Make dinner tonight, inspired!

Wondering what to make for dinner tonight? This is your place for quick and healthy meal inspirations. Here you'll find recipes for seasonally focused dinners, desserts, breakfasts, and everything in between.

My cooking focuses on the freshest ingredients prepared in a simple and careful way, to highlight their uniqueness. My own diet is primarily vegetarian, but does include sustainable fish and seafood, and is gluten free.

Thank you for reading. I look forward to sharing some of my favorite recipes with you!

28 February 2010

The Bounty Of Spring, in photos

Rather than share a recipe today, I wanted to share the beauty and the bounty of my morning Market trip. The Sunday Farmer's Market has become my 'church', my weekly ritual, that I miss only under the most dire of circumstances. This is what inspires most of the meals I make throughout the week.

On today's shopping list were french breakfast radishes, first of season butter lettuce, carrots, green garlic, chard, and red mustard greens. Oh yes, and flowers! Who could resist those beautiful flowers!!

May these beauties of the season inspire dinner for you tonight. Check back this week for recipes featuring much of this tasty produce.

25 February 2010

Penne with Baby Greens, Sundried Tomatoes & Chevre

Dinner tonight is super fast. In fact, it may just be one of the fastest dinners I make. I reserve this one when I know I'm going to have a crazy and day and I need to have dinner cooked and on the table within 30 minutes flat. Yes, this is truly a '30 minute meal'.

I don't eat a lot of pasta. I'm somewhat 'wheat intolerant' so pasta is one of the hardest things for me. Although I do try to avoid it altogether, sometimes there's just nothing more satisfying than a proper bowl of noodles. I've found some good Spelt and Farro pastas at natural foods stores which are easier for me to eat and they still taste quite good. Vita Spelt makes a few good ones and there are several Italian brands that are harder to find but also quite delicious. Of course, use any variety of regular pasta you enjoy, if you don't suffer from the same issue as me.

I think you'll enjoy this dish. It's part salad and part creamy pasta dish. It's equally as good cold as it is warm and is light enough to be enjoyed when the weather is warmer too. This is a great recipe to have in your arsenals for those busy weeknights where a super simple but super fresh meal is in order.


Penne with Baby Greens, Sundried Tomatoes, and Chevre:
Yields 6 generous servings:

1# Penne Rigate or other tubular pasta
2, 5 oz packages 'Spring Mix' baby salad greens, pre washed
5 oz Chevre
2 TB Kalamata Olives, pitted and roughly chopped
3 oz Sundried Tomatoes packed in olive oil, roughly chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup Parmesano Reggiano, grated
2 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1) Heat a large pot of water to a boil. Add a generous pinch of salt and return to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes.

2) Meanwhile, empty the bagged salad greens into a large serving bowl. Chop the sundried tomatoes and the olives and sprinkle them over top. Crumble the Chevre over top as well. Toast the pine nuts and grate the Parmesan and set aside.

3) When the pasta is ready, drain it, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Add the hot pasta to the serving bowl, on top of the lettuce mixture. Drizzle the olive oil over top and sprinkle with salt & pepper. Toss the whole thing together. The heat of the pasta will wilt the greens and melt the cheese, making a creamy sauce. Add a the parmesan cheese and a bit of pasta water if the dish seems a little dry. When all the ingredients are well combined, sprinkle the pine nuts and bit more Parmesan over the top and serve.

24 February 2010

Pizza V.2- Asparagus, Chanterelles, Potatoes & Piave

My last post was all about the Pizza 'Festa Romana'. Today, I thought I'd share my recipe for Pizza v.2, which I'm calling 'First of Spring' pizza.

It uses everything that is freshest at the Farmer's Market right now including first of season asparagus and the most beautiful chanterelles I've seen in a long time, so big and plump. The recent rains must have made for good foraging. It also uses spring onions, those tender & sweet onions that resemble leeks and that seem to be overflowing from the the market stalls these days.

I was recently preparing asparagus for a friend and she was astonished to see me peeling them first. I think that removing the outer layer from the stem eliminates that stringy outside often asparagus has, and that I find unpleasant. Simply trim the ends of the stalks where they naturally snap and then use your vegetable peeler to remove the outermost part of the stem. You're left with the tender part of the asparagus, sans stringy bits.

