as I remember. I’ve made two batches so far and have enough zucchini for at least another two.

So clear a little room in your freezer and spend 15 minutes putting together the ingredients for this yummy zucchini bread.

Mom’s (Healthier) Zucchini Bread

3 eggs, well beaten
3/4 cup canola oil
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 cups grated zucchini
2 cups white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp nutmeg
1 TB cinnamon
1 TB vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease three small loaf pans. I use PAM.
3. Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. Spread into the loaf pans.
4. Start checking the bread after 35 minutes. It may take up to 15 minutes more. It’s finished when a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean. Try not to overbake though!
5. Cool the breads in their pans for 15 minutes, then take them out of the pans and let them cool completely on a wire rack.

It’s a great snack and delicious for breakfast. I especially like it smeared with a little peanut butter (then again I like pretty much anything smeared with a little peanut butter).

So enjoy some now and thaw some later in the fall to taste summer again.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sunday suppers

I love having people over for dinner on Saturday nights. It gives me an excuse to plan a wonderful meal, buy special ingredients, set a nice table, and cook up a storm. Spending time with the people we invite is a wonderful fringe benefit!

Dave, however, isn’t always keen on the big Saturday night dinner party – he usually ends up doing a lot of dishes. To take a little pressure off the expansiveness (and expense) of entertaining, we’ve been experimenting with inviting people over on a less demanding night of the week. We had our friend Nicole over on a Tuesday a couple of months ago. I made a simple, satisfying paella-inspired dish with a green salad and ice cream for dessert.

Last week, we decided to ask our friends Brian and Mishka over for supper on Sunday. It would be a little earlier, a little less wine-soaked, and just a little more casual than a typical Saturday night affair. We started by deep-frying zucchini flowers, something I have always wanted to do. They were fantastic – crisp and salty-sweet, with a subtle floral flavor. We ate these standing up in the kitchen and hallway. We skipped a first course and went straight to the main event – chicken marabella from the Silver Palate cookbook, tomato clafoutis, and a simply dressed green salad. For dessert I made a peach frangipane tart.

Now, I’m not saying this meal was made in an hour, of course. But, the chicken was marinated the day before, the frangipane was waiting in my freezer, and the clafoutis had about seven ingredients in it total. Rosa had a ball eating “peachy peachy” tart, the chicken was very good, and the whole evening was low-key and relaxed – a perfect way to slide into the workweek.

My fantasy is to have a Sunday supper with friends every week, but I realize that’s probably pushing it for my dish-averse husband. Maybe we’ll shoot for once a month and I’ll make sure the dishwasher is clear before I start.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Be Nice to Arugula

This week John McCain’s campaign blasted Barack Obama as an “arugula-eater”, attempting to show how elitist and out of touch the Democrat is.

Politics aside, I feel the need to defend arugula from what was obviously meant to be a disparaging association. Arugula is one of my favorite leafy greens! It’s pleasantly peppery, healthy, and versatile. It’s the base of one of the simplest, best-tasting salads ever: baby arugula, lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Plus, it’s wonderful wilted on the stove with olive oil and salt. And it makes a beautiful garnish. What’s not to love?

Slate published an article yesterday with even more tasty arugula tidbits.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Chicken Breast Dilemma

Lately, boneless, skinless chicken breasts have presented a dilemma for me. They’re healthy, convenient, and reasonably affordable. But darn it, they’re so tasteless. So this means that I must gussy them up, either pounding them thinner and then dressing them in a basic pan sauce or stir frying them and adding an Asian sauce.

But last night I really wanted to put them in the oven and forget about them. When I was a kid that meant rubbing the meat in olive oil and sprinkling them with salt and pepper – making the breasts a good vehicle for ingesting lean protein but not such a good vehicle for experiencing actual flavor. Plus, they were always a little too tough and chewy.

Recently I’ve seen a few recipes for chicken salad where the meat was roasted slathered in either crème fraiche or Greek-style yogurt. The dairy kept the breasts moist and tender before the kick of a salad dressing was added. Last night I decided to try a variation of that.

I had some homemade pesto in the freezer. (You could also buy prepared pesto at the grocery store.) I quickly thawed it, and stirred some into a couple of tablespoons of Greek-style yogurt. I covered the chicken in the mixture and voila – 35 minutes later we had tender chicken breasts with actual taste! Here’s the drill:

One pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 TB pesto sauce
2 TB Greek-style yogurt
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 375°.
2. Place chicken breasts in lightly oiled baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Stir together pesto and yogurt. Cover the chicken with the mixture.
4. Bake for 35 minutes or until cooked through.

