September 30, 2010

Grandma Wicks's Walnut Pate

It's nutty, it's toasty, it's salty, its garlicy. It's completely and utterly addicting.

I was first introduced to this walnut spread last winter by Camille, my friend and fellow food enthusiast. It was one of the many nights when both of our Matthews were on call at the hospital, and rather than each spend the evening alone, she and I had gotten into the practice of spending it cooking together. Those evenings were often our little forum for trying out new recipes. Around that time Camille had become experimental with bread baking. She was regularly producing fantastic, rustic, and hearty loaves. 

That night, as our dinner baked away in the oven, she presented her most recent loaf: a large and beautiful round boule with picture-perfect cracks spread out from the center of its crunchy outer crust; the interior of which was light, spongy, and as soft as butter. She put it on the table with a big bread knife, a small butter knife, and a curious brown topping in a small plastic container. I hesitated. "It's walnut spread," she explained. "My grandma used to call it walnut pate. It's kind of addicting." 

Clearly, Camille's kitchen talents are genetic: her grandma Wicks was a lifelong cook who taught high school home economics and had her own cooking-class business. She even authored a food processor cookbook that Camille uses regularly, which was sold at Sears when the food processor first came out in the 70s. Pretty neat, huh?

Anyway, I can't say that she didn't give me fair warning. Even though the bread-making phase has come and gone , this walnut spread is definitely here to stay, and I'm so glad that it was passed on to me, too. I am fairly certain that Camille had to coax the tub of walnut pate from my loving hands so that we could finally sit down to our actual meal. I was, and still am, in love at first bite.

Since Camille is hosting our book club's potluck dinner tonight, it occured to me to whip up a batch of her walnut spread last night. I was suddenly struck by a craving for this nutty and intensely flavorful treat, and since it's ready in a matter of minutes, that craving was satisfied fast. Although it's wonderful eaten on baguette, in sandwiches, or with crackers, I tossed half of my batch with pasta and vegetables to create last night's dinner of capunti with a creamy walnut sauce. I'll post that recipe tomorrow, but it was fantastic!

Grandma Wicks's walnut spread is versatile and delicious. Its uses are endless, but only if you are able to keep keep the batch around for long enough to find them all!

Grandma's Walnut Pate: In a food processor or blender, process 2 cloves of garlic with 1 T. salt, then add about 1 to 2 cups of walnuts (I like to lightly toast them first to bring out their flavors). Pulse a few times to incorporate, then turn the blender back on and slowly pour a few tablespoons of olive oil into the top until it forms a thick, chunky walnut spread. Adjust walnut and or garlic to taste.

September 28, 2010

Crispy Breaded Pork with Sesame Spinach and Saffron Rice

Juicy, crunchy, and savory pork has a hidden secret: the breadcrumbs are bound to the meat by a marinade of deliciously salty soy sauce, fiery and flavorful Chile paste, and smooth, rich canola mayo. Its' a marinade that packs a big flavor punch and infuses tons of moisture into the meat, without the loaded calories of dredging the whole thing in eggs then deep-frying in oil.

On the weekdays I try not too eat too many things in one day that would make me feel like I have a halo of nutritional guilt hanging over my head for the weekend. Weekends are big for indulging, so it's perfect that this breaded pork chop only tastes indulgent. How sneaky.

Plus, everything is on the table within 20 minutes. For the side of saffron rice, I like to buy those small tubes of saffron infused rice from the regular grocery store. The whole package cooks in 20 minutes and has a deep saffron flavor that instantly makes a meal special. In fact, one small package is so saffron-intense that I dilute it by cooking it together with a half-cup of brown rice. This makes more than enough rice to take me into the next night with leftovers for enchiladas or a stir fry.

For the side of sesame spinach, which is one of my favorites for both its simplicity and wonderfully nutty taste, I preheat a dash of sesame oil in a pan with a clove of minced garlic, toss in a half bag of spinach leaves with the water still on from rinsing, and let it all cook down. When it's almost done I turn off the heat and add a dash of salt and sprinkle sesame seeds on top.

Together with the pork chop, whose interesting soy and chile marinade lend a hint of Asian flare, it's a winning weeknight trio of flavors that equally compliment each other. I think I'll just top this off with a nice glass of white wine... and since it's a Tuesday night, that can be our little secret.

