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Archive for June, 2010

Sometimes I wish being the person I want to be was as simple as setting the resolution and waking the next day to feel myself transformed. While self-reflection is at the heart of many successful practices like religion, meditation, sports performance and professional development it can sometimes feel less than rewarding.

Example:
Step 1- Set general and glorious expectation.
Step 2- Fail at executing expectation, or worse yet, forget the goal.
Step 3- Reprimand self for failing to meet above expectation.

Rinse and repeat. After repeated cycles one may begin to wonder if it’s the expectation or the lack of discipline in the execution. In reality, it’s likely that the goal itself is so big and so general that the project is doomed from the start, like willing oneself to grow an elephant foot. It just doesn’t work like that, and perhaps thankfully so. The challenge is to keep positive and keep persevering.

We had the windows open the other night as a gaggle of young humans were waddling by when we heard this:

Gramma, Grrrrramma! I love walking by this house, there’s always someone cooking!!

I brightened.
I blushed.
I beamed.

And I thought: Does cooking makes me a better version of myself? We should all be reminded what things we do that we can be proud of (even if it’s a child’s voice floating in the window)… that we wouldn’t mind people peeking into our lives and taking note. Much like taking stock of what’s on hand in the kitchen, we must also inventory our personal larder in order to know what makes us special and to continue growing and moving forward. Good recipes offer us a step by step instruction manual for success and we’re rewarded with an effort that is greater than the sum of its parts because it allows us to put into action simple values statements.

Food (finding or cooking) provides little moments that reinforce the things we do that define us. A daily pronouncement of what we believe, what we prioritize. That could be eating local, not eating meat, finding the best restaurants, doing the best you can on a budget, making sure your busy family comes together for dinner, focusing on fruits and vegetables, getting your kids involved in the kitchen…
For me, just making food, making good choices about where it comes from and putting on the table with love are my hallmarks. That’s an identity to channel everyday… and much easier than growing an elephant foot.

I‘m a Good Person Butternut Squash Soup with Life is Delicious Grilled Goat Cheese Sandwiches


For the soup:
Peel and cut into chunks two medium butternut squash. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes. Meanwhile heat a medium pan over medium heat with two tablespoons butter, when it foams add thin slices of half a large onion, one chopped rib of celery, 1 chile de arbol, 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon, 1 teaspoon salt and some freshly ground pepper. Sautee until lightly caramelized. Add squash pieces and stir. Turn the heat to medium high and splash in 1/4 cup dry sherry, reduce for 3 minutes. Add six cups of water to the pot and allow to simmer for 30 minutes. Puree carefully and keep warm on the stove while finishing the sandwiches.

For the sandwiches:
Heat small sautee pan with 2 tablespoons butter, when it foams add thin slices of one half a large onion. Sautee on low heat stirring occasionally until deeply browned, about 30 minutes. Remove onions from pan and wipe with a paper towel.
Meanwhile slice a good quality loaf of bread, as much as you think you will need for as many people as you are serving. Lightly butter one side of each slice. Smear the other side of each bread with a thin layer of goat cheese (honey-lavender is amazing), carmelized onion, several pieces of spring mix (or spinach) and then top with another slice of bread with cheese facing the onion and buttered side facing up. Place in warm skillet over medium heat, cooking each side until golden brown and cheese is starting to melt.






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I hear it all the time:
Is this a beet?
It’s sooo good!
I even didn’t think I liked beets!

Well, I’ve got news for you people, the beet is your friend. It is your friend not only because it is nourishing to your body, beautiful to look upon but (dun, dun, DUN!) easy to prepare. Oh, and lest I forget (!)… it’s also a permanent two-for-one-deal.

I know, I KNOW… you’re still picturing a buttered beet side dish that came out of a can served to you by Great Aunt Hilda. Delete that from memory bank immediately and permanently because beets are pretty, well sexy.

Picture bright half moons of earthy sweetness in a salad with your favorite fixin’s like blue cheese and walnuts, lobster and avocado or oranges and mint. Even just served sliced and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, they make an elegant side dish. This is all easy-peasy when you have some roasted beets on hand in the fridge.

My beet protocol is something like this: Buy beets at the farmers market. Preferably smaller ones but I look most intently at the greens attached making sure they are bright and healthy looking. On that day or the next, when I happen to have the oven hot for something else I snip the greens from the root, leaving about an inch of stem attached to the beet and then prepare as described below and toss into the fridge for use throughout the week. Featured in salads usually or always a nice addition to the plate when you need a bit of color to round things out.

Now for this two-for-one bit I mentioned earlier… don’t throw away those greens! Once snipped from their bulbus counterpart remove the green part of the leaf from the pinkish stems and wash throughly. Then just treat like spinach (or any soft green): sautéed lightly in olive oil, garlic and chile is the most straightforward way.