Now, I am not advocating this dish as dinner party fare. But it is a simple, healthy, very tasty weeknight option. And one solution to the chicken breast dilemma. Any others, let me know…

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Definition, please

When I was home in Colorado over the weekend I made a “French” potato salad to serve with sausages and green beans for an easy summer supper. The salad was simple: I boiled small red potatoes until they were tender. After they cooled a bit I quartered them, let them soak up a bit of white wine, and dressed them in a mustard vinaigrette flecked with parsley. The potatoes were good, but I don’t think it was what my father expected when he heard the words “potato salad”. He asked, “What makes it a salad?” I said, “It has a dressing.” But, honestly, I wasn't really sure. I know you can make salads with grains, hearty vegetables, and delicate greens. There is chicken salad, egg salad, and tuna salad. But what makes a salad a salad? I resolved to find out.

As usual, Mark Bittman beat me to it. His column in today’s Times food section features rice salads. His first paragraph goes:

“In all of American cooking there is probably no term less meaningful than ‘salad.’ I’m racking my brain for a way to narrow the definition, but the best I can do is a dictionary-like ‘mixture of food, usually cold or at room temperature, with some kind of dressing.’”

I’ll buy that (although I love a warm potato salad). According to my Larousse Gastronomique, a salad is a “dish of raw, cold or warm cooked foods, usually dressed and seasoned, served as an appetizer, side dish or main course.” It then focuses on green salads, plain salads, and mixed salads with three and a half pages of recipes.

A fairly broad definition, wouldn't you say? But, I think that's what I like about it. Salads can be just about anything! They're kitchen superstars - versatile, healthy, delicious and flexible.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie

The lead article in the food section in today’s Times was all about crafting the ultimate chocolate chip cookie. David Leite, of Leite’s Culinaria, talked to a who’s who of New York bakers including Maury Rubin, Dorie Greenspan, and Jacques Torres. Their advice was eminently transferable to the home cook (make the dough 24-36 hours before you bake it, sprinkle the cookies with sea salt just before baking, etc.). It’s a little more ingredient intensive (using bread flour and cake flour…although wouldn’t using all-purpose balance out the gluten levels?), but the descriptions are fabulous… Even if you won’t make the cookies it’s worth reading the article. The photo alone is worth the click.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Cocktail Hour

For Dave and me, our weekends are structured by beverages. Coffee when we wake up around 7:30. Espresso with milk (hot in winter, iced in summer) around 2 or 3 PM. And then, ever since Rosa was born, cocktail hour.

At 5 o’clock Dave will ask me if I want a drink, and I invariably say yes. I justify having a cocktail, and then maybe a small glass of wine at dinner, by the fact that we NEVER go out anymore. When we didn’t have Rosa we would go to dinner on Fridays and have a drink or two. And then sometimes on Saturdays as well. Whether this excuse holds or not, cocktail hour is a bright, happy time chez Dave and Jenna.

Usually we drink Campari and soda with orange, or gin and tonic with lime. I love both, although Campari is one of the most delightful discoveries of my adult life. Lately, though, we’ve been drinking a cocktail called Gordon’s Cup, the recipe for which I found in Bon Appetit magazine a couple of months ago. It’s a gin based drink, a little sweet, a lot sour, and a bit salty. It’s heavy on the lime and infused with the refreshing flavor of cucumber. That may sound odd, a vegetable in your cocktail. But I would challenge you to add a slice of cucumber to your ice water one day. The best way I can describe it is that it tastes clean, with a slight vegetal undercurrent. Clean, clear, and cool.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find the recipe for the drink on the Bon Appetit or Epicurious websites to link to, so I am taking the liberty of reproducing it here. According to the text it comes from Comme Ça, a Los Angeles restaurant.

Gordon’s Cup
One Serving

2/3 of one small lime, cut into six wedges
2 1/2 inch think rounds of peeled cucumber
1/4 cup gin
1 1/2 TB of simple syrup (equal amounts of sugar and water heated on the stove until the sugar dissolves)
1 cup cracked ice
pinch of sea salt

Place lime and cucumber in cocktail shaker; mash with muddler or wooden spoon until lime is juiced and cucumber is pulpy. Add gin and simply syrup, then ice. Cover; shave vigorously three times. Pour contents of shaker into rocks glass. Sprinkle with salt.

I should note that it’s Dave who’s in charge of our beverages on the weekends, from coffee on forward. For someone who spends so much time in the kitchen, it’s a cozy luxury for me to be plied so lovingly and uncomplainingly with caffeine and alcohol. It’s small, but sharing drinks is one of my favorite parts of our life together.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

No Recipe Required

Over the past five or six years I have ripped out a few hundred recipes from the various food magazines I subscribe to (or buy on the newsstand) and the New York Times Wednesday food section. Recipes for meyer lemon gnocci, open-face plum cake, and vegetarian three-bean chili, steamed pork buns, patatas bravas, and spinach salad with warm bacon dressing (to-die-for), and many, many others.

