Thursday, January 29, 2009

Roasted Pear Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Here is a gourmet salad if ever there was one. It's perfect for winter, hosting seasonal ingredients that are easy to find at the farmers market or your local supermarket right now. It's healthy. And it's incredibly tasty. What more could you ask for?

I'll tell you what you could ask for. Roasted fruit. Pears, to be specific. Who ever said salad had to be cold? A bed of beautifully peppery arugula and mixed baby lettuces, tossed in a spicy pomegranate dressing, is oh-so-welcoming to that warm-from-the-oven pear. If you know what's good for you, you'll make this as soon as possible. I made it tonight for my husband and mother-in-law, and we were all very pleased! I was particularly pleased to see the empty plates at the end of it.

If you're not familiar with agave syrup, you can find it in most natural foods stores and even some supermarkets. It comes from the same plant tequila comes from, and is an all-natural sweetener that is great to have around. It's a lot like honey, but honey would be too sweet and thick for this recipe.

Roasted Pear Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette
Adapted from Eating Well Magazine
serves 3


3 small ripe but firm pears (I used D'Anjou)
2 teaspoons agave syrup
3 tablespoons unsweetened pomegranate juice
1 1/2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons EVOO
1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1 tablespoon minced shallot
pinch of sea salt
pinch of freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon of adobo sauce (from chipotles in adobo), OR pinch ground chipotle chile
pinch of ground cloves
2 cups baby arugula
1 cup mixed baby lettuces


1. The pears: Preheat oven to 350. Slice the base off each pear to make it stand upright. Remove cores from the base if desired. Place pears on a baking sheet and brush them with agave syrup. Roast until browned and tender, 30 to 45 minutes. (Mine took about 40). Let cool about 10 minutes before serving.

2. The dressing: Combine pomegranate juice, vinegar, EVOO, brown sugar, orange zest, shallot, salt, pepper, adobo and cloves in a glass jar or other seal-able receptacle and shake vigorously to combine and emulsify. Alternatively, puree in a blender.

3. The assembly: Toss arugula and lettuce with the dressing in a large bowl and divide among three plates. Top each bed of greens with a pear and serve.

I can't speak highly enough of this dish. I truly believe that a great salad involves skill that most people don't appreciate. Give this one a go and you'll feel pretty damn proud.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rustic Jam Shortbread Tart

One hurdle I have yet to overcome in my quest to become a great cook is home made pastry. I love to bake, and I'm pretty good at it if you must know. But pie crust and tart shells are something I have yet to attempt. Maybe it's easy. Maybe if I try it I'll find that I'm a natural. But I have found the recipe that is a baby-step on the way to home made pastry. A tart crust that's actually a cookie? Now that sounds like something I can do. And Lynne Rossetto Kasper, the author of this recipe, promises that if you learn to make this shortbread crust, "any pie crust will fall at your feet." So I had to try this one.

This tart is just begging to be eaten with a cup of tea. It's the perfect middle ground between a cookie and a pie. It's very thin, it crumbles in your mouth, it tastes lemony and almondy and all-around heavenly. I made this for my mother-in-law, who is coming over tomorrow, but I can't promise there will be any left tomorrow....

One note - make sure you use good quality jam. No rubbishy stuff. No "jelly." The jam is the star of the show, so make it good. I used a blackberry preserves from Fresh & Easy that my parents gave us for our anniversary. It's perfect. The author recommends tart cherry or wild blueberry jam. I'm willing to try it with every type of jam under the sun, if it means I get to make this and eat it again.

Rustic Jam Shortbread Tart
from The Splendid Table's "How to Eat Supper"
makes one 9-inch tart


zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup whole almonds
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (I used white whole wheat)
1/4 cup sugar
generous pinch of salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 chunks
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup good quality jam


1. Preheat oven to 400. Butter a 9-inch round silver-colored cake or tart pan.

2. Turn on the food processor and then drop in the lemon zest and almonds, and grind them fine. Stop the machine, scrape down the sides, and add the flour, sugar, salt, butter, egg yolk, and almond extract. Pulse until all ingredients are blended and starting to come together in small clumps that look like clusters of peas.

3. Turn the pastry out into the pan. With your hands, pat it out to evenly cover the bottom. Nudge the edges to make a 1/2-inch rim around the sides of the pan. Don't worry if it doesn't look perfect.

4. Bake the crust in the center of the oven (I'd recommend putting the tart pan on a cookie sheet) for 13 to 16 minutes (I needed the full 16), or until edges are golden and the center is starting to color. The rim will sink down a little, which is fine.

5. Remove from the oven, and turn the heat up to 500. Carefully spread the jam (a pastry brush works well here) over the tart, and immediately return to the oven, even if it's not up to 500 yet. Bake for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until jam is bubbly.

6. Cool the tart on a rack, slice into wedges, and serve. Serve warm (but not hot).

Eat it and go ahead and try not to go for a second slice...I'm going to get mine now. And I'm one step closer to making real pastry crust...


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sardinian Spaghetti

Many of my happier food-related memories from childhood involve spaghetti in some kind of red sauce. (Home? The Wassermans' house? IHOP?) I know I'm not alone. As a child, I can't say that I was able to discern a home-made sauce from a jar sauce. But now that I make it myself, I can. I'm not saying jar sauce is no good, and I do still like to keep some on hand for home-made pizza or a pasta night of the lazy persuasion. But home-made spaghetti sauce has a little heart that jar sauce doesn't have. I don't have a favorite, go-to spaghetti sauce recipe just yet. But for another variation, I turned tonight, as I so often do, to my friend Rachael.

You can always count on Rachael Ray for a hearty Italian meal that is easy for a weeknight. It's kind of her specialty. This one comes from her magazine, and is definitely worth trying. It's simple, it's tasty, and it's "different" enough that you won't feel like it's just plain old spaghetti with sauce from a jar. The sauce is easy and fairly quick, but with fresh herbs that add a little "wow" factor, not to mention the star of the show: Italian sausage.