So if that, all that, is not enough beets also make a delightful raw salad. If you were to tell me to shred a couple of pounds of root vegetables on a box grated I would likely give you a sour look. Fortunately beet salad can be prepared entirely in the food processor, then transferred to a salad bowl with dressing ingredients thrown on top and just mixed in. Once prepared it’s stunningly beautiful, perfect for summer potlucks. As a recent diner at our house commented, I’m pretty sure it makes you healthier just looking at it. The taste is so simple and delicious it will leave you feeling great about yourself and the food you just made.

Also, short notes on color for beginners: Handling cooked red beets may leave you looking like you had a run-in with your kitchen knife. Not to worry, washing as soon as possible will likely remove all red juice. The same goes for your cutting board. If it is being stubborn though you may pour some kosher salt on your hands making a paste with water, this exfoliant should get the last of it and leave your flanges nice and soft. Internally your body has a similar dilemma and you may notice some coloration when you use the bathroom. Please do not call your doctor frantically as my co-worker did.

Roasted Beets

1 or 2 bunches beets, preferably of similar size

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Trim stems, leaving about one inch attached to the root. Wash beets.
Lay beets on a large square of tin foil and drizzle lightly with olive oil. If using different colors of beets, be sure to wrap in separate packages.
Wrap foil tightly around beets and place in hot oven.
Bake for approximately 60 minutes, they are done when you can poke with the tip of a knife and meet little resistance. Smaller beets take about 45 minutes, larger ones can take closer to 90 minutes.
They’re pretty gracious little buggers though so don’t fret too much about the exact timing.
Remove from oven, when cool skins slip easily away.
Beets can then be served or stored in the refrigerator.

Raw Beet Salad
Adapted from Mark Bittman

1 1/2 pounds beets (approx.)
1 large shallot
1 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard, or to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry or white vinegar
1 sprig fresh herbs like tarragon, mint or thyme (optional)
1/3 cup chopped parsley or cilantro

Peel beets and shallot, place in food processor and pulse until chopped but not pureed. You could also shred with a box grater or mince by hand. Mix in a bowl with remaining ingredients and salt and pepper to taste.

Ultimately, it’s not your grandmothers beet.
But, it should be yours, you just might like it.

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I am leaving the country for a few weeks and will be posting on anything that catches my eyes, ears, or tongue while away. Mexican food is what I miss most when I’m gone. Once I was served a chili pie in Kenya – the Tanzanian cook had looked up the recipe from some kind of flavors of the southwest cookbook – and as odd as it seemed eating chili pie in Africa, it did speak to me of home.

Like chili pie, Mexican Chef Salad isn’t exactly mexican food but it is so perfectly American in it’s conception that it seemed just the right parting post.

This is one of those curiously delicious Junior League-type recipes that might have come out of the 1980’s. This dish pleases. Every time my mother makes this I am reminded how much I love it.

I giggle every time I read our recipe card for Mexican Chef Salad – it calls for a 39 cent bag of Doritos corn chips. No need to adjust for inflation, just grab the big bag. I like to use a less-processed corn chip varietal. But choose any brand you like. Make this when you’re not feeling fancy. It feeds a crowd. And it might be the perfect meal to make before leaving, or returning, home.

Here’s what to do:

1) Saute 1 pound of ground beef and season using instructions on package of taco seasoning.

2) Combine in a large bowl with the cooked, drained beef:

1 head iceberg or romaine lettuce, chopped

8 oz cheese, preferably Mexican blend, grated

1 onion, chopped

3 tomatoes, chopped

2 avocados, chopped

1 bag corn chips, crumbled

1 15 oz can kidney beans or black beans, warmed

3) Toss salad with Thousand Island Dressing.

4) Serve immediately with your favorite hot sauce.

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A friend gave me some kale cut right from her backyard and I really wanted to eat it that night. I usually just lightly saute the greens in garlic, olive oil and dried red chile. The only catch was that I had planned on making homemade pizza for some friends we were having over to watch the basketball finals. And, unlike the classic Celtics-Lakers matchup, pizza and sauteed kale just didn’t sound like a good combination. I wanted a fresh salad. So, I concocted this raw kale version which was fantastic.

The key is to dress the salad 30 minutes or so before you eat so that the kale absorbs the dressing a bit. Which makes it perfect to toss together when entertaining. In fact, I think you could dress the salad an hour or more before you ate it and it wouldn’t get soggy at all. This vitamin-packed dish is so good for you and delicious. Everyone gobbled it up.

And just because this salad is green doesn’t mean those wearing purple and gold won’t enjoy it.

Do this:

1) Wash and remove stems from:

1 large bunch of fresh dark green kale

2) Roll leaves and cut the rolled bundles into 1/2 inch strips (chiffonade).