I keep them in plastic sleeves by type – shrimp, potatoes, pork, chicken, drinks etc – in a white three-ring notebook. As of last week, the notebook’s pockets were so stuffed with jagged papers I could barely open it. Some of these recipes I come back to again and again, but I’ve never even tried most of them. Many I have forgotten about. On Wednesday I decided to get organized, and I’ve spent some time every day trimming the pages, sorting through and categorizing the recipes, and deciding which ones I really want to keep. I noticed a few themes – eight recipes for spiced nuts! – and dueling recipes for blue cheese dressing and cucumber-avocado soup. I will test those and report back on the winners.

As I was sorting, I threw out some recipes that didn’t interest me anymore. I also tossed a few for dishes that I wouldn’t need a recipe for, including arugula salad with onions, pecorino, lemon juice and olive oil.

Another recipe I am throwing away is for Chickpea Salad with Provencal Herbs and Olives from the June 2005 issue of Cooking Light. The dish still sounds lovely to me – a healthy side dish and perfect for weekday lunches. But, this is definitely one of those dishes that I don’t need a recipe for, and you probably don’t either.

The trick is to follow a simple formula – beans, an herb or herbs, onion, olive oil, acid, something briny – and mix and match the ingredients that you have on hand. Here are a few of the options:

- One can cooked beans – my favorites are chickpeas or cannellini
- Onion – Scallions and red onion are the best since you’ll be eating the salad raw. Plus they add nice color.
- Chopped garlic – optional
- Something briny – Capers or olives
- Fresh herbs – parsley, sage, thyme, basil, whatever is leftover in the fridge
- Acid – lemon juice, red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, for example
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper

Drain and rinse one can of beans. Put them in a medium bowl. Add chopped onions, capers/olives, and garlic if you’re using it. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil – start with a tablespoon or so – and about half as much acid. Stir gently and taste. Add more, oil, acid, or salt and pepper as needed. (I usually need to add more acid and salt at this point.) Once you’re satisfied with the flavors, stir in the chopped herbs.

To make this salad well, you need to use your eyes and tongue. Your eyes to measure proportions of ingredients. There’s no set ratio. If you love garlic add a lot; if you’re lukewarm on olives, use just a few or omit them altogether. Your tongue to balance the flavors. Start easy on the salt and acid. You can always add more. I usually need to taste and adjust the flavors two or three times.

And, of course, if you’re nervous about winging it the first couple of times, just use the Cooking Light recipe as a guide.

When I make the cannellini version of this salad, I often crush the beans with a fork and add tuna canned in olive oil, courtesy of a Gourmet recipe I saw years ago. It’s the only tuna salad I like.

For a bean salad with Mexican flavor I use black beans, lime juice, and cilantro – no olives or capers. Chopped avocado adds a creamy note.

Healthy, simple, inexpensive, delicious, and no recipe required.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

My Fancy Food Show picks

My favorites at the Fancy Food Show? It’s hard to narrow down, but a few standouts include:

- A glorious, smooth, salty chunk of mozzarella di bufala from Lioni Mozzarella. Nothing radical here, just a perfect piece of cheese.

- Italian Volcano blood orange juice. A brilliant, deep red-orange color and bright, sparkling flavor. Dave and I decided that if we served this juice in the place of regular OJ in mimosas we’d have a line out the door.

- Sunland Thai ginger and red pepper peanut butter. I love peanut butter and was delighted to try several of Sunland’s varieties including banana and chocolate peanut butter. But, the biggest revelation was its savory line, especially this one with Thai flavors. As the rep said, it’s a perfect ready-made peanut sauce. Thin it out with a bit of water and serve with vegetables or chicken.

The most revolting thing we saw? Giant likenesses of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain sculpted from…hummus. Sabra hummus to be exact. Fairly disgusting.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Fancy Food Show

For the last few weeks, every time I felt a little low all I had to do was think of three little words, and a tingle of excitement would shiver through my body. I would start to smile uncontrollably, and a bright glow of anticipation would be apparent for all to see. Fancy food show. Fancy food show. God, I love the Fancy Food Show. Imagine discovering hundreds upon hundreds of the most interesting, delicious gourmet foods out there – and when I say “discovering” I mean eating. Basically, it’s like dying and going to food heaven, if heaven were located in the thoroughly depressing Javits Center (sorry if link isn’t working… the site isn’t really worth visiting anyways.).

The Fancy Food Show is a trade show for food professionals sponsored by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade. It takes place in New York every summer and San Francisco each winter. Food importers and manufacturers from around the world exhibit their products for chefs, grocery store owners, caterers and other food professionals to try – and hopefully buy.

