Sep 112012

Salmon with Spanish green sauce

If you asked me to rank my favorite fish, salmon would definitely sit near the top of the list. Specifically, it would be Alaskan sockeye salmon. I ate the stuff constantly when I lived in Alaska, and I would usually stick with a pretty simple preparation.

I may have mentioned before how The Hubs and I tend to get stuck in tasty-ruts. It’s not so terrible, because it’s tasty, but still, it’s a rut. The way I typically prepare salmon is a prime example of such a rut. It’s good to branch out and live a little. (To give you an idea of how quickly we get into such a rut: within three weeks of moving to Dayton, we had firmly established a rut at Olive: an urban dive. We are nothing if not efficient!)

Well, one night The Hubs, knowing that he was about to be subject to the garlic-rosemary-and-pepper treatment yet again, decided that he had had enough and found this gem of a recipe. Lucky for us that he did: this completely different treatment of the fish is light, refreshing, colorful, and most importantly, delicious!

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Aug 282009

Ain’t life grand when you have the luxury of throwing a pizza in the oven on a Friday night? And isn’t it even better when that pizza is homemade? We definitely hold by that line in our house.

Kneading the dough
Nikon D50

I’ve always eschewed the line “Even when it’s bad, it’s still pizza” (quit rolling your eyes, I know that comes as no surprise whatsoever if you’ve even spent two minutes reading this blog) and I take great joy in making every component for my pizza that I can. Really, it’s the only way you know you’re going to get a good one.

A fresh harvest of basil from the garden
Nikon D50

I love to use pesto as a base for pizza, especially in the summer. Few things give me more pleasure than shearing my basil plants (Fred has recovered from his confined-to-a-pot days and is loving all the room he has to stretch his roots, for those of you who had met him when he wasn’t looking so hot), bringing the green stuff inside, and pulling the leaves off the stems. It fills the kitchen with a wonderful aroma!

Whole unpeeled garlic cloves toast on the stove
Nikon D50

The only problem with fresh pesto is that it’s really easy to overdo it on the garlic, especially if you’re like me and habitually triple – at a minimum – the amount of the tasty stuff called for in a recipe. Luckily, I ran across a technique with which you toast the unpeeled garlic cloves on the stove to mellow out that bite it’s known for. It works like a charm and I no longer have to work about whether or not I’m going to OD on garlic. You just have to make sure to toast up enough so that you have extra to put on top of the pizza!

It's done!!!
Nikon D50

The only thing left to do is to load it up with other high-quality ingredients. Once you’ve done all of this, you’ll have created a pizza night to remember!

It's done!!!
Nikon D50

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Mar 152009

I’ve really been grappling with what to call this particular recipe. In fact, my indecision has been so crippling that it’s prevented me from posting this dish for close to two months. For all intents and purposes this is a chicken salad, but the last thing I want you to think of when you hear the title is mayo-and-egg-laden typical chicken salad because this bears about as much resemblance to the American picnic classic as, well, a nice Cabernet to Boone’s Farm.

So for lack of inspiration (I guess I used all my inspiration on actually developing the recipe) I have dubbed it Not Yer Mama’s Chicken Salad. Like I said, you won’t find mayo or relish or eggs here. Rather, you’ll find a tangy, refreshing, and light mustard and kalamata olive dressing over marinated chicken, complemented by texture provided by napa cabbage and radicchio. Stuff it in a warm pita, serve it atop a bed of lettuce and wild rice, put it aside pita chips as a dip, or, possibly best of all, serve it in between two slices of homemade olive-rosemary bread. Whatever you choose, prepare to take your taste buds on a adventure!

Spilling out of the pita, begging to be eaten
Nikon D50

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Oct 262008

You may be sad because summer has come to an end, taking with it delightful foods like nectarines, plums, berries, and locally grown vegetables like greens, cauliflower, chard, beets, and carrots.

But don’t fret! Fall has its place in a foodie’s heart because it brings delights like root vegetables, butternut squash, pumpkins, an untold number of apple varieties, Bartlett pears, and pomegranates.

I recently celebrated fall by having a harvest dinner (suggested by my most wise and venerable husband). On the menu was a roasted pear salad with candied walnuts, blue cheese, and homemade balsamic vinaigrette, cabernet-glazed shallots, butternut squash risotto with wilted spinach and toasted pine nuts, sauteed pork tenderloin with an apple-sage sauce, and stuffed baked Jonagold apples with vanilla bean ice cream for dessert. I love this menu — it’s so autumn-y with its warm, subtle flavors and unifying themes. Sage and apple are present in many of the dishes but are different and subtle enough to not get old or tiring. And as my guests pointed out last night, there’s plenty of booze in every dish! So dig in and get to love autumn as much as I do, and share it with some good friends too.

