RSS Feed

Category Archives: Vegetable

Creamy Chipotle Tomato Soup

Posted on

We have one of those Kinect sensors for the Xbox 360. We bought it on a whim a few months ago, in search of something fun and active to do as a family while we were all cooped up during the chilly winter months. We picked up a few games for the kids and ourselves and we played them often for about two weeks time. Then, our enthusiasm for our new toy waned and the games have gathered dust since.

Mostly, we use the Xbox 360 for watching movies and shows through Netflix. And my husband enjoys the convenience of the Kinect’s voice-command abilities. I, however, have been unable to get comfortable with shouting commands at the little sensor which sits perched on top of my tv. It just feels so We’re the Jetsons to me. Just can’t do it.

My husband, amused at my apprehension to talk to the machine, got a bit surly with it the other night. He started yelling at it, Xbox, make my dinner. Xbox, take a hike. Xbox, smell my feet. At each command, Xbox, upon hearing its name, would stop and try to process the request. Poor, confused Xbox was dutifully attempting to identify and obey each given command, while we sat by and giggled as it struggled.

Well…I’m pretty sure my husband broke the sensor with this little game. It hasn’t worked correctly ever since. It now requires most commands to be repeated multiple times or firmly shouted before it responds. It appears we’re dealing with a little case of boy-who-cried-wolf. The Xbox no longer believes we’re serious when we call it. Either that or it’s just angry and being difficult. It’s smart. It’s learning. And it freaks me out.

Thankfully, I am not reliant on the Xbox for doing my laundry or cooking my dinner.

We’re right about at that time of year when gardeners are proudly reaping the fruits of their labor in the form of baskets full of ripe, delicious tomatoes. I myself did not undertake trying to grow anything more than a few herbs and a beautiful flowering plant, which I promptly killed. I can grow some darn fine humans, but the ability to grow things in dirt eludes me. I buy my tomatoes at the grocery store and they have been garden-fresh, ripe, and delicious lately…the perfect tomatoes for fresh tomato soup. At any other time of the year, you might be wise to use canned tomatoes when making tomato soup, but now is the perfect time to use the season-peak ones you’re harvesting from your gardens or picking up in local farmer’s markets.

I give my tomato soup a spicy, smokey flavor with the addition of a chipotle pepper. A bit of heavy cream balances the spice and gives the soup a rich texture. The soup is garnished with a few homemade croutons and a couple dashes of chipotle tabasco sauce. On the side, I served a simple mixed green salad tossed in a ginger vinaigrette and grilled brie and gouda with bacon on French baguette. I’m fairly certain that the Xbox would have been incapable of coming up with something so perfectly simple and delicious as this…but don’t tell the Xbox I said that.

Creamy Chipotle Tomato Soup

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled and deseeded, coarse chopped*
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 chipotle pepper (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste
  • Chipotle Tabasco Sauce, optional (for garnish)

*Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to peel and deseed tomatoes.

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Add the tomatoes, vegetable stock, chipotle pepper, and tomato paste. Simmer over medium/medium-low heat for about 25 minutes, stirring frequently. The tomatoes should almost completely break down during the cooking time. Allow the mixture to cool slightly, then transfer to a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth, then return to the pan. Add the cream. Season with salt, to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon should do the trick). Add cayenne pepper, to taste, if additional spiciness is desired. Warm gently over medium-low heat.

Garnish with a few dashes of chipotle tabasco and homemade croutons.

Makes 2 generous servings

* For the homemade croutons, simply toss a few chunks of French bread in a bit of olive oil, season with cajun seasoning or any other seasoning, then bake in a 375 degree oven until toasted, about 10 minutes or so.

How to Peel and Deseed Tomatoes

Posted on

Using fresh tomatoes in homemade sauces and soups (like the creamy chipotle tomato soup I’ve got coming for you) often requires starting with peeled and deseeded tomatoes. Fortunately, peeling tomatoes is easier than you may expect. Just let a bit of boiling water do all of the work! Here are a few simple steps for easily peeling tomatoes.

Step 1: Start with beautifully ripe, seasonal tomatoes.

Step 2: Cut a small ‘X’ into the non-stem end of the tomato.

**It’s a good idea to use a paring knife to cut out the tough green stem end at this point. It will help the skin to slip off easier and will save you from removing it later. 

Step 3: Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil.

Step 4: Insert the tomatoes into the water for about 1 minute.

Step 5: Remove the tomatoes using a slotted spoon and place in a bowl of ice water. The skin should be practically falling off on its own.

Step 6: Use your fingers to slide the skin from the tomato. If necessary, use a paring knife to remove any remaining peel.

**Use the paring knife to cut out the green stem end, if you haven’t already.

Step 7: Cut the tomatoes in half. Gently squeeze the tomatoes to remove the seeds. Use your clean fingers to remove the seeds from any small pockets. 

Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon

Posted on

Julia Child was one of America’s first (and dare I say greatest ) culinary celebrities, in a time long before shows like The Next Food Network Star or Top Chef sought to discover such talent. She was just a woman with a passion for good food, which led her down the gastronomical path that ultimately brought her into America’s kitchens. It was her passion for food which led her on the journey. It was her charm, relatability, and contagious adoration of food which grabbed the attention of adoring fans all around the world.

Julia changed the way home cooks thought about food. She knew that good food wasn’t exclusive to restaurant kitchens, prepared by professional chefs. She made expert culinary techniques accessible to everyone, in a manner which could inspire even the most novice cook to jump in head first. Because Julia understood that we learn best through trial and error. She understood that there is no such thing as a bad cook, only cooks who needed more practice. And she understood that even the most experienced cooks encountered the occasional kitchen disaster. She’d say, “Cooking is like love; it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”  

Julia viewed food as one of the greatest pleasures in life, a pleasure worth the small sacrifice of a wider waistline. (Who needs to be a size 4 anyway???) She embraced cooking as an art form akin to ballet. And she cooked with the same inspired strokes of an artist to create timeless gastronomical masterpieces. But she was often criticized by nutrition-minded individuals for her use of rich ingredients, like butter and cream, which in excess could lead to health problems. To those criticisms, she responded, “Everybody is overreacting. If fear of food continues, it will be the death of gastronomy in the United States. Fortunately, the French don’t suffer from the same hysteria we do. We should enjoy food and have fun. It is one of the simplest and nicest pleasures in life.”  

I love this woman. And having lived to be two days short of 92 years old, a lifespan which she attributes to a regular diet of gin and red meat, I’d say she knew what she was talking about. Well-prepared food is a pleasure to be enjoyed, even within the framework of a healthy lifestyle.

Julia understood what really mattered. She knew that good food needn’t be complicated with elaborate presentation. She would say, “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” That’s all it really takes, isn’t it? It’s like this beef bourguignon, perhaps her most famous recipe and the subject of her very first televised episode of The French Chef on PBS. It’s a stew (with a fancy name that’s fun to say). But it’s a stew all the same, certainly not something most would consider fine dining. And yet, it’s probably one of the most delicious dishes you’ll ever eat.

I started making beef bourguignon a few years ago as our Christmas dinner. I suppose it’s become our tradition at this point. We entertain a large crowd on Christmas and for a few years, I experimented with various menus, all delicious, but the beef bourguignon stuck. It’s enjoyed by everyone at the table and best yet, can be fully prepared the day before. In fact, it’s even better after sitting in the fridge overnight!

In honor of what would have been Julia’s 100th birthday (August 15), I prepared her infamous beef bourguignon. (I certainly wasn’t going to cook the roast suckling pig.) Beef Bourguignon is normally a recipe I would save for the colder months when it’s lovely to have the house warmed with the slow-cooking oven and flooded with the rich aromas of the dish. But when I think of Julia, I think of beef bourguignon, and so it had to be.

The original recipe can be found in Julia’s first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She was a wise woman who fully recognized that some of the recipes contained in the book may require stretching one’s budget, waistline, time, and schedule, but such are the sacrifices we make in the name of something wonderful to eat. Like many of the dishes in her book, this dish takes some time, but there’s no step too complicated for even the most novice chef. Heed Julia’s advice and cook with abandon. As with many of the world’s greatest pleasures, anything worth having is worth the work it takes to get there.

While I waited for my beef bourguignon to finish cooking, I turned on some music and danced in the kitchen with my boys. Then I poured myself a glass of wine and spread some creamy brie onto slices of French baguette. I’m pretty sure Julia would have approved.

Happy 100th, Julia and Bon Appétit!!

Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon
Boeuf a la Bourguignonne

(In my own words. Very slightly modified from the original.)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound bacon, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 pounds lean stewing beef (cut into approximately 2″ chunks)
  • 1 carrot, sliced (or 10-15 baby carrots, coarse chopped)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups full-bodied red wine
  • 2 – 3 cups beef stock
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 crumbled bay leaf (optional)

For the brown-braised onions (Oignons Glacés à Brun)

  • 1/2 bag frozen white pearl onions, defrosted and patted dry
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup beef stock or beef broth
  • Salt and pepper

For the sautéed mushrooms (Champignons Sautés au Beurre)

  • 1 pound mushrooms, quartered
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Gather and prepare your ingredients prior to cooking. Chop the bacon, chop the beef, chop the veggies, smash the garlic… Preparing your ‘mise en place’ will help things go smoothly once you’ve fired up the stove.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Arrange the beef chunks in a single layer on a tray lined with paper towels. Use additional paper towels to thoroughly pat the beef dry.

*Damp beef will not brown properly.

*Julia recommends chuck beef for stew meat. I usually use the precut ‘stew beef’ from my grocery store. It saves me a few minutes of prep time, which is invaluable when you’re cooking while three young boys threaten to tear the house (or each other) apart.

In a large dutch oven pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook for several minutes, until the bacon is browned and has released most of its fat. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon, leaving the fat in the pan.