Dave and I went for several hours this afternoon, and, for the record, neither of us ate lunch beforehand…and neither of us are eating dinner tonight.

Dave had never attended the Fancy Food Show before, and I warned him right away to pace himself. He got the message after walking down the first of dozens of aisles and sampling several types of cheeses and charcuterie, plus various olive oils and chocolates. In the three and a half hours we spent tasting, he cites these three products as his favorites:

- Fabrique Delices truffle mousse paté – “A perfect combination of the richness that you love in patés, but not too much. It was paté to the nth degree, but not over the cliff.”
- Numerous Peppadew products, especially the peppadew sausages and cheese-stuffed peppadew. – “Just tasty, a good combo of sweetness and spiciness. With the added cheese, the spiciness was reduced so I could appreciate the sweetness more.” For those of you who haven’t tried peppadew before, it’s a spicy-sweet South African fruit that comes in a jar.
- Mortadella…there was a good bit of mortadella around, in slices and chunks. Dave seemed to like it all.

His biggest frustration? Too much cheese and chocolate. And, it’s true – there is an enormous amount of cheese and chocolate being produced by the gourmet food world. Unlike Dave, however, I’m not one to complain.

In upcoming posts, I will highlight my three favorites and some of the more interesting products we tried.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Grizzly House, Part II

So how was the "exotic meat" at The Grizzly House in Banff? (See my last entry for the backstory.)

I have one word to describe python: chewy. The venison was dark, pleasantly gamey, a little livery perhaps. Jessica really liked it. The buffalo tasted like beef (and in the context of this meal that was a good thing). The shark reminded me of tuna. The wild boar lacked a pronounced flavor. The alligator was bland and, you knew this phrase had to be in here somewhere, tasted like chicken. My favorite was the frog’s leg even though, raw, it looks amazingly like a miniature human leg. The meat was tender and charred, and it fell off the bone.

Not only does the Grizzly House boast an ultra-unique menu, it features a gimmick that – with the right crowd and copious amounts of alcohol – could be hilarious. Each table has a telephone and a list of phone numbers for each of the restaurant’s other tables (and the restrooms). Jessica tried calling several numbers but no one picked up…bummer.

Finally, the nice older couple next to us answered, and Jessica and the husband chatted for a few minutes. Turns out they were visiting from Chicago. They didn’t go as exotic as us in the meat department.

As we finished our meal our waiter Billy gave us the Grizzly House backstory. Barbara and Peter Steiner opened it as a nightclub in 1967, but that turned out to be too much of a hassle, so they transformed it into a restaurant. The Steiners are a colorful couple… naturists (nudists) and there was some intimation of swinging as well…. The Grizzly House website does say it’s for “Lovers and Hedonists”. Or at least hedonistic lovers of exotic meat. Sadly, I can’t count myself among that group. With apologies to Anthony Bourdain I think one bite of python is enough in this life. I'll stick with the frog legs -- that's exotic enough for me.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Grizzly House, Part I

Python. Alligator. Ostrich. Shark. Buffalo. It may sound like a trip to the zoo, but actually it was just dinner at the Grizzly House Restaurant in the mountain town of Banff, Canada. Not only did we eat these exotic meats – along with venison, wild boar, and a frog’s leg – we cooked them ourselves.

I was in Banff last week with my friend/colleague Jessica for a conference. We had dinner plans with Joe, one of our favorite future (hopefully) clients. We didn’t have a venue planned, but a Canadian friend recommended we sample some exotic meats at the Grizzly House, with the caveat that we opt for the hot stone over the fondue. Like you, most likely, I had no idea what he was talking about but Jessica, Joe, and I decided to give it a whirl. After yet another television conference, where we talk about multi-platforming ad nauseum, these are the things we’ll remember, right?

Right. We walked in to Barry Manilow music, mood lighting, and buffalo heads mounted on the walls. Our waiter Billy was very welcoming and talked a mile a minute explaining all of our different options. In awe of his well-rehearsed spiel, Jessica dubbed him “the Ron Popeil of game meat.” Per their menu, Grizzly House specializes in “Alberta Beef, exotic game meats, and seafood.” Appetizers include soups and salads with an Alpine bent. Steaks are served with salad or soup, vegetables, fried onions, and rice or rosti. But the raison d’etre of the restaurant is its raw meat – cooked at the table either in a hot oil fondue or on a smooth, 600-degree hot stone. Billy pushed the complete fondue (or hot stone) dinners that came with soup or salad, an appetizer, main course, and dessert. We came for the exotic meats, though, and got down to business.

