Tag Archives: food

Have I mentioned my book?

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

My husband Jason and I received I a picinic “basket” as a wedding gift from our friend, Jess. The vintage suitcase arrived, filled with beautiful, reclaimed flatware and serving ware, linens and wine glasses. Like Jess, it is fabulous-casual. You know, like those friends who roll out of bed, pull on whatever clothes lay about their feet, and end up looking like the cover of Vogue?

Now I needed a dish as fabulous as the picnic case. Something that we could serve with a bottle of sparkling rosé, sipped by ladies in gloves and men wearing hats and suspenders.

Et voilà, I succeeded! This herb-poached chicken is perfectly moist. The dry wine, peppercorns and bay ground a beautiful sauce. It’s made slightly sweet by the chicken, tarragon and butter. Cook it ahead and serve it cold with cucumbers dressed in Merlot vinegar, French potato salad and slices of sweet, clean, white peaches and nectarines.

Now I just need a hat.

*I was recently advised that I needed to get comfortable with shameless self-promotion in order to sell my upcoming book, Simple Summer: A Recipe for Cooking and Entertaining with Ease. Here’s one of the recipes. I hope you enjoy it. How was that for shameless?

Herb poached chicken

Serves 6

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 chicken breast halves
  • 3 sprigs tarragon
  • 3-4 sprigs parsley
  • 4-5 chives
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 tsp whole peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbs Champagne Mimosa* or other white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbs cold butter, cut in pieces

*Sightly sweet and beautiful balanced, the mild acidity of Sapore’s Champagne Mimosa vinegar brightens this dish and many summer salads without overpowering the fresh ingredients.

Serve light-tasting French potato salad with this white wine, herb-poached chicken.

Serve light-tasting French potato salad with this white wine, herb-poached chicken.

Directions:

  • Warm oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add onion and sauté until softened and translucent, about 6-7 minutes. Reduce heat if needed, to cook onions without browning.
  • Add garlic and cook two minutes, until fragrant.
  • Place chicken breasts in pan in a single layer. Tuck herbs between chicken.
  • Mix together wine and stock, and pour into pan.
  • Cover pan and bring to a simmer. Cook chicken for 10-15 minutes until done, 165 degrees. Be careful not to let poaching liquid boil.
  • Remove chicken to a platter and tent with foil.
  • Add peppercorns, bay leaves and vinegar to pan and simmer until reduced by half. Strain sauce, discard solids and return liquid to pan.
  • Add any juices that have collected under the chicken and cook until reduced to 1 cup.
  • Remove sauce from heat and whisk in butter to thicken.
  • Serve warm or chill and serve cold. Either way, don’t forget the sauce.
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Love from the C’bus.

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C’bus is short for Columbus, OH and this week it played host, along with my dear friend Ray, to a wonderful evening of good food and even better company. The experience started with a trip to Columbus’ North Market for groceries. Big shout out to Lan Viet for her generous gift of Thai basil and to Ben and co. at North Market Spices for beautiful ground cardamom – I can’t wait to stop back and stock up before my return to DC!

These ingredients, along with fresh, ripe summer fruit, were the inspiration for our dessert: peaches and blueberries, macerated in sugar and cardamom and topped with Thai basil-infused, hand-whipped cream. The spicy, licorice-y Thai basil was pleasantly herbal, but chopping it finely with sugar covered the grassy flavor. The warm, bright cardamom brought out the rich sweetness of the peaches and acidity of the blueberries achieving perfect balance.

It was a simple finish to a spectacular evening. Thank you C’bus. It is always a pleasure.

Peaches and Blueberries with Thai Basil Whipped Cream

Macerating means letting the fruit soften in its own juices. If your peaches don’t release a little juice on their own, add a squeeze of lemon juice.

Ingredients:

  • 3 peaches, sliced*
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 2 tbs roughly chopped Thai Basil
  • 1-2 tbs sugar
  • 2 cups heavy or whipping cream

*You can peel the peaches if you have a fuzzy texture issue, but that just seemed like a lot of work to me. You can slice as thin or thick as you like. Thin slices give each bite a better balance with the blueberries.