*Julia’s recipe calls for a 6 ounce piece of chunk bacon, cut into lardons. Regular sliced bacon will work just fine!

*Any large, stove and oven-safe pan with a tight fitting lid will do the job. I use a 9-quart Le Creuset enameled  cast iron french oven pan.

Over medium/medium-high heat, brown the beef in the bacon fat for a minute or two on each side. Do not overcrowd the pan. The beef should quickly develop a nice caramelized brown on the surface. Turn the beef to brown on all sides, then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Repeat until all of the beef has been browned.

*You do not want to steam or boil the beef. If your beef is not browning properly, it is either due to the heat not being high enough, the pan being over-crowded (which lowers the heat of the bacon fat), or the beef being too damp. Try adjusting each of these conditions.

Once all of the beef has been browned, add the carrots and onions to the pan. Cook for a few minutes until they develop a golden brown color. Then, carefully pour out the excess bacon fat, leaving the veggies in the pan.

Add the beef and bacon back into the pan. Toss with salt and pepper. Then, sprinkle the flour over the mixture and toss again. Place the pan, uncovered, on the middle rack of the preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the mixture, then cook for 4 more minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and reduce the heat to 325 degrees.

Add the wine*, beef stock, tomato paste, garlic, and thyme. Add just enough beef stock to barely cover the beef.

*Julia recommends Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone or Burgundy. I use whatever dry red I have on hand, usually Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Pinot Noir. Use something you enjoy drinking. While you’re at it, go ahead and pour a glass. Julia wouldn’t mind. In fact, I think she would have encouraged it. Cheers!

Bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Then, cover the pan, and place it in the oven. Cook, covered, for about 3 hours. Adjust the temperature slightly, if necessary, so that the liquid maintains a gentle simmer throughout the cooking time.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.

For the onions:

Heat the butter and oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for about 10 minutes, occasionally shaking the pan to allow the onions to roll around in the pan and brown on all sides. Then, add the beef stock. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat. Cover and simmer slowly for about 15-20 minutes. Check the pan towards the end of the cooking time. Most of the liquid should have evaporated and formed a brown glaze around the onions. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

*Julia’s recipe calls for fresh, peeled white onions, about 1″ in diameter. Since my grocery store does not regularly carry the small onions, I use about 1/2 a bag of frozen white pearl onions. The added convenience is that they’re already peeled! Just be sure to defrost completely and pat dry before sauteeing. Fresh onions will require longer cooking time, about 40-50 minutes.

For the mushrooms:

Heat the butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms. Cook for  about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

*The mushrooms will at first appear to absorb the melted butter, but will eventually release the butter and their own liquid. As the liquid evaporates, the mushrooms will acquire a golden brown color.

Season with salt and pepper, then set aside.

Once the beef has finished cooking, carefully pour the mixture through a sieve or strainer. Allow the sauce to collect in a large measuring cup (the 4-cup kind) or glass bowl. Return the beef and bacon to the dutch oven pan. Discard the carrot and onion pieces.

Arrange the brown-braised onions and sauteed mushrooms over the beef.

Allow the sauce to rest for a few minutes. The excess fat will rise to the surface as it rests. Use a spoon to collect and discard the excess fat. Repeat until much of the excess fat has been discarded.

You should have about 2 – 2 1/2 cups of sauce. If you have much more than this, pour the sauce into a small saucepan and simmer uncovered until it’s reduced a bit. It should be quite flavorful and thick enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, as desired. Pour the sauce over the beef, mushrooms, and onions.

Serve over boiled potatoes or hot-buttered noodles. Julia recommends a side of buttered peas as an appropriate veggie side.

This dish reheats exceptionally well. Simply bring to a gentle simmer on the stovetop for a few minutes, until all components are heated through.

If you’ve got 30 minutes to spare, you can watch Julia cooking her beef bourguignon during the first episode of The French Chef  HERE.

Chilled Mango Cucumber Gazpacho

Posted on

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of escaping with my husband to the most charming little place in the Catskills. We’d gone to celebrate the first wedding anniversary of my husband’s beautiful sister at the location she and her husband eloped to last August. Dear old friends, family, and new friends gathered at The Roxbury Motel for a truly blissful weekend.

Grounds of The Roxbury Motel in Roxbury, NY

This place is a polished gem with so many facets that you can’t help but gasp as you view each new angle. It’s hard to put into words and pictures don’t do it justice. It’s just magical. Every space on the property has been tended to with the same special care a momma gives her baby. You can feel the love in every unique little detail. During our time there, we encountered a family with two small children, a group of four women celebrating a bachelorette weekend, a couple on a romantic getaway, and a pair of outdoor sports enthusiasts. Oddly, The Roxbury Motel provides the perfect accommodations for each of these occasions. It’s definitely a special place.