Spicy and Savory Breaded Pork Chop: a mix of Panko and Whole Wheat breadcrumbs make the breading layer both crispy and nutritious, but use regular breadcrumbs if that's what you have.
2 boneless center-cut pork chops
2 T. canola mayo
2 T. low-sodium soy sauce
1 T. chile paste
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup Whole Wheat breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
1 T. each of olive oil and Earth Balance Butter

Combine the mayo, soy suace, and chile paste in a plastic bag, then add the pork chops and let marinate for at least 15 minutes. Combine the Panko and Wheat breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl with some salt and pepper, and preheat the olive oil and butter together in a heavy pan over medium heat. Remove the pork chops from the marinade, keeping the marinade on the chops but discarding the rest. Dredge each chop in the breadcrumbs, patting gently to make the crumbs adhere. Place in the pan and cook approx. 4 minutes per side, until golden brown. Serve immediately.

adapted from Cooking Light

September 27, 2010

Creamy Cheddar and Corn Bake

I am in need of soft foods. You see, my chin is out of service, making chewing and generally taking normal sized bites a bit challenging.

How the injury happened isn't exciting, and it certainly isn't glamorous. On Friday night I ended up hanging out in the Emergency Room until the wee morning hours because I tripped. Walking. I told you it wasn't glamorous! It was a perfect storm of flip flops + darkness + uneven bricks on the ground = face planting hard. If I weren't in so much pain right now, and if my face were able to form a smile, I'd laugh at myself because it's almost funny to admit the cause of my unsightly stitches and lopsided attempt at getting around.

Anyway, flip flops are evil. This recipe for cheesy, gooey, creamy baked corn dip is not.

What lay beaneath that wonderful golden layer of cheddar crust is absolutely heavenly. It is thick, savory cheese melted together with sweet, juicy corn, waiting to be spooned onto a hunk of lightly toasted baguette. Right now, for me, the best part is that every bite is soft, warm, and comforting, and just what I need in my imapaired state. I am craving a dish that feels like a huge hug, and that makes me want to smile even though I can't.

It's the perfect appetizer for a crowd, which is exactly how it was shared. The picture isn't that lovely and so it doesn't seem like proof that it's entirely delicious... and that's only because shadows were being cast by everyone hovering around waiting to dig in, which, to me, is the best proof of all. 

Cheesy Corn Bake
Cooking spray
1 can creamed corn
1 can regular corn, gently toasted in a pan until golden
1/4 cup milk
10 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded and divided
1 t. smoked paprika
1 t. salt & pepper each
1 T. dried basil

In a 9 by 5 glass baking dish, stir together all of the ingredients, but reserving half of the cheddar cheese. Once it is well incorporated, top the mixture with the rest of the cheddar. Bake at 350 degrees until bubbling and golden. Serve with sliced toasted baguette, crackers, or pita.

September 24, 2010

Procrastination at its Best: Smothery Beef Ribs with Whipped Potatoes

I have a huge test to study for right now and blogging is the least responsible thing I could possibly be doing right now. 

But I'm going to do it anyway. These spicy, saucy beef ribs were too delicious not to share, and the tangy whipped potatoes they're served with make for a perfect balance of flavors and textures. What could be better for a weekend dinner that feels special but let's you spend more time relaxing at the table than standing over the stove?

First, trim visible fat from the 2lbs. of beef ribs, then place them in a large Dutch oven and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 1.5 to 2 hours. (Read magazines, go for a jog, play with the dog).

Preheat your oven's broiler and combine the sauce ingredients: 1/4 cup ketchup, 3 T. chili sauce, 3 T. molasses, 2 T. honey, 2 T. rum, 3 T. lemon juice, 2 T. yellow mustard, 1/4 t. cayenne pepper. Adjust to taste.

Place the ribs on the unheated rack of a broiler pan (cover with foil for easy cleanup), brush with sauce, and broil 4-5 inches from the heat for 10-15 minutes or until hot, turning often and brushing with the sauce. Heat any remaining sauce to serve with the ribs and the mashed potatoes. Serves 2.  

Happy weekend!

Creamy & Tangy Mashed Potatoes:
3/4 lbs. Yukon gold potatoes, skin on and boiled until tender and water reserved
1/2 t. salt
1 T. Earth Balance Butter
3-5 T. plain Greek yogurt

Add the above ingredients together in a large bowl and either mash gently by hand or quickly use an immersion blender to combine. Take care not to over-work the potatoes. Thin with reserved water as desired.

September 22, 2010

Morning Parfait

Greek yogurt, honey, strawberries and Kashi to get me through Wednesday.

I can do it! I am powered up. This filling breakfast combination kept me satisfied well into the lunch hour. It was also a pleasure to eat, a little gift to myself on a Wednesday morning. Food can definitely be encouragement, and in this case a breakfast that tasted as special and sweet as a dessert, but that was completely healthy and nutritious, was the perfect start to the day.