Directions:

  • Toss sliced peaches and blueberries together with cardamom and sugar. Let macerate in fridge for 30-45 minutes. If they don’t release any liquid after the first 15 minutes, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. How liquify this gets depends on how juicy your fruit is. Just go with it.
  • Sprinkle the roughly chopped basil with the sugar and chop together until the basil is broken down almost as finely as the sugar.
  • Whisk the cream to soft peaks. Then whisk in the basil sugar.
  • Serve the fruit topped with a generous dollop of cream. And by “dollop” I mean “giant spoonful.”

“I’ll take ‘things you can make from scratch’ please, Alex.”

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It’s not often I pull out a cookbook and follow a recipe step by step. Usually faced with an ingredient or inspiration, I pull book after book off the shelf combing them to profile flavors and techniques before hitting the kitchen to experiment. But recently I was bored.

Armed with thick-cut, bone-in pork chops, the season’s first fresh peaches and young zucchini, I wanted to do more than salt, pepper, olive oil and fresh herbs. I went to my go-to, Chris Schlesinger, the chef of Cambridge, MA East Coast Grill, and he didn’t disappoint. I made his barbecue sauce and marinated, grilled zucchini as written. It was delicious!

No longer bored, I was inspired. The grilled peaches were delicious, but I wanted that peach flavor right on the grilled pork. I started by cooking down fresh peaches into a thick pulp, then deglazed the pan with peach infused vinegar. Cumin, cardamom and dry mustard gave depth, chili powder and fresh ginger heat, and a chili oil delivered smokiness. Glazed grilled pork chops were delicious. as were the Asian Barbecue sausages from Eastern Market’s Canales Meats.

Peach Barbecue Sauce

Rule #1 of barbecue sauce: use it toward the end of your cooking and place your sauced ingredients just to the side, not directly over, the hot coals, so it glazes. Otherwise the sugars will burn. About 2 minutes per side, right at the end.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs butter
  • 1/2 Candy Sweet red onion, diced, about 1 cup
  • 2 peaches, diced.
  • 1 tbs minced ginger
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 /2 cup Peach Vinegar*
  • 1 /2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried mustard
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 cup Red Chili Chilean Oil*

*Order these online from DC’s Sapore Oil and Vinegar or substitute with white vinegar and a chopped chipotle chili.

Directions:

  • In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, sauté onion in butter until softened.
  • Add peaches and ginger. Cook until they are soft and mash with a fork. If your pan gets dry add a little water or peach juice to keep peaches from burning.
  • Add all remaining ingredients except Chili oil and simmer for 20 minutes until thickened.
  • Add chili oil and simmer for 2 additional minutes to bring together.
  • Season to taste with additional oil, vinegar or molasses, salt and pepper. You are looking for a nice balance of acidity, sweetness and fruit.
  • Use immediately or store in the fridge. I don’t know how long it will hold. We keep eating all of ours.

Alice Waters, this combination is divine.

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Corn and Zucchini Pasta’s inclusion in Chez Panisse Vegetables is more of a concept than a recipe. Alice provides ingredients and technique leaving the vagaries of measurements and time to the individual cook. This is recipe trading grandmother style. “What do you mean measurements? You can just feel when you’ve got it right.”

It’s a gift. You learn more in the making than you ever could in rote execution. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Practice your knife skills. Cut the zucchini down into a 1/4″ dice, approximately the same size as the corn kernels.
  • Fresh pasta isn’t just un-dried. Fresh pasta is traditionally made with eggs and soft wheat “00” flour while dried pasta is made with just hard durum wheat and water. An easy rule of thumb is to use fresh pasta for light dishes and cream sauces. Dried pasta is your choice for heartier sauces like Bolognese and Carbonara.
  • Large pasta is tough to mix with small ingredients. When tossing the corn and zucchini with the fresh fettucini that Alice recommends, you end up with all the veggies in the bottom of the bowl. Orzo is easier to mix through.
  • Butter is a condiment. Add it at the end. Don’t even think of leaving it out. It adds a necessary richness.