For the dough recipe, visit 'Festa Romana'.

For the pizza topping:
Yields enough for 2, 9" pizzas

2 medium spring onions, cut into 1" dice
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" dice
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed and peeled, cut into 2" pieces
5 oz fresh chanterelle mushrooms, thinly sliced
3 oz Piave cheese, crumbled and/or grated
4 TB freshly grated Parmesano Reggiano
2 TB black olive tapenade
4 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil, plus more for brushing
1/2 tsp herbs de provence
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1) Heat 2 TB olive oil in a saute pan over medium high heat. Add the potatoes, season with salt & pepper and saute until golden brown and tender, tossing frequently, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

2) Using the same saute pan, heat another 2 TB olive oil. Add the spring onions and saute until just barely softened, about 1 minute. Add the asparagus, the chanterelles, the herbs de provence, and the salt & pepper. Saute until the vegetables are tender and just beginning to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Toss the potatoes back in to warm through. Season to taste with salt & pepper.

2) Brush the pizza crust with olive oil. Leaving a 2" border around the entire outside, spread the tapenade in the middle. Top with the potato & vegetable mixture and crumble over the Piave cheese, followed by the Parmesan.

3) Cook in a 500 degree oven, on a preheated baking stone, approx 8-10 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbly.

22 February 2010

Pizza Festa Romana

Pizza at home is such an easy indulgence and this recipe is quick enough for any weeknight. You do need a couple of special tools to make really good home baked pizza, but they're not expensive and once you have them you'll use them over and over again. First, you need a baking stone. I like the square tiles over the round versions if possible. They're more versatile and you can use them for bread too. Second, you need a pizza peel. That's're all set to go!

This pizza dough recipe makes 2 pounds of dough, enough for 4, 9" pizzas. It's the simplest dough I make and it's by far the quickest. My favorite pizza dough, which I make often has a bit more flavor than this dough because of a second fermentation. However, this is a great fast dough that requires only one rising and is completely reliable. If you don't use all 4 portions, it freezes well too.

I made two kinds of toppings tonight for our pizzas. My favorite, which I'm listing here, I call 'Pizza Festa Romana'. It has fresh tomatoes, oil cured olives, rosemary, red chile flakes, and Pecorino Romano cheese. I love it and it reminds me of a magical evening we spent in Rome, several years ago.

It was one of those completely unexpected experiences that often happens when exploring a new city. We were out one night in Rome, looking for a restaurant that turned out to be since closed, and saw throes of people heading down to the Tiber River. We thought it seemed like a good plan to follow the locals and happened upon a Roman Pizza Festa. Apparently this is a yearly event where all the best pizzarias in town compete for top honors. As you can imagine in Rome, pizza is a serious business but the Italians are always up for a celebration when it comes to food.

There was music and strings of lights in the trees above the river, dancing, lots of red wine, and lots and lots of pizza eating. Needless to say, it was far and away the best pizza I've ever had and what I took from it was a magical memory as well as this 'Pizza Festa Romana' which reminds me of the event every time I make it.

As I mentioned, I made two kinds of pizzas tonight... the other was a wonderful first of spring pizza which I will also share here in the coming days. However, it goes without saying that pizza lends itself to whatever topping you can dream up. So, use what you have and what you love.

I have one ball of dough left and I think it might become a 'Pizza Bianca'. To me that means just some good olive oil brushed on the dough, sprinkled with fresh rosemary and coarse sea salt. Then spread it with Nutella fresh out of the oven so it gets all melty and chocolatey. Yumm.

Happy Pizza Festa!

For the dough:
Yields 2#:

2 packets active dry yeast (1/4 oz each)
1 1/2 cups warm water (about 95-105 degrees)
2 TB Sugar
1/4 cup Olive Oil, plus more for bowl and brushing
2 tsp coarse salt
4 cups Flour ( I used unbleached Spelt), plus more for work surface

For 'Festa Romana' topping:
1/2 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup oil cured olives, pitted and halved
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, crumbled and/or grated
1 TB fresh rosemary and/or fresh oregano, chopped
pinch red chile flakes
1 TB olive oil, for brushing onto dough

1) Pour 1 1/2 cups warm water into a large bowl. Sprinkle with the yeast and let stand until yeast is bloomed, about 10 minutes.