The ‘Maria’s Curtains’ room in The Roxbury Motel

My husband and I stayed in the room which is called ‘Maria’s Curtains’…as in the Maria from The Sound of Music and the curtains she used to create play clothes for the von Trapp children. Our room was swimming in the curtain’s pattern, from the bedding to the hand stenciling which crossed from the walls to the ceiling, to the custom tiling around the massive soaking tub. The lamps were made of brown paper packages tied up with strings. And two fantastically tiny, bright copper kettles sat on a small corner table. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t spend half of the weekend singing My Favorite Things in my ridiculously out-of-tune voice.

We stayed up too late laughing with friends, old and new. We had massages. We soaked in the spa’s hot tub. We drank champagne. And we dined at an amazing little restaurant, called the Peekamoose. The Peekamoose prides itself on its use of locally grown, seasonal ingredients with a menu which changes based on the day’s freshest available foods. Their execution is flawless in every way. I enjoyed a peppery arugula salad tossed in a light vinaigrette with fresh peaches, chevre, and toasted pine nuts, followed by tender goat cheese gnocchi and then the most decadent slow-cooked braised short ribs in a truffled bordelaise sauce. It was an amazing meal.

Exterior of the Peekamoose Restaurant in Big Indian, NY

My husband enjoyed the same selections, with the exception of the first course. For his first course, he selected the chilled watermelon gazpacho. (I stole a taste, of course.) And when we arrived back home to find a box full of the most beautiful, perfectly ripe mangos on my doorstep (courtesy of the National Mango Board), I was instantly inspired. Mango gazpacho.

Traditionally, gazpacho is a chilled tomato-based soup accented with cucumbers, onion, and peppers. But, inspired by the sweet and savory watermelon gazpacho at Peekamoose and the box full of gorgeous mangos on my doorstep, I came up with this refreshing (and quite mangolicious) variation.

Somebody couldn’t stay away from the mangos…

Mangos are just so perfectly versatile. They’re sweet, smooth, and bursting with fiber and vitamin C. Everyone in our family loves their flavor and I always feel good about feeding my family fresh, nutritious foods. When selecting mangos, focus more on the feel of the fruit, than the color. A ripe mango will feel slightly soft, like a peach. If your mangos are not quite ripe, store them on your countertop for a few days. Placing them in a brown paper bag can help speed the ripening process. Once they are ripe, you can store them in the fridge for up to five days. For a photo guide on how to cut mangos, check out my mango guide HERE or stop by www.mango.org for more tips and delicious mango recipes.

Apparently, I was taking too long to cut the mangos.

This smooth, chilled soup makes a refreshing first course during a summer meal or an eager partner to a nice fresh salad. Sweet mango provides the main flavor base, combined with a bit of creamy Greek yogurt and vegetable broth. Fresh cucumber, added to both the soup and the garnish lends a cool, crisp flavor. We tend to like things spicy around here, but you can easily adjust the spiciness to your family’s liking by increasing or decreasing the cayenne and jalapeño pepper in the recipe.

Chilled Mango Cucumber Gazpacho

Ingredients

  • 4-5 large mangos, skin and pit removed, cut into chunks*
  • 1 (6-ounce) container plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 (15-ounce) can vegetable broth
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 3″ segment seedless cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (plus more if desired)

For the garnish

  • 6″ segment of seedless cucumber, finely diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, ribs and seeds removed, finely diced
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • Basil oil, optional

*Click HERE for a photo guide on how to cut a mango.

Directions

Place the mango chunks in a blender. Blend until smooth. (You should have about 3 1/2 cups of mango puree.) Add the cucumber, vegetable broth, lemon juice, and yogurt. Blend until smooth. Add salt and cayenne pepper, as desired. Refrigerate until chilled.

For the garnish, combine the cucumber, jalapeño pepper, and shallot with the lime juice. Refrigerate until serving.

For the optional basil oil, blend about 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves with abut 1/4 cup of olive oil, then strain through a fine sieve or a piece of cheesecloth to remove large chunks of basil.

Grilled Soy-Ginger Flank Steak and Asian Cabbage Slaw

Posted on

I’ve written before about my Lucas and his regard for the truth. If Lucas tells you that pink elephants are falling from the sky, you’d better seek cover and fast. The kid doesn’t lie.

What I didn’t realize until recently is that his regard for the truth carries over into his assumption that everyone else around him is also always telling the truth. My first inkling of this issue occurred on an afternoon when Lucas approached the screen door, which was locked to prevent the baby from letting himself out. He called inside, where my husband and I were sitting, and requested to be let in. In what should have been obvious jest, my husband called back, Nope, sorry. You’re an outside kid now. I giggled. Lucas did not. He instantly crumbled to the deck floor and sobbed, But…I don’t want to live outside. 