Savory, delicious flavors star in this sumptuous autumn feast
Nikon D50

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Jul 112008

Lasagna: there is so much to love about it. It’s cheesy, it’s gooey, it’s a meal in itself, it’s comfort food. It’s easy to make to boot. This was something I could make in my dorm kitchen, following the recipe on the back of the Barilla box. What that recipe lacked in finesse it made up for in cheese. Not that we minded – we were college students starved for a homemade meal, and so we always had fun popping this into the ovens in the dorm kitchens, opening a bottle of wine, and making a meal such that we were the envy of most dorm residents.

Now that I’m out of college though, that cheese-laden flavor-lacking thoroughly Americanized version isn’t going to cut it anymore. And that Souffer stuff? Forgetaboutit. Why oh why would you buy something like that when lasagna is like the easiest thing to make ever??? Anyway, I’d been looking for a good recipe for a several years until this winter when we had a dinner party at my swim coach’s house and my friend Ginger brought a tray of the most fantastic lasagna. It had just the right amount of cheese and wasn’t greasy and had some substantial herbs to it, which is really something that most recipes lack. So what did I do? I asked her for the recipe, of course.

The assembled lasagna awaits the oven
Nikon D50

“Oooh, I don’t know, I’ll have to ask my mom about it!” Apparently the lasagna recipe is akin to a state secret: Ginger’s mom worked really hard to develop the recipe (it shows!) and only gave it to her daughters under the condition that they would keep it as proprietary information. Lucky for me though, Carol agreed that it was ok for Ginger to give me the recipe because I had shared my family’s pumpkin cookie with her. Totally a great swap, if you ask me. And in case you’re wondering, yes, I do have permission to share this recipe on this blog! I’ve modified it only a little bit, because the core premise of the recipe is so solid. It uses cottage cheese instead of ricotta, which I think is a really great idea because it’s really tough to find good ricotta in the States. I absolutely love the sauce that you make for the recipe, and it’s fantastic with either traditional or turkey Italian sausages. I did substitute dried Italian herbs for dried basil because basil’s flavor is so volatile in the presence of heat and the dried version retains so little of the fresh’s flavor – but I just added in the fresh basil later in the recipe. The overall effect of the recipe is a way-less heavy version of the typical lasagna, but still retains all of the flavor that you want.
Thank you so much, Carol, for sharing this recipe with me! You did an awesome job creating this lasagna and I really appreciate being let in on the secret!

Mmmm lasagna
Nikon D50

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May 192008

If you’ve yet to foray into the world of Indian cuisine, chicken tikka masala is a good guide for first-timers. There are many aspects of it that are familiar and comfortable to a Western palate (like chicken and rice) but with a decidedly Eastern bent. And by Eastern bent, I mean wonderfully aromatic and fragrant rice, and a richly spiced, yet not spicy, warm sauce for the chicken. It’s a small wonder that this is the most popular Indian dish in the world, even if it’s not, well, strictly authentic Indian.

A handwritten recipe
Nikon D50

Another fantastic thing about chicken tikka masala is that it requires no special equipment. It would be nice to have a tandoor, but a broiler make an acceptable stand-in. Now if only I could find a good tandoor substitute when making naan… But that’s another story of a less successful foray. For now, stick with the chicken tikka masala and really start using some spices in your cooking!

Chicken tikka masala served atop fragrant basmati rice
Nikon D50

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Feb 292008

“Ugh! I hate Italian pizza! It’s so gross! It’s not even Italian, it was invented in New York! Let me eat the pizza at Boston’s, it’s so good!”

Wait for it….


Yep. That was my head exploding.

It exploded not for just one, but three very good reasons.

