Saturday, July 31, 2010

Barefoot Bloggers: Greek Panzanella

Greek Panzanella was this month's Barefoot Bloggers pick. Though it may not take any longer to prepare than any other salad, this is no ordinary salad. The tangy, Mediterranean flavors in the vinaigrette along with the toasted bread cubes gives this dish its original flair. It would be a great dish for a party or dinner guests as it's more memorable than your everyday salad but isn't any more trouble to prepare. It's the kind of dish that guests are sure to remember, but you won't have to sweat over it too much.

This recipe was paired with an Herb-Marinated Pork Tenderloin in the episode guide. That sounded good so me so I whipped that up too. The recipe utilizes fresh herbs and lemon juice as a marinade which compounds the tenderness of the already tender loin. A bright and cheerful dish - both to the eye and to the palette.

Greek Panzanella
(from Barefoot Contessa)

  • Good olive oil
  • 1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1 red bell pepper, large diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, large diced
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced in half rounds
  • 1/2 pound feta cheese, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup calamata olives, pitted


  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup good red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup good olive oil
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread cubes and sprinkle with salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 5 to 10 minutes, until nicely browned. Add more olive oil as needed.

Place the cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, tomatoes and red onion in a large bowl.

For the vinaigrette, whisk together the garlic, oregano, mustard, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper in a small bowl. While still whisking, add the olive oil and make an emulsion. Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables. Add the feta, olives and bread cubes and mix together lightly. Set aside for 30 minutes for the flavors to blend. Serve at room temperature.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer Supper: Quickie BBQ and Mac n' Cheese

Please Note: I'm having a bit of a blog template hiccup, so the background and sidebar items may look altered until I can restore order.

I love BBQ. When I was younger and traveled around with my parents, my dad was always searching for the best BBQ. He became a self-professed connoisseur of BBQ sauces from different parts of the south. I'd never attempted making it myself until about 2 years ago - of all times, when my parents were visiting for dinner! I don't know what I was thinking. Though that first try was just average, my dad gave his compliments, but to me, I imagine he would have said it was good even if it tasted like cow dung.

Anyway, nothing speaks summer quite like BBQ. This time I followed the Neely's recipe for BBQ sauce and it yielded much better results than my last attempt. I roasted the chicken in the sauce and then shredded it. It's topped with a Green Apple Slaw.

Now Mac n' Cheese might not scream summer the way that BBQ does, but it sure goes well with it.

Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from Real Restaurant Recipes

2 c. dry macaroni
4 tbs. butter
4 tbs. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 1/2 - 3 cups milk
1 egg
2 cups aged cheddar cheese

Cook, rinse, and drain macaroni, then set aside. Melt butter in pan then add flour, salt, and pepper and whisk until blended. Gradually stir in 2 1/2 cups milk (adding more later if needed for consistency) and whisk often until sauce thickens. In a large bowl, whisk the egg then add the macaroni and stir until coated with the egg. Then mix in the cheese and finally, the sauce. Pour into a lightly oiled baking dish and sprinkle more cheese on top, if desired. Bake at 350 for about 20 - 25 minutes.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Since reinstating "Pizza Friday" in April, we've been faithful in upholding the tradition. Though not always innovative with our choice of toppings (which often falls to pepperoni and olives), the crust and sauce are always homemade. In April, I referred you to Elise of Simply Recipes for a spectacular crust recipe, which with her fine pictures and directions is sure to be a success. So this time, I thought I'd share a sauce recipe.

This sauce has a balanced sweet/salty flair with the addition of the Parmesan cheese and honey. It flattered the similar sweet/salty combo of this week's choice of toppings: pineapple and Canadian bacon.

Pizza Sauce
(adapted from

1 can tomato sauce
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 medium clove garlic, minced (about 1 tsp.)
1 tbs. honey
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. basil
pinch pepper
pinch salt

Combine and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Spread over crust and top as desired.

In other news . . .

This was the perfect accompaniment for a stormy Saturday afternoon. In case you can't tell, the book is the Penguin Classics edition of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Since most of my Austen books were purged in a yard sale several years ago (I must have been in one of my desperate purging moods), I'm thinking of rebuilding my collection with these hardcover editions. Each cover is slightly different and they have such a nostalgic feel to them (minus the dust and musty smell of most vintage books).