His literal interpretation of any statement explains why he became so upset when his older brother told him we were going to put salt on his ice cream cone instead of sprinkles. It also explains why a simple game of hide-and-seek with his brother became so complex. Lucas was assigned the role of seeker. Liam came crashing into the house, ran into the bathroom and slammed the door behind him. Very un-ninja-like. Lucas began counting, 1.. 2.. 3.. 4.. 5.. 6.. 100. Then, he began searching the house. Meanwhile, Liam is raising a ruckus in the bathroom…slamming the toilet seat, running the water, banging into walls. Lucas jiggled the bathroom door knob, but couldn’t get the door open. So, he called into the bathroom, Are you in there, Liam? Liam (clearly from the bathroom) shouted, No…I’m under the dining room table. Lucas ran off to check under the table. Unable to locate his brother in the dining room, Lucas returned to the bathroom to ask, Where are you? Liam then explained that he was hiding under the kitchen table. Lucas, of course, checked the kitchen table and then came to me and sadly said, I can’t find Liam. 

He’s in the bathroom, silly goose.

I cried myself laughing when I shared this story with my husband. As exhausting as it often feels to spend spend all day, every day, with my very busy kids, I am so happy to be able to witness these funny times in their lives.

At the end of a busy day of mind-boggling hide-and-seek, a delicious dinner is always in order. This meal is inspired by a cabbage salad I recently had the pleasure of tasting at a friend’s barbecue. I’ve tasted other similar salads; fresh cabbage in a sweet, tangy dressing, topped with some sort of nut and crushed ramen noodles. It’s the ramen noodles that sell me every time. Seriously, how addicting are uncooked ramen noodles?? I decided I’d come up with my own rendition of an Asian cabbage salad, sweetened with honey, mixed with sweet red pepper and bean sprouts, and finished with cashews and the gotta-have-’em ramen noodles. This recipe makes a bucketful of the addictive salad. I’ve been happily eating it for three days now.

But, this meal doesn’t stop with the salad. Using the same set of ingredients in different proportions, I came up with a simple soy-ginger marinade, which I dunked a nicely trimmed flank steak into. I let the steak chill out in the marinade for about an hour or so, then I threw it on the grill and sliced it up to serve over the cabbage salad. Let me tell you, aside from imparting savory goodness into the meat, this marinade did something magical to the steak. Even though I let my steak go a bit too long on the grill, the result was incredibly tender, practically falling apart around the exterior. Even the baby, with all of his six (almost eight) perfect teeth, thoroughly enjoyed this steak. I’m sure the tenderizing has something to do with the soy sauce in the marinade breaking down the proteins in the steak. Honestly, I’m just as content to believe it’s a magical marinade.

I told Lucas it was magic. He ate all of his steak, of course.

Grilled Soy-Ginger Flank Steak

Ingredients

  • 1 flank steak (1.5-2 pounds), trimmed of excess fat
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sambal oelek (ground chili paste)*

*Can substitute cayenne pepper, to taste

Directions

Whisk together the soy sauce, ginger, oil, honey, garlic, rice vinegar, and sambal oelek until well combined. Pour the mixture over the steak in an air-tight container. Refrigerate for about an hour or two. Periodically turn the steak in the marinade so that all sides are coated.

After the steak has been well marinaded, preheat the grill at medium heat. Place the steak on the grill. Allow the steak to cook for approximately 6 minutes on each side, or until it reaches your desired doneness. Remove the steak from the grill and allow to rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

Serves about 6

Asian Cabbage Slaw

Ingredients

  • 1 head cabbage, shaved or very thinly sliced
  • 1 sweet red pepper, ribs and seeds removed, shaved or very thinly sliced
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sambal oelek
  • 1 cup roasted cashews
  • 1 package ramen noodles, uncooked, broken into small pieces

Directions

In a very large bowl or container, combine the cabbage, red pepper, and bean sprouts. Toss to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, honey, ginger, soy sauce, and sambal oelek until well blended. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss until well combined. Add the cashews and toss to disperse. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Add the crushed ramen noodles just before serving.

Serves about 8

Grilled Peach and Prosciutto Salad with Creamy BBQ Dressing

Posted on

There’s a little angel who lives on one of my shoulders, whispering, Be a good girl, Amy. Eat the apple instead of the brownie. Put down that fifth glass of wine. Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. 

There’s a little devil on the other shoulder. He woos me with sexy little suggestions like, Come on, Amy…life’s too short to not enjoy delicious food. You’re not that much overweight. That chocolate will taste even better than skinny will feel. And wine is good for you…scientists say so. Trust me. Trust me. 

I was never ‘overweight’ until I had my babies. As a child, I was one of those featherweight gals who could scarf down remarkable quantities of lemon Italian ices, yodels, and meatball subs without a care. My hunger was infinite. In high school, I gained height without weight and bordered on scrawny. I sobbed like there was no tomorrow over my flat-chested fate. In college, I quickly gained the freshman fifteen (or twenty) on a diet of pizza, beer and Lucky Charms. It filled me out and gave me the curves I’d craved so badly in my youth. I slimmed down by the end of my college days. From there on out, I maintained a healthy weight, with barely an effort. I haven’t been ‘skinny’ since my high school days. But I was healthy and trim.