Hating Italian pizza is impossible. The ingredients are so fresh and the results so simple that it’s quite simply easier to divide by zero than to hate it.
I’m not a food anthropologist, but I’m gonna call shenanigans on pizza originating in New York. The research I’ve done shows that it in fact came from Naples. It’s funny how a place can do such great things (invent pizza) and such monumentally stupid things (like stop collecting all the garbage so it piles up to third story windows). But I digress.
Boston’s pizza (god, I feel dirty typing in that URL for that link) is disgusting. You all know that I get pissed about paying good money for bad food, and not much makes me angrier than having to go there and pay the bill. In fact, the first time I ever went there (my bosses love it so we go there all the time for working lunches, much to my chagrin) I was sitting across from someone who had just read a few of my thoughts on restaurants and he could tell on the look on my face that I was livid about paying seventeen bucks for a shitty meal that I could have made one hundred and twenty times better by just lifting a finger and giving a shit about the food I was preparing. Anyway, their pizza is even worse than that first meal – a salmon caesar salad – that I had: the cheese was laid on way too thick and rubbery as only really bad American-made mozzarella can be, the crust suffered from being stuffed with ten times as much yeast as it needed to rise which made it utterly bland and sour, and the basil – this was supposedly pizza Margherita – was DRIED. DRIED, PEOPLE!!!!!!!!! WHAT THE FUCK???

*steps aside to breathe for a moment…. long deep breaths….*

Ok, I apologize for that “Oh FUDGE!” moment there. I just get sent into spasms of anger when I think about that place. Let’s get back to my happy place, and for me right now, that happy place is homemade pizza, even if, no matter how hard you try, it’s not quite like the Italians make it.

Not totally authentic Italian, but still really bloody good pizza
Nikon D50

For some reason I don’t make pizza as much as I should. There’s really no reason not to – I have a wealth of dough recipes whose prep times vary from 24 hours to 90 minutes. My pantry is always stocked with the requisite ingredients for the crust and toppings. I even have two 8-inch pizza stones, perfect for a cozy binge-free pizza night. But for some reason, I just… don’t.

Well, I had been craving good pizza for a couple of weeks and last Friday it became wholly apparent that that night was the night. The stars were aligned – the grocery stores were hemorrhaging fresh (FRESH! Not DRIED!) basil, I had plenty of fresh mozzarella in my fridge, and I had made a batch of marinara the night before. All I had to do was find a dough recipe.

So I called up my Mom. When I talk to him on the weekends, it’s not uncommon for my Dad to give me a rundown of the pizza my Mom made the previous Friday and for him to gush about how her pizza gets better every single week. No dice on the recipe from the Mom front though – she was really busy with some elderly relatives, no big deal, it’s not like she’s the sole source of pizza dough ever (though I still want her recipe!). So at one point, needing to get my current events fix, I brought up NPR and lo and behold, on their rotating blurbs about featured stories, was a Kitchen Window ad, whose topic just so happened to be pizza. It was like the skies had parted and I was sitting in my own little personal ray of sunlight. I was fated to make pizza that night. The gods had willed it to be so.

So when I got home, I got to work on my pizza. After the dough was done rising, I attempted to get the dough nice and thin, but the thing about kneading is that it make dough very elastic. Every time I stretched out the dough it just shrank right back up. I eventually adopted the mannerisms of a, well, special Italian, trying to toss this tiny disc of dough up into the air, catch it on one finger, and let gravity do the work. It certainly worked better than counter-top stretching, but clearly, my method needs work if I am to continue to aspire to Italian-standard thinness.

Thicker-crust-than-desired aside, this pizza was marvelous! I loved the warm, garlicky, basily sweetness of the sauce, topped with just a bit of mozzarella a plenty of fresh torn basil, all atop a crispy, grain-flavored crust. That pizza was not long for this world, and though I expect that it would have made a mean cold pizza breakfast, it never got the opportunity to prove itself. But even though I loved the process, the experience, and the taste so much, I think the best thing that came out of it was the inspiration to try again with a myriad of toppings. That’s one of the best things about pizza – almost anything is a choice candidate to grace your pie, so you’re only limited by your imagination.

And if you still think the pizza from Boston’s is better than this, well, do us both a favor and don’t ever talk to me about food. Unless, of course, you like watching my head explode.

Not totally authentic Italian, but still really bloody good pizza
Nikon D50

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Feb 262008

Every cook needs a good marinara recipe in her or his repertoire. Why not? It’s simple to prepare, goes with tons of things, and is easily modified into a multitude of other sauces. It’s infinitely superior to what attempts to pass for jarred spaghetti sauces, and again, it’s so easily made and even more easily customized that it’s really not worth buying it off the shelf.

I recently made a batch from a recipe recommended by raving reviews from my Mom and I fell in love. It’s sweet but not overly so with plenty of warm garlic flavor without any of the raw garlic punishment. I used it for three separate applications: saucing ravioli served with fresh mozzarella and torn basil (pictured below), pizza Margherita, take due, and spaghetti with calamari (utterly divine, but so modified on the fly due to utterly poor recipe testing that I wasn’t keeping track of things like quantities and time, so I’ll have to re-make it in order to post the recipe). Needless to say, the sauce is all gone. Well, that is, until I make another batch…

(For guidance on preparing this for a backpacking meal, see the “Variations” section at the end of the recipe.)

