Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Watermelon gazpacho

Mmmm. watermelon. This is a great way to cool off--I know in most of the country right now, it's too hot to eat.

Three pounds of watermelon, chopped into chunks
1 diced red onion
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
a handful each of fresh mint and cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon or so of Sriracha (or other hot sauce)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lime juice

Blend until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste. For added yum, grill some shrimp and serve one or two on top.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

No words needed

My great-grandmother's kitchen knife. Look how worn down the blade is. And still going strong.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Fried squash blossoms

At the farmer's market yesterday, I happened upon a bin of fresh squash blossoms and snapped up a pound of them. "What the hell do you do with squash blossoms?" you ask. You stuff them with cheese and fry them. (I know, I know, you could stuff anything with cheese and fry it and it would taste good, but fried squash blossoms are particularly yummy, and one of those things you can only get this time of year.) If you grow your own squash, you probably have a ready supply of these already.

The stuffing is just ricotta cheese with a little chopped fresh basil, although I also mixed in a little goat cheese. Remove the stamen from the inside of the blossom (that will make it bitter), and stuff with a teaspoon or two of cheese. Twirl the petals around to seal it in (don't worry if the flower tears down the side while stuffing). Coat that with an egg mixture, then roll in a mixture of half cornmeal and half flour, and fry. I used my deep fryer, set on 350 degrees; but vegetable oil in a skillet would work just as well. Sprinkle with salt and eat hot.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cookbook review: Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain

Not a cookbook, I know. But it's Anthony Bourdain's new book ($14.57 at Amazon). Anthony Bourdain is my hero.

For those of you who don't know, Anthony Bourdain is the former-head-chef-at-Les-Halles-turned-international-bestselling-author-and-crazy-TV-personality responsible for the book Kitchen Confidential and Travel Channel's "No Reservations." He has the job I want--traveling the world and eating things. And writing about them. And making a TV show about them. How awesome is that? Plus he's super hot. He's got that whole bad boy chef thing going on, along with a filthy mouth, a razor-sharp wit, a keenly refined hatred of vegetarians and picky eaters, and several kick-ass tattoos. How could I NOT like him?

OK, enough of that. His new book is essentially a loose collection of essays, and while some of them are long boring rants about specific food critics or whatever, there are also some gems (including the top-secret dinner involving most of the world's most famous chefs, in which they all consume the world's rarest and most illegal treat, ortolans). Like Bourdain himself, the book is a little uneven, but it's still compulsively readable and very entertaining, even if most of us could care less about most of his pet peeves.

The best parts, I thought, were about his old life, before celebrity stardom. When he was a forty-something washed-up career chef, working at no-star dives, trying to simultaneously break a cocaine-and-heroin habit and stay one step ahead of his many creditors. THAT'S the book I want him to write. I bet there are some great stories in that book.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Spaghetti carbonara

I can't believe I haven't made this before. Last night I tried this recipe for spaghetti carbonara, with peas. And wow. Yum. It's not exactly a light dish--pasta coated with egg and cheese and bacon wouldn't be--but it has peas in it, so it's healthy.

A couple of notes. When draining the cooked pasta, slop a little pasta water into the raw egg/cheese mixture before adding the spaghetti. This helps temper the eggs; otherwise, when you dump a bunch of steaming hot spaghetti into a raw egg mixture, you'll just end up with a lot of scrambled eggs and that's not what you want. Also, I cooked the peas and the spaghetti in the same pot. Also, you can't have too much bacon with this.

Cost: five ingredients, all bought in bulk: spaghetti, eggs, bacon, parmesan, and frozen peas. Maybe $2 for everything, producing four very generous adult servings.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Penne with chickpeas, garlic and parmesan

This was adapted from a recipe in How to Cook Everything. The original one called for linguine in garlic and oil with chickpeas, but I used penne instead and added a few additional ingredients. First I sauteed several finely diced cloves of garlic in olive oil, then added a couple cans of chickpeas to that (I buy dried beans in bulk and reconstitute, so if you do it that way, maybe two cups). I added some of the pasta water from the cooking penne, as well as some dried red pepper flakes and lots of salt and pepper. But the ensuing mixture was still a bit bland for my taste, so I added lots of parmesan when I added the cooked penne to the chickpea mix. The final product involved lots of additional cheese, salt and pepper, and a handful of fresh chopped sage, oregano and basil.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Squash ribbon salad

This recipe for a squash ribbon salad is a great summer dish. Tastes great, uses up all that squash/zucchini you have no idea what to do with, and best of all, doesn't even require cooking. You can make raw vegetable salads out of a surprising number of vegetables--squash, rutabagas, asparagus, carrots, beets, the list goes on and on.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Satan's Whiskers

Isn't that a fun name for a drink? Found this in a book of vintage cocktails, and it turned out to be way yummier than I thought it would be.