We ordered The Hunter Fondue Dinner (six ounces of buffalo, wild boar, and venison for $50.95) and the Exotic Fondue Dinner (seven ounces of shark, alligator, python, ostrich, frogs legs, buffalo, and venison for $61.95). As we had been advised, we requested the hot stone.

Soon enough Billy returned with a steaming hot stone and plates of raw cubes of meat. He gave us cooking instructions (python 45 seconds, venison one minute for medium well, etc.) and a sampling of four sauces. We got to cooking.

Jessica and Joe were both alarmingly brave. I tried to act nonchalant, but putting a morsel of python into my mouth wasn’t the easiest thing to do. With each chunk of meat my squeamishness only increased. I wanted to be cool and adventurous; hopefully I pulled it off.

So how did it all taste?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Pizza Dis

Dave sent me this article today -- apparently the Finns dislike Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi so much that they named a disgusting pizza after him. Click here for the story.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Franny's Rules

My legions of loyal readers will be relieved to see that I'm back! I was in Banff, Canada for six days visiting family and attending a conference for work. I had a couple of fun (hint: one of them included python) restaurant experiences that I will share in the next few days.

In the meantime, I wanted to give a shout out to Franny's, home of sensational, market-driven, Italian-ish small plates, pasta, and pizza that I think one review called "fire-licked"...mmm. Acclaimed by virtually everyone, Franny's certainly doesn't need my kudos. But, tonight's dinner was just too delicious not to comment on. Usually when we go we order a couple of appetizers and then one pizza, but tonight we ordered two pizzas and nothing else. One was a standard for us: buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, and sausage. It was thin, crispy, and tasty as always. For the second pizza I chose the clam, chili, and parsley pizza. It was awesome. The whole pie seemed to be slicked in a garlicky, clam-kissed olive oil and studded with fat clams. It was my first pizza with clams, and I suspect I will never have a better one.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Fish: The Perfect Weeknight Meal

Making fish is mostly a weeknight affair in my house. It cooks so quickly that it almost seems like cheating to make it on the weekends when I have more time to cook. I tend to buy fillets – lately tilapia or arctic char, sometimes catfish, all less expensive these days than salmon. My fallback fish prep method could hardly be more bare-bones: Heat a blend of olive oil and canola oil in a frying pan on the stove. Salt and pepper both sides of the fish fillets. When the oil is hot gently lay the fillets in the pan. Saute until they’re golden brown and gently flip the fillets. When they’re cooked all the way through, remove the fish from the pan. Depending on how thick the fillets are cooking time could take from five to ten minutes. Squeeze a little lemon on top and enjoy. Alternatively, remove the fish from the pan, add a little butter and cook it until it turns a nutty brown. Pour the butter over the fish and top with chopped parsley. Max time: 15 minutes. Simple, healthy, and delicious.

Sometimes I want to switch up the flavors, and I recently found a very simple recipe on Cooking Spicy South Asian Roasted Fish calls for halibut fillets; I’ve made it with arctic char and catfish (we preferred the former and I think it would also be good with salmon and tilapia). The recipe calls for lemongrass which I skip… So five ingredients go in a blender or food processor to make a sauce. Pour the sauce over the fish fillets and roast in the oven for about 15 minutes. Easy! Tasty! Tonight I served it with rice and wilted baby bok choy.

The sauce calls for a half-cup of light coconut milk. To add a little more flavor to the rice I use the rest of the can of coconut milk as part of the liquid the rice is cooked in. The rice becomes a little sweet and a touch sticky, a nice complement to the spicy fish.

One note: the recipe calls for “chili sauce”. I’ve been using Vietnamese chili garlic sauce which is very spicy. So, I cut the quantity from 2 TB to a scant 1 TB.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Dressed for Success

When I was a kid and we were eating salad for dinner we always had a selection of bottled salad dressings on the table. Until I turned 12 and started reading teenage fashion magazines that warned me of the perils of creamy dressings I always went for the Ranch. Post-age 12 I think I opted for Italian. My dad liked Thousand Island. I don’t remember what my mom or brother used, but I do remember the same bottle of Russian dressing languishing in the fridge – and being ignored on the table – for what seemed like years.

Today, I make my own salad dressings. In this case, it’s not because I object to the taste of the bottled so much: Ranch dressing is yummy and I love the sesame ginger stuff my mom eats these days. I make my own dressing because a) I’d like to forego the additives and filler found in a lot of bought dressings and b) I like to vary the dressing based on what we’re eating.

Sometimes I’ll make a nice yogurt-based blue cheese dressing, but more often than not it’s a vinaigrette. When we’re really in a hurry that means drizzling lemon juice or vinegar (red wine, white wine, or balsamic), olive oil and salt on a salad and tossing. But when I have four or five minutes, I make an ever so slightly more elaborate vinaigrette. In cooking school I learned the basic ratio for dressings, and it’s a handy thing to memorize. Once you know the proportions the recipe is infinitely customizable based on your tastes, what the vinaigrette will be dressing, and what the rest of your meal consists of.