Freshly sliced strawberries were layered with thick plain Greek Yogurt, drizzles of honey, a dash of cinnamon, and topped with crunchy Kashi Go Lean cereal. It was a fresh and fabulous breakfast.

Use your favorite fruit, yogurt and cereal to create this parfait. Greek yogurt is wonderful because it's thick and keeps you full. Also be sure to choose a low-fat granola or a cereal that's relatively low in sugar and high in fiber and protien. This parfait would even travel well in a container to work (add the cereal on at the end to keep the crunch!). This is a combo that's sure to get us all over the mid-week hump!

September 20, 2010

Pantry to Pot: Spicy Sardine Pasta

Where can the busy cook find dinner in minutes that tastes out-of-this world? Tonight, it's all coming from the pantry:

My friend (and Jersey Blueberry Pie guest blogger) Camille and I were walking along this past weekend when she mentioned she'd made a quick and delicious recipe of sardine pasta this week. She'd been looking into articles about healthy fish and sardines had been at the top of the list. I was glad she reminded me about spicy pasta with sardines -- it was something I had actually meant to whip up for myself for quite some time. The next day, I did.

I found out upon first bite that this is the ultimate dish where healthy meets huge flavor. Cooked quickly in oil over high heat, sardines transform. They no longer threaten to be fishy, instead enhancing everything with their deeply nutty and savory flavor. The sauce, a combination of the chopped sardines, dried parsley, olive oil, and hot pepper flakes, is light  and yet incredibly substantial. When topped with crunchy, toasty breadcrumbs and garlic, delicious is taken to the next level. It's a combination that's absolutely out-of-this world.

The best part is that from start to finish this dish took only fifteen minutes. With only two pans for a quick cleanup, a can of sardines into the recycling and the other few ingredients put back in the shelf, I could relax, savoring every bite slowly. Eating this aromatic and wonderful pasta made me feel like I'd really taken care of myself, which was exactly what I needed on a busy Monday.

Spicy Fettuccine with Sardines: serves two (or one with lunch the next day in my case!)
1/2 lb. linguine or fettuccine pasta
1/4 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs (store bought will also be fine)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Bottled olive oil
1 can of Sardines (preferably smoked and packed in oil)
1 T. hot pepper flakes
1 T. dried parsley
salt & pepper to taste
cooking water from the pasta, reserved.
a lemon wedge, optional

Set a large pot of salted water to boil. When it's ready, add the pasta and cook until just al-dente.
Meanwhile, put 1 T. olive oil in a medium sized pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and breadcrumbs and stir occasionally until toasted and deeply golden. Set aside
Add a few more T. of olive oil to the pan, as well as the chopped sardines and the olive oil they were packed in for more flavor. Cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, then add the pepper flakes, parsley, and the cooked pasta. Toss together, adding 1/4 cup of reserved pasta water at a time to moisten. (Add more pasta water than you think you need: when the breadcrumbs are added back on top of the pasta they soak it up quickly). Season with salt and pepper to taste, top with breadcrumbs, and serve.

September 19, 2010

Rock N' Roll Peanut Butter & Banana Panini

At 8:00 this morning I was up, sneakers laced and ready to hit the trail. The dog had woken me with his usual morning antics of rolling uncontrollably and dragging himself all over the carpet. A pleasure that clearly only he understands.

But this morning wasn't a morning to stay in bed. It was a sunny, crisp Philadelphia Sunday, and I was out for the pleasure that I understand: a swift, powered up and quiet run on a clear morning. My morning runs are my time where I get lost in my thoughts,where yesterday's should-haves tangle with today's to-do's and scatter as my sub-conscious mind somehow focuses without my own awareness, the sun rising higher and shining more brightly with each step.

This morning I got all of the above, yes, I did. But this morning, my six miles were juiced up by something more, something a little different, something that completely rocked.  The Philadelphia Rock N' Roll Marathon.

The twang of electric guitars riveted off the rocks by the river. The bump of the bass resounded beneath my sneaker's rubbery soles. Multiple bands were grooving along the course, still moments too early for signs of the first competitors, and so I felt like they were playing just for me. Well, they kind of were, since I was one of the only souls out there. I was practically dance-running.

Then I saw them: the top runners rounding the corner of Kelly Drive and striding past Boathouse Row at ungodly speeds. Their bodies were all bone and sinewy muscle, arms and legs a lanky blur. I suddenly felt as if I were moving backward. To say the least, I was glad to be an observer of their activity and not a part of it. I rooted for them in my head as they flew by in small groups of two and three, too fast to be a part of the packs and throngs that would come along later.