Sweet Italian sausage is one of those mysterious ingredients that I didn't even know existed until recently. It's that super fragrant and flavorful sausage that occasionally appears on pizza or in other Italian dishes. And I love it. I especially love that you can find it in your regular supermarket, and that they often have chicken and turkey varieties so you can feel a little better about eating it (health-wise, I mean). It's becoming more of a regular in my kitchen, and it is particularly great in a sauce like this one, filled with fresh herbs, a hint of spiciness, and rich tomatoes.

This is comfort food, Italian style, without anything of the guilt-inducing variety.

Sardinian Spaghetti
Adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray

serves 4


1 tablespoon EVOO

1 pound uncooked sweet chicken Italian sausages, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 28-ounce can unsalted whole peeled tomatoes, drained, halved, and 1/4 cup of juice reserved

1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

1 bay leaf

pinch of red pepper flakes

pinch of saffron threads

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

3/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn


1/4 pound whole wheat spaghetti
1/4 cup grated parmesan


1. Heat EVOO in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 7 minutes. Push to one side of the skillet and increase heat to high. Add tomatoes, stirring to break them up a bit, and cook until the oil in the pan turns red and tomatoes are starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir sausage and tomatoes together.

2. Add garlic, bay leaf, red pepper flakes, and saffron, and stir. Cook, stirring, about 2 minutes. Add parsley, basil, and salt to taste. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaf.

3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil while the mixture above is cooking. Salt it. Add spaghetti and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water.

4. Add cooked spaghetti to the skillet, along with the cooking liquid and reserved tomato juice. (Note: if the sauce is still very liquidy at this point, then don't add the tomato juice). Toss together and cook for about 3 minutes. Top with cheese and serve.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Roasted Potato Leek Soup

We had a few days of abnormally warm weather, but we're back to cold January nights. Enter my favorite cast member of the food pyramid, soup. (Okay, so maybe soup never got its own spot on the food pyramid, but if you ask me, it deserves one). Today I decided to try a soup that I've not only never cooked before, but I've never even eaten it before. Yet it always intrigued me.

We're talking potato-leek soup, people. It's French, it's classy, it's simple. And leave it to the Barefoot Contessa to think of a great way to make it extra flavorful and delicious - roast the vegetables first. I'm seeing this in more and more soup recipes, and I have to say it's pure genius. We all know that the best way to draw out incredible flavor from any vegetable is to toss it around in some EVOO, salt and pepper, and roast it in the oven. So why not do it to veggies before you puree them for soup? It's logical. And it's genius.

This soup warms the cockles of your heart, as my grandmother used to say. And it features my new favorite allium, the leek. I went to my farmers market on Sunday and picked up the most incredible-looking leeks I've ever seen. They were about a mile long.

The smell of the leeks and potatoes roasting has filled our entire home with a deliciously tantalizing smell. This is what winter smells like, my friends.

Roasted Potato Leek Soup
Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa's "Back to Basics"

serves 4


the leeks and potatoes are taking a cool bath together.

1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold or Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks

2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, chopped

2 tablespoons EVOO

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 generous handfuls of baby arugula

1/4 cup dry white wine
3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons skim milk

4 ounces creme fraiche

2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan


1. Preheat the oven to 400. Combine potatoes and leeks in a shallow roasting pan in a single layer. Toss with EVOO, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Roast for 40-45 minutes, tossing occasionally so they cook evenly, until very tender. Add the arugula and toss. Roast for an additional 4 minutes, until arugula is wilted. Remove pan from oven and place on the stove.

2. Over low heat, add the wine and 1/2 cup of the broth, stirring and scraping up any crispy bits in the roasting pan.
Cook a couple of minutes.

3. In batches, transfer the roasted vegetables and liquid to a food processor. Add additional broth to each batch provide more liquid, and puree. After you puree each batch, put it in a large pot or Dutch oven. When all the veggies are pureed, you should have used about half of the broth. Add the rest of the broth to the pot along with milk, creme fraiche, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning.

4. When ready to serve, reheat the soup gently and whisk in the parmesan. Serve hot.

Like I said, I'm no expert on potato-leek soup, but I have a feeling that after having it this way I'll never want to eat it the "regular" way. There is a depth of flavor that can only come from roasting and caramelizing the vegetables. If you have some crusty sourdough laying around I think it would go great with this soup! Enjoy.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mediterranean Pasta Salad

Pasta salad used to be a go-to dish for me when asked to bring something to a party. In fact, it still is. But I've gotten a lot more creative over the years with what I put in it. This one is sort of a medley of many of my favorite pasta salad accoutrements, and they all join together in a beautiful Mediterranean theme.

Serve room temperature or cold - either way it's delightful and low maintenance. Orzo is a great pasta choice for this dish, but I didn't have any on hand (don't get me started on the Great Orzo Shortage of 2008, which has apparently continued into 2009) so I went with trusty old rotini. Any short-cut pasta will work.

So go ahead, whip it up and take it to a pot luck, or just have it for dinner at home. That's what we're going to do tonight.

Mediterranean Pasta Salad
serves 2


1/2 cup short-cut pasta (preferably whole wheat), only 1/4 cup if using orzo
2 tablespoons EVOO
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon zest
juice of 1 lemon
1 medium tomato, diced
1/4 cup diced cucumber
1 tablespoon capers, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup loosely-packed parsley leaves, chopped
1/4 cup loosely-packed basil leaves, chopped
fresh ground pepper
handful of good quality olives


1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, and salt it. Cook pasta to al dente, according to package directions.

2. While pasta is cooking, combine EVOO, red wine vinegar, lemon zest and lemon juice in a bowl. When the pasta is done, drain it and toss it in that very same bowl. Let sit for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl, pepper to taste, and top it with the olives. Serve as is, or cover and refrigerate until ready to eat.