And then I had my boys. I gained a little more than I should have with each pregnancy. I lost most of the weight between pregnancies with a bit of discipline, but still started each pregnancy five pounds heavier than the one before. And now, here I sit, over a year after the birth of my third son, still struggling to get my weight down. It’s been harder this time. I’m not that far out of a healthy weight range for my height, but those pounds make a difference.

I started this year pumped full of motivation to lose the baby weight, just like millions of others who make grand new year resolutions and swear they’ll stick with them. I actually had a really successful start and quickly lost 15 or so pounds early in the year. And then I got lax and the number on the scale started creeping up again. I’ve been playing the yo-yo game ever since. Lose a few, gain a few, lose a few, gain a few. Lather, rinse and repeat. It would be so much easier if I didn’t love food so darn much!

The funny thing about those little guys on my shoulders is that, in my mind, the angel is blissfully plump. The devil is thin and decrepit. I secretly think that the angel wants me to enjoy the chocolate. He wants me to enjoy the beautiful world of delicious food…just in moderation, of course.

Thankfully, there’s no shortage of drool-worthy food out there which can still be enjoyed within the framework of wanting to shed a few pounds. And there’s no better time than the summer, when produce is at its peak and the hot weather naturally inclines us to eat lighter, to achieve those healthful goals. Take advantage of the season’s bounty to enjoy fresh salads full of vibrant summer flavors, like this grilled peach and prosciutto salad in a creamy barbecue-inspired dressing. Ripe peaches, at their summer best, get grilled to bring out even more of their natural sweetness. Combine that with crisp red onion slices, savory prosciutto, and salty gorgonzola, drizzled with a slightly-spicy BBQ dressing, and you’ll be singing summer’s praises.

Grilled Peach and Prosciutto Salad with Creamy BBQ Dressing

Ingredients

  • 3 peaches, sliced
  • 8 slices prosciutto, chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced
  • 8 cups mixed spring greens
  • 3/4 cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
  • Vegetable oil, for rubbing the grill

For the Creamy BBQ Dressing:

  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup mayonaisse
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions

Wipe your grill with a bit of vegetable oil to help prevent sticking. Preheat the grill at medium heat. Place the peach slices on the preheated grill and cook for a couple minutes on each side, until tender. (The peaches can be used hot off the grill or chilled.)

To prepare the dressing, stir the ketchup, mayo, brown sugar, mustard, worcestershire sauce, vinegar, onion powder, and cayenne pepper together until smooth. Refrigerate until using.

To assemble the salad, place about 2 cups of the spring greens on each plate. Scatter the onion slices over the greens. Arrange the peaches in the center. Top with the prosciutto and gorgonzola. Drizzle with the dressing.

Makes 4 Entree-Sized Salads

Watermelon Tomato Summer Salad

Posted on

I’m beginning to feel like I’m being set up to play the role of the little old lady who swallowed a fly. I live in a quiet suburban neighborhood outside of Syracuse, NY. It’s a peaceful neighborhood, filled with big, old trees; trees with stature and history. But it’s not a wooded area, by far. It’s neither city, nor country. Just a nice, old suburban neighborhood.

And as in many suburban neighborhoods, we have the occasional sightings of small woodland creatures; squirrels, chipmunks, an infrequent rabbit…nothing too unusual. Every so often, we have the pleasure of spotting a befuddled deer standing in the middle of the road, before it gallops off to find its family. But lately, these sightings are becoming more common and increasingly bizarre. Deer seem to be everywhere these days. (One of them even charged my husband’s car the other night.) And I’ve yet to figure out the large crane-like bird I spotted standing beside the small creek which runs behind my local Target.

Since our yard is fully fenced, animal sightings (aside from our own labrasaurus rex) on our property were once rare. Lately however, it’s a practical wild kingdom out there. Our perimeters have been breached. We are now the proud step-parents of a sweet brown bunny with a fluffy white tail, an orange mouse-catching tabby cat, at least one chipmunk, and a woodchuck…all of whom visit on a regular rotating basis whenever the kids or dog are not occupying the yard. Just this morning, I watched as the tabby cat (sans mouse) took his patrolling position atop the fence, much to the dismay of the woodchuck who was leisurely roaming the yard. It’s like my very own menagerie out there. Anyone know what woodchucks eat?

She swallowed the deer to catch the woodchuck. She swallowed the woodchuck to catch the crane. She swallowed the crane to catch the cat. She swallowed the cat to catch the mouse. She swallowed the mouse to catch the fly… I don’t know why she swallowed the fly. Perhaps she’ll die.

I don’t think I like where this is all headed.

But it’s no wonder my neighborhood is being taken over by the wild. It’s been absolutely gorgeous out there. Gone are the winter coats and gone are the days of heavy macaroni and cheeses, filling casseroles, and slow-cooked roasts. This is the time for simple grilled foods and light, refreshing side dishes, like this watermelon and tomato salad. This salad just screams summer to me. Sweet watermelon and fresh orange segments are tossed with summer-ripe tomatoes in a light orange-dijon vinaigrette. It’s beautifully vibrant in both color and flavor!

