Monday, June 20, 2016

a big green summer

Dear Mom,

Well summer is officially here!  We kicked-off grilling season here in a pretty big way - a pretty big green egg kind of way.  For the past three years or so the hubs has been talking and talking and talking about this charcoal grill he wanted to buy.  I am 100% for him helping out in the kitchen and taking the reigns in the summer when we light up the good ol'Weber, but he became obsessed with this grill called The Big Green Egg.  It's actually a combination grill/smoker/outdoor oven, so I've always been intrigued but the price-point kind of scared me away.  About two weeks ago I came home from work to discover on my coffee table several brochures and cookbooks re: The Big Green Egg.  Without even asking, I knew, we were getting one.

So far it has been totally worth it.  We have made some fantastic things, chicken wings, pulled pork, brisket, pizza, grilled chicken.  Oh my!  I will need to start posting recipes once we have a little more practice.

On Sunday, the hubs woke up at 7am to start the brisket...  Needless to say, I've never been more in love!  Brisket takes a long time - like 8-10 hours.  So, I had a lot of free time to get things done around the house, laundry, get a little gardening in, all while taking intermittent coffee (until around noon, then beer) breaks relaxing outside next to the smoker watching the hubs tend to the smoke.  It was a perfect Sunday!  What else did I do besides make cole slaw?  (Still working on a recipe, vinegar or mayo based? I cannot figure it out, a debate for another day!)  I made dessert/snacking/brunchy cake.  (Yes, brunchy is a word as of today.)  Ricotta-blueberry-lemon pound cake.  Yum!  Great with coffee, great after dinner, great in the afternoon.  Surprisingly light and citrusy but still moist and dense from the butter and ricotta, with little pops of tart blueberry.  It worked out quite well as blueberries were on sale and I had half a leftover tub of ricotta in my fridge. Perfect!

blueberry ricotta lemon pound cake

cooking spray
1-3/4 cups AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup ricotta cheese
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp lemon zest
1-1/2 cups blueberries
2 tbsp AP flour

Preheat oven to 325.  Spray a 9" loaf pan with cooking spray.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Rinse the blueberries and toss with 2 tbsp flour (to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the cake).

Using an electric mixer (stand or hand) beat the butter, ricotta and sugar together on high speed for 3 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition.  (It will look curdled.)

Remove mixer and stir in lemon zest and vanilla by hand.  In 3 or 4 additions, mix in by hand the dry ingredients.  Stir in the blueberries, do not over mix.

Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake at 325 for 1 hour and 20 minutes to 1 hour and 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry.  Check the cake after the first 40 minutes to see if it is browning too much - if it is, loosely top with aluminum foil and continue baking.  When out of the oven, let cool for 10 minutes then gently loosen onto a cooling rack.  (Running a knife along the edge will help loosen the cake from the pan.)

Friday, April 1, 2016

changing tastes

Dear Kristin,

I've lived long enough to know that things change over time. In fact, many of my own likes and dislikes have changed. For instance, there was a time when I liked:
  • Talking on the phone
  • Playing Barbie dolls with my friends
  • Partying
Today, I avoid talking on the phone (unless it's to you, of course) like the plague. I've become jaded in my old age and now view Barbie dolls as instruments of sexist propaganda, and as for partying - well, unless it's a pajama party for one in front of the television on a Friday night, well - let's just say I'd rather not, thank you very much. So, basically I've become a hermit. Today my favorite pass-times are:
  • Reading
  • Watching old movies (preferably ones starring Cary Grant)
  • Running (by myself) on a nature trail
Some of these changes may be for the better, some maybe not. I've also noted that my tastes in food have changed over time. I used to like:
  • Spam (yes - I did indeed like it - at least until I was old enough to question what it is really made of)
  • Orange aid that came in a paper carton like milk - uncarbonated and full of sugar and empty calories
  • Tea with milk and sugar (now I can't imagine diluting a good cup of tea with anything unless I have a sore throat - then I will tolerate some honey)
Some foods I used to HATE:
  • Spinach
  • Onions
  • Steak (or beef of any kind)
  • Mushrooms
Today these are among my favorite foods, and I can't imagine not having them as a regular part of my diet. These are certainly changes for the better - right? Spam vs. steak? No question.

While I still can't eat raw mushrooms, I do enjoy them when they are cooked, and have even expanded my mushroom munching to include quite a variety. Among my favorites are shitake mushrooms. They have a very distinctive taste that seems to brighten up anything dish they are in - for example, this easy mushroom chicken dish. (Note the way the spinach found its way into this dish as well!)

chicken with mushrooms and asiago cream sauce

2 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 c. flour
4 Tblsp. butter (divided)
1/2 lb. shitake mushrooms, sliced *
1/2 lb. white button mushrooms sliced
1/2 tsp. salt
3 cloves garlic (minced)
1/2 c. white wine (dry is better)
3/4 c. chicken broth
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. shredded Asiago cheese
Parmesan cheese (optional)

1. Pound chicken until it is of an even thickness. Season with salt and pepper, and dredge in flour.** Shake off any excess flour.
2. Melt 2 Tblsp. butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add chicken and saute until nicely brown (about 5 minutes) on one side. Flip chicken and cook for an additional minute. Remove the chicken from the pan, set aside and keep it warm.
3. Add the remaining butter to the skillet. Lower the heat, add mushrooms and 1/2 tsp. salt. Cook over medium low heat, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes, or until mushrooms are softened and somewhat browned. Add garlic and continue to cook for 2 minutes.
4. Add wine to the skillet, stirring up any bits of mushroom or chicken that are sticking to the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook until most of the wine has evaporated. Add the chicken broth and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until liquid has reduced by half.
5. Reduce heat to low and stir in the heavy cream. Add the Asiago and stir constantly until melted. Return the chicken to the skillet and let it simmer in the sauce just until it has heated through and the sauce has thickened a little more. Serve immediately, sprinkling with Parmesan cheese if desired.

*You probably can mix & match whatever kinds of mushrooms you like best.
**Wegman's sells a wonderful dredging flour that can be used instead. It already contains salt and pepper, so if you are using the dredging flour there is no need to salt and pepper the chicken before dredging.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

but fat is flavor!

Dear Mom,

One of the biggest and best surprises of going Whole30 is that fat is actually your friend.  The no-fat/low-fat trend of the 80s/90s has been shot down by many experts which is great news!  While this doesn't mean that I should run out and slather everything I eat in vast quantities of butter and bacon fat, it does mean that I need not feel ashamed that I put a little butter (or ghee, dairy is verboten on W30) on my roasted sweet potato.  I have a good friend who is also a chef (the best possible kind of friend) who says "Fat is Flavor" and I can't agree with him more.  The biggest thing that I learned while on W30 was that I didn't need to put cheese on everything!  It is of course necessary at times (pizza, lasagna) but not required for everything, and if I'm going to splurge on cheese you can bet that its not going to be the low-fat variety (unless it is naturally a lower fat cheese like feta - yum!).

I found this recipe in a magazine and tweaked it slightly to be W30 compliant.  Its really easy and a slow cooker recipe to boot!  I recommend making the sauce the night before and then before heading to work the next morning just put everything together in your slow cooker, set to low and its pretty much ready when you get home.  You could make it with chicken breast to be lower in fat, but chicken thigh has so much more flavor.

chicken tikka masala

2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil
1 medium onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp. ginger, grated
2 tbs. tomato paste
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 tbs. garam masala
1 1/2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground red pepper (less is you like it a little less spicy)
1 tbs. arrowroot powder (or 1/3 cup water and 3 tbs. flour)
4-5 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
cooking spray
1 cup coconut milk

cooked rice (or cauliflower rice)

Heat the oil in a deep skillet, add onion, ginger and garlic.  Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until fragrant and translucent.  Add the tomato paste, cook until the paste gets darker in color (2-3 minutes).  Add the crushed tomatoes, spices and salt.  Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.  Remove pan from heat and stir in arrowroot powder (if using flour, mix flour and water together and stir into sauce, cook sauce with slurry at a simmer about 5 more minutes).

Coat the slow cooker with cooking spray.  Add the chicken thighs and top with the sauce.  Cook on low heat 8-hours.

Remove chicken from slow cooker and shred, return to slow cooker.  Turn heat to high and add coconut milk, cook uncovered for 15 minutes.

Serve over rice and garnish with cilantro.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


Dear Kristin,

My hat is off to you and your hubs for trying to eat a more wholesome diet. I won't even pretend that the Whole30 diet sounds like something I would try. I would rather pull my eyelids over the top of my forehead while listening to Neil Diamond's greatest hits than give up cheese or sugar or bread!

To be honest, though, I believe that dad and I enjoy a diet that is somewhat more healthy than we did when we were younger. We certainly have cut down on the amount of processed foods we eat, and we do try to be mindful of the amounts of fat and empty calories we consume. We are part of a generation that was brought up on Chef Boyardee and Tang. Probably 90% of the fruits and vegetables we had as kids came out of a can. Salad? Iceberg lettuce, period. Romaine, Bibb Lettuce or Kale would probably have been viewed with a suspicious eye as some sort of evil cold war enemy plot designed to corrupt the all-American patriotic plates of fine upstanding citizens.

Today we do what we can to eat a more wholesome diet. Cheese is a good example. While we won't eliminate cheese from our diet (that's just crazy talk), we may opt for the reduced fat varieties, and may look for alternate preparations that allow us to keep the richness and depth that cheese can add to a meal while cutting down on the amount we use. This soup is one of the results of these compromises. I came up with this soup after reading a number of recipes for something called "Lasagna Soup". Hmmm.. that sounded intriguing. What I was hoping for was something that would taste like lasagna, but would be lighter than the lasagna I normally make which uses an insane amount of mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. What I eventually came up with turned out to be what I might call "Not lasagna soup", because it really doesn't remind me too much of lasagna except for the dollop of ricotta cheese and the sprinkling of mozzarella that is added at the end. What I love about this soup is the broth - just a hint heartier than a broth, but not anywhere near as heavy as a cream based soup. The flavor of the tomatoes and chicken stock, with just a hint of cream and Parmesan cheese is a winner. Add a green salad and a loaf of homemade bread and you have real comfort food for a cold winter night.

tomato and pasta soup with three cheeses

8 oz. farfalle pasta*
1 Tblsp. olive oil
1 lb. Italian sausage, either bulk or removed from casings (hot or mild, according to taste)
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 Tblsp. tomato paste
1 28 oz. can diced or crushed tomatoes
4 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream

Shredded Mozarella
Ricotta Cheese (either whole or part skim)
Fresh basil leaves

1. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Remove from heat and drain well.
2. Heat olive oil in a large dutch oven. Add sausage and cook over medium heat until brown, about 4-5 minutes. Add Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, garlic and onion. Cook about 2-3 minutes longer or until onions are translucent. Drain any excess fat. Season with salt and pepper. Finally, stir in the tomato paste, stirring and cooking until combined, about 1 more minute.
3. Stir in tomatoes, chicken stock and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer until slightly reduced, about 30 minutes. Stir in pasta, Paremesan and cream. Continue to cook until heated through, about 2-3 minutes. Remove bay leaf.
4. Serve topped with a dollop of ricotta**, sprinkles of mozzarella and fresh basil leaves.

* Originally the recipes I looked for used lasagna noodles, but I personally love farfalle - the choice of pasta is yours.
** I actually prefer this soup without the ricotta - I like it topped simply with the mozarella and basil. I feel that you get a better sense of the tasty broth this way. Your dad really liked the addition of the ricotta - so each to his own taste!

Sunday, February 7, 2016


dear mom,

If there is one thing in my life I don't mind being complicated, its food.  Salty, sweet, spicy, fatty, mmmm, you name it, I want it all!  Of course food can be simple and delicious as well.  In general, I would say that I spend about 75% of my brain power thinking about food.  When is my next meal or snack?  What will I eat at said meal or snack?  What should I make for dinner?  What did I eat yesterday?  What's in the fridge?  What's that smell (food smell!)?

Food is very much a part of my life and an enjoyable one at that!  Which is why two weeks ago I thought I was going to have a complete meltdown.  The hubs and I were feeling our standard, annual, post-holiday fat-funk.  We were bloated and low-on-energy; our clothes had all mysteriously shrunk in the washer.  It was time to make a change, to start eating healthier and exercise more.  Well, every two weeks we say we are going to eat healthy, but then lasagna calls...  We needed to do something drastic.

My research-loving hubs started reading up on this diet/cleanse/detox called Whole30.  No gluten, grains, dairy, sugar, legumes, booze, joy, etc. for 30 full days.  Needless to say my reaction was less than positive.  Cheese, for one, is pretty much at the bottom of my food pyramid.  Cheese in my opinion, can easily be treated as a meal on its own, it is also a condiment; a food staple, integral to health and happiness, and my sole source of calcium, it cannot be eliminated!  Well, that was my initial reaction.  This Whole30 also made claims that I had to do things like make my own ketchup and mayonnaise, because there was sugar in the store-bought variety.  Vinaigrettes for my salad dressing could not include things I always put in them like honey, because it was an added sugar.  In fact no added sugars or sweeteners were allowed at all!  No stevia in my coffee, no brown sugar in my oatmeal, no maple syrup on my pancakes.  Arrrgh! No pancakes!  How the heck will I ever survive on this diet???

Well, I am happy to report I'm still alive and its been over two weeks!  I feel great and I've lost some lbs!  This "diet" is tolerable - if you like to cook, which is why I've been able to stick with it.  I'm actually enjoying coming up with new recipes based on the restrictions of the diet, its more challenging.  When you realized that while on this "diet" you are allowed to have things like steak, potatoes and bacon, you realize it doesn't feel like a diet at all!  I hate to say it, but its changed the way that I think about food.  Especially sugar and cheese.  I didn't realize how often I was eating sugar until I eliminated it, I also realized that fruit is super sweet and delicious on its own.  Instead of adding that sugar to my vinaigrette, I threw some strawberries on my salad and that added the sweetness that the vinaigrette was missing.

I also was surprised to learn that I can survive without adding cheese to most meals.  Which brings me to this recipe.  The old K would have topped this off with melted provolone, which you can still do and I'm sure it would be wonderful - but I like it just fine as is.  Salty olives and prosciutto with juicy chicken breast and tangy sauce on top, I don't even miss the cheese.  And yes, this does work with the diet!

chicken saltimbocca

for the chicken
2 chicken breasts, pounded to 1/4" thickness
8 fresh sage leaves
2 thin slices prosciutto
1 cup olive tapenade, see note
1 cup almond meal flour (Not doing Whole30? Use AP flour.)
1/2 tsp. granulated onion
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
salt and pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten with 1 tbsp. of water
2 tbsp. ghee or veggie oil
8-10 wooden toothpicks
cooking spray

for the sauce
1-1/2 cup low sodium chicken stock
1 tbsp. ghee or butter
1 clove garlic, minced
2 small shallots, minced
juice from 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper
2 tsp. capers

Preheat oven to 350.  Lay both chicken breasts out on a cutting board.  Split the tapenade between the two breasts and spread in an even layer, it should be around 1/8" thick.  Top tapenade with sage leaves, 4 on each breast spaced evenly, and then the prosciutto.  Starting at the thin end of the breast, roll up the chicken with all the goodness inside.  Secure with toothpicks.

In a shallow bowl combine almond flour, granulated onion, garlic powder, paprika and salt and pepper to taste.  Heat a skillet over medium high heat, add ghee or veggie oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  Working with one at a time, dip chicken wraps in egg wash, roll around to coat completely in the egg, then transfer to almond flour mixture.  Coat completely in the almond flour mixture, shake off excess and put in the hot skillet.  Brown the coating on all sides, turning as necessary.  Transfer to a baking dish sprayed with cooking spray and bake in hot oven for 40-45 minutes (I tested mine with an instant read thermometer, when it hit 160 in the middle it was done).

While the chicken bakes prepare the sauce.  In a shallow pan (you can use the same as the one you used to brown the coating on the chicken, just wipe it out), over medium high heat, add the 1 tbsp. ghee, garlic and shallots.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent.  Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Continue cooking and stirring occasionally until reduced by half.  Stir in lemon juice, capers and season to taste.  Serve chicken topped with sauce.

note: The lovely hubs was allowed to go to Costco all by himself a week ago...  Big mistake, when he walked in the door I quickly remembered why he needed me as a chaperon.  The rest of the evening I had to try to jam a life-times supply of seltzer water, canned tomatoes, dog treats, eggs, olives and a bunch of other random items in our tiny apartment.  It worked out though, because I took one look at the gallon of olives he brought home and immediately thought, "Oooo! Olive tapenade!"  This particular blend had green olives, pearl onions, garlic and red bell peppers in it.  I drained a little over a cup of this mixture and threw it in the food processor with a little drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and voila!  Olive tapenade!  You could also get store bought tapenade or make your own blend.  If you don't like olives, make a pesto instead!  Basil and sun dried tomatoes comes to mind - in this case omit the sage in the above recipe.