It's as easy as pie. And a lot healthier. Enjoy!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts

Frozen puff pastry sheets are just about the best culinary invention of all time. You can whip up impressive appetizers or desserts in a marginal amount of time, compared to what you'd have to go through if you made the pastry yourself (a feat I have yet to attempt, and probably never will since frozen puff pastry is out there, calling my name!) The inspiration for this recipe came from Ina Garten's latest cookbook, Back to Basics. And it really is that - basic. Yet incredibly delicious.

The recipe is listed as a "lunch" option - and I chose to make it alongside a green salad to make it dinner. However, in future I think I would make smaller versions of this and call them appetizers. They are a bit too daunting in their full size, and rather rich. I think making them small, say biscuit-cutter size, would be perfect. But you can decide - they make a pretty satisfying meal full-sized.

I know not everyone likes goat cheese and caramelized onions (my husband is such a person, so I made his with sun-dried tomatoes and pepperoni) so feel free to substitute whatever toppings strike your fancy. I do have to say the caramelized onions are incredible, and tangy goat cheese is the perfect complement. But hey, if you want to be different, be different.

I should also note that an earthquake hit while I was preparing these, and the epicenter was one mile from where we live. I don't really have a point in mentioning that, but just thought I would let you know that I managed to produce a successful dinner even while the house shook around me. Nuff said.

Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts
Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa, "Back to Basics"
serves 2


1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed (1/2 package)
1 medium-large onion, thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons dry white wine
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
2 ounces goat cheese (chevre)
1 medium tomato, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
2 tablespoons basil leaves, sliced into chiffonade
1 ounce fresh parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler


1. The pastry: unfold on a lightly floured surface and roll out until it is very thin, but thick enough to pick up without tearing. You should end up with a square sheet about 10" x 10". Cut into four squares to make four tarts, two per person (or use a biscuit cutter to make small rounds).

2. The onions: Heat about 1 tablespoon EVOO in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic. Sautee for 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until onions are limp and very little moisture remains. Add a pinch of salt, pepper to taste, wine, and thyme and cook an additional 10 minutes, until wine is absorbed/evaporated and onions are slightly browned. Remove from heat.

3. The assembly: Score a 1/4-inch wide border around each piece of pastry, and prick with a fork inside the border you just created. Sprinkle 1/2 tablespoon grated parmesan on each square. Place a quarter of the onion mixture on each square within the scored edge. Crumble the goat cheese over each pile of the onion. Place a slice of tomato in the center of each tart. Brush lightly with olive oil (or spray with olive oil spray). Sprinkle with basil, salt, and pepper, and top with the shaved parmesan.

4. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until pastry is golden brown and puffy. Serve warm.

It feels a little bit decadent, more like party food than regular dinner (that's where the salad comes to the rescue and makes you feel less guilty). But it's fun, it's different, and by all means don't open a bottle of wine just for the tablespoon and a half that's in the recipe - the wine will go nicely alongside dinner.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tarragon Chicken with Buttery Leeks

Another recent acquisition of mine, of the cookbook variety, is The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper. (I've recently become addicted to The Splendid Table's radio podcasts - it's total food geek heaven). It's an utterly gorgeous book filled with so many recipes that I can't wait to try. This is the first. I'm pleased with how it came out, though it is a soft-spoken type of recipe. Elegant and understated. We're talking white wine, not red.

This dish is not something that will utterly wow you, but it does sneak up on you with its velvety smooth sauce. The leek is a creature I have only just begun to tackle, and I have to say, I think we'll be revisiting the leek often. It's a great alternative to scallions, with a much more gentle flavor that won't leave you with horrible breath all night.

I served it on
a simple bed of cous cous, which was the perfect base as it soaked up the extra sauce and took on the flavor quite nicely. I was going to suggest other sides to try with it, but honestly I can't think of a better partner for this meal than cous cous. Let me know if you have another idea for this one.

Tarragon Chicken with Buttery Leeks
from The Splendid Table's "How to Eat Supper"
serves 2


1 cup thin-sliced leeks, white and light green parts only (1 small leek, cleaned)
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 3/4 pounds)
kosher salt
and fresh-ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon coarse-chopped fresh tarragon leaves


There's that French oven again....

1. Place the leeks in a pan or large skillet with the chicken broth and 1 tablespoon of butter. Cook at a gentle boil over medium heat until the leeks are tender, and the broth has reduced so that the leeks are no longer completely submerged, about 8-10 minutes.

2. Season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and place on top of the simmering leeks. Spoon some of the leeks over the chicken, and cover the pan tightly. Reduce heat to low. After about 8 minutes, turn the chicken over and cover again. After a total of about 12 minutes, check the chicken for doneness. Do not overcook!

3. When chicken is cooked, transfer it to a warm plate. Increase the heat under the leeks to high, and stir in lemon juice, remaining tablespoon of butter, and the tarragon. Cook until butter melts, and season to taste.

4. Pour leek sauce over chicken and serve.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Easy Crab Salad

I received a beautiful cookbook for my birthday called Screen Doors and Sweet Tea by Martha Hall Foose. It's all Southern-style cooking, but with a more delicate touch than what we traditionally think of when we think of Southern cooking
(Paula Deen, anyone?). This recipe was particularly appealing, so I thought it would be a good introduction to Ms. Foose.

You won't see seafood very often in this blog, since my husband doesn't touch the stuff. But he's out tonight so I thought I'd take advantage and make a crab dish. This requires preparation the day before, so you have to be somewhat premeditated about it.

This has a sort of "ladies who lunch" feel to it, so if you're looking for an appetizer or a light main course to impress friends of the feminine persuasion, this might be it. It's elegant in flavor, texture, and appearance, and there isn't a drop of mayo to be found, thank goodness. Serve over a bed of greens of your choice, and with any other salad accoutrement you might have around. Don't be restricted by my arugula + cucumber + celery combination, though it was quite tasty!