I served this summery salad as part of our Father’s Day dinner, aside slices of grilled flank steak, which I drizzled in balsamic reduction and topped with gorgonzola and homemade crispy onion straws. It’s a perfect meal to bring in the summer!

Watermelon-Tomato Summer Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 cups seedless watermelon, scooped into small balls
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 oranges, segmented*
  • 1/4 cup red onion, thinly shaved
  • 5-6 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade**
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest (from one of the oranges)
  • Salt
  • Crushed red pepper
*Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to segment an orange.
**Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to chiffonade.

Directions

Combine the watermelon, cherry tomatoes, orange segments, red onion, and basil in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the orange juice, olive oil, red wine vinegar, mustard, and orange zest until well blended. Season with salt and crushed red pepper as desired. Pour the vinaigrette over the fruits and toss to combine. Serve chilled.

Breakfast and Brunch Recipe Round-Up

Posted on

I recently shared a recipe for a Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Bagel Casserole, as an option for a special Father’s Day breakfast in bed. Just in case that idea doesn’t float your boat, here’s a round-up of previously posted breakfast ideas. Any of these would make a spectacular Father’s Day breakfast for the dad in your life or a great addition to your next brunch buffet!

Cinnamon-Raisin Donut Bread Pudding

Carrot Cake Pancakes with Cream Cheese Glaze

Potato and Chorizo Frittata

Fluffernutter Bread Pudding

Nutella and Strawberry Stuffed French Toast with Raspberry Coulis

Sausage, Biscuit, and Gravy Casserole

Eggs Benedict

Birthday Cake (Sprinkles) Pancakes

Cinnamon French Toast Bake

PB&J French Toast

Roasted Vegetable and Goat Cheese Quiche

Strawberry-Stuffed French Toast

Chocolate Chip Bacon Pancakes

Quiche Lorraine




Spicy Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad

Posted on

Many years ago, my husband and I decided we wanted to watch the movie, Zodiac, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. We went down to our local Redbox machine to pick up the movie. We grabbed a six-pack of beer, some snacks and settled in to enjoy the film. About thirty minutes into the movie, one of us commented that it was odd that we hadn’t seen Jake Gyllenhaal yet, but we kept watching. An hour past; no Jake. We kept watching. Then, the screen went black, in the moment just before the credits rolled. And somehow we were still expecting Jake Gyllenhaal’s appearance. He never appeared. Turns out that we had rented The Zodiac, starring nobody you know. The length of time it took for us to discover our mistake leaves some room for concern.

And then there are movies whose titles sound similar, yet whose content is nothing alike. This can also lead to some interesting mishaps, like the time our father intended to record The Goonies for my young sisters and I to watch as children. Had he truly recorded The Goonies, we surely would have enjoyed watching the movie together. But, my well-intentioned father had not in fact recorded The Goonies. What he had inadvertently recorded was a horror movie about small toothy monsters called Ghoulies. The movie opened with a terrifying scene which gave us nightmares for weeks afterward and caused me to discard my once favorite nightgown, which was creepily similar to the one worn by a short-lived character in the opening scene; the opening scene which will forever be burned into my mind.

Note to self: Double check that I have in fact recorded Mickey Mouse Clubhouse for the kids to watch and not Mickey Mouse’s House of Torture and Pain.

Watching tv can be tricky. Good food doesn’t need to be. This family-pleasing pasta salad marries sweet summer corn with tender broccoli and crispy bacon in a spicy ranch dressing. It’s a perfect balance of flavors and textures which would make a great summer side salad for your next picnic or barbecue. There’s no room for confusion here. This is good stuff, people!

Spicy Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 pound small pasta, cooked al dente according to package directions
  • 2 cups broccoli, lightly steamed and chopped
  • 1 cup sweet corn kernels
  • 5-6 slices bacon, cooked and chopped

For the dressing:

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp dry mustard powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 5-6 chives, chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 2-3 tablespoons diced chiles, fresh or canned*
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (plus more, if desired)*

Directions

To make the dressing: Stir together the sour cream and mayonnaise, until smooth. Add the lemon juice, salt, pepper, dry mustard powder, onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika. Stir in the chopped chives, diced chiles, chile powder and cayenne. Taste and adjust seasoning, as desired.

Toss the pasta, broccoli, corn, and bacon with the dressing. Refrigerate until serving.

*You can adjust the quantities of chiles and cayenne pepper based on your family’s preferred level of spiciness. As written, it will produce a medium spicy dressing.


Spicy Corn and Lentils

Posted on

So…I did it. I started Irish step dancing classes last Wednesday. This is very unlike me. I’m typically so self-conscious that I avoid doing anything which requires me to put my lack of skills on display. Heck, I even shy away from displays of things I’m good at. And dance?? Well, of any imaginable area of skill, I am the farthest from skilled in dance. I trip over my own feet while walking on a near-daily basis and my pinky toes are constantly throbbing from cornering too early and catching them on the edges of furniture and walls. I am a coordination mess. And yet, I’ve just signed myself up to display my unadulterated klutziness in front of fellow dance students and our skillful instructor. What in the world has come over me?? I’m becoming bold in my old age. 