The basic recipe:

- one part stabilizing/flavor part like Dijon mustard, honey, maple syrup, pomegranate molasses etc.
- two parts acid like vinegar or citrus juice
- six parts oil like olive, canola, walnut etc. or a blend

My chef taught us to think of it as 1, 2, 3 as in one part for the first element, two parts of the second, and then three parts of the second (so six of the first). Feel free to ignore this trick if it makes the recipe more confusing.

Two other rules to remember: always add some salt and always taste the dressing. If you think it needs more oil or acid, add it. You can also add in minced shallots, garlic, or herbs – lots of options.

Last night I made a tarragon vinaigrette. I decided to make a little extra to last a few days since we eat a lot of salads. Using the above ratio, here’s the recipe:

1 TB Dijon mustard
2 TB white wine vinegar
pinch salt
6 TB (1/3 cup) oil – I used a blend of canola and extra virgin olive oil
1/2 TB chopped tarragon

Whisk together the mustard, vinegar, and salt. Add oil in drop by drop then in a thin stream, whisking the all the while to emulsify the mixture. Taste and adjust flavors. Last night I decided mine was too sharp-tasting, so I added another tablespoon of oil. Finally, stir in the chopped herb. In the end, it will be thick and tangy.

This vinaigrette will keep for several days in the fridge and would be delicious on roasted fish, potato or chicken salad, or even as a spread on a turkey sandwich.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Final Braise

If I had to choose my favorite cooking technique for meat I might have to go with braising: browning the meat on the stove, adding liquid and then simmering long and slow. There are so many things to appreciate about it: the flavorful, tender meat that results after the extended cooking time, the concentrated flavors of the sauce, the largely hands-off time for the bulk of the preparation. Coq au vin and beef bourguignon, two of my favorite classic French dishes are both braised. You can braise on the stovetop, but often dishes are braised in the oven making this technique a natural for days when you want to feel cozy and warm.

So, basically, May 31 is not an ideal day for a braise, especially when it’s warm and muggy outside like it was today. And, if you ever get tempted (or suckered) into braising in the dead of summer – with the oven on 350 or 400 for an hour or two or more and sweat pouring down your spine – you may just swear off the technique forever. Do yourself a favor: no more braising until October.

But, I signed off on a high note, with a flavorful and earthy recipe from The Girl & The Fig cookbook that Danielle gave me a year or two ago. This book is one of my favorites – really one of only three or four cookbooks that I use regularly. It’s written by Sondra Bernstein, the owner of The Girl & The Fig restaurant in Sonoma, California. The book highlights the restaurant's rustic French dishes with an emphasis on some of my favorite flavors: figs (of course), fennel, shallots, dried plums, tarragon, thyme, and wine. I’ve made a few things from the book including coq au vin, basil-scented potato cakes, shrimp cakes, potato leek soup, and cauliflower gruyere soup. With some tweaking here and there they’ve all been standouts.

Tonight I tried Braised Chicken with Prunes, Olives, and Capers. The sweet plumbs and the briny capers and olives were a fantastic match with the tender chicken. I served it over mashed potatoes with a crisp green salad on the side. Had it been February the meal would have been sublime. Since it was the end of May I’ll peg it at very, very good.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Baked Pancake - the next generation

When I was a kid my mom would sometimes make a “baked pancake” for breakfast on the weekends. The recipe was simple enough that by the time I was 10 or so, I’d make it myself. Basically you melted some butter in a baking dish in the oven while mixing up a simple batter of eggs, milk, and flour. The batter went in the baking dish and cooked for 20 minutes or so. As the pancake baked the sides became puffed and golden (they fell when the pancake was removed from the oven). We served the pancake with powdered sugar and maple syrup. Looking back on it, I remember the pancake’s buttery, golden sides and the thin, almost crisp base.

I made the pancake again about a year ago and was astounded. That thing is swimming in butter! A third of a cup (six tablespoons!). It was so buttery that I could hardly eat it. Needless to say, I haven’t made the baked pancake since, and talking with my mother today, I learned that she hasn’t either.

When I first saw the recipe for the dessert Oven Crespella with Nutella Sauce in the April issue of Gourmet magazine I marked it because of the nutella. Dave loves the stuff, and I thought a nutella sauce recipe would be a handy thing to have. I realized yesterday, though, that the crespella seemed awfully similar to a baked pancake and could make a tasty breakfast treat, sans the nutella sauce of course (at least yesterday…).