Easy Crab Salad
Adapted from Martha Hall Foose's "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea"
serves 2


1/2 pound fresh or canned lump crab meat
1 scallion, finely chopped
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons cold water
pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 cup (loosely packed) baby arugula (or other salad greens)
assortment of salad veggies, your preference (cucumber, celery, avocado, etc.)


1. Put the crab in the bottom of a glass bowl, and sprinkle the chopped scallion fairly evenly over it. Drizzle with oil, vinegar, and water. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste. Cover tightly and refrigerate at least 24 hours.

2. Toss lightly and serve over arugula and other veggies.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Smoky-Spicy Sweet Potato Soup

I'll admit that I wasn't quite sure whether I'd like the way this soup turned out. I love bacon as a foundation for soups and sauces. I love chipotles in adobo. But while I do like sweet potatoes, I wouldn't go so far as to say I love them. Rachael's recipe, however, is masterful. She takes the sweet starchiness of sweet potatoes and brightens it up with orange and carrot. You end up with a surprisingly refreshing, yet completely satisfying and hearty soup. It's excellent with a baguette sliced up and ready for dunking.

I also have to introduce you to my new friend, a Le Creuset oval French oven (5 qt) in slate. I know it's misguided (at best) to bestow love upon inanimate objects, but I love it. Love love love it. You'll see a photo of it hard at work below. I got it for a steal at Williams-Sonoma this weekend and so far we are very happy together.

This can easily be made vegetarian by leaving out the bacon. Do so at your own risk.

Smoky-Spicy Sweet Potato Soup
Adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray
serves 2-3


2 medium-sized sweet potatoes (garnet or jewel, your preference), peeled and sliced into relatively uniform chunks
1 tablespoon EVOO
2 slices smoky bacon, chopped
1 small onion or shallot, chopped
1 medium-sized carrot, peeled and shredded
1 chipotle pepper in adobo, chopped, plus 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cups low sodium chicken/veggie broth
grated zest and juice of a small to medium-sized orange
pinch of ground cinnamon
maple syrup, for drizzling


(that's my new Le Creuset in the back)

1. In a medium saucepan, add the sweet potatoes and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, salt the water and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and return to the pot.

2. While sweet potatoes are working, in a medium pot (or a beautiful new French oven) heat the EVOO. Add the bacon pieces and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until crisp (about 5-7 minutes). Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate. Discard all but about 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat / EVOO in the pan.

3. Add onion, carrot, chipotle pepper, adobo, thyme sprigs and bay leaf to the bacon fat / EVOO and cook until the onions are softened, 6-7 minutes. Stir in the chicken/veggie broth, orange zest, orange juice and cinnamon. Drizzle with maple syrup just to taste, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer about 5 minutes. Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaf.

4. Add the broth mixture to the sweet potatoes in the pot and puree with an immersion blender (or your preferred method). Serve the soup with bacon pieces on top.

This one definitely goes on the keeper list! Enjoy.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Pasta-Stuffed Peppers

This meal is good. I realize "good" is one of those adjectives you are taught in elementary school is much better substituted with something like "unsurpassable." But if you ask me, when it comes to food, "good" is a very high compliment. Granted, it totally depends on the tone of your voice when you say it. For instance, if I gave my husband a plate of lovingly prepared food and he were foolish enough (which he isn't) to say "eh, it looks pretty good." Well, that's not the good kind of good. But if it's a "wow, honey, this is GOOD." Now that's what I like to hear.

If you like roasted red peppers, this is your dish. The presentation is a bit unnecessary, but it was kind of fun to precariously balance the roasted pepper on the plate to try to make it look restaurant-fancy. One of the peppers toppled over immediately. But it's all about trying, right? And it tasted fantastic. I think next time I'll just chop up the peppers and toss them into the mix.

Pasta-Stuffed Peppers
Adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray
serves 2, with enough leftover pasta for a third


about 1/3 pound short whole wheat pasta (I used rotini)
2 large red bell peppers, tops cut off and reserved, seeds and ribs discarded
black pepper
1 tablespoon EVOO, plus more for drizzling
2 jarred roasted red peppers
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 sprig rosemary, stems discarded and leaves chopped
1 14.5 ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 generous handful of baby arugula
2 slices of fresh mozzarella
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan


1. Preheat oven to 425. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and set aside.

2. While pasta water is coming up to a boil, trim the bottoms of the bell peppers, without making a hole if possible, so that they stand. Season inside with salt and black pepper. Turn the peppers bottom side up in a baking dish, set the tops alongside and drizzle with EVOO. Roast for 20 minutes.

3. In a food processor, puree jarred roasted red peppers. In a large skillet (while the pasta is cooking), heat 1 tablespoon EVOO over medium heat. Add shallot, garlic, crushed red pepper and rosemary. Cook until softened, 5-7 minutes. Add pureed peppers and fire-roasted tomatoes; season with salt and pepper and stir. Simmer for 5 minutes.

4. Add the cooked pasta to the skillet and toss. Add arugula and cook until wilted.

5. Preheat the broiler. Turn the peppers upright and fill with pasta. (If they don't fall over, you deserve a medal. I had to prop mine up against each other). Top with mozzarella slice and grated parmesan. Broil until cheese is melted, 2 minutes. Serve with the tops and extra pasta on the side.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Steak Noodle Bowls

The rest of the flank steak I bought when I made the Thai salad a few weeks ago was sitting in our freezer, so I decided it wouldn't break my once-a-month rule to cook the rest of it now. Tonight was a night for a simple weeknight supper, and this recipe sounded too good and too easy to pass up. It was every bit as tasty and satisfying as it sounded. Also, it was a good excuse to christen the cast-iron skillet I got for Christmas!