Corn And Zucchini Pasta

This tastes just as good hot as it does as a cold pasta salad.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 large candy sweet or yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 jalapeño, minced
  • 2 cups zucchini, finely diced (about 1-2 medium)
  • 2 ears corn, kernels removed
  • 1 cup Orzo, uncooked
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 2-3 tbs chopped cilantro or parsley
  • Champagne Mimosa or Sherry Vinegar

Directions:

  • Bring a 4 qt pot of water to a boil and salt heavily, 2 tbs.
  • Heat olive oil in a 12” sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened.
  • Add garlic and jalapeño and cook 30 seconds until fragrant.
  • Turn up heat to medium high and add zucchini.
  • When you add the zucchini to the pan, add the pasta to boiling water.
  • When zucchini is softened but firm add corn and cook 1 minute.
  • When pasta is still undercooked – firm in the center, strain it, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid. Add pasta and liquid to vegetables. Cook until water has evaporated.
  • Add cilantro and butter. Season to taste with vinegar, salt and pepper.

Every bit as good as you remember.

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Katrina and I made this soup together in the summer of 1994 in Waterville, ME. She had rented an apartment downtown off the Concourse and I drove up from my summer job, waiting tables, in Boothbay Harbor. In the thick, wet August heat we sat in the kitchen, fan humming, drinking chilled, cheap, white wine and flipping through her copy of Mooosewood, looking for ways to avoid turning on the stove.

If you grew up eating healthy food in the 70’s and early 80’s you grew up with Moosewood. Your Mom had paperback copies of the Moosewood Cookbook and Enchanted Broccoli Forest on the shelf. The pages were stained for every recipe she had made from spinach-crust quiche to Confetti Spaghetti. This is where we first encountered whole wheat, honey and wheat germ. It was healthy whole food before we decided that real food couldn’t possibly be healthy.

We tested this soup the other night without consulting Mollie but I think we’re close. For texture, we seeded the cucumbers, then shredded them with the box grater rather than the food processor. Thin, fresh, full-fat Amish yogurt was a perfect base. Mint and dill added brightness and a squeeze of lemon brought the tartness we were missing. We thinned the soup with water without watering it down.

Testing the recipe at 10pm on a hot muggy night in DC I was back on college. Katrina, who I had not spoken to in fifteen years, had contacted me on Facebook just that day. The soup was every bit as good as I remember, and the wine was just a little bit better.

Creamy Cucumber Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 shallot
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 large cucumbers, grated
  • 2 cups Amish yogurt, plain
  • 1 tbs mint, finely diced
  • 2 tbs dill, chopped
  • 1 cup cold water
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Onions and diced cucumbers for garnish

Directions:

  • Using a microplane, grate the shallot and garlic into a large bowl.
  • Stir in the cucumbers and yogurt.
  • Stir through fresh herbs.
  • Add water to dilute to desired consistency.
  • Season to taste with lemon juice, salt and pepper. You may not need to use all of the juice. Add a tablespoon or two at a time.
  • Garnish with diced onions, cucumbers.

Eating salad should be a “want to,” not a “have to.” (Part 1 of 52)

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Remember that point when salad became something you had to choke down with dinner each night because it was good for you? That was when you fell in love with salad dressings: Ranch, Thousand Island and Italian started a habit that lead to more sophisticated dressings like jars of Marie’s Blue Cheese, Judie’s Poppyseed Dressing (and popovers!) and Newman’s Own Balsamic Vinaigrette.

These dressings were all good, but it was like doctors treating the symptom while missing the disease. We were covering up for the increasingly tasteless vegetables we were bringing home from the grocery store. No more. Welcome to 52 weeks of holistic healing for your daily meal.

In my entry for a simple vinaigrette, I mention that it is the most asked for recipe I serve in my home, and the variations are without end. Starting this week I am going to blog 52 weeks of recipes that will take the salad from a must eat back to the vaunted want-to-eat status it deserves.