Compared to the baked pancake, the crespella recipe upped the amount of flour a little, milk a lot, and added some sugar, vanilla extract, and a little salt to the batter. Most crucially, the amount of butter melted in the baking dish is only two tablespoons.

The result was completely delectable. Like the baked pancake the sides rose (and then fell) and turned golden. But the base of the pancake was also thicker and the teaspoon of vanilla extract was a heady revelation. I served the crespella with maple syrup and berries, and Rosa and I devoured it. In a few years, when she’s ready, I’ll bring out this recipe – not much more complex than the baked pancake – and she can make breakfast for us.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

No board required

My mother-in-law, Iolanda, once asked me to chop a bunch of parsley. I looked around her amazingly well-equipped kitchen for the most basic implement, save the knife: a cutting board. But there was not one to be found. It turns out Iolanda doesn't use a cutting board. She uses a small paring knife and her fingers, as you can see in the photo here where she's chopping scallions. Pretty hard-core, isn't it? Apparently this is how she learned to cook in her small Italian village.

And, no, I haven't taken up this practice when I'm at her house. Thankfully for my fingers, she managed to rustle up a small, round wooden board that I'm pretty sure is actually a serving board for cheese.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


That's the direct translation of "moyen-sanglant", a useful phrase to know if you’re eating at a French bistro in Montreal. It means "medium-rare" (although I think "medium-bloody" sounds much cooler), and I learned it last week when I ordered magret de canard (duck breast) at Leméac, a bustling restaurant on Laurier.

I know that Montreal is an exceptional restaurant city. Everyone from the New York Times to Gourmet magazine has told me so. When we visit Dave’s family there, though, we usually have the great pleasure of eating my mother-in-law Iolanda’s earthy and delicious Italian meals. But, on this trip Dave and I, along with his brother and his wife, decided to go out one night. Dave’s brother chose Leméac, and it was an excellent decision. I started with the smooth rillettes à l’ancienne de la maison, a kind of pâté that I smeared on toasted baguette slices. My duck breast was cooked perfectly, and the meal ended on a sweet note with a chocolate hazelnut mousse.

The room itself wasn’t particularly interesting, but the food and the service were top-notch. When in Montreal…

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Chicken Vera-style, Part II

A delicious and hearty one-pot meal that can incorporate virtually any vegetable (and possibly any grain or protein) that you have on hand? Fact or fiction? Myth or reality? Unicorn or horse? Ask a Macedonian and he or she would probably say yes - it's the God-honest truth.

I am here to report back on Chicken Vera-style. See Part I below which includes the recipe given to me by my colleague Rachael who’s married to a Macedonian.

I decided to make the chicken stew on Sunday when I had more time. It’s not much work at all to put together (some light chopping and then basically putting a bunch of stuff in a pot) but the hands-off cooking time won’t work for a weeknight. My plan was to use chicken thighs – cheaper than breasts – but FreshDirect had whole chickens on sale. So I bought a chicken, cut it into six pieces, leaving the thighs and legs attached, and put it in my 8-quart stockpot. I added the celery, onion, garlic, potatoes, stock, and some water to cover and brought it up to a simmer. We didn’t have a multitude of vegetables in-house so I added only some carrots. Then I noticed a half-bag of dried chickpeas in the pantry and threw those into the water, crossing my fingers that they would be tender by the time everything else was. Instead of putting the pot in the oven immediately I let it simmer on the stove for a half and hour…while I ran to the store to pick up the can of tomatoes I forgot. Tomatoes safely added I put the pan in a 375 degree oven. I upped the temperature from Rachael’s recommendation for added insurance that enough liquid would be absorbed.

And two hours later it was! (It’s funny how after cooking seriously for about five years and even going to culinary school I’m STILL genuinely pleased and a little surprised when things turn out like they’re supposed to.) The potatoes, rice, and vegetables had absorbed some of the liquid, making the dish into a thick stew. The chicken was gorgeously tender and flavorful. My chickpeas still had a little bite to them, but were definitely edible.

When I told Dave that we were going to be eating a Macedonian stew for dinner he was, shall we say, skeptical. I reminded him that Macedonia had lots of Greek and Turkish influences and that the country’s food was probably delicious. When he tasted the stew he said, “This is more like an Italian dish, if you ask me.” Coming from Dave, that’s high praise indeed.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


One of my favorite sections of the NY Times’ website is the Well blog, written by Tara Parker-Pope. She comments on all aspects of personal health, but often writes about food. I love reading the comments her readers post. More often than not they are passionate and smart. Two of her recent posts captured my attention and had me reading through all the comments:

Paying Attention to the Food We Don’t Eat references a recent Times story highlighting how much food we waste in America. Posters offered up numerous ideas for how to keep personal food waste at a minimum, basically by shopping and cooking with an eye toward using up everything in the fridge.