Steak Noodle Bowls
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food
serves 2


coarse salt and ground pepper
3 ounces soba noodles
1/2 pound to 3/4 pound flank or skirt steak, cut in half if too big to fit in skillet
1/2 pound snow peas, stem ends removed
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons chopped unsalted peanuts


1. In a pot of boiling water, cook noodles until al dente (about 3-4 minutes). Drain and set aside.

2. Heat a large skillet while the noodles are cooking, over medium-high. Season steak with salt and pepper. Cook, turning once, until medium-rare, 5-6 minutes per side. Transfer steak to a cutting board and tent with foil.

3. In the same skillet, still over medium-high heat, add the snow peas and toss them with the juices from the steak. Cook, tossing occasionally, until crisp-tender, 2-3 minutes. Add cooked noodles, soy sauce, and water; cook until warmed through, about 30 seconds. Transfer to serving bowls.

4. Slice steak and place over noodles and snow peas. Add any accumulated juices from the steak. Scatter with peanuts and serve.

Not a lot of comment is required on this one - I think the recipe speaks for itself. If you don't eat beef, this would be great with tofu or fish, or even trusty old chicken. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cheddar-Bacon Drop Biscuits

What many Americans don't seem to realize is that a real English scone is exactly the same thing as an American biscuit. The scones you find in coffee shops in the US are not real English scones by any stretch of the imagination. But look at a recipe for a real English scone and a recipe for a real American biscuit and, well, they are virtually identical.

My point is this: the biscuit is American comfort food, the scone is English comfort food. Some might disagree with me, but I think a warm-from-the-oven, golden-brown on the outside, soft on in the inside biscuit and/or scone is about as comforting as it gets. And if we're going to go all out with savory flavors for our biscuit/scone, why not throw in some cheddar and bacon and make it extra comforting?

Before you scoff at the bacon and the cheddar, thinking "oh no, that will be far too fattening and rich for me," check out the actual ingredients. There is very little cheese and only two slices of bacon in the entire recipe. These biscuits end up being quite subtle and lovely. If you don't believe me, how about the fact that the recipe came straight from the pages of Cooking Light magazine? And that they are under 100 calories per biscuit?

I made these as an afternoon snack as soon as I got off work. I had to put them away after a while so there would actually be some left for my husband when he gets home. As my mother would say, they are very more-ish.

So make them, enjoy them, be comforted. And if you don't eat pork products feel free to substitute turkey or vegan bacon. If you're lazy you could even buy bacon bits (you'll only need about three tablespoons). But if you're not opposed to real bacon, go for it.

Cheddar-Bacon Drop Biscuits
from Cooking Light magazine
makes 16-18


2 cups whole wheat (or other all-purpose) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 1/2 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
3/4 cup nonfat buttermilk
1/4 cup water
cooking spray


1. Preheat oven to 400.

2. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Stir with a whisk.

3. Cut in butter with a pastry blender, 2 knives, or your fingers (but if you use your fingers, try not to over-handle it as you don't want the mixture to get warm) until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in cheddar and bacon. Add milk and 1/4 cup water, stirring just until moist.

4. Drop dough by 2 level tablespoonfuls or ice cream scoop 1 inch apart on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400 for 11-13 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm.

Enjoy! We'll be having ours with our dinner tonight, if I don't eat them all first.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Balsamic Orange Chicken with Sage Butter Polenta

Now that I'm a year older, I think I ought to be making some sophisticated meals. Okay not really, but the basis for this recipe sounded so good that I had to try it. I decided to tweak it a bit to make it feel a little more unique. One of the main changes I made was adding polenta (instead of spaghetti, which is what the original recipe called for).

A few words on polenta. Yes, it's high maintenance. Yes, it's delicious. Yes, you could take a shortcut and buy one of those logs of ready-made polenta. Be my guest. But there is something to be said for making your own polenta. It is a very gratifying experience. And in spite of its reputation, I've found it's actually pretty hard to screw up. Just use logic - if it looks like it needs more liquid, add more liquid. If it's bubbling too much, turn down the heat. If it's thickening too quickly or sticking to the bottom of the pan, you need to whisk more often. Taste as you go to check out how the texture is coming along. Go on, it's worth a try.

Below I'm sharing with you my own chosen method for making polenta, but I have seen many alternate methods out there. You can use a double boiler, you can add the polenta after the liquid comes to a boil, you can whisk constantly or only sporadically. I still haven't tried every method so by no means do I endorse the method below as the best. I just like it because it's low(er) maintenance and it seems to work. It achieves the ideal consistency - thick, creamy and smooth. And how about this for an endorsement: this time I think I absolutely perfected it and made the best polenta of my (admittedly short) polenta career.

We can't take all the attention away from the chicken, of course. The chicken is coated in a beautiful pan sauce (there we go with the pan sauce again!) that is tangy with a great depth of flavor. I think it compliments the polenta quite well. And the spicy hint of arugula ties everything together.

Balsamic Orange Chicken with Sage Butter Polenta
Adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray
serves 2


1/2 cup polenta (medium or coarse ground cornmeal)
1 1/2 cups water (keep an additional cup or two of hot water nearby)
1/2 cup heavy cream (or milk if you prefer)
1 tablespoon EVOO
2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (or equivalent in chicken breast tenders)
coarse ground salt & pepper for seasoning
1 sprig rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1/8 cup good orange marmalade (I used Knott's)
2 tablespoons butter
6 fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
1 1/2 cups baby arugula
3 tablespoons chopped pecans


1. Start with the polenta, as it takes the longest. Put the 1 1/2 cups water and cream in a medium pot, and stir in the polenta. Turn on the heat to high. Stir with a whisk as you bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Stir occasionally. As it starts to thicken (after about 8-10 minutes), continue to stir occasionally from the bottom of the pot, and keep an eye on the consistency. If it starts to thicken too much, add more hot water. Reduce heat more if the polenta is bubbling too much - it should only be a bubble here and a bubble there. Continue to cook for another 20 minutes, adding hot water and stirring as necessary.