1 oz gin (I used Hendrick's)
1/2 oz sweet vermouth
1/2 oz dry vermouth
1/2 oz Grand Marnier
1 oz fresh-squeezed orange juice (the amount of juice from half an orange: the fresh-squeezed part is key)
Dash of regular or orange bitters (I used blood orange bitters)

Combine, shake well. Pour over ice or into chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel.

Wine from my collection: Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc

I give it 4 stars in the under-$10 category. For $10, (or less) this is a good, predictable, all-purpose bottle of sauvignon blanc. It won't rock your world like Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc will, but hey, it's $10. It's a bit mineraly, but it pairs well with fruit and other sweet/rich things.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Watermelon mojitos

Nothing says summer like watermelon. Especially a drink with watermelon in it.

To make this, take some really ripe watermelon cubes and muddle with a few leaves of fresh mint. Add simple syrup or mint syrup, white rum, and a splash of club soda. Mix well and top with a sprig of mint.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Puff pastry cheese straws

This weekend I took my hubby and my stepson on a picnic to the canyon behind our home, where we dined on these puff pastry cheese straws, grapes, fresh watermelon, fresh lemonade, and a bottle of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc (for the adults). We played Uno and saw a bunny rabbit. The cheese straws were a resounding hit; my picky stepson said of them, "They taste like Goldfish, only bread."

A couple of notes: I used two sheets of puff pastry, parmesan, and a sprinkling of pimenton. I didn't roll out the puff pastry, as the recipe calls for, I just pressed the sheets onto a layer of cheese and then pressed more cheese on top. Also, make sure you space them at least an inch apart on the baking sheet.

Perfect picnic food.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Blue waffles

Yep, blue waffles. No, it's not just the light.

The recipe originally called for two cups of all-purpose flour. I substitued one cup of blue cornmeal for one of the cups of flour. It gave the waffles a nice sweet grittiness, and left them a little blue around the edges. Also it's healthier, with more fiber.

1 3/4 cups buttermilk
2 eggs, separated
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
a splash of vanilla
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
pinch of salt

Whisk the buttermilk with the egg yolks, butter and vanilla. Meanwhile beat the egg whites to soft peaks. Mix the dry ingredients together, then add the buttermilk mixture and combine. Stir in the egg whites and away you go to the waffle machine.

I served these with a little blackberry syrup. Yum.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A good fast all-purpose salad dressing

I've been eating a lot of salads this week. It's summer, you know. And this has been my go-to salad dressing. It's roughly 4 parts walnut oil (or any kind of olive oil, but walnut oil is particularly yummy in a salad) with 1-2 parts champagne vinegar (white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar would also work) and 1 part mustard, any kind. Whisk rapidly, add some fresh salt and pepper, and mix into your salad.

This dressing with arugula, avocado and goat cheese really completely rocked my world.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Cookbook review: The Perfect Scoop

The Perfect Scoop ($12.91 at Amazon) is all about how to make ice cream. And by ice cream I also mean sorbets and granitas. Granted, to make actual ice cream, you will need an ice cream maker (which is totally worth the money--I have yet to buy any ice cream from the store since getting mine). But you don't need one to make sorbets or granitas, and now that summer's here, what better way to kick it off than with, say, watermelon sorbet? Or fresh strawberry ice cream? Or chocolate ice cream made with Guinness? Or a Dark n' Stormy ice cream made with dark rum and candied ginger? OK, that last one is actually my own invention and is not a recipe in this book. But it should be.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cookbook review: Sauces

Sauces by James Peterson ($32.97 at Amazon) is, you know, a book about sauces. It's a big book, and probably a lot of you are thinking, "Why should I bother with trying to make hollandaise sauce when it's all I can do to throw something in the microwave at the end of the day?" But the term "sauce" includes a lot of things, including salad dressing, roux, and gravy in addition to bearnaise and the like. You may not ever make your own eggs Benedict, but hey, everybody loves gravy.

This is a good all-purpose reference/recipe book on pretty much every sauce known to man, so if you're ready to totally impress everybody next Thanksgiving with a gravy that's not made from a powder (ewwwwww), this is the way to go.