This is the last time you go to the grocery store, pick up a bag of tasteless Romaine hearts and slather them in thick Ranch or Blue Cheese to stop the pain. Today we start with fresh ingredients, make our own dressings and dress our ingredients lightly. Your perfectly dressed salad should glisten lightly with dressing. When you are done serving there should be almost no dressing in the bottom of the bowl.

To good taste and good health (and the occasional wedge of iceberg slathered in Marie’s rich blue cheese).

White Peach and Nectarine Salad with Mesclun Greens

The honey helps bring out the sweetness in the fruit. White peaches and nectarines taste sweeter than their yellow cousins because of lower acidity.

Ingredients:

  • 1 white nectarine, thinly sliced
  • 1 white peach, thinly sliced
  • 4 -6 cups mesclun greens – two big handfuls or so

For dressing:

  • 1/4 cup peach vinegar*
  • 1 tbs chopped tarragon
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 tbs honey
  • 1/2 cup mild grassy olive oil like Koroneiko*

*Peach vinegar and Koroneiko olive oil are now available online from Sapore Oil and Vinegar in DC. If you want some quick substitutions to toss this together tonight, use a light white wine vinegar with a good quality olive oil.

Directions:

  • Whisk together vinegar, tarragon, shallot and honey with a pinch of salt and crack or three of pepper.
  • Mix the fruit and greens in a large bowl.
  • Whisk the oil into the dressing in a thin stream until it gets thick and creamy.
  • Taste your dressing with leaf of the greens. Correct seasoning and lightly dress your salad.

Crécy is not French for “carrot.”

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Anything this orange, made with root vegetables, should be served on a crisp fall day – rich and hearty with a crusty bread and some good farm-fresh butter (which I evangelize about here). But this carrot-beet soup is light and fresh, tastes as good cold as it does served hot and is perfect for summer.

Arriving home from a trip to the Market with baby carrots and golden beets, I began searching cookbooks for salads and sautés. Stumbling across a recipe for Potage Crécy first made me think of soup. Crécy, it turns out, is not French for orange root vegetables, but refers to a town known, once-upon-a-time, for growing exceptional carrots. However, there is debate about which of two French towns, one in the south and one in the north, each with Crécy in its name, first served up this light summer soup.

Reading through several recipes, I discovered a basic formula of carrots cooked with onions and stock, puréed and flavored with orange. We added the golden beets, sweet but far less earthy than red ones. I grabbed a bottle of Sapore’s Orange Oil off the shelf and we served up three bowls, each seasoned differently. It was a quick bite after adding turmeric but before adding cumin that was our favorite – although curry was a close second. Served warm, it is light and sweet. Once chilled it is herbal and far more carrot-y. Both are delicious.

Potage Crécy

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs butter
  • 1 candy sweet onion, or white onion, diced
  • 4 cups thinly sliced carrots
  • 3 cups diced golden beets
  • 1 tbs minced garlic
  • 6-8 cups vegetable stock
  • 3 tbs Orange Oil*
  • 1/2 tsp Turmeric
  • 1/3 cup cream
  • Sherry vinegar

*If you don’t have Orange Oil, substitute 3 tbs olive oil, and one tablespoon grated orange zest

Directions:

  • Melt butter over medium heat in a 4 quart soup pot. Sauté onions until
  • soft and translucent.
  • Add carrots and beets. Sauté 7-10 minutes until golden on edges. Add ginger after 5 minutes.
  • Add stock and simmer approximately 30 minutes until vegetables can be mashed with a fork.
  • Pass soup through the finest blade of a food mill or purée with a blender. Return to pot.
  • Stir in Orange Oil and simmer an additional 5 minutes to bring flavors together.
  • Remove from heat, let cool slightly, and stir through cream.
  • Add turmeric a little at a time so as to not overpower the carrot flavor.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper and sherry vinegar.
  • Serve hot or cold.