2. When the polenta has about 10 minutes to go, start on the chicken. Heat the EVOO in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add it to the pan. While it cooks, sprinkle the rosemary over the chicken. Cook, turning once, until browned and cooked through, about 8-10 minutes (depending on how thick the chicken breasts are). Remove from the pan and keep nearby on a plate or tray.

3. At this point, stir the butter and sage into the polenta. Season with salt and pepper. When the butter has melted, stir in the cheese. Let it continue to cook while you finish the next step.

4. Make the pan sauce. Whisk balsamic and marmalade into the skillet, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 1 minute. Return the chicken to the pan and coat it in the glaze. Remove from heat. Add the arugula to the pan and toss it around with the chicken and sauce (I'd use tongs if I were you).

4. Serve the chicken alongside the polenta. Sprinkle with pecan pieces.

Voila! You just made yummy polenta AND it's part of a balanced meal. Now eat and enjoy.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Tuscan Tomato Soup

I am a huge fan of soup. I think it is quite possibly the most perfect food - when it is done well, of course. And simple though it may be, a good tomato soup is pretty much as good as it gets. Especially when you serve it with some toast or a grilled cheese sandwich. Mmmm.

So I have found it - the beautiful, simple, elegant tomato soup recipe that I never knew I was looking for. It's in the new Williams-Sonoma cookbook, and it is definitely a soup I'll make again and again. Light and slightly tangy, yet homey and comforting. It's what soup always aspired to be.

We had ours with some toasted rosemary olive oil bread. It would also be great with hom
e-made croutons, cheese toasts, anything you like with your tomato soup. Behold!

Tuscan Tomato Soup
Adapted from the Williams-Sonoma cookbook
serves 2


1 tablespoon EVOO
1 small yellow onion, or 1/2 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large clove or 2 small cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1.5 pounds ripe tomatoes (preferably on the vine), peeled and seeded, then diced
2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1/4 cup basil, sliced into chiffonade
salt and freshly ground pepper


1. Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the onion and saute, stirring frequently, until softened, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and cook until softened but not browned, about 30 seconds.

2. Add tomatoes and stock, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until tomatoes are softened, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or your preferred method, leaving a little bit of texture. Add salt and pepper to taste, and stir in basil. Serve.


Friday, January 9, 2009

Pesto 101

Pesto is a great weapon to have up your culinary sleeve. It is remarkably easy, so long as you are able to ascertain which flavors go together. Contrary to popular belief, pesto is not always basil + pine nuts + EVOO + parmesan. There are endless varieties. You can introduce any leafy herb or greens to just about any nut, so long as the flavors are complimentary.

Here I've created a pretty basic pesto that will satisfy pesto traditionalists, but has a little added twist in the form of fresh tarragon. So check out the fresh herbs at your market - whatever smells good t
o you, buy it. Pick up some nuts that you think will go with it (arugula and almonds, spinach and walnuts, cilantro and pistachios, etc. etc.), and chances are the rest of the ingredients are already in your pantry and refrigerator. Break out the food processor and presto!

I kept this pesto fairly thick so that I could serve it over fresh mozzarella on some beautiful rosemary bread slices. If you want to use it for pasta, feel free to add a little more olive oil or some of the starchy cooking liquid from your pasta to thin it out a bit.

This recipe only makes about 1/3 cup of pesto - so multiply as you see fit.

Pesto 101
serves 1-2, depending on how much you like pesto!


1 1/2 tablespoons of pine nuts
generous fistful of fresh basil leaves (about 10-12 leaves), torn
2 tablespoons (approximately) fresh tarragon leaves
1 small clove garlic, chopped
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
1-2 tablespoons EVOO
salt and pepper to taste

1. Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium-low heat, shaking the skillet occasionally so they don't burn. When they start to smell fragrant and take on a golden-brown hue, turn off the heat. Let cool a few minutes.

2. Break out the food processor and put in the basil, tarragon, garlic, and parmesan. Process until ground into a sort of dry paste. With the processor still running, stream in the olive oil until the desired consistency is achieved.

3. Season with salt and pepper, and serve however you like - on bread, on pasta, with veggies, on name it.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Jerk Chicken with Cool Salsa

I'm afraid I can't call this meal a complete and utter success. I don't think it's the recipe's fault, mostly because it's Ellie Krieger's recipe and she hasn't failed me yet. I promised you that I'd bring you more of her this week, and here she is. But I think the flaws in this meal were my fault. (I guess this blog couldn't be filled entirely with successes, could it?) And they were twofold. I'll get to that in a moment. Point is I am still sharing this recipe because I think it has great potential, and could be delicious if executed properly.

This is a refreshing and mildly spicy recipe that is remarkably healthy. The first flaw on my part - the "cool salsa" is supposed to be "cool pineapple salsa," but I dropped the ball and didn't realize the pineapple in my fridge had gone bad and needed to be sacrificed. (Do you see any pineapple in the picture? If you do, you're imagining it.) So I just doubled the amount of cucumber and made it a cucumber salsa (and lo and behold, it was fantastic!) I'm giving you the true version of the recipe, pineapple and all, since I really do think the pineapple is there for a reason. But by all means, if you're not a fan of pineapple, or you can't find fresh, I can vouch for the cucumber salsa as being truly delicious and reminiscent of a mojito.

The second (and bigger) flaw was that I found the sauce a little bitter, and I can't pinpoint what the cause was. I think the garlic I used might be a little old, which tends to make things taste bitter. I'd recommend you use very fresh garlic. The other possible cause might have been the lime juice that was added to the sauce - to be on the safe side, follow the directions carefully and only add the lime juice when the sauce is done and you're about to add the chicken and turn off the heat. I cheated and added it earlier, which means it cooked a bit and perhaps that was a problem.