The inspiration of watching them race and the seriously funky groove of the music had put a bounce in my step all the way home, and without realizing it had shaved minutes off of my usual finishing time. Afterward I stretched in the sunshine, I thought about the runners and wondered, of course, what post-race meal they'd celebrate with.

One of the joys of running is the eating that goes with it, and just looking at how fit those top finishers were had made me hungry. I knew what my post-race meal would be: a Rockin' and Rollin' peanut butter and banana sandwich hot off the griddle. It's a nutty, fun, powered-up meal fit for both Elvis and marathoners alike.

And since the King of Rock's favorite meal was indeed a peanut butter and banana sandwich, I think he'd agree that finishing off the Philadelphia Rock n' Roll Marathon with this delicious sandwich is the equivalent of a one-way ticket to Graceland.

Peanut Butter & Banana Panini:
Preheat eat a griddle pan to medium heat. Meanwhile, spread 1.5 T of smooth peanut butter on each side of two slices of Health Nut bread or other multigrain soft sandwich variety. Slice a slightly overripe banana into 3/4 inch slices and evenly place them over the peanut butter on the bread, then close the sandwich (banana slices should be in between two layers of peanut butter).

Place the sandwich carefully on the griddle and weigh down gently with a press or a couple of cans on top of a pan lid. Then, in a small container, combine 1 T. Earth Balance or other soft butter with 1/2 T. honey.

When the first side of the sandwich is lightly toasted with visible griddle marks, spread the honey butter onto the top of the sandwich and flip it over to finish on the final side.

When the peanut butter is just melted, the bananas soft and warm, and the honey butter crisped on the bread, you're ready to Rock n' Roll with your sweet, salty, and smothery creation!

(Napkin and/or race bib optional).

September 17, 2010

Spicing up the Weekend: Grilling with Five Spice Chicken

Hooray, it's the weekend! What better way to celebrate the start of two days of freedom than with bringing out the grill?

These five-spice chicken legs are unbelievably juicy and tender, and are packed with incredible flavor. Once you make this recipe you'll be hooked. If you're not quite ready to fire up the grill, this recipe loses nothing from being baked in the oven or broiler. If you have a whole-chicken, go wild and roast the entire thing after it's been covered in this marinade. Believe me -- it will get eaten.

The use of five-spice powder and the generous amounts of garlic is the key to wonderful bites of chicken that hit on all the senses. Five-spice is a Chinese style combination that, according to our friend Wikipedia, is said to boast five different flavors: "sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty." I just like to call it delicious.

Happy Friday!

Five-Spice Grilled Chicken: adapted from . Serves 4
6 garlic cloves, pressed
1 T. coarse kosher salt
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 T. Chinese five-spice powder
3 1/2 pounds of chicken (drumsticks, bone-in breast, thighs, or whole)

Combine the garlic, salt, olive oil, and Five Spice powder in a large bowl. Add the chicken pieces and turn to coat well, then refrigerate for 1 hour to a day. Then, either grill the chicken on the grill until crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, or bake in a glass baking dish for about 50 minutes in a 425 degree oven.

Serve with snow peas or broccoli and rice.

September 15, 2010

Chorizo and Cheddar Calzones

Calzones: what fun! It was like a mid-week party for two.

How easy and simple. I wonder why I didn't think to make them sooner. Perhaps when I have pizza dough around it comes down to the fact that I love pizza too much to forego its traditional use. But these calzones have won me over completely.  Pizza dough is fair game now: it will be my crusty, crunchy vehicle for other delicious creations.

We cut the ball of dough into fourths. Each one of these fourths would form one personal-sized calzone (read: huge dinner). The dough balls rested on a floured board for about a half-hour as the oven preheated to 400 degrees.

When they were ready to be rolled, each ball was shaped into a wide circle of thin dough. Half of each circle was then spread generously with fresh tomato sauce, then topped with our filling of diced onions, spicy soy chorizo, and lots of cheddar cheese. The dough was then folded over the top of the filling and pressed on all sides with a fork dipped in a little milk to seal. All was done within minutes, and they went into the oven to bake:

Holy piping-hot cheesy, oozy goodness! I couldn't even believe my eyes or mouth. M and I barely spoke during dinner. How could we? And why should we? There were these calzones to be eaten. The talking came afterward, once our plates were cleaned and our mouths smiling. We sat at the table for a long time then, the darkness hovering outside as we lingered, completely relaxed and fulfilled.