2) Whisk sugar, oil, and salt into the yeast mixture. Add the flour and stir, until a sticky dough forms. Transfer to an oiled bowl and brush the top of the dough ball with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until almost doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

3) Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Place pizza stone in oven and preheat for about 1 hour while dough is rising.

4) Once dough has risen, turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently knead 1-2 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic before using.

5) When ready to use, roll out the dough into 9" diameter circles. Place one at a time onto pizza peel, add toppings and slide pizzas directly onto baking stone. Bake each pizza about 8-10 minutes until crust is golden and cheese is bubbly.

21 February 2010

Poached Eggs in Tomato Sauce

This is definitely one of my favorite dinners ever. I adore it and I make it at least a couple of times every month. It has all the elements which to me make for a good meal. It's comforting, rustic yet fresh, and just plain yumm. Also, it's something I can make quickly and I usually have most of the ingredients on hand so I can throw it together even if I don't have anything planned for dinner ahead of time.

I always serve this meal with a glass of hearty red wine and a side of  braised greens. I'm braising dino kale and golden beet greens tonight, since I just can't seem to get enough of those winter greens that are still so abundant now.

This dish also requires a crusty loaf of artisan bread to serve as a base for the tomato sauce and eggs, which get spooned over top. I usually have a number of loaf remnants in my freezer and this is a great time to pull out one of those leftover pieces and put it to good use.

To make the dish:
Yields 2 servings:

4 large farm eggs
4 slices crusty artisan bread (ciabatta, baguette...)
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 TB Olive Oil
1, 26 oz jar spicy Marinara sauce (I like San Marzano Brand Arrabiatta Sauce)
1/2 tsp red chile flakes (optional)
1 TB sugar
1/4 cup water
2 TB Parmesano Reggiano
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1) In a 12" skillet, heat the 2 TB Olive Oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and carrot and saute until just softened, about 2 minutes. Add the jarred tomato sauce, the sugar, the water, and season with salt, pepper, and chile flakes (if using). Stir the ingredients together, cover the pot, and bring to a rapid simmer. Cook for 10 minutes until the sauce reduces slightly.

2) Meanwhile, toast the bread. Do this in your toaster or in the oven. Set out the toasted bread on your serving plates and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Set aside.

3) Crack the whole eggs into a small bowl and add them, one at a time into the simmering sauce, making sure you leave space around each egg so they poach separately. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, put the lid back on and cook, until the eggs are poached to your liking, about 5-8 minutes. I like mine 'poached well' so I cook them on the longer side.

4) When the eggs are ready, spoon some of the sauce on top of the bread slices and top with one poached egg per slice of bread. I generally portion 2 slices and 2 eggs per person. Sprinkle the eggs with Parmesan and top with a bit more sauce if desired.

Swiss Chard Pie

Thank you Martha (love her) and Everyday Food for another yummy, simple inspiration. I've modified the original recipe based on my likings and what I had on hand. They suggest freezing the entire assembled pie and then baking it off, straight from the freezer. I baked it fresh and it was delicious. It reheated perfectly in the oven the next night as well.

The dough is an olive oil dough which makes it exceptionally pliable and easy to handle. I was surprised that the flavor of the Oil came through so much in the finished pie. So, use a good Extra Virgin here as it really makes a difference.

Even though the pie looks substantial and impressive, it's actually fairly light considering it's mainly greens inside. I'd serve it for a light dinner with a salad or maybe with a pureed soup, for a more substantial meal.


Swiss Chard Pie:
yields 1, 8"x 2" pie/ about 8 slices

For the dough-
2 1/2 cups Flour
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 cup cold water
3/4 tsp sea salt

1) In a bowl, combine all the ingredients. Stir with a fork to combine. Then, turn out onto a work surface and knead until smooth, about 1 minute. Cover dough ball tightly with plastic wrap and lest rest at room temperature, about 30 minutes, while you prepare the filling.

For the Chard filling-
2 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 pounds Swiss Chard, stems cut into small dice and leaves roughly chopped
1 TB tomato paste
1/2 tsp red chile flakes
sea salt & freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup vegetable stock
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
3 TB Flour
zest of 1/2 lemon

1 recipe Olive Oil Dough (above)
egg wash (1 whole egg, 1 tsp water, pinch salt.... whisk together)

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a large Dutch Oven, heat oil over medium high. Add onion and garlic and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add tomato paste and stir to combine. Add chard stems & red chile flakes and saute until just softened, about 2 more minutes. Add the vegetable stock to deglaze the pan. 