Finally, I can't promise this is an authentic jerk sauce. But authentic or no, you'll still feel like you're on vacation somewhere at least vaguely tropical. Especially if you remember to buy pineapple. Try it and see if you can do it better than I did.

Jerk Chicken with Cool (Pineapple) Salsa
Adapted from Ellie Krieger's "The Food You Crave"
serves 2


1/2 tablespoon honey
1/2 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 cup finely diced fresh pineapple
1/4 cup seeded and finely diced English cucumber
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 3/4 pound), pounded between 2 sheets of wax paper to 1/2 inch thickness
1/2 cup chopped scallions, green and white parts (about 3 scallions)
1 serrano chile, seeded and finely minced
1 small clove of garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice


1. Make the salsa: in a small bowl, whisk together honey and lime juice. Add the pineapple, cucumber, and mint, and toss to combine.

2. Cook the chicken: heat 1 teaspoon of oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook until browned and cooked just through, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

3. Make the sauce: Add the remaining oil to the pan. Reduce heat to medium. Stir in the scallions, serrano chile, garlic, ginger, allspice, and thyme and cook for 30 seconds. Add the broth and soy sauce and cook until the liquid reduces by half, about 3 minutes. Stir in the lime juice at the last possible moment. Return the chicken to the pan and coat well with the sauce. Turn off the heat.

4. Serve the chicken topped with the sauce and the pineapple salsa on the side. I'd recommend adding rice, cous cous, or some other grain to round out the plate.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Thai Beef Salad with Mango

We don't often eat beef in our house, mainly for environmental reasons. In fact for about six months now I've limited my beef intake (whether at home or in restaurants) to just once a month, as I find it more justifiable from a sustainability perspective. When I do eat beef, this is exactly the sort of dish I like to have. In fact I ordered a very similar dish to this one at Houston's a while back and loved it. Every bite was crammed with intense flavors - lime, chile, mango, cilantro, and more.

I found an unnecessarily complicated recipe for Thai Beef Salad in the new Williams-Sonoma cookbook and decided to adjust it to make it a bit more user-friendly. And now I'm sharing it with you! The dressing is incredibly flavorful without overpowering the taste of the beef and mango - a pretty great replica of the salad from Houston's, if I may toot my own horn. If you don't eat beef at all (hats off to you) then feel free to substitute fish, chicken, or tofu.

Thai Beef Salad with Mango
Adapted from The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook
serves 2


1/2 cup coconut milk
2 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed and kept divided
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 pound flank steak
1 serrano chile, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro stems
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
fresh ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (approximately 1 medium-sized lime)
3/4 teaspoon minced lemongrass or lemongrass paste
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 mango, peeled and cut into thin slices
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1/2 head of red-leaf lettuce, or a bag of baby salad greens


1. Prepare the marinade for the steak: stir coconut milk, one clove of minced garlic, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, and the minced cilantro leaves in a large bowl. Add the flank steak and turn to coat well. Cover and marinate at room temperature for 1 hour.

2. Prepare the salad dressing: in a food processor, combine the chile, remaining garlic clove, cilantro stems, mint, pepper, lime juice, remaining brown sugar, and lemongrass. Process until there are no significant chunks. With the processor running, stream in the canola oil. Put dressing in a large bowl, cover and refrigerate.

3. Cook the steak: Preheat oven to 400. Preheat a stovetop grill pan over high heat, or prepare outdoor grill. Remove steak from marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the marinade. Place the steak on the grill and sear, turning once, until brown on both sides, 5-6 minutes per side. Using tongs, transfer steak to a rimmed baking sheet. Place in the oven and cook for another 5-10 minutes (depending on how well done you like your steak). Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let it rest for 5 minutes.

4. Slice steak into thin strips and pour any juices released during slicing into the dressing. Add the beef, mangoes, and scallions to the dressing and toss to coat. Serve over lettuce leaves.

The flavors were beautiful. My monthly beef was well spent on this meal! Enjoy.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Green Goddess Dressing

I have always been intrigued by green goddess dressing, mostly because of the name. But I had never eaten it until I made it this evening. And the name is quite appropriate. I can't say I felt like a goddess after eating it, but it tasted like maybe it was made by a goddess. And since I made it, I guess that means I'm contradicting myself. Perhaps I am a goddess after all.

But back to the dressing. I'd like to introduce you to my favorite food network chef of all, Ellie Krieger. Who, you ask? She is certainly one of the lesser known stars from the network. She is a nutritionist, and she makes genuinely healthy, delicious food. So far my track record for Ellie Krieger recipes is pretty flawless. Don't worry, you'll be seeing her again - in fact, later this week - and for more than just salad dressing.

So here is a refreshing, silky, slightly creamy, brightly flavored and colored dressing to drizzle (or pour) over tomatoes, cucumber, or a mixed green salad. Break out the food processor or blender and enjoy.

Green Goddess Dressing
Adapted from Ellie Krieger's "The Food You Crave"
serves 6-8


1 small ripe avocado, peeled
3/4 cup skim buttermilk
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh tarragon
1 scallion (white and green parts), coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper


1. Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor, and blend or process until smooth.

2. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

Baked Gnocchi

I have to give the disclaimer right away that this is not a low-calorie meal. I never
claimed to be helping anyone with their new year's resolutions. This meal is, however, filled with complex carbs (good thing), protein (good thing) and iron (also a good thing). So you might be able to justify the calories and the fat with the above. I did adjust the recipe to make it far less fattening than the original, but I wasn't about to remove all the tastiness. Anyway, it's delicious and comforting. And that's what counts.

It's like a grown-up mac and cheese, only instead of macaroni we're talking about gnocchi - delightful little pillows of potato that are so underrated that someone should be arrested. Luckily we have Giada De Laurentiis to help introduce them to us in an extremely approachable way. If you choose to make the gnocchi from scratch, be my g
uest. (Mark Bittman has a great-sounding recipe in his How to Cook Everything Vegetarian book). I bought my gnocchi at the store.