Side note: at my wedding, a friend pitched in and made eggs Benedict, complete with fresh hollandaise sauce, for everyone one morning. Guess how popular he was.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cookbook review: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

I'm so NOT a vegetarian, as you all know. But I'm becoming a "lessmeatitarian" and scaling back so that I generally only use meat as flavoring in cooking. (With obvious exceptions--roast chicken, good fish and shellfish when I can get it, etc.) How to Cook Everything Vegetarian ($22.71 at Amazon) is less an endorsement of a way of life than it is a great reference manual on all those vegetables you have no idea what to do with. I'm not sure I know anyone (other than me) that has ever willingly purchased and then consumed rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, black kale, rainbow chard, green tomatoes, squash blossoms, or rhubarb that has not gone straight into a strawberry-rhubarb pie. The list goes on and on. Which is a shame, because all vegetables--fresh, and properly prepared--taste really aweome. And disclosure: any vegetable tastes great on pizza. (Note: I said FRESH. Canned peas and canned green beans are gross.)

So having a cookbook like this is important, because it will put you on speaking terms with all those "weird" vegetables no one buys. The next time the grocery store is having a sale on golden beets, you can buy some and find a useful recipe to use them. Got a box of CSA vegetables and you don't know what to do with half of them? This book will help you out.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Cookbook review: How to Cook Everything

How to Cook Everything
by Mark Bittman ($21.71 at Amazon)--well, the title says it all, doesn't it. I'm generally leery of "all-purpose" cookbooks--with the notable exception of The Joy of Cooking--because they all tend to cover the same basics, over and over again. Which is great, if you need that kind of thing, but I don't need another cookbook that tells me how to make marinara sauce or a club sandwich. I need a cookbook that shows me new and inventive ways to use the skills/weird things in the pantry I already have.

So I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Not too simplistic for my needs, but also simplistic enough for beginner cooks. Meaning pretty much anyone can find this cookbook useful. Also check out Mark Bittman's blog at

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Black beans and rice

This makes a great breakfast. (No, really.)

Start a cup of brown rice on the stove. (1 cup rice + around 1 3/4 cups water) While that's doing its thing, chop half a big onion, a few cloves of garlic, and a jalapeno, and saute that down in a little olive oil until tender. Add a can of tomatoes, with the juice, and the half-cooked rice, water and all. Bring that to a boil, add 2 cups cooked leftover black beans or 1 can, and let simmer on low until the rice is done. Remove from the heat and let sit for a few minutes before serving.

Filling, cheap, and with brown rice, nutritionally complete.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Wine from my collection: Two-Buck Chuck

Ah, the infamous Two-Buck Chuck. For those of you unfamiliar with this phenomenon, it's Trader Joe's "house" wine--Charles Shaw. It comes in Shiraz, Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc. It sells for $1.99, only at Trader Joe's. Yes, $1.99. A bottle. Hence the term "Two-Buck Chuck." I figured for $2 a bottle, I could afford to pick up one of each flavor. (This was my first time drinking Two-Buck Chuck, because the New York branches of Trader Joe's were always way too crowded for me to want to shop there.)

Surprisingly, it's pretty good. It's not going to set the wine world on fire or anything, and it needed time to open up, but once it did, I was hard-pressed to find a verifiable difference between that $2 bottle of Shiraz and, say, a $8.99 bottle of Yellow Tail Shiraz. I'm not hating on Yellow Tail specifically--most wines under $10 a bottle taste mostly the same. There are obvious exceptions of course, which is one of the fun things about trolling the bargain bins at the wine store, but it's often hard to tell the difference between two $8.99 bottles of Merlot. For weekday at-home guzzling, Two-Buck Chuck has just significantly reduced my wine bill. Why buy the $8.99 bottle when $1.99 will do just as well?

And hey, it tastes way better than Franzia.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Champagne risotto

What to do with leftover bubbly? (Such a frequent problem, I know.) One of my favorite ways to use up a half-bottle of the stuff, without drinking it, is champagne risotto. OK, technically, it's prosecco risotto--true Champagne, with a capital C, only comes from France. It can't be called Champagne if it's not French. Prosecco is the Italian version of the same beverage, cava is the Spanish version, and so on. I use the term champagne (small c) interchangeably. Any bubbly will do.

2 1/2 cups arborio rice
3 shallots, chopped (or 1 onion, but I prefer shallots)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
olive oil
4-5 cups chicken broth
2 cups champagne
½ cup heavy cream

Sauté shallots in olive oil until translucent. Add garlic and rice and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add 1 cup of champagne and stir until almost all absorbed. Continue adding stock/broth in 1-cup amounts. Continue stirring and cook until almost done. Add champagne as last liquid and cook til done. Take off heat and stir in heavy cream.