But here’s the thing… For many years, I have watched Irish step dancers with an emotional mixture of admiration, awe, and regret. I stare at their coordinated feet, wishing I could go back in time to when I was about four years old and beg my parents to sign me up for lessons. I want to dance like those dancers with the very same heart-aching passion I felt just before I signed up for the culinary program at French Culinary Institute. That culinary program turned out to be one of the most soul-satisfying experiences of my entire life. It settled my urge. It took away my longing and replaced it with skills and knowledge to use and enjoy for the rest of my life.

And so, on a whim, I started this process of searching for an Irish dance school which offered classes for adult beginners. My first few inquiries came up dry. But then I got a hopeful response; an instructor who was considering starting an adult beginner class. It took a while before it became official. I was even a little relieved when I didn’t instantly hear back, since part of me would have been content to stay huddled in my turtle shell. And then I got the email. She was starting a class. Two of my lovely friends agreed to join me.

We fumbled our way through our first class. Our instructor gracefully modeled a few ‘simple’ steps and then we hurled ourselves across the room, tripping over our feet and each other. But we smiled and laughed the entire time. At one point, our instructor turned on the music as we skipped our way across the room, and with a smile plastered across my face, all I could think was We’re doing it! We’re Irish step dancing. I’m not sure anyone would have classified our movements at that point as ‘Irish step dancing’, but our instructor was generous in her praise of our clumsy maneuvers. I woke up delightfully sore the next morning. I spent the next week practicing my sweet new moves, much to the delight of my three boys who make a very eager, if not amused, audience. Last night was our second class. We fell over each other  and laughed to near tears as we put our new moves together into a dance. I already feel that satisfying calming feeling that culinary school gave me.

Another benefit to this grand adventure is that it’s reinvigorated my motivation for regaining my pre-three-babies-in four-years figure. I’ve watched myself practice my dance moves on video. It’s not pretty. I long to be lean, controlled, and lighter on my feet, rather than the bouncing, clobbering elephant I’m currently channeling. I’m refocused and ready. Summer weather certainly adds to the motivation too!

Recently, I ran across a slideshow of twenty weight loss super-foods. Foods were selected for their abilities to increase metabolism, satisfy hunger, build muscle, and decrease fat. Several of the foods were practically begging to be married together in a sort of miracle weight-loss dish. Inspired by this list of weight loss super-foods, I came up with these spicy lentils and corn served with grilled cedar-plank wild salmon. Now, I have no research to prove that this harmonious marriage of flavors will actually result in a thinner waistline, but at the very least, they will make your mouth and belly quite happy.

This tasty dish combines lentils, corn, olive oil, sardines, chipotle chile peppers, and wild salmon. Don’t be afraid of the sardines. There are just enough in this recipe to add a savory umami (the fifth taste) flavor that really complements the spicy chipotle and sweet corn. Their fine texture practically melts into the dish, adding a subtle layer of savory goodness. Be bold, give ’em a chance. And click on over to SELF’s slideshow for more info on each of these super-food’s super-slimming powers!

Do you have something you always wished you’d done? Why not give it a try? There’s no time like today!

Spicy Corn and Lentils (with Wild Salmon)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup lentils
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup sweet corn kernels (frozen or fresh), cooked
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/8 cup boneless sardines, shredded
  • 1/8 cup red onion, finely diced
  • 1 chipotle pepper (from a can of chipotles in adobo), chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • Salt (about 1/4-1/2 teaspoon)

For the Salmon:

  • 4 wild salmon fillets
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Chile Powder
  • Parsley

Directions

Cook lentils in water with a pinch of salt, according to package directions. (Cooking time will vary depending on the color/type of lentils. I used green lentils which simmered for 30-35 minutes. Other lentils may require more or less time. Cook until tender, but not mushy.) Toss the cooked corn kernels with the lentils.

In a small pan, heat the olive oil over medium/medium-low heat. Add the sardines, onion, and chipotle. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are tender. Add the parsley. Toss the mixture with the lentils and corn. Taste and season with salt, as desired.

For the salmon: Rub the fillets with olive oil. Season with salt, chile powder, and parsley. Grill on a soaked cedar plank* over indirect heat or broil until cooked.

*Look for cedar planks near the grilling supplies at your local grocery store or Target. Soak the planks in water for at least an hour before using. Place the salmon on the planks. Preheat your grill at medium heat. Ideally, arrange the planks on your grill so they are not directly over the heat. Grill with the cover closed until cooked through.

Makes 4 Servings

Secrets of An Avon Beauty Boss

Achieving Beautiful Dreams with Avon

The Gourmand Mom

Good food, seasoned with a dash of life

%d bloggers like this: