Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Family That Eats Together...

With an almost 6 year old and a husband who commutes from Manhattan to NJ for work it's often difficult for us to eat together. I can't even imagine what it will be like when the girl is a teenager flitting from one activity to another. I feel guilty enough that sometimes dinner isn't as nutritionally sound as I'd like it to be. Or that we wolf down dinner in 15 minutes in order to get everything done before bedtime. Or that I'm just as happy eating a bowl of cereal by myself after the kid goes to bed. We make an effort to eat together as often as possible but sometimes it's just, well, impossible.

Now a new study from from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University can add to the pressure. The study finds (as we've all heard before) that dining together as a family is a positive influence. In families where they eat dinner together 5x a week, as compared to those who dine together just 3x a week, adolescents were less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs.

I'm all for families eating together. My family ate together nearly every night when my brother and I were growing up but it was a different time then. Schools, offices, businesses, college admissions panels and the like need to realize that in order for families to enjoy a leisurely, nutritional and productive dinner together the pressures of daily life have to decrease and I don't see that happening any time soon.

An interesting read nonetheless. You can check out the NYT's take on it here.

*Note: Picture is of the Bambu fork and spoon set which can be purchased here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

Even while on vacation I still love to cook. I know, I know - it's vacation - I shouldn't *have* to cook. I have friends who say it doesn't feel like vacation if they have to cook. But for me, it isn't a "have" or a "should." It's a"want" - especially when you have access to local produce and fresh local seafood and you've been at the beach all day breathing in the crisp salty air, running around chasing brazen seagulls who try to steal your snacks and building sand castles. There's nothing better than taking a luxurious outdoor shower in the beach-y air, pouring a glass of wine and contemplating the night's meal.

Plus, who am I kidding? Dining out for 3 meals a day, for two weeks, with a young child is nothing short of unpleasant. We learned a few years ago that renting a house is the ticket to a relatively stress-free family vacation. And yes, I mean vacation. When you stay in a hotel it's really a family trip. You are rudderless, without your "stuff" and you don't feel settled. In a house you can really hunker down and make it feel like your own.

We're back on the Cape for our 3rd summer and have returned to the house we rented last year. I'd love to tell you about it but then I'd be afraid you might rent it out from under us some time. Suffice it to say that it's a lovely 2 bedroom cottage with a large deck, sizable yard and a tree-house for the girl. We're about a 5-6 minute walk from our favorite ice cream place and it is spotless upon arrival.

There are a few traditions we've established over the years: the child will have an inexplicable meltdown minutes after we cross the Bourne Bridge; dinner the first night *has* to be from the Kream 'n Kone; Clam Chowder from Spanky's is a must and it is essential to consume home-made clam sauce within the first few days.

Be sure to have lots of crusty bread on hand - you don't want to waste even a drop of this sauce.

White Clam Sauce
Serves 3-4 for dinner or 6 as an appetizer

3 dozen Little Neck clams
2 TBS olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp hot red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup clam juice
salt and pepper to taste
2 TBS butter (optional)
1 large handful parsley, finely chopped
1/2 lb spaghetti or linguini

  • Wash the clams under running water or fill your sink with cold water and let them soak while you do all the other prep work
  • Set a big pot of water up to boil, season generously with salt and cook pasta according to package directions while making the sauce
  • Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a pan or pot large enough to accommodate all of the clams - make sure it has a tight fitting lid
  • Add in the garlic and cook until fragrant but do not let it brown
  • Add in the pepper flakes (if using)
  • Pour in the wine - be careful because it may splatter if the pan is very hot
  • Bring to a boil and allow to reduce by 1/3
  • Add in the clam juice and bring to a boil again
  • Reduce to a simmer and add in the clams - discard any that are already open or cracked
  • Cover the pot tightly and allow the clams to cook 6-8 minutes or until they have all opened - discard any that do not open
  • Check the sauce for seasoning and add salt and pepper to your liking - the clams will release their own juices which will be salty so you may not have to season the sauce at all
  • Add in the butter (if using) - I know, I know - dairy with seafood - the HORROR!
  • Add in the parsley
  • Serve the clams and the sauce over the pasta.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Lazy (Hot, Humid and Hazy) Days of Summer

Well, that's embarrassing. I haven't posted here since May. May??? Really?


I guess I can attribute it to laziness, however, this summer has been anything *but* lazy. I have tons of recipes etc. to post and hopefully, in mid September, some exciting business-related news (class schedules, personal shopping options, product reviews).

In the meantime, here's a simple recipe that is the perfect antidote to the weather we're experiencing here on the East Coast. Serve it alongside a Southwestern or Mexican themed dinner, on top of simple grilled chicken or fish or toss it over some crisp fresh salad greens for a satisfying and healthy lunch.

Black Bean and Mango Salsa (or Salad - I can't decide)
Yields 6 generous side portions

1 1/2 large mangoes, peeled and cut into a large dice (about 2 cups)
1 15 oz can or 2 cups of dried/soaked black beans, drained well
1/4 cup red onion, cut into a small dice (Unless you like really large pieces of raw onion. Me? Not so much.)
1-2 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped
2 TBS finely chopped cilantro (Optional for all you cilantro haters out there. Substitute parsley if you must.)
Juice and zest of one lime
1-2 TBS champagne vinegar (You can substitute white if you prefer but Champagne really adds a nice mellow brightness)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
2 TBS olive oil

  • Combine mango, black beans, onion, garlic and cilantro in a bowl large enough to accommodate all of the ingredients.
  • In a small bowl or, better yet, a jar combine the lime juice, zest, cumin, salt and pepper. If using a bowl slowly drizzle in the olive oil and whisk until the dressing is emulsified and combined. If using a jar, just add in the oil and shake, shake, shake until well combined.
  • Pour the dressing over the salad and stir to combine well. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Can be served immediately but it tastes much better if the flavors are allowed to mingle and develop for at least an hour in the fridge.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Birthday Barbecue

Last weekend was my husband's birthday. To celebrate we went to our country house. When I write "country" I mean Westchester (Goldens Bridge to be exact). And when saying "our house" I mean my in-laws' place.

After an afternoon spent with friends at their indoor pool (hey - everyone needs a break from 3 days with the in-laws no matter how well you get along) we had a great barbecue for dinner that night followed by vanilla cupcakes with a super easy whipped milk chocolate ganache.

I have recently developed a love affair with boneless, skinless chicken thighs. We're a dark meat family so I tend to buy chicken parts. And, by accident, I bought a package of the boneless, skinless thighs from Trader Joe's a few weeks ago. Eureka. They're incredibly flavorful, pretty much impossible to over cook and take way less time to cook than bone-in meat. For us city-folk without access to a grill the broiler works well for cooking them. But they're much better when cooked outside on a grill. Really - what doesn't taste better cooked on a grill. Outside.

My MIL had planned on making some form of noodles for Mike's birthday (in Chinese culture (or maybe just my in-law's culture) traditionally eating long noodles on birthdays and the New Year are said to grant you longevity) so I went with an Asian theme for the marinade and threw this together that morning. I let the thighs marinate for about 10 hours but a shorter time would work as well. I brought them up to room temperature while the grill heated up and about 20 minutes later they were grilled to perfection. After eating one for lunch today I can also truthfully say they are quite delicious cold as well.

And, of course, I don't have any pictures. Sigh.

Ginger, Garlic, Soy Chicken Thighs
Yields 4-6 servings

1 cup soy sauce
3 TBS hoisin sauce
1 tsp dark sesame oil
1 TBS rice wine vinegar
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 6)
  • Combine first 6 ingredients in a small bowl and whisk well to combine. Taste and adjust flavors to your liking (sweeter - add more hoisin; saltier - add more soy, etc.).
  • Place chicken and marinade in a Ziploc bag and marinate in refrigerator for at least 4 hours, up to overnight.
  • Broil for 5-6 minutes per side or grill for approximately 10 minutes per side. Cooking time really depends on your oven/grill.
  • Allow to rest for 10-15 minutes before cutting into the meat so the juices don't run out.

Whipped Chocolate Ganache
Yields approximately 2 1/2 cups - enough to ice 18-24 cupcakes depending on how generous you are with icing

10 oz (just shy of one bag) milk chocolate chips
8 oz heavy cream
  • Place chocolate chips in a bowl large enough to accommodate both the chips and the cream.
  • Bring the cream just to a boil (either on stovetop or in microwave oven).
  • Pour the cream over the chocolate and allow to sit for 5 minutes.
  • Whisk to combine well and be sure all chips are melted. The ganache will be thin but shiny.
  • Cover and chill until ready to use.
  • Just before you are ready to ice the cupcakes whip the ganache with an electric mixer until it is light and fluffy and the consistency of icing (think peanut butter consistency).

Monday, May 18, 2009

I Am a Baaaad Blogger

So much for that. I promised myself I would put something up here at least once a week.

Last weekend I had a blast teaching a cooking lesson for a great group of women: a mother and her 3 adult daughters. After the lesson I had a lot going through my mind - the complex and beautiful relationships between sisters and between mothers and daughters; what cooking together means; how food unites us; how people come to cooking and what it means to cook for someone, etc.

Basically a bunch of thoughts that are *waaaay* too deep for my superficial little vanity project (this here blog o' mine).

Since I can't really make sense of what I originally planned on writing, I'll share with you some of the recipes we made that day. This will be the first of 5.

I came up with this recipe a few years ago for Thanksgiving. I had finally managed to wrestle the holiday from my mother's grubby paws (well, they had to be in town for a wedding so instead of the annual trip to mecca, er, I mean Florida, we celebrated Thanksgiving in NYC). After a lovely morning at the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade I knew we'd be hungry long before dinner was served. We always make so much cranberry sauce and I figured this was a good way to put the extra to good use. And, really, what doesn't taste good with melted brie on top? Every time I make this cranberry sauce I have to remind myself to make it more often. The crystallized ginger adds a nice kick and is an unexpected flavor. It's delicious as a spread for sandwiches (try it with curried chicken salad), on pancakes, or drizzled over ice cream as well. It also freezes nicely.

If you don't have the urge to make cranberry sauce you can substitute raspberry preserves or a fig spread in its place.

Puff Pastry with Cranberry Ginger Sauce and Brie
Yields 30 single bite portions

1 12-ounce bag cranberries
3/4-cup sugar
1/3 cup orange juice (the juice of one orange - Valencia work well in this recipe)
1/3-cup water
1 tsp grated orange zest
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 cup (about 2 ounces) minced crystallized ginger (easily found in health food stores)
2 packages pre-made puff pastry/phyllo cups - Athens Foods Mini Phyllo tart shells (do not thaw)
8 oz Brie, rind removed, cut into 1” cubes
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Combine first 6 ingredients in heavy medium saucepan.
  • Bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil until cranberries pop, stirring occasionally, about 10-12 minutes.
  • Cool mixture entirely. If you're in a rush place it in a bowl and place that bowl in a larger one filled with ice and cold water and stir until chilled. Mix in crystallized ginger. (Can be prepared 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
  • Place shells on a baking sheet.
  • To assemble – place a dollop of cranberry sauce into each shell. Top with a cube of brie and cook for 8-10 minutes, until cheese melts.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Who You Callin' Shrimp?

While I'm no longer a WOHM (work out (of) home mom), it's still a challenge to get a nutritious and delicious dinner on the table on a weeknight. As a SAHM (stay at home mom), with my lunch dates, spa visits, manicure appointments, bon bon eating and the other assorted trappings associated with my life of leisure, cooking sometimes falls by the wayside*.

Although pasta gets a bad wrap (Carbs! Carbs! OHMYGOD THE CARBS!) it still falls in the nutritious category in our home. If you add a lot of other 'stuff' to the pasta, the pasta itself is almost secondary to the dish. It is also quick, easy and (ding, ding, ding!) recession friendly.

This recipe became a weeknight staple early on in our marriage. It started out as a vegetarian meal (Did I mention I used to be a vegetarian? Yeah - more on that another time) but evolved into this dish a few years ago. It's extremely simple to make, requires only one pot and is very versatile. Don't like shrimp? Leave it out. Don't have tomatoes? Use another vegetable. And so on and so forth. Throw together a simple green salad and you've got a meal in about 25 minutes. Take *that* Rachael Ray!

*Written with tongue planted firmly in cheek

"Mediterranean Pasta" aka Pasta with Shrimp, Tomatoes, Olives and Feta
Yields 4 entree sized portions

8 oz (1/2 box) of pasta (any shape will do - we like whole wheat rigatoni)
1 tsp olive oil
1 clove of garlic, sliced or chopped
3/4-1 lb shrimp, deveined and with the shell off (leave the tail on - it helps prevent the shrimp from shrinking)
1 pint grape tomatoes sliced in half
1/4 -1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, sliced or chopped (use more or less if you want - we like it super briny)
1/3-1/2 lb feta cheese, crumbled (I use French feta as it tends to be less salty)
salt and pepper to taste

  • In a pot large enough to accommodate the finished dish, cook the pasta in salted boiling water until it is al dente (or to your desired degree of doneness).
  • While pasta is cooking chop garlic, de-vein shrimp (if you don't buy them de-veined like I do), slice olives, crumble feta.
  • When pasta is done, drain, reserve about 1/4 c of the water, rinse in cool water and set aside.
  • Heat the oil in the pasta pot over medium heat and toss in the garlic. Cook for about one minute - don't let it burn.
  • Toss in the shrimp, raise the heat, and allow the shrimp to cook until just about cooked through (mostly pink on both sides - about 3 minutes over high heat).
  • Add in the tomatoes and cook for about a minute (until they start to burst).
  • Remove from heat and add in the olives and the feta. Stir to combine well. Add in some of the reserved pasta water if the mixture gets too thick.
  • Season with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In Praise of the Humble Muffin

Finding a school-day snack that is quick to eat and remotely healthy has become a big challenge. Apparently if snack takes "too long to eat" my daughter doesn't get to play at "snack recess" and that makes me the worst mother ever for "ruining everything." Her words, not mine.

One morning, in a fit of laziness (or was it desperation?), I tossed a frozen banana muffin into her snack container. I tend to have a variety of muffins in the freezer at any given time - banana and corn are among the favorites around these parts. I figured it would defrost in time for snack. Worst case scenario she wouldn't eat it like countless school snacks that came before it. She isn't exactly wasting away.

Imagine my surprise when all that came home in the snack container was the empty wrapper. I tested my luck the rest of that week and gave a muffin every day. Lo and behold - the muffins were eaten. Hallelujah and Amen. I was back to "best mommy ever" status. All it took was a frozen muffin.

I put this recipe together basically by accident. Little Miss Muffin requested blueberry muffins and I didn't have any blueberries in the freezer. I did, however, have frozen strawberries from our strawberry picking excursion last summer. They held up surprisingly well over the winter. I also didn't have any butter. Or enough milk. So I improvised. Feel free to substitute another fruit for the strawberries (blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, etc.).

Strawberry Muffins
Yields 1 dozen

*Very* loosely adapted from "How to Cook Everything" by Mark Bittman

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (you can substitute up to 1/2 of the flour with whole wheat)
1/2 cup corn meal
1/2 cup sugar (can reduce to 1/4 c if you prefer your muffins less sweet)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
1/4 tsp ground cardamom (optional)
1/2 tsp grated fresh lemon zest (optional)
1 TBS melted butter or neutral oil (I had canola, I used canola)
1 egg
1 1/4 c low fat sour cream or yogurt (plain or vanilla)
2-3 TBS milk
1 cup fresh or frozen strawberries, chopped (if using frozen do not defrost before stirring into batter)
2-3 TBS turbinado or demerra sugar (ie. Sugar in the Raw) to sprinkle on top

  • Preheat oven to 375 F.
  • Line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper or foil cups.
  • Combine dry ingredients, including lemon zest, in a bowl and mix well.
  • In a separate bowl mix together the oil, egg, sour cream and milk.
  • Using a spoon or rubber spatula add the wet ingredients to the dry. Do not overmix. Just mix until the ingredients are combined. The batter may be lumpy. It will also be thicker than you think it should be. As long as it's moist you're in business. If it isn't add in some more milk 1 TBS at a time.
  • Gently stir in the strawberries and combine.
  • Spoon the batter into the muffin tin. I like to use an ice cream scoop - it makes for muffins that are uniform in shape. Fill the tins about 2/3 full.
  • Optional: top with a sprinkle of turbinado sugar (it adds a great crunch to the muffin tops).
  • Bake for approximately 20 minutes (they take 18 minutes in my oven) until nicely browned and they spring back slightly when lightly touched.
  • Remove from oven and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. Can be eaten warm. They also freeze well for great school-day snacking. :)

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Media Gets It!

Have I not been saying this all along?

The New York Times and food magazines have figured it out too. Article here.

The kiddo has a snow day today. I'll be back tomorrow with some original content.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Posting

I have been cooking a lot lately but nothing really "blog-worthy." Tonight's dinner will remedy that: Chicken "tagine" with lemon and olives, couscous pilaf with dried apricots and toasted almonds, beet salad with lemon vinaigrette, and, according to Cook's Illustrated "The Best Chocolate Bundt Cake."

Of course I didn't take any pictures while I was making the cake but I'll try to take some before we devour it. Ditto on the salad. Although I'm doubtful it will be gobbled up. Beets are an iffy selection for entertaining. People are very black and white about them - you either love them or hate them. But the salad is pretty so I'll snap a few pics.

The "tagine" and couscous are another story. I'll try to take pictures while making them but I'm also multi-tasking and hosting a playdate for the kiddo and a friend today so I'm not making any promises. Once they're cooked it's way easier to photograph them. The dishes that is, not the 5 year olds.

The chocolate cake smells divine as it bakes right now - hopefully it will taste half as good. Recipes and pictures to come, promise.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Musings and Meringues

I am very fortunate to have a child who is not only a great eater and who doesn't have any food allergies. Well, unless you count fish. It's not an allergy per se but a deep and utter HATRED of all things from the sea other than canned tuna (mercury be damned), fried calamari or New England clam chowder. Let's not discuss that she used to gobble up my soy glazed salmon until one day she realized it was salmon and "not chicken!!!!????" and proceeded to spit it out, despite having eaten most of her portion that evening and at countless dinners in the past.

Where was I? Allergies. Right.

Now that I have a school-aged child I have been introduced to the confusing world of childhood food allergies. In 2 1/2 years of school we have encountered allergies to: peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, gluten, dairy, eggs, shellfish, pineapple, strawberries and a few I am probably forgetting. I really feel for parents who have to confront these issues and fear for their child's health on a daily basis. I couldn't imagine...

The reason I bring up the allergies is that I had originally planned on making heart shaped cut outs and icing them in varying shades of red and pink for a kindergarten Valentine's Day party (recipe). But I then discovered a student in our class had both a wheat and dairy allergy. So I decided to come up with a treat he and everyone else could have at the party since someone else was supplying cupcakes (which he wouldn't be able to eat).

Fortunately I was with my friend Sarah (a walking font of culinary knowledge) when I found out about the allergies. What on earth could I make? "Simple," said Sarah. "You can make meringues." Freakin' brilliant. A quick e-mail to the child's mother revealed that eggs were indeed OK and pink meringue cookies were on the agenda.

I usually bake meringues a few times a year. Every time I make them I'm reminded of how unbelievably simple they are to make. Plus, they're fat free. And, they're great for Passover because they contain no dairy (no worries about kosher dietary rules) and no flour. They also pair really well with lemon curd (a great use for the yolks since this recipe calls only for egg whites). That of course negates the whole fat free and kosher thing due to the addition of copious amounts of butter. But that's another blog entry. Why get ahead of myself?

If you can, avoid making meringues on damp and rainy days. The moisture in the air will be absorbed by the sugar and it will effect the consistency of the end result.

Meringue Cookies
Yields approximately 7 dozen 1 1/2 inch kisses

4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
food coloring (optional)

  • Preheat your oven to 200 F.
  • Combine the egg whites and sugar in a glass or metal bowl (the bowl of a standing mixer is preferable).
  • Place the egg and sugar mixture over a lightly simmering pot of water but do not allow the bowl to come in contact with the water or your eggs will cook. Pieces of cooked egg white are not all that tasty in meringues.
  • Whisk the mixture together until the sugar is dissolved; 3-5 minutes. Add in the vanilla.
  • Using either a standing mixer with the whisk attachment or an electric hand beater being whipping the egg whites on low speed. Add in a few drops of food coloring at this point if you want. I prefer the gels to the liquid.
  • Increase the mixer speed to high and beat until the egg whites are shiny and form stiff peaks. Tip: when you stop your mixer and pull up on the top the egg whites that were attached to the attachment should remain standing in the bowl and not flop over.
  • Using a small dollop of the meringue affix sheets of parchment paper or aluminum foil to your baking sheets (you'll need 2). Some recipes call for masking tape here. Use the meringue - I learned the tip working in a bakery.
  • Using either a spoon or a pastry bag drop dollops or pipe kisses onto the sheet leaving about an inch in between each cookie.
  • Bake for about 2 hours in the 200 degree oven. Check periodically to make sure the meringues aren't browning. If they are, lower the temperature to 175 F. You're not baking these as much as allowing them to dry out.
  • After 2 hours turn off the oven and DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR. Allow the meringues to remain in the oven for at least another hour. They will continue to dry out in the residual heat of the oven. I usually leave mine in overnight as I like my meringues to be very light and crispy on the inside.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Confronting Your Fears or Baking with Yeast (a recipe for Jennifer)

I fancy myself a good cook and baker. But for years I was terrified of yeast. I don't know why, really. It's hardly all that frightening. You can get it in teeny envelopes in the grocery store - how scary is that? Yet, for some inexplicable reason, I never baked anything that called for yeast.

Then I went to culinary school.

The first time I made my own brioche was a revelation. Yeast was amazing. Magical. POWERFUL. And, frankly, not all that scary. Melissa: 1, Yeast: 0.

I went on a yeast-fest: homemade cinnamon buns, bagels, pretzels, pizza dough. Then I had a baby.

Fast-forward three years later and I'm up to my eyeballs in dough, sesame seeds, poppy seeds and boiling water with baking soda making bagels with a bunch of pre-schoolers. It was the most fun I'd had in years.

Apparently many people share my former fear. NPR
recently published a piece on it with some interesting recipes - - and an old friend from high school just admitted her fear, too.

Here's an easy recipe that will banish that fear in a few hours. Once you eat homemade pizza made with crust formed by your own hands you'll never go back to Boboli or Pillsbury again.

Simple Pizza Dough

Yields enough for 1 large pie, 2 medium pies or 3 "personal" sized pies

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (or one envelope of commercially packaged yeast)
1 cup warm water (between 100-110 degrees F - any hotter and you'll kill your yeast and who wants to do that?)
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour plus a little extra for kneading
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup cornmeal plus a little extra for the pan
1 tsp salt
2 TBS olive oil plus a little extra for oiling the bowl later

  • In a mixing bowl combine yeast and warm water and allow yeast to dissolve and get fizzy.
  • Add in the flour, cornmeal, salt and olive oil and stir to combine into a soft dough.
  • Remove from bowl and knead on a lightly floured surface until the dough is smooth and uniform in texture - should take about 5 minutes. You can also do this in the bowl of a standing mixer with a dough hook. (ed. If you find the dough is too sticky sprinkle on some more flour. This recipe can handle up to another 1/3 cup if necessary).
  • Lightly grease the mixing bowl (no need to clean it) with some olive oil and place the dough in the bowl.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm and draft-free place until it doubles in size (approximately 30-45 mins).
  • Punch the dough down (kids love this) and divide into portions if you will be making more than one pie. If you want you can divide the dough and freeze it for later use at this point.
  • Cover the dough with a dish towel (not terry-cloth) and allow to rise again for 10 minutes.

Options for the actual pizza:
1. Pat dough into a large lightly oiled pan. Cover with toppings of your choice (see suggestions below). Bake 20-30 minutes until done at 400 F.
2. Stretch the dough and place on an overturned cookie sheet after coating the sheet with a significant amount of corn meal. Slide the crust around. If it doesn't wiggle easily toss some more corn meal under it. Cover with toppings of your choice (see suggestions below). Bake 20-30 minutes until done at 400 F.
3. Pre-heat your oven to 450 F with pizza stone inside. Complete step #2. Once oven is hot, carefully slide the pizza onto the stone. This will yield the crispiest crust hands-down and is the method favored at Chez Marks-Shih. This version bakes up in about 10 minutes.

Toppings we love: thinly sliced fresh vegetables (peppers, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms), olives, meatballs, ground beef, sausage, pepperoni (cut it into slivers for best results), artichokes, well drained thawed frozen spinach, feta cheese, sauteed garlic and onions

Go lighter on the toppings and cheese than you think you'll need. Too much and the pizza will be weighed down. You'll wind up with soggy pizza that's hard to move. And no one likes a soggy pizza.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

On Cold Days, Being Sick and Hot Soup

If you're my friend on Facebook or "follow" me on twitter you'll know I have been sick a lot this winter. Sick more than I care to mention. Really sick. And I have to say, I'm quite sick of being sick.

It has also been damn cold this winter. I know I really shouldn't complain (but if you know me in real life you know I'm a champion complainer). My mystery illness paired with bad weather are hardly great calamities in the grand scheme of things. And, I managed to make lemonade with the lemons I was given. How unlike me.

Cold weather + being sick + not really wanting to cook = a lot of soup

Super Easy Peas Soup with Bacon (sorry Mom!)
Yields approximately 2 quarts of soup (that's 8 cups for those of you not so quick on the cooking math)

4 slices bacon, chopped
2 leeks, mostly whites, cleaned and roughly chopped (you can just double up on the onions if you don't have any leeks - I just had a few in the fridge the first time I made this and now I love them in most vegetable based soups)
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, cleaned and roughly chopped (noticing a trend?)
1 large carrot or 4-5 "baby" carrots, yes, roughly chopped (it's all being pureed later so no need for nice even pieces, approximately the same size is just fine for all the "roughly chopped" items - that's why I love making pureed soups)
1 bay leaf
a few sprigs of fresh dill (tied together with kitchen twine - dental floss will do just make sure it isn't waxed or mint flavored. While mint and fresh peas go very nicely together split peas and fake mint "flavoring" do not. Take my word on this. Ordinarily I wouldn't bother tying it but some people (by some people I mean 5 year old daughters) don't like dill floating around in their soup)
2 cups dried split peas (sort through to remove any small pebbles or other foreign objects)
7 cups water (or unsalted chicken or vegetable stock or a mixture of any of these liquids)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

  • Render the bacon in a pot large enough to accommodate the entire recipe (at least 3 1/2 quarts).
  • While the bacon is cooking, roughly chop all your vegetables if you haven't already.
  • Once the bacon is brown and crisp, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  • Add in the leeks and onions to the bacon fat (lower the heat if it's too hot). You want to get a little color on the onions and leeks so they start to release their natural sugars.
  • Add in the garlic and cook until fragrant (about one minute).
  • Add in the carrots and celery and adjust seasoning.
  • Add in the bay leaf and dill.
  • Add in the peas and 7 cups of water/stock/whatever.
  • Bring to a boil, taste and adjust seasoning, cover and reduce to a simmer.
  • Cook, at a simmer, for approximately one hour.
  • Remove the dill and bay leaf.
  • Puree the soup. I like to use an immersion blender directly in the pot - much easier than transferring the whole mess to a blender
  • Garnish with the cooked bacon and some finely chopped fresh dill and some croutons if you'd like. I also like to drizzle on some lemon infused olive oil.
Serve with some crusty bread, good cheese and a mixed green salad. That's optional but it's what I do. And don't you want to do what I do?

You can't mess this soup up. I promise. No celery? Leave it out. Don't like dill? Leave it out. Basically you need some aromatics (onions and garlic are must-haves), salt, pepper, split peas and some sort of liquid. My 5 year old could make this if I let her use the stove by herself. Now - everybody into the kitchen and make some soup.

Excuses, excuses

Hi my pretties, it's been a while.

I could bore you with how sick I've been (cough, cough for emphasis). I could tell you about all of my kitchen failures (Gourmet magazine I'm talking to YOU!). Or I could just fess up and tell the truth - my heart hasn't been in it lately so I haven't been blogging.

But, I have a whole bunch of posts saved up.

Tune in for Staples (no, not office supplies - things you should always have in your pantry), Parmesan Pull-Aparts (a big fat FAIL - imagine me wagging my finger at an issue of Gourmet magazine - but they did smell good), Samoa Cookie Bars (a huge success but with room for improvement), and an afternoon in Chinatown.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Comfort Food

It's a balmy 25 today with a windchill of 15. Nothing says lunch on a cold day like tomato soup and grilled cheese. None of that high fructose corn syrup laden junk that comes in those iconic red and white cans for us!

In all honesty, this is probably better if you simmer it longer. Or wait a day and eat it. Or soak good quality dried beans overnight and use them instead. And make your own stock.