Marinara sauce

Click for the recipe →

Feb 242008

I’ve been waiting to post this recipe for quite some time.

You see, you might call this dish Highly Significant.

It’s so significant that I often find myself asking if Cory and I would have gotten married if it were not for this recipe.

It’s one of the first things we ever cooked together, and from the point that we starting smooshing up those tomatoes with our hands, it was painfully apparent that we were meant to be.

Delicious chicken cacciatore
Nikon D50

We still cook up a batch of chicken cacciatore every time we’re together. I thought it was criminal that he didn’t have a copy of the recipe or The Joy of Cooking, so when he moved into his current apartment I bought him a copy the newly released 75th anniversary edition as a housewarming gift. Before I bought it for him I made sure that the recipe hadn’t gotten the axe and was included in that version, but when we brought it home and we inspected it more closely we found that it calls for diced canned tomatoes, not whole tomatoes that you crush with your hands. On that alone, I’ve basically panned the whole edition. It’s not worth buying! Find the 1997 edition! That older recipe helped Cory and I find love, and I who am I to deny anyone else that opportunity by recommending an inferior tome?

Delicious chicken cacciatore
Nikon D50

I’m going to admit upfront: my version of the classic Italian chicken is so not traditional. Every recipe I’ve ever seen and everyone else who’s ever served it to me – including places in Italy – call for chicken parts, not chicken breasts, but when I was first learning to cook I had no clue what the heck a chicken part was. Even if I had been savvy enough, I simply didn’t have the equipment to cut up a chicken and then cook it. So maybe it’s for the best that I’ve bastardized it. I still think it’s delicious, and it has the health benefits of being all-white meat.

Not everything about this recipe is 100% positive though. There is something about chicken cacciatore that makes living alone an especially bitter pill to swallow. This dish is so obviously meant to be cooked with people and then shared with people. That alone explains two of my behaviors: I always call Cory when I’m starting to crush up those tomatoes with my hands and tell him that I wish he was there with me, and whenever I’m cooking for a group people for the first time, this is the recipe I pull out. It’s just too good to not share with others. It’s not just the end result that’s important, it’s the whole process – from the first time you throw the onions and herbs in the pan and the fragrance makes everyone exclaim with delight to the times when the pan is in a long simmer and you can just sit around and enjoy the company of your companions to the first bite of that warm, earthy, wine-herbs-and-tomato chickeny goodness. Nothing says “I care” like chicken cacciatore.

Delicious chicken cacciatore
Nikon D50

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May 202007

The first time I had gnocchi, I was pretty doubtful. Cory and I were living in San Angleo and he happened to find a package of gnocchi on the grocery store shelf. He used to make it with his family and he loved the stuff, so he bought it and cooked it for me one night. I was not impressed — they seemed like heavy, tastless lumps in the no-man’s-land between pasta and tortellini. (Really, it wasn’t his fault. They were from a package, after all.)

Gnocchi dough, divided

But then, we went to Italy.

We had gnocchi there.

And I have seen the light!

Yes, light is what they are, light and flavorful! Those potato dumplings have won a place in my heart.

Gnocchi dough, roped (and coiled for funsies)

I came back from Italy all culinarily inspired, even more firmly convinced than ever that when it comes to food, Americans just don’t get it. To help shed some light in those dark corners, I resolved to serve a proper Italian meal to some friends — with complete with antipasti, primi and secondi piatti, and dolci. I wanted to try something new, something delicious that I had never made before and that my guests would probably have never eaten before, so after a bit of searching, it came to me: gnocchi was the obvious choice for primi.

Gnocchi, formed and waiting to be cooked

When I found the recipes, I realized I had a new dilemma: I don’t have a potato ricer, and I have this thing about taking up limited storage space with single-use gadgets. So the stubborn, yet foresightful, bit of me decided to instead buy the food grinder attachment for my stand mixer, figuring that I could also use it for tomato sauces, apple sauce, sausages, and, of course, pasta.

Last week I made a test batch of gnocchi for the dinner I’ll be having at the end of the month. Let me tell you, even though I’m not really sure what the authentic shape is for these dumplings, they are delicious — especially when tossed with a pesto sauce you’ve just ground up yourself.

Pesto-sauced gnocchi!

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