Proscuitto and any sort of bitter green (or radicchio, or asparagus, or peas) would go very well in this, as would a good Parmesan cheese. As would some really nice fresh shrimp. Or mushrooms. Go crazy.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Leek and potato pizza with goat cheese and wild boar bacon

Another yummy (and healthy) pizza! Layered, in order:

Whole wheat crust
Olive oil
A thin smear of ricotta
Very thinly sliced Yukon Gold potato (or any other not-white potato), in overlapping slices
Sauteed leeks (I used four across two pizzas, sauteed in the bacon fat from the wild boar bacon)
Bacon, cooked, in pieces
Fresh oregano
Lots of goat cheese

I wouldn't previously have thought to put potato slices on a pizza, but it was actually pretty good. The trick is to get them super-thin, preferably with a mandoline or very very sharp knife, so that they have time to cook. Next time I'll try something with sweet potato slices.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Black-eyed pea salad

Another recipe from the church lady trove.

5 cups cooked and drained black-eyed peasw
4 slices of cooked crumbled bacon
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 cup red pepper
3 tablespoons finely chopped green onions
2 tablespoons each chopped jalapenos and fresh parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon each salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne and oregano

Mix together.

(I haven't made this yet, but I can already tell you I'll scale back slightly on the onion, add more jalapeno and garlic, and triple or quadruple the amount of spices and herbs. You can never over-season a dish.)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Amish buttermilk cookies

The ladies from my parents' church all banded together and produced a pile of "Southern" recipes as a wedding gift. Isn't that thoughtful? Here's one of them, which I plan to try out this weekend.

1 cup soft butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 beaten eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon each baking powder, baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped nuts
1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat butter and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in buttermilk and eggs until light and fluffy. Stir dry ingredients together, including nuts; add to egg mixture and blend well. Stir in vanilla. Drop spoonfuls of dough 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets. 15 minutes at 350 or until golden brown.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Tabbouleh with cilantro

I made tabbouleh for the first time the other day. One of the grocery chains here sells staples in bulk--I can buy rye flour, steel-cut oats, barley, dried beans, sundried tomatoes, etc., etc., in bulk (plus yogurt-covered pretzels and gummy bears--I haven't turned into a total hippie yet). As part of my recent re-stocking, I got a big bag of bulgur wheat. Then when I got home, I remembered I can use bulgur wheat to make tabbouleh. Whereas previously I'd mostly been throwing it into soups, a handful at a time.

The tabbouleh was super-easy and really good. Start with one cup of bulgur wheat, uncooked. Cover it with enough cold water so there's an inch of water above the grains, and let soak for 20 minutes. While it's soaking, chop:
one or two big fresh tomatoes
a big handful of mint
a big handful of parsley
a big handful of cilantro
some very finely chopped onion or a few green onions (I went light on the onions since I'm not a huge fan of raw onion)
Drain the wheat and add this stuff to it, along with the juice of one lemon and maybe 1/4 cup of olive oil, and salt to taste. Let this sit for another hour or so, to allow the flavors to combine. Eat. Yum.

I took the mint and the parsley from my container garden, but I didn't have quite enough to go around, which is why I added the cilantro. An inspired touch, if you ask me.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Cilantro pesto

I recently found myself in possession of three bunches of cilantro.  Normally I would take that opportunity to whip up a few batches of salsa or guacamole, but I didn't have any chips (and have no plans to procure any, since we're trying to cut back on non-fruit snacking). So I decided to use it all up at once by making a batch of cilantro pesto.

2 big bunches of cilantro, stems and all
3 or 4 big peeled cloves of garlic
salt and pepper
juice of one big lemon
1/4 cup or so of olive oil, enough to emulsify

Throw the first four into a food processor and whiz, slowly adding the olive oil until it's a sauce. Easy-peasy.

I used the cilantro pesto as a pizza base last night, and that ROCKED. Whole-wheat crust with olive oil, a thin smear of ricotta cheese, a lot of cilantro pesto, with caramelized onions, roasted butternut squash, wild boar bacon, a few slices of a yellow heirloom tomato, fresh sage, and parmesan. THAT was a pizza. Although admittedly, grilled shrimp would have been better.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Whole grain no-knead bread

See this post about a great whole grain no-knead bread recipe.

I've been experimenting with whole wheat flour and rye flour lately, in an attempt to filter out as much white flour as possible in my bread. White flour and white bread is, after all, basically solidified bleach with no nutritional value whatsoever. I made this loaf last night, and while the ratio of wheat/rye flour to white flour is still too low in my opinion, it makes a great-tasting loaf. The steel-cut oatmeal is a nice touch.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Whole broiled trout wrapped in bacon

It's been a while since we've had fish, so while shopping I picked up two small whole trout. They were already gutted and scaled, so fixing them couldn't have been easier. I wrapped each one in four slices of wild boar bacon and placed under the broiler for about four minutes on each side. You could probably get away with three minutes on each side.

That's it. I took them out, squeezed a lemon wedge over them, and served them with wild rice and sauteed broccoli rabe.