Also, if you don't like goat cheese (!) you might substitute some other flavorful cheese, such as aged white cheddar or maybe even smoked mozzarella.

Baked Gnocchi
Adapted from Everyday Pasta by Giada de Laurentiis
serves 4


1 package p
otato gnocchi
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 1/2 cups skim or low fat milk

1/2 cup reduced sodium chicken (or veggie) broth
1/8 cup all purpose flour (I used whole wheat as usual)
pinch of salt
freshly ground pepper

pinch of grated nutmeg

5 ounces baby spinach

1 1/2 ounces fresh goat cheese

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place gnocchi in a lightly greased 8 x 8 inch baking dish and set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan, whisk together cream, milk, broth, and flour over medium heat. Continue whisking until the sauce is simmering and thickened, about 5 minutes.

3. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg, and stir to combine. Add spinach and toss to coat in the cream. Pour the cream and spinach mixture over the gnocchi evenly, spreading the spinach out to cover all the potato dumplings.

4. Crumble goat cheese over the spinach. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake until the top is golden in places, about 30 minutes.

The result is gooey, rich and amazing. And the spinach helps to offset the creaminess so you can actually tell yourself you're eating something with nutrients in it. (Although that was the only part my husband didn't like....)


Friday, January 2, 2009

Chicken with Veggies in Cider Sauce

I found this recipe in the premiere issue of the new Food Network Magazine (a magazine made for people just like me, who watch FN obsessively as if it might go off the air tomorrow). I felt it needed a green vegetable to balance it out, so I added brussels sprouts. They are one of those vegetables that I have only recently come to appreciate, and I'd recommend that you try them in this dish and see if you might discover a new respect for them. I think the trick is to slice them before you cook them - somehow it makes a huge difference.

The result is a tasty, well-balanced meal with a hint of apple cider vinegar kick that brings the whole package together. And the pan gravy is, well, it's pan gravy! How can you go wrong? To me pan gravy just screams of home-made goodness. Somehow it makes me about 8 times more proud of a dish I make if it involves pan gravy. I can't really explain it. Try it and see.

Chicken with Veggies in Cider Sauce
Adapted from the Food Network Magazine
Serves 3


2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
all-purpose flour sprinkled on a plate, for dredging
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 large onion, or 1 large shallot, cut into large pieces
1 sweet apple, cored and cut into large pieces
8-10 brussels sprouts, trimmed and sliced into thirds lengthwise
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter
handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped


1. Preheat oven to 350. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper and dredge in the flour, shaking off excess. Add oil to the pan. Place chicken in the skillet smooth-side down and cook until golden, about 5 minutes per side (it won't be cooked through). Transfer to a baking dish and bake until cooked through, about 8 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, add onion, apple, and brussels sprouts to the skillet, along with a little vegetable oil if the pan is dry, and increase the heat to high. Cook, tossing, until the onion has wilted slightly, apple is golden brown, and brussels sprouts are slightly browned, about 2-3 minutes. Add the vinegar and use a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits from the pan. Let the mixture boil about 1 minute, then add chicken broth. Return to boil and cook until broth reduces by half. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper and whisk in the butter until completely melted. Toss the vegetables around in the sauce.

3. Remove chicken from oven, cut each breast in half or into thirds, depending on size. Divide the chicken among plates and spoon the vegetable mixture and gravy over each pieces of chicken (or next to it if you're serving someone who doesn't like things mixed together).


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Chocolate Bread Pudding

What is that strange, yet somehow alluring picture, you ask? And do I want to eat it or do I want to run away? You want to eat it. Trust me.

I had been accumulating ends and bits of bread over the past few weeks - loaves that were beyond their peak of freshness so we decided to buy more and I held onto the old ones, thinking I'd use them for bread crumbs - only at this point I'd have a lifetime supply of bread crumbs. The only solution was bread pudding - a dessert I associate with my childhood and with England, but which is now becoming increasingly trendy in Los Angeles restaurants; I can only assume the same is happening everywhere.

I wanted to make a bread pudding that was a bit more special, something worthy of serving on new year's eve to my friends, my husband and myself. The only answer had to be chocolate. So I sought out a chocolate bread pudding, and lo and behold, Martha Stewart came to the rescue yet again.

Chocolate Bread Pudding
Adapted from Martha Stewart's New Classics
serves 6-8, depending on generosity of portions


2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
4 or 5 slices, 1/4 inch thick, of leftover, good quality white bread or brioche, crusts removed
3 extra large eggs
2 extra large egg yolks
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/4 cups skim or low fat milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate (60-70% cocoa)
cinnamon sugar for sprinkling on top


1. Spread the softened butter on one side of each slice of bread. Cut the bread slices into thirds or halves, depending how big it is, so each piece is approximately three inches by three inches. You can estimate here, don't get out your ruler.

2. Whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and brown sugar in a large bowl. Add the cream, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt, whisking to combine well.

3. Sprinkle the chocolate over the bottom of a 9-by-9 inch (or equivalent) baking dish. Arrange the bread, buttered side up, with slices overlapping just slightly, on the chocolate. There should just be one layer of bread. Pour the custard over the bread, pressing down with your fingers to make sure the bread soaks it up. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour to allow the custard to soak into the bread completely.

4. Take the bread pudding out of the fridge while you preheat the oven to 350. Place the pudding dish into a roasting pan, and pour warm water into the roasting pan (not onto the bread pudding!!) so that the water comes halfway up the sides of the pudding dish. Bake about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until custard is set and bread puffs up slightly.

5. Let cool at least 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and serve.

It is incredibly delicious. The chocolate is a beautiful addition to this comforting, french toast-esque dessert. I would recommend getting really good quality chocolate.