That's what I call a perfect weeknight.

Calzones: serves 2-4 depending on how much dough and fillings you use
1 package store-bought herbed pizza dough, cut into fourths
Flour for the board
1 cup tomato sauce
Fillings of your choice: we used 1/2 package of soy chorizo and 3/4 cup mixed cheddar and Mexican blend cheese for a non-traditional calzone
2 T. milk

Dust the board with flour and let the dough rest, covered with a dish towel. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. When ready, roll each dough ball out into a circle until the dough is rather thin but not thin enough to break, about 1/4 inch. spread sauce over half of each circle, leaving about 1/2 inch of room around the sides.  Then add the filling, again leaving room around the sides, and gently pull the other half of the dough over the filling. With a fork dipped in milk, fold the sides over each other and press down gently to seal. Poke a few holes in the top of each calzone and brush with the rest of the milk. Transfer to a pan or pizza stone and bake until crusty, firm, and uniformly golden brown. Serve immediately.

September 13, 2010

Beet & Blue Cheese Tart

Hello, feelings of fall. You greeted me with a rainy, cool mid-September Sunday.

And I greeted you with a warm and savory beet and blue cheese tart. 

First I lined the pan with roasted beets, still slightly warm, their deep red staining my cutting board and fingers.

Then I poured on the blue cheese filling. Thick, fresh blue cheese. It smelled pungent and wonderful.

Those earthy beets balanced the flavor of the blue cheese with a tender sweetness, like bright sunshine does when it brings warmth to a brisk and cool fall day. 

As it baked, there were incredible smells of sugary pastry and buttery cheese.

The beets had gotten warm and perfectly tender while they hid, nestled underneath a piping-hot blanket of perfectly golden crust.

When I sliced the first slice, I felt myself transition...

... I felt myself slide into the months ahead, with their crisp sunshine and brightly falling leaves.
Slowly, gently, and deliciously with every bite.

Beet and Blue Cheese Tart:
1 sheet prepared pastry crust or homemade crust
2 medium to large beets, peeled and roasted in olive oil until tender
8 oz. fresh quality blue cheese
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk (I used 1/2 cup cream and 1/4 cup 1%)
1 t. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9" tart pan, then lay the pastry filling inside and up the edges, pressing to even out the top edges. Next, slice the beets into 1/4 inch slices and line the bottom of the tart to cover completely, overlapping where necessary. Then, combine the eggs, cheese, milk, and salt in a bowl and pour over the beets. Place tart in the oven and bake for approx. 40 minutes or until evenly golden and bubbly.

September 11, 2010

Weekends are for Omelettes

Hmm. Okay. Until I just now typed  the word "omelet" I realized that I had never before in my life written the word down. What a strange word. It keeps getting stranger the longer that I look at it, and I initially left out the first "e" when titling this post.

I'm done now. That's enough morning confessions for me.

Indeed, weekends are for omelettes. Weekends are for all those wonderful, slow and methodical foods that Monday through Friday simply don't make time for. That said, an omelette isn't complicated or time consuming, and that's part of what makes it so great. But, this breakfast is a bit special for a weekday...

When I was a child I had an omelet every single morning before school. I realized only after leaving home for college just how special I actually was to receive this daily gift of hot, cheesy goodness atop a crunchy buttered bagel. You see, my father was the man behind the breakfast, and though life as an empty-nester has led him to long put away his whisk and pan, what he gave me was a childhood full of morning thankfulness.

Each morning, my father would rise at 4:00am. I'd drift from sleep as I heard his steps slowly creaking down our staircase in the dark. Then, I'd wake again, this time for good, to the return of his creaking steps coming up the back deck at 6:00am. He'd go straight to it, dropping his gym bag in the laundry room, and soon I'd hear the sound of eggs being whisked in the bowl and smell the toasted crumbs of the cheddar cheese bagels he loved to pick out for us from the store's bakery.

When I finally stumbled downstairs, dressed and ready at 6:30, he'd present me with my plate: a golden yellow omelet oozing with sharp and creamy dark orange cheddar cheese, and a lovely butter-yellow bagel on the side, toasted to perfection and marbled with deep cheddar swirls. 

Simply remembering these mornings now makes me want to exclaim, "how lucky was I!?" But truly, I wasn't lucky because of the food. The food was secondary. I was lucky because the food was love in its most pure, caring, parental form. Thanks, Dad.