3) Add a handful of:

dried sour cherries, or other dried fruit

4) Toss kale and dried cherries to taste with:

extra virgin olive oil

dash balsamic vinegar

squeeze of lemon

small drizzle of honey

salt and pepper

Riffs:

You could also add sliced, roasted beets to this salad. To roast the beets just trim leaves from  5 or 6 beets, leaving the tops, bottoms and skins on. Wrap loosely in foil. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 30-40 minutes until pierced easily with a knife. Cool. Peel and slice beets.

Add toasted nuts and cheese and you practically have a meal. Might I have found one answer to Erin’s lunch dilemna?

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All cooks have secrets: Licking brownie batter off a spoon and sticking it back in the mixing bowl; The quick dust-off of a biscuit that rolls off the counter, declaring it good-as-new; Passing off purchased items as homemade.

You know what I’m talking about. They don’t know what you’re up to in there.

Here’s a quandary: When does non-disclosure creep into ambiguous moral territory? When does protecting a chef’s secret enter the hazy area we associate with a president invoking executive privilege? The what YOU don’t know will be better for BOTH of us mentality.

How might executive privilege be brought to bear on entertaining? Not telling a vegetarian that the pie crust they are devouring was made with your coveted supply of lard. Assuring a vegan that the Humbolt Fog Blue is actually a new vegan “cheese alternative.” Promising a teetotaler that “all the alcohol burns off anyway,” to ensure harmony over a boozy dessert in the offing.

And what moral boundaries do you dare flirt with when feeding your most food-saavy friends? Do you tell your grass-fed-free-range-only buddies that you just served them the feedlot special?…And, by the way, that juicy hen you’re slathering with gravy did not enjoy its final days pecking organic, vegetarian feed, the Pacific breezes fluffing its feathers. Can you disclose that the seared beauty of a lamb chop resting on your pal’s plate is more processed, frozen (ew!) than contented, Irish ewe?

I’m not about to serve Panda burritos or anything but I wonder what people should and do try to get away with. When, if ever, is it okay to invoke executive chef privilege? When is the invocation morally unjustifiable?

No doubt I raise an eyebrow when a server assures me that the chilean sea bass on the menu is NOT the kind hooked via albatross-killing longlines. Yeah, right. So long as that vexatious albatross can be removed from the diner’s neck, he can order and eat guilt-free.

The cook’s and the diner’s dilemma is that once you decide to care about these things you risk being unsettled all the time, unable to make food choices without deep investigative journalism. So, you hope and trust that your server is telling you the truth – but you kinda know she’s not.

Is it in a food-lover’s best interest to live in ignorance about the origins of her food? And if you’ve choose to learn and care about the facts, are you ready, willing and able to follow your convictions? At some point, while navigating the menu of choices and moral quandaries – if you don’t just give up along the way – you eat something.

Because at some point we get hungry. Then we eat.

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This is worth doing. I made this sandwich for a road trip no less than five years ago and received rave reviews. Why it’s taken me that long to re-create it, I’m unsure. Perhaps it’s because it required me to shop for things that aren’t always in my pantry. Regardless, my husband almost cried when he saw it.
Regardless, do as I tell you. This is a great sandwich to take on the go too, I like to call it the Hitchhiker Sandwich.

Hitchhiker Sandwich

1 round boule loaf
2 tablespoons pesto, homemade or purchased from the store
1/2 pound proscriutto
1/2 pound Monterey Jack cheese
1 jar roasted red peppers
1 medium tomato sliced

Cut the top from the bread in a cone shape. Remove as much of the interior of the bread as possible while maintaining the structural integrity of the loaf. Smear the insides of bread with pesto then layer the meat, cheese, peppers and tomatoes in to your liking. Put the top on the loaf and press firmly. Slice.

If you’re an over achiever you could slip in some baby arugula if it’s not being prepared too far in advance.



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I adore the flavor of lamb.

Once Erin served me some kind of homemade lamb meatball in a homemade pita (she must reveal her secret bread-making strategy to you soon) and I almost wept. Something about these mid-eastern flavors just hit me in the right place. I can’t get enough. That memory was the inspiration for this quick lunch idea.

Here is what I did:

1. Sautéed garlic and sliced onion in olive oil.

2. Added ground lamb that I had seasoned generously with:

cinnamon

cumin

dried oregano

lots of salt and pepper (I think the meat in this dish should be really salty and flavorful).

3. While that was browning away I made the cucumber yogurt sauce by combining:

diced cucumber, not using the seedy parts

greek yogurt

salt and pepper

4. Then I sliced a few radishes and shaved a carrot because – why not?

5. I popped store-bought pita into the oven to warm.

6. By the time the lamb was done I heaped everything into the warm pita and silently thanked Erin for her inspiration.

I didn’t have any mint on hand but you could add mint to the meat mixture or to the yogurt dressing or just torn mint straight onto the sandwich before biting into it. That would be a good move.

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