I hope you're enjoying your weekend . . .

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Summer Supper: Inspiration

Whenever I get into a food funk I try to reflect on past sources of inspiration to light my cooking fire again. These days, my sources of inspiration are mostly blogs and food websites, and of course, cooking shows (which incidentally, I watch while I'm working out - go figure).

Of course, this hasn't always been the case. The internet was just taking off when I was a teenager and we didn't have a home computer until I was in my sophomore year of high school. Growing up, my earliest influence was cooking with my mother. I worked alongside her nearly every evening, preparing dinner. When I was younger my mother was what you might call a "homestyle" cook so under her direction I learned the basics - sauteing, searing, frying, baking, all that good stuff.

However, it was travel that sparked my interest in becoming more exploratory and experimenting with unfamiliar ingredients. My dad traveled internationally for work and I often tagged along. After each trip I strove to recreate the flavors that I'd experienced abroad in my family's kitchen.

The first "gourmet" dish that I ever made was a Honey Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Fennel from the book, Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. Both the fennel and the Mascarpone cheese that the recipe called for were virtually unexplored ingredients in our household. It was a much richer dish than my family was used to eating but it was deemed a success. I started tinkering with the ingredients and eventually transformed it into something that became a regular stand-by recipe for potlucks and family gatherings.

I would say that experience defines my approach to food which is a blend of trying out the creations of others, and then tinkering with my own additions and adaptations.

One of my recent inspirations is David Lebovitz, who I discovered when I was searching for a recipe for spanakopita. I stumbled across his and gave it a shot - it was a fabulous pairing of simple ingredients. The only thing that I left out was the nutmeg.

I served it alongside a marinated bean salad. The twangy, slightly sweet Mediterranean flavors complimented the earthy flavors of the feta and spinach in the spanakopita.

Marinated Bean Salad

3 tbs. olive oil
2 tbs. red wine vinegar
2 tbs. honey
2 tbs. chopped, fresh mint
1/4 c. parsley
2 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 cucumber, diced
2 tbs. olives, minced
1 can of white/Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed well
squeeze of lemon juice, about 1-2 tsp.
salt and pepper, to taste
feta (option, for topping)

Whisk together oil, vinegar, and honey. Add all other ingredients, through salt/pepper and toss gently. Allow to marinate at least one hour (longer is better) in the refrigerator. Sprinkle individual portions with feta cheese, if desired.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Too Hot to Cook

Ok, I'll add to the plethora (don't you love that word?) of posts out there about the heat. It's hot, folks. As I went out to water my flowers this morning I grew just a little bit irritable as I broke into a sweat at 8:00AM! The heat has also impacted my desire to cook. I've been trying not to let the air conditioner run constantly so it's usually pretty balmy in my house. The last thing I want to do is raise the mercury even higher by turning on the stove or the oven. I'll admit I'm not altogether too inventive when it comes to no-cook food so it's usually just the standard salad or sandwich.

Last week, while it was still in the 80s (which seems like it would feel really nice and cool right about now) I made this pasta dish that I read about from a fellow blogger at The Hungry Dog. It seemed like it would be a nice break from the usual tomato-based pasta dish. Indeed, it was! The sauce was creamy, without the cream and no single flavor was too overpowering. I love the flavor of cooked spinach and the ham added a hint of sweet saltiness. It was a great summer comfort food; filling, but not too heavy, and best of all, simple.

I've posted my adapted version below as well as a link to the lovely, original post at The Hungry Dog, who found the recipe in Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan, which looks like a lovely cookbook.

Pasta with Spinach Sauce

1 16 - oz. package fresh spinach
3 tbs. butter
1 c. cubed ham
1 15 oz. container ricotta
1/2 c. grated Parmesan
1 lb. penne pasta

In a large pot, cook spinach over medium heat until reduced and wilted. Drain slightly. (Note: I didn't excessively drain my spinach as I wanted the spinach water to replace some of the butter in this recipe, allowing the sauce to maintain a liquid consistency. ) Saute the ham in butter for several minutes until lightly browned. Add the ricotta, Parmesan, and salt to taste. Cook for several more minutes or until heated through, adding small amounts of salted pasta water if necessary to achieve the desired consistency). Cook pasta according to package instructions then drain and combine with sauce. Top with more freshly grated Parmesan cheese if desired.