Now, I make myself my own omelettes, such as this feta, mozzarella, and spinach creation below.... and now that I'm on my own there are no weekday omelettes: weekends are for omelettes.

It was savory and filling, lovely in every way. I've learned that to make a good omelet it's best if the eggs are brought to room temperature for a while before making, and that the pan be thoroughly pre-heated over low heat for an even crust.

Whether my dad did all these things or not, I don't know. What I do know is that what he did for twelve years was absolutely perfect.

Lauren's Omelet for One:
2 fresh large eggs
1 T. water
1/2 t. sea salt
1 t. hot sauce
Fillings of choice: cheeses, meats, vegetables.
Pepper to taste

Directions: Coat a 6" pan with cooking spray or butter. Bring to medium heat, then reduce to low. Meanwhite, whisk the eggs, water, salt, and hot sauce in a bowl until light and fluffy. Pour the eggs into the pan. When a crust begins to form, pick up the pan and gently swirl the uncooked egg around the sides to distribute it outward, then add your toppings evenly. Be careful not to add too much weight to break the eggs when it's flipped over. When you're able to gently lift up one side of the omelet with a spatula, you're ready to flip it. Work the spatula underneath half of the omelet, then quickly fold in half. Serve immediately, with buttered toast or bagel.

September 9, 2010

Tofu Pad Thai

It's been a crazy week. For having a short one, I think as much has been packed into four days as I can possibly handle at once. During busy weeks, many people turn to takeout for relief from the stress. Instead, I find relief in cooking a homemade dinner that only tastes as good as takeout.

This pad thai is so easy and fast that it's ready in the time it would take to dail and wait for the doorbell to ring. And, on my lovely new student's budget (read: there is no budget since there is no income. Budget = spend as little as possible) it's wonderful to save, oh, say, ten bucks off what pad thai from the corner restaurant would have cost me. Make that twenty, actually, since this pad thai fed both M and me generously and cost only a couple of dollars!

Now that's making your meal work for you, and not the other way around.

For all the busy hours and days you put in, isn't that exactly what you deserve? Payback has never tasted so good!

Tofu Pad Thai: serves 2
1/2 package rice noodles (4 oz.)
1/8 cup peanuts, finely chopped
1/2 t. grated lime peel 
2 T. fish sauce
1 T. lime juice (lemon is ok if you don't have lime)
1 T. packed brown sugar
3 T. rice vinegar
1 T. Asian chile sauce
1 T. cooking oil
1/2 package of firm or extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed
1/2 T. garlic, finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup assorted veggies of your choice (bean sprouts, small cuts of carrot, corn, broccoli)
1/4 cup sliced green onion

Completely cover the rice noodles with hot water in a large bowl. Let them soak for 15 minutes, while you do the rest of the steps. Combine peanut and lime peel toppings and set aside. Combine fish sauce, lime juice, brown sugar, rice vinegar, and chile sauce in a small bowl and stir to incorporate, then set aside.

Heat the T. of oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add the vegetables and tofu and stir fry for about four minutes until heated through. Meanwhile, drain the noodles well. Add the garlic and the egg and stir quickly to scramble. Add the noodles and pour the sauce over them, and stir fry for two minutes, until everything is coated in sauce. Divide between two plates and top with the peanuts and lime. Serve immediately.

September 8, 2010

Scrumptious Black Bean Cheeseburgers

topped with spicy chipotle mayo & served with cumin carrots:

YUM! It's one of my favorite weeknight dinners. Healthy but incredibly flavorful, I am absolutely in love with these easy, delicious, and budget-friendly burgers.

Whip up some creamy chipotle mayo to top them with -- it's an addition that makes a wonderful difference. Just mix hot sauce, cayenne pepper, a dash of chili powder, and mayo. It's a spread that is both cool and spicy at the same time.  With every bite it smothers the lightly crisped burger in a positively delectable, heavenly way.

The bean patty itself is toasty on the outside and soft on the inside. It's earthy, richly flavorful, and simply feels good to eat. It's all best when served between an extra-soft hamburger bun. Perhaps you'll want to top yours with sour cream, guacamole, salsa, shredded lettuce...

... with a side of sweet and spicy cumin scented carrots, I think I'll take this burger just the way it is: purely delicious.

Black Bean Burgers: serves 2
1/4 of a Spanish onion
1 (14-oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained. Divide in two portions.
2 T. mayo
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. chile powder
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
1/8 cup cilantro, chopped (optional)
1 T. olive oil
2 soft hamburger buns
1/2 cup shredded Mexican cheese blend

Process the Spanish onion, then pulse 1/2 the can of beans together with the mayo, bread crumbs, and spices until a lumpy puree forms. Transfer into a bowl and stir together with the 1/2 can of whole beans. Preheat pan to medium-high heat, then add the olive oil. Form two evenly sized patties, as from 3/4-1" thick, then place down in the pan. Heat for a couple of minutes on one side, then when it's crisped, flip over. In the last minute of cooking, add the cheese on top to melt and toast the bun if you'd like. Top with chipotle mayo and any other desired toppings. 

Cumin Carrots:
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch rounds
1 T. olive oil
1 t. salt
1 t. cayenne pepper
2 t. cumin
1 t. hot sauce
1/2 t. cinnamon

Toss together all the ingredients in a bowl, until the carrots are evenly coated with the oil and spices. Heat a pan over medium heat and add the entire bowl's contents. Cook the carrots until tender and soft.

September 7, 2010

Basil Dressing... An Extension of Summer Vacation

It can't be over, it just can't be! Where did the summer go? And why so suddenly, it seems?

How could it be that just yesterday I was jogging along the cliffs in Newport, Rhode Island, shielding the morning sun from my eyes as I watched surfers battle the waves... and today? Today I was biking through the streets of Philly, shielding my eyes from the morning sun as I prayed not to get sideswiped by a cab or fly into a pothole. I was en-route to spend the day with over a hundred nervous and excited 9th graders on their first day of high school.

Despite summer being in my proverbial rear-view-mirror, today was an awesome day. How much fun is the first day of school!? How much more fun is it to watch new students navigate new friends in a new school, and to get to help them do that? It was pretty darn fun. I think I'll go back tomorrow.

Anyway, this post is about basil dressing, I promise. I'll get to the point: ending my day with big bites of crispy salad and juicy tomatoes coated in this cool and creamy basil dressing was like a second chance at summer, if just for the evening.

Once again, basil saves the day! Each pulse of the processor released that lovely and familiar fragrance of sweet basil as it was mixed with the tart tang of fresh lemon and gently pungent kick of white onion. What a fabulous dressing it was. Completely light and entirely refreshing.

It is an absolute pleasure to eat. It's a pandora's box of all that is delicious and carefree in life.... I encourage you to eat it all September long with fond dreams of your summer months.

Basil Dressing:
1 cup basil, rinsed
1/4 small white onion, or 1/2 shallot
3 T. light mayo
2 T. quality olive oil
2 T. white balsamic vinegar (can use dark balsamic, only the color will be affected)
3/4 T. salt
a generous squeeze of 1/4 of a lemon
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all of the above ingredients in a food processor, in the order they are listed, until well incorporated. Dressing will be slightly textured.

September 3, 2010

It's Labor Day Weekend! Roll Out the Dough and Fire Up the Grill.

It's a Labor Day post: a post both yummy and fun enough to get me through the long weekend. It's a party in a post.

Summer is coming to end end, and rather than cry about it, I say "fire up the grill!" Nothing says summer than food off the BBQ, eaten outdoors, citronella candles lit and dusk settling in.

In this case, we fired up the coals for a very special round of grilled pizza. My Aunt Judy, Uncle Jack, and cousin Jamie threw a little grilled pizza party when we were all out on Martha's Vineryard together (Judy and Jack's other three kids, Jon, Jennie, and Jason had unfortunately already gone home... to be with the dogs Jada, Josie, and Juno)....

Anyway, where were we? Yes, grilled pizzas.

Not just pizzas, plural, but thirty grilled pizzas were made that night. They just kept on churning them out.

This was my Aunt Judy's lineup of dough:

It's like a little pizza army, ready and waiting.

This dough carries secrets with it: It is bread dough. Simple, frozen store bought bread dough. Perhaps that secret what makes every little pizza pie so extraordinarily fluffy and chewy in the inside, and perfectly golden and toasty on the outside (grill marks included).

Aunt Judy lets the dough thaw a bit, then slices each dough loaf into two. She places them on floured cookie sheets to raise and reach room temperature, tucking them in with love underneath clean dish towels. While this is happening, she uses the time to prepare many delicious toppings (see below).

When she's ready to grill she cranks it to its highest setting and when it's piping hot turns it back down to low and sprays with a bit of grill spray. She then stretches out the dough, one by one until fairly thin and about 9" - 10" in diameter, then places each on the grill in turn. When the bottom of the dough is golden-brown it gets flipped over, drizzled with olive oil, then a handful of Parmesan cheese, and then whatever topping combination is next on the list.