Finding the Best Way to Cook All Those Vegetables cites recent studies that link the healthfulness of vegetables to the method by which they were cooked (or not). Frankly, this is all a little too much for me to remember. (“Water soluble nutrients are often lost in processing”… “Fat-soluble compounds…are less likely to leach out in water.” etc.) BUT, Parker-Pope’s post wrapped up with what I consider one of my personal culinary philosophies: make healthy food taste good and people will want to eat it. According to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, by the time people are 20 years old the only factor that influences fruit and veggie consumption is taste. (Ironically enough, this was also a main theme on last week’s episode of Top Chef.)

Finally, in Lessons in Home Cooking, Parker-Pope interviews one of my favorite cooking authorities, Mark Bittman. Their conversation inspired over 100 readers to share their strategies for preparing quick, delicious home-cooked meals.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Why I love going to my in-laws

About a year and a half ago, I wrote about my mother-in-law in the post Salmon a la Iolanda. (I showed her the post today and she got a real kick out of it: "Comme je suis quelqu'une importante!" ... "Like I'm someone important!" I assured her that she is.) We're back in Montreal now, chez Iolanda, and I'm still loving the food. A couple of highlights, keeping in mind we've only been here for 24 hours:

- A glorious porcini mushroom sauce with fettucine. I wrote down the recipe as Iolanda cooked, will test it at home, and post it next week. It was rich, earthy, and perfectly balanced.

- Rapini, a.k.a. broccoli rabe, sauteed with olive oil and slivered garlic. After it's cooked the rapini is left at room temperature. It almost marinates in the olive oil and garlic and becomes rich and tender. This is an incredibly simple dish to make, and one I've done at home. But I usually eat it warm; I realize now that it's even better at room temperature.

I made broccoli rabe for my parents once, and they weren't crazy about it. It is on the bitter side (which I enjoy), but with a fruity olive oil and sharp garlic it's delicious.

There's also a simple abundance of food here. At home we might have bananas and kiwi or grapes on hand (if it's soon after Fresh Direct delivered). Here Iolanda stocks bananas, peaches, cantaloupe, sweet strawberries, apples and pears. Granted I'm sure a lot of that is for our benefit, but we take advantage. There's always fresh fruit on the counter if we need a snack. So delicious.

We're going to a big Italian/Quebecois wedding reception tonight. The bride, Dave's cousin Laetitia is passionate about food, so I'm extra excited about the dinner. I will report back soon.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Chicken Vera-style, Part I

Using up ingredients that I have on hand makes me feel like a culinary rock star. Never am I more creative, virtuous, or thrifty than when I put the quarter-bag of lentils in the pantry or the final two stalks of asparagus in the refrigerator to good, tasty use. There are certain dishes that help facilitate this soul-satisfying process, like a basic vegetable soup thickened with rice or pasta and gussied up with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of Parmigiano. Another is a recent discovery thanks to my friend and colleague Rachael.

Rachael is married to Jovan, a lovely fellow from Macedonia. Since they just had their first baby, Jovan’s mother, Vera, is staying with them for a few months, helping to take care of the little tyke and cooking and cleaning along the way. Lucky Rachael! Last week Rachael told me about one her favorite Macedonian dishes that her mother-in-law makes. She calls it Chicken Vera-style. It’s one of those amazingly flexible dishes that can accommodate – and elevate – almost whatever you have in your fridge, freezer, or pantry. Here’s the basic recipe told to me by Rachael, but none of it is set in stone:

- Chicken breasts or tenders (or even sausages)
- Two stalks celery, chopped
- One medium to large onion, chopped
- Two cloves garlic, chopped
- Two medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
- Two medium handfuls rice, white or brown
- 14 oz. can diced tomatoes with juices
- One cup chicken stock
- Fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
- Vegetables – take your pick: peas, corn, broccoli, stir-fry veggies, etc. Fresh or frozen
- Salt, pepper, oregano or Macedonian spice blend

- Simmer chicken in a stockpot or other large, oven-safe cooking vessel with celery, onion, and garlic for about five minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and enough water so everything is covered completely by the liquid. Cook in a 350 degree oven until everything is tender, about one-and-a-half to two hours.

Rachael promised that the result would be a hearty chicken stew. The potatoes and rice would absorb some of the liquid, and each component would retain its own flavor but come together in a whole much greater than the sum of its parts.

But there was trouble on the homefront. My beloved husband was skeptical, shall we say, about eating a Macedonian stew...especially on a Sunday when he'd just returned from a long trip and lots of restaurant meals. Would Chicken Vera-style satisfy his craving for a flavorful, but hearty, meal? Something worth coming home to from the rigors of the Miami beach scene? We would find out.