Enjoy! This pasta was fantastic. Thanks again to The Hungry Dog for the inspiration.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Barefoot Bloggers: Sour Cream Coffee Cake

This cake was fabulous! I admit, I did make quite a few adaptations. I don't do a lot of baking in the summer, particularly baking rich, heavy foods. So the changes that I made were in an effort to make it lighter and healthier while still staying as true as possible to the original recipe and flavor.

First off, since this cake looked gigantic, I made a half batch. I also used part whole wheat flour and low fat sour cream. I opted against the glaze and instead put all of the streusel on top. The cake was moist and and the flavors light and simple - the perfect after dinner treat. This is definitely a keeper and I will no doubt be seeking this recipe out to make as it was originally intended for a special occasion or holiday.

I've posted my adaptations below - as always you can click the title to view the original recipe.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake
(adapted from Barefoot Contessa)

6 tbs. butter, room temperature
3/4 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 c. sour cream
1/2 c. whole wheat flour
3/4 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt


2 tbs. brown sugar
1/4 c. flour
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 1/2 tbs. cold butter
1/2 c. chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour single layer 8-inch cake pan (I used a cheesecake pan so that I could remove the outer rim without disrupting the topping).

Cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, then add the vanilla and sour cream. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add flour mixture to the batter until just combined.

For the streusel, mix together sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt. Cut in cold butter, then add walnuts. Pour into prepared pan then sprinkle streusel evenly on top. Bake for 40 - 50 minutes or until tester comes out clean.

Serve and enjoy!

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Barefoot Bloggers Meets Summer Supper

The BB pick for this month is Scalloped Tomatoes, but when I checked the episode guide I decided to make everything from that show in one meal. The episode was entitled Farm Stand Food and also included Zucchini Pancakes and Cape Codd Chopped Salad.

I must admit that while the scalloped tomatoes were pretty good, I enjoyed the zucchini pancakes and chopped salad more. The scalloped tomatoes were a wee bit too sweet for me and if I make them again, I'll be sure to put 1 tbs. of sugar instead of 2 - perhaps even less. I also think that the bread chunks are sufficient if the entire portion is eaten at once. However, this is almost never the case at my house as I'm only feeding my husband and myself. I typically cook 4 nights per week and the days in-between are leftover nights. When we reheated the scalloped tomatoes the second night, the bread chunks didn't hold up, and kind of dissolved into the dish. I'm glad that I tried this dish but I think I will stick with my stand-by stewed tomatoes which I prepare similar to chicken n' dumplings, by cooking mounds of dough in boiling tomatoes. All said, it was a great Summer Supper!

The zucchini pancakes were quite tasty and the Cape Cod Chopped Salad was excellent! It has the blend of flavors that I most love in a salad with the saltiness from the bacon, the sweetness of the cranberries, and the slight tang from the dressing. It is definitely one that I will make again and again.

I'm including the recipes for the Zucchini Pancakes and Cobb Salad with my minor adaptations. (I've included a link for the scalloped tomatoes but I'm not posting the recipe here since I didn't make any changes.) Of course, you can click the links to see the original recipes.
Zucchini Pancakes

2 med. zucchini
2 medium shallots, minced
2 eggs, beaten
6 tbs. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
olive oil

Grate the zucchini and then transfer to a strainer. Press zucchini with a cloth to release some of the water. Stir in shallots and eggs, then flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat then brush with olive oil. Spoon 1/3 c. pancake mixture onto pan and flatten with spatula or spoon. Note: Ina's recipe said to cook for 2 min on each side but mine took way longer than that - I'd estimate about 5-6 min. per side. I just kept checking them until they were sufficiently brown.

Pancakes can be kept warm in a 250 - 300 degree oven. I have an electric skillet so I simply threw all the pancakes back on the skillet for a few seconds to crispen them up before serving.
Cape Cod Chopped Salad

8 oz. Canadian bacon, sliced thick and cubed
1 apple, peeled and diced
1/2 c. walnut pieces
1/2 c. dried cranberries
1 bag of Italian Salad mix with herbs


3 tbs. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. grated orange zest
juice from 1 orange
3 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tbs. maple syrup
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
1/3 c. olive oil

In a large bowl, toss together the bacon, apple, walnuts, and cranberries. Whisk together ingredients for the dressing then pour over the chopped mixture. When ready to serve, spoon the mixture over Italian salad mix.

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Saying Good-Bye to Spring

On this, the eve of summer, it has been perhaps the hottest day of the season. I haven't checked the stats so I don't know that for a fact, but with the humidity it has surely felt like the hottest day of the season.

All day I've been daydreaming about this. . . .

I actually made this on a rather cool spring day in late April. It had been unseasonably warm for several days in a row but on the day that I made this, the temperatures took a 30-degree nosedive. Go figure. We still enjoyed the refreshing flavor of this somewhat light dessert.

So needless to say, the ingredients for a new batch of ice cream has made its way onto my grocery list for tomorrow. I contemplated making this, which I spotted on La Bella Cook. However, my hubby has requested chocolate, so I'll go with that for now. But doesn't that Margarita ice cream sound absolutely divine?

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

2 c. vanilla yogurt
1/2 c. 2% or whole milk
1/4 c. sugar
1 pint fresh strawberries, smashed
a few sprigs of mint for garnish

Dissolve sugar into strawberries over low heat. Allow to come to room temperature after sugar has dissolved. Meanwhile combine yogurt and milk. Mix with a whisk until smooth. Add cooled strawberries to the mixture and combine with an electric mixer on low speed for about 30 seconds. Process in ice cream maker for about 20 - 30 minutes.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Where in the world have I been?!?

Yes, I have had a bit of an unexplained absence lately. No, I did not fall off the blogosphere. I've just been on vacation. Now, if I was a good little blogger I would have posted to that effect and indeed I intended to but there was so much to do in the days leading up to our departure that it just didn't happen. As each day unfolded I would think to myself, when I get everything done, I'll sit down and post. . . You see how that turned out.

So where in the world have I been? Actually, nowhere too terribly exciting. I just spent a quiet week at Topsail Beach in North Carolina. We rent a house there every summer and we only go out to eat one night during the week so preparing for the trip is quite the ordeal. With all the stuff we have to take I tend to feel like I'm moving instead of going on vacation.

In the midst of the chaos before we left, I did manage to cook one good, wholesome meal. I had intended to post this as a grilled shrimp recipe for Barefoot Bloggers, however, it rained nearly every evening during the week that the post was scheduled so I finally gave up and just sauteed them. I followed the recipe for Ina's Grilled Herb Shrimp exactly, except of course, for the actual grilling part, and they were still delicious. I served them over vermicelli seasoned with garlic, salt, and parsley and alongside some sauteed kale, which we purchased locally from our Farmer's Market.

This was a great summer supper! It didn't take long to cook and the flavors were fresh and crisp. Since next week marks the beginning of summer, I intend to post one "Summer Supper" per week.

I'll leave you now with a few images from my week at the beach. . .

This shrimp boat was actually way off in the distance. My awesome Nikon Coolpix s630 captured the people on board, which you couldn't see from the shore.

This is the view from Daddy Mac's, which is where we typically go for our one meal out. That night, I had some fabulous grilled shrimp skewers.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fettucini Amatriciana with Smoked Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs

The flavors of the pasta in this dish are simple and subtle so that the real stars are the smoked mozzarella stuffed meatballs. I had my reservations about using smoked mozzarella. I've only had it once before, when I melted huge slabs of it over portobello mushroom caps. At the time I remember thinking that I'd be avoiding it from now on. I think it was just too much and the smokey flavor too overwhelming. I am so glad now that I didn't opt for plain old mozzarella with this one. Those unassuming little half-inch cubes in the center of each meatball were so savory, with just a hint of smokiness.

I added a few small chunks of the leftover mozzarella to our Friday pizza and I used the rest with some grilled burgers which I also topped with caramelized onions.

Fettucini Amatriciana with Smoked Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs
(This is only slightly adapted from a Giada de Laurentiis recipe. Hers is titled differently since she uses bucatini pasta.)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 ounces pancetta, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (28 oz) can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1 small onion, very finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/3 cup Italian-style bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 2 ounces smoked mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 pound long pasta (bucatini, fettucini, or linguine)

For the sauce: In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the pancetta and reserve. To the same pan, add the onion and cook for 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in the garlic and saute about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, and the cooked pancetta. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Stir in the cheese and add more salt and pepper, if necessary.

For the meatballs: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine mix together all ingredients except the beef. Mix in the beef and combine all ingredients thoroughly. Shape the meat mixture into meatballs (about 1 1/2 inches) and place on the baking sheet. Make a hole in the center of each meatball and place a cube of mozzarella inside. Reform the meatball so that the mozzarella is completely covered with the meat mixture. Bake the meatballs for 15 minutes or until cooked through.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and toss with the sauce until pasta is well coated. Top with the additional parsley and Parmesan, if desired.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Barefoot Bloggers: Spring Green Risotto

I actually made this a while back and I must confess, I made a few omissions. Miguel has an aversion to peas so I left those out, and I forgot to get asparagus when I went to the store, so that's absent as well. This is the first time that I've ever made risotto and I think it turned out pretty well. Though I may have cooked it just a few minutes too long. It was not overdone but I think I let too much of the liquid cook away. I've never had risotto before but it seems like I remember seeing it on TV and thinking that it was a little more liquidy. I don't know, but the flavor was great. I was tasting it all throughout the cooking process and I can say that the addition of the mascarpone, Parmesan, and lemon juice mixture at the end really makes it special. This dish embodies the flavors and colors of spring.

You can find the recipe at

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In other news, Thursday is meal planning day and I'm looking at my list and it's totally empty. Do you ever get into a food rut? I think I'm in one - though it's not because of a shortage of ideas. I have a whole three ring binder and a bookmark folder that's full of ideas but I can't think of a single thing that I want to cook. It seems that I often feel this way in the spring. I'm not quite ready for the cool, light meals of summer nor do I have an appetite for the heavy flavors of winter. I need something in between . . .

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Cinco de Mayo Dinner and a Yard Sale

I spent a good part of my free time last week in my mother's garage preparing for a Saturday yard sale. Over the years, my parents have accumulated a lot of stuff. My childhood toys and keepsakes, the belongings of deceased parents, and their own collections have measured up to every closet, attic space, garage space, and storage space in their house being cram packed from top to bottom. And I mean that quite literally. Last week my mother finally prepared herself for the realization that she needs to purge.

It's not as easy as it sounds. As we opened up box after box, we found ourselves picking up one little item after another and saying, "Remember when . . . " It's astonishing to me how hard it is to let go of things sometimes. It's as though we think that if we let the objects go, the memories will go along with them. Inevitably, there were a few artifacts that found their way into my car rather than priced and onto the yard sale table.

When I was little my Dad worked for an airline company which added up to lots of travel and time away from home and family. He brought me a t-shirt from every place that he visited. I came across a box of about 2 dozen of those very shirts.

They were from places like:


And often they had cute little sayings on them like:


I also brought home a mini glass tea set given to me by my Aunt Inez,

a set of mini vases that belonged to my grandmother,

two "Depression Glass" serving plates, one from each side of the family,

and my little set of miniature Strawberry Shortcake figurines.

I wish I could say that was all but I also lugged into my car my first favorite little stuffed animal and the book that I bought with my very first allowance (It was a Care Bears book - published and bought in 1984).

In the midst of all of that, I did manage to fix a Cinco de Mayo inspired dinner for my husband and myself on Wednesday evening. We enjoyed Chicken Enchiladas with Mexican Cornbread.

Chicken Enchiladas

1 lb. chicken tenderloins
1-2 tsp. taco seasoning (recipe below)
12 corn tortillas
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 c. salsa
1 can (14 0z) fire roasted tomatoes
1/4 c. chicken broth
1/2 lb. shredded cheese (Monterrey Jack or cheddar)
sour cream

Preheat oven to 350. Heat a small amount of oil in a saute pan, then add chicken tenders and sprinkle with taco seasoning. Saute for several minutes on each side or until done and lightly browned. Remove from pan and allow to cool slightly and then shred the chicken. To the same pan heat about 1 tsp. more oil then add onion and garlic. Saute until tender then add the salsa, tomatoes, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. In a separate pan, heat the tortillas over medium-high heat for just a few seconds on each side.

Grease a large casserole dish with oil and then add a spoonful of the tomato mixture to the bottom of the dish. Roll up shredded chicken and cheese inside of tortillas and arrange in the casserole dish. Pour remainder of tomato mixture over the top and cover with cheese. Bake for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Taco Seasoning

1 tbs chili powder
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
pinch red pepper flakes (optional)

I love to make my own taco seasoning. It's super simple and when you make it yourself you can be sure that it doesn't contain any unnecessary ingredients like MSG.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Fresh and Flavorful Turkey Burgers with Homemade Burger Buns

There's nothing like the zest that fresh herbs add to a dish. In my experience, the use of fresh herbs allows for and even commands simplicity in cooking. Pairing one or two fresh herbs with simple, unobtrusive ingredients really allows their flavor to take center stage. My turkey burgers this week were both wonderfully simple and full of flavor. They are seasoned with chopped fresh rosemary (from my herb garden) and store-bought parsley (mine's not quite ready for cutting).

Keeping it simple allows for a pleasant, fuss-free weeknight meal. A simple meal also lends itself to taking on greater baking endeavors - such as made-from-scratch burger buns! For these buns, I followed the recipe for Tassajara Yeasted Bread in the Tassajara Bread Book (the recipe can also be found at I divided the recipe in half and then separated the dough into six rolls instead of placing it in a loaf pan. This recipe calls for the dough to rise three times. I assumed that it would only need to rise twice so I hadn't budgeted time for a third rise. Therefore, I omitted the first rise and all still turned out fine.

Turkey Burgers with Fresh Herbs and Goat Cheese
-adapted from
Yield: 4 medium burgers
  • 1 pound lean ground turkey
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • pinch of black pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 2 ounces goat cheese, cut into 4 slices
  • olive oil or cooking spray
In a medium bowl, whisk together egg with herbs, salt, and pepper. Add bread crumbs and ground turkey and mix just until well combined. In a saute pan, heat olive oil or cooking spray. Add burgers and cook about 5 minutes on each side or until meat in center is no longer pink. Top with goat cheese and your choice of burger toppings. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Spring Harvest Dinner: A Lesson in Waiting

Our Sunday dinner this week was inspired by an effort to eat more seasonally. Here in zone six, asparagus and strawberries are ready for harvest. So I put together a spring-inspired dinner of asparagus soup (that I made with locally grown asparagus), homemade rosemary bread, and strawberries, which I served with a cream cheese dip.

I've been doing some reading lately (more on that later) and it's gotten my wheels turning about being more conscious of my food choices. As I flipped through my meal plan notebook from the past few months, I realized that I ate a lot of asparagus in January. I'll be honest, if you had asked me a few months ago when asparagus was harvested, I probably would have guessed in the spring, but truly, I hadn't really thought about it. I suppose that's pretty much the norm in our modern lives. We can go into the nearest grocery store and get pretty much whatever we want, whenever we want it, regardless of where we live or what month of the year it is.

As I did my grocery shopping on Sunday afternoon, I was happy to plunk into my cart a number of conscious spring-time choices; a load of spinach for a mid-week spanakopita, strawberries for sorbet, and lettuce to use in salads and turkey burgers. I was also aware that it was not yet harvest-time for the potatoes, tomatoes, and cucumbers that I also tossed into my cart, which means that they have likely traveled across more than a few state lines.

In recent years, I've experienced the reward of purchasing seasonal, local produce. It looks better. It tastes better. I feel better about buying it. Better yet, I know where my money's going when I buy it - right into the hands of the farmer who produced it. I had that kind of experience this week when I bought my local asparagus. It was 10 times more flavorful than the asparagus that I prepared in January and I all but laid eyes on the very soil where it came out of the earth.

I learned a lesson. It pays to wait.

My first memorable experience in patience and restraint when it comes to food was with apples. Six years ago I started eating organic apples that I bought from the local health food store. They were so superior in flavor and texture that when I bit into a conventional apple, I nearly spit it out. I was sold. From then on I knew that, if nothing else, I would only eat organic apples.

As the season waned, I noticed the abundance of apples starting to dwindle, until one day I walked back to their usual spot on the bottom produce shelf and found that there were none - something that I rarely, if ever, experienced with conventional foods at the regular grocery store. For a moment, I pondered stopping at that regular grocery store on my way home and picking up some apples there. However, I knew from previous experience that I'd just be disappointed. So that was it. I didn't eat another single apple until early autumn of the following year.

Let me tell you, it was worth the wait.

Cooking notes: For the Asparagus Soup, I followed the recipe in The Big Book of Soups and Stews. I winged it with the cream cheese dip. I mashed up about four strawberries, mixed them with 4 oz. cream cheese, and then kept adding vanilla yogurt until the consistency was right and it tasted sweet enough. The rosemary bread is from the Tassajara Bread Book.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Long Live Pizza Friday!

I've reinstated "Pizza Friday" at our house!

For the first few years of our marriage, "Pizza Friday" was a weekly tradition. That tradition has evolved quite a bit since it's inception. In the beginning, we ordered take-out pizza, then we bought regular frozen pizzas, moving on to frozen pizzas in the organic foods section.

When I first starting making pizza at home, I used the pre-mixed dough packages that you can get in the store for something like .79 cents. There was our vegan phase when we topped them with nutritional yeast flakes. No your eyes aren't playing tricks on you - yeast flakes. Sounds appetizing, right? (Actually, it wasn't all that bad.) Eventually, I moved up to rapid rise yeast and finally graduated to regular slow-rise yeast.

What a difference the good, old fashioned yeast makes! If only I had known years ago how tasty and relatively easy a homemade pizza is. We could have been devouring it years earlier! Oh well, better late than never.

Since I started with the slow method, I've experimented with a number of different crust recipes. However, I keep returning to this one by Elise from Simply Recipes. It yields a crust that is so light and airy.

This week we went with a traditional pepperoni pizza (obviously our vegan phase has ended), though we like to vary the toppings from week to week. Oh, and the olives are only on Miguel's half. :)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Barefoot Bloggers: Jam Thumbprint Cookies

Oh my goodness, these cookies are so very, very delicious.

They came out so much better than I thought they would. When I first started to prepare them yesterday, I intended to make a half-batch. Then as I was mixing together the flour with the other dry ingredients I had a change of heart and decided to make the full batch and give some of them away. Later, after all the ingredients were mixed together I turned the dough out onto the carving board and attempted to bring it all together in the disc that was to go into the refrigerator. The dough kept crumbling and would not come together! I was beginning to get worried and thought that possibly in my decision to make a full batch I had miscounted the cups of flour and dumped in too much. So I divided the dough in half in order to make it easier to work with and kept at it until I finally formed two cohesive discs.

I remained unconvinced, however, that my little cookies were going to be okay. In fact, I was so sure that they were irreversibly wrecked, that while they baked in the oven, I composed a whole post in my head about kitchen failures and what that does to my inner chef (or in this case, my inner baker).

So you can imagine my delight when I pulled them out of the oven looking all sweet and dainty. I could barely allow them enough time to cool before I bit into them. They were soft and scrumptious; not at all the dry, crumbly mess that I had envisioned. In retrospect, I think my blunder may have been, in my haste, not waiting for the butter to fully come to room temperature. Thankfully, it ended up being just a tiny mistake that didn't affect the outcome.

I really think that the quality of the jam makes or breaks this cookie. Use an ordinary jam and you will have an ordinary cookie. Use a quality jam and you will have a fabulous cookie!

For about 1/4 of the cookies I used this seedless raspberry jam from West Virginia. I love that this jam does not contain corn syrup. It's hard to find store-bought jams and jellies that aren't made with corn syrup.

For most of the cookies, I used this orange marmalade that my parents brought back for me from Florida. They were so good that when I made the second disc of cookies I used only the marmalade.

Jam Thumbprint Cookies - a Barefoot Contessa Recipe

  • 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
  • 7 ounces sweetened flaked coconut
  • Raspberry and/or apricot jam
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until they are just combined and then add the vanilla. Separately, sift together the flour and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar. Mix until the dough starts to come together. Dump on a floured board and roll together into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. (If you have a scale they should each weigh 1 ounce.) Dip each ball into the egg wash and then roll it in coconut. Place the balls on an ungreased cookie sheet and press a light indentation into the top of each with your finger. Drop 1/4 teaspoon of jam into each indentation. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the coconut is a golden brown. Cool and serve.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Banana Bread

Remember when I said I never, ever eat raw over-ripe bananas? (In a previous post I showed you my Banana Pancakes.) Well, it's happened again. That resolution that I made at the grocery store this week to eat a banana every night for dessert vanished when my hubby came home with a half-gallon of Breyer's ice cream ( an unavoidable weakness ). So there my little bundle of good intention bananas sat, exponentially gaining brown spots by the day until I deemed them inedible.

Not one to be wasteful, I promptly arranged to make

Banana Bread.

2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. white sugar
1/4 c. butter, room temperature
2 eggs
3-4 over-ripe bananas, smashed (preferably 4 - for a moister bread)
1/3 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tbs. strong brewed coffee (I usually just use my leftover morning coffee)
1/2 c. coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a loaf pan with oil and flour. Combine the first three ingredients and set aside. Cream together sugar and butters with an electric mixer. Add eggs one at a time, then add bananas, milk, vanilla, and coffee. Gradually add dry ingredients and mix just until blended. Fold in walnuts. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until inserted knife in center comes out clean.

I've also followed this same recipe for Banana Muffins. It makes exactly 12 large muffins. And tastes great with a cappuccino!

This is one of a pair of Mourning Doves nesting in a tree outside of our kitchen window.

While I was preparing this bread one of them kept dashing down to the ground and fluttering back up again with food (I assume seeds of some sort. I don't think they eat worms). Mourning Doves are one of my favorite birds so I'm happy to have them as neighbors. I love the way they look, move, and sound. Interestingly, they also tend to form strong bonds with their mates, often staying with them through the winter, after the breeding season is over.

Friday, April 16, 2010

First Project of the Season

This time of year, my wheels get to rolling and I think up way more projects than I'm ever able to accomplish. There's just something about spring. I suppose it evokes thoughts of new beginnings, rejuvenation, and new life. Well, in addition to preparing my garden soil for new life I've also given new life this week to an old step stool that has been in my parent's garage since my grandmother died in 2004.

This is what it looked like when I started:

The tag on the bottom says "Cosco Product." I suspect that it was made somewhere around the late 1940s. I found an image for a Better Homes and Gardens ad for one on this Flickr site. The stool was originally red but as you can see it's been painted many colors since then. All through my childhood I remember it looking pretty much like this. At my grandparent's house, it served as my chair at the dinner table up until I was about 7 or 8 years old. I loved to sit in it. I suppose I thought it was special because it was different from everyone else's chair. (In reality, it was probably my chair so that my head would reach up over the dinner table.) When my mother was in high school she used it to paint her room a blinding blue for a home ec project. Before I painted it you could still see little specks of the blue paint.

After pouring over paint colors at Home Depot, I finally settled on "Green Apple." Here's the result:

My plan is to adorn it with little plant specimens in all sorts of non-traditional containers - i.e. tins, colanders, old tea pots, things of that sort. For now there's just this lonely little Pothos. It was once a glorious plant, bushy and trailing as far as 5 feet. However, at the end of last season I left it outside too long at it got bitten by a hard frost. There was one little sprig that I thought I could salvage so I clipped it and brought it inside where it's been rooting all winter in my front window. I've had this plant for 13 years so I knew I had to at least try and save it.

What's been on the menu this week? I was inspired by Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution to make this stir fry dish:

Unfortunately, I have no recipe to post. I used this one as a loose guide but I never strictly follow stir fry recipes. It's very much a "dash of this, dash of that" type of dish for me. Therefore, I never really make the same one twice. For this one, I stir-fried the beef (3/4 lb. top sirloin) in a mixture of vegetable and sesame oil with a little soy sauce, fresh sliced ginger, and garlic. Then I removed it from the wok and added red peppers and mung bean sprouts (also with a generous splash of soy sauce). Once they were tender I added the beef back into the mix and sauteed it for a few more minutes to ensure that everything was heated thoroughly. I served the mix over Japanese noodles.