Then, her toppings get topped: with fresh garlic, a bit of salt, more mozzarella and parmesan. Each pie then gets moved over to the right side of the grill so she can start making the next pizza. The pizza gets taken off the grill once it appears that the cheese has entirely melted.

But let's back up a minute to that mention of "toppings." I'll share a few with you here:

These are action shots, for sure. These pizza slices were flying off the pan and into our mouths as soon as the cutter lifted a centimeter from the dough... our family knows how to have a real pizza party!

Crisp broccoli and juicy grilled chicken with creamy alfredo sauce:

Fiery and saucy Franks Red Hot buffalo chicken smothered in a blend of Mexican and Mozzarella cheeses:

Crisp, salty bacon and fresh clams (surf & turf pizza!):

Grilled eggplant picked straight from the garden, with delicious red sauce:

My favorite: sweet, soft caramelized onions with sausage and bacon. A total dream...

The Margarita pizza is a classic, with huge, thick slices of fluffy buffalo mozzarella warmed over sliced fresh tomatoes:

And meaty, succulent slices of grilled steak with juicy sauteed mushrooms and savory onions. Life could truly not get any better:

Some of the topping combinations that were cranked out didn't make it into the photo shoot. We simply eat way too fast for that in this family.

At her Connecticut home, Aunt Judy grills pizzas every Friday, and usually it's for a crowd. As she notes, "many of my kid's friends just happen to show up at dinnertime..." If I lived any closer, I would, too. Aunt Judy is my wonderful godmother, and indeed, her pizzas are a gift from God.

Judy has a reputation for being adventurous with her pizzas and has been known to top her pies with anything from mashed potatoes, to every single scrap left in her toppings bowls, to whatever is left over in the refrigerator on that given Friday night (potato salad, squid, and cut up meatballs have all made the list).

Regardless of the toppings, each of these pies is intensely delicious. There's something magical that happens when fluffy bread dough meets piping hot grill... and there's something even more magical that happens when extended family is lucky enough to be together in one place, from the West Coast to the East, to share it all... Down to the very last bite.

September 1, 2010

Spicy Sesame Seared Tuna Steak, and Other Thoughts


Last night was a hot one. There was a brisk breeze that provided little relief with its warm gusts, hinting heavily at the hurricane heading toward us. 

It was one of those nights where the sun was fire-red in the sky and glowed brighter and deeper as it sunk lower and lower. I watched it fall like a fire between the Wharton Building and one of Penn's dormitory high rises, then finally disappear completely.

I sat outside with the dog and my books to study, but only stared out at the scene of the Schuylkill River Banks. Joggers, parents with strollers, bikers, lovers. I wanted to remember the night -- the way it looked, felt, smelled.

I am bad with change. I take episodes of change to heart and carry them with me with a full weight. Change is why I wanted to soak up every minute of last night; it was the evening before my last day at work, a job I've been in for two years, and my first and only job I've had since moving to Philadelphia. Next Tuesday starts a new chapter in my personal and professional life, when I begin as a counseling intern at a Philly high school.
It's going to be worlds different.

Perhaps that is why this creature of habit needed one thing not to change last night. I needed an element of predictability and comfort, and so I prepared a dinner for myself that I almost always prepare when I'm alone and M is on call for the night: a tuna steak.

This tuna steak was hot and fiery, like the setting sun. Yet it cooled itself with a glaze of soy and garlic. It filled the air of my apartment with the succulent smell of smoking sesame oil, pungent and savory. Each time I walked through my own front door the lingering aroma caused me to inhale deeply.

What a delicious evening in every way.

Maybe tuna steaks on nights alone are my own little element of predictability. And yet, this recipe was everything but predictable, which provided the perfect balance for my whirlwind of thoughts. 


Change, here I come.

Sesame Seared Tuna Steak: serves one, but simply multiply the ingredients and number of steaks to serve more than one. Delicious with rice or noodles for a quick and lovely dinner.
1 thick tuna steak 
4 T. soy sauce
1 t. hot chili paste
1 t. garlic powder
1 T. sesame seeds
1 T. hot or regular sesame oil

Mix the soy sauce, chili paste, and garlic powder in a shallow dish. Pat the tuna steak dry, then press into the marinade on both sides. Allow to sit in the marinade for 15 minutes. Heat a pan to medium hot, then add the sesame oil. Meanwhile, press the tuna steak into the sesame seeds on both sides, then place the tuna steak down into the hot oiled pan. Allow to cook for two minutes a side, then remove immediately. 

Serve with wilted spinach or green beans cooked in the remainder of the marinade.


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