But, like I said, it is really cold outside. My husband is leaving on a week-long business trip to SF.* And I felt compelled to send him on his way with a warm home-cooked meal in his belly. The upside - I have leftovers to feast on while he's away. I poked around in the fridge and the pantry and came up with this:

Tomato White Bean Soup with Fresh Rosemary and Lemon Oil

1 TBS olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion (red or white)
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 gloves of garlic, crushed
1 15 oz can white kidney beans and liquid
1 28 oz can diced stewed tomatoes
3 cups water, vegetable stock or chicken stock
1 3" sprig rosemary
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
Lemon infused olive oil or good quality olive oil and a splash of fresh lemon juice

  • Heat oil over high heat in a heavy bottomed pot.
  • Once it is shimmering add in the onion and celery and saute until the onion starts to become translucent.
  • At this point add in the garlic, give it a go around in the heated oil but don't allow it to brown.
  • Add in the beans, tomatoes, stock and herbs, season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil.
  • Cover and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes - longer is fine, too.
  • Remove bay leaf and rosemary and puree soup (I use an immersion blender. You can use a standard blender but be careful - the soup will be very hot - be sure to leave the top slightly ajar). Add in additional water or stock if you feel the soup is too thick.
  • Adjust seasoning if desired.
Serve with a drizzle of lemon-infused oil or good olive oil and a splash of lemon juice. Grilled cheese sandwich (we had grilled mozzarella), optional.

* Poor guy will really be suffering at the St. Regis with a personal butler.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Plagiarizing Myself

I started out posting some recipes on my Facebook page and eventually decided to start this here blog. I still don't know what I'm doing here, really. But, if I must say so myself, I do know my way around the kitchen. Here's a recipe I created last Fall in an effort to use some things in the pantry (I stumbled upon a bag of organic pearl barley that I must have bought while in a daze because I honestly didn't remember purchasing it) and in desperation for a side-dish for dinner one night.

For me, side dishes (or main dishes) with a high fiber content are great - especially on Weight Watchers (note to self: now there's a source of blog posts!). Imagine my delight to learn that a cup of cooked pearl barley has only 193 calories, 1 gram of fat and 6 grams of fiber! It also delivers 12% of the RDA of iron and is a great source of Niacin, Manganese and Selenium.*

I scrounged around the fridge and came up with this recipe. It will work with any variety of vegetables and aromatics and is incredibly easy to make. Leftovers are delicious added to a leafy green salad.

Mushroom Barley Pilaf
Yields 4 very generous side servings

1 generous TBS olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
5 or 6 large button mushrooms, halved then thinly sliced
3/4 cup pearl barley
1 3/4 cup chicken stock (preferably low sodium or sodium free so you can control the seasoning yourself)
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
chopped fresh chives (for garnish)

  • Heat the oil over high heat in a pot large enough to accommodate the finished product (3 quarts is ample).
  • Saute the onions and garlic until fragrant and the onions are translucent - 2-3 minutes.
  • Add in the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Allow the mushrooms to release their liquid and shrink slightly in size.
  • Add in the barley and stir to coat with the oil and allow the barley to toast for about a minute.
  • Pour in the chicken stock, add in the bay leaf, and adjust seasoning. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to a simmer.
  • Simmer for 45 minutes until all of the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff and top with the fresh chives.

*Thank you

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

I don't make resolutions. I used to. But once I broke them, or never got around to them, I felt guilty and, trust me, I don't need any help in that area. So I guess I am going to sound like a hypocrite when I ask you to make one resolution this year. I want you to resolve to cook more. I promise you will get a lot out of it.

Everyone gets his or her own pleasure from cooking. I know my greatest pleasure is sharing the fruits of my labor with people I love. There is nothing more satisfying for me than to watch people enjoying something I've created. It can be something as simple as Saturday morning pancakes with perfectly crisp bacon and a great cup of coffee (recipe coming in January) or a meal that takes days to pull together. Sitting around, enjoying the company of dear friends and family, is only enhanced by good food.

Cooking also slows you down. It makes you take stock. Think. Read. Contemplate. Plan. And we all need the excuse to slow down once in a while. It's what I love most about cooking and what I hope to share with you here and in my new series of cooking classes. Stay tuned please.

I hope the New Year brings you whatever it is you seek. I just want to get everyone into the kitchen.

Be well.