2) Pack the chard leaves into the pot. Season with salt & pepper. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook until the chard leaves are wilted, about 5 minutes. Uncover, increase heat and cook, stirring constantly, until chard is very soft, about 3 minutes more and most of the liquid has evaporated.

3) Place the chard in a large mixing bowl and toss with Parmesan, flour, and lemon zest. Season with salt & pepper. Set aside.

4) Roll out 2/3 of the dough on a well floured board to about 12 1/2" diameter. Fit the crust into an 8" x 2" cake pan, taking care to push the dough tightly in where the bottom meets the sides, to eliminate any air pockets. Fill the bottom crust with the chard mixture.

5) Roll out the remaining dough to about 9 1/2" diameter circle. Places the top crust over the filling. Pinch the top and bottom edges together and roll under, towards the middle of the pie, to seal. Cut several vents in the center of the pie. Brush the top with the egg wash.

6) Bake the pie in the 400 degree oven for 40-45 minutes until it's a rich golden brown and the filling is starting to bubble up through the vents. Serve warm or at room temperature.

20 February 2010

Crepes Sucre with Ricotta, Strawberries, & Marmalade

We all know by now that I looove crepes! They make me think of France, and I looove France! I've shared my recipe for Buckwheat Crepes here already but tonight's crepes are the sweet version, Crepes Sucre. In Paris there's a crepe carte on practically every corner selling these yummy portable snacks. They're sweet and tender served with all sorts of fillings. There's the ever popular Nutella, my personal favorite of sugar and jam (yes, both), and the traditional 'sucre' (sugar only). 

Since making my Meyer Lemon & Vanilla Bean Marmalade the other day, I've been trying to think up with lots of ways to use it, other than just spreading it on toast (which I also highly recommend). I thought this would be a fun Saturday evening dinner and a good way to incorporate the marmalade. 

This dish is obviously more of a brunch item but I thought it would be a fun change for dinner. My husband reported that this was one of his favorite dinners ever. So, apparently this won't be the last time 'crepes sucre' grace our dinner table.

The crepes are filled with a lemony-ricotta filling, and a bit of my marmalade. If you haven't yet made my marmalade recipe, just use any store bought orange or lemon version that you fancy. I'm serving these crepes with butter (of course!), fresh strawberries, and little dollops of the marmalade on top. Enjoy!

Crepes Sucre:
yields about 8, 10" crepes

3/4 cup Flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups part skim Ricotta
1 pint strawberries, sliced
zest from 1/2 lemon
2 TB honey

1) In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the milk, vanilla, and eggs. Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk all until well combined.

2) Set the batter aside in the refrigerator to rest at least 2 hours or overnight.

3) In the meantime, slice the strawberries and make the ricotta filling. For the filling, stir together the ricotta, the lemon zest, and the honey in small bowl until combined. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.

4) When the batter has rested, heat a 10" nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add a little butter and swirl it around until melted. Add about 3 TB of your crepe batter to the hot pan and swirl it around to spread it out over the entire bottom of the pan in one very thin layer. Cook until the edges are just brown and the bottom is barely golden.

5) In one motion, use your spatula to flip the entire crepe over. Spread a small amount of marmalade on one side of the crepe, followed by some of the ricotta filling. Continue cooking about 1-2 minutes. Fold the crepe in half, enclosing the filling, then fold it in half again, making a little triangle parcel. Slide the finished crepe out onto a warm plate and keep covered tightly with foil until ready to serve. Repeat with the remaining crepes.

19 February 2010

Roasted Carrots with Parsley, Mint & Feta

This is a common dish on my table, especially this time of year when the carrots are small and sweet and the parsley and mint are young and tender. The sweetness of the carrots is perfectly complemented by the saltiness of the Feta here. 

Any sweet, young carrots are just fine here and the variety available will change with the season, of course. My very favorite carrots are a variety called 'Nantes'. They're shorter & fatter but are juicy and super sweet. Look for those at your farmers market in the Spring. As for the Feta, I prefer to use a french sheep's milk Feta if possible. I find that sheep's milk Feta has a more 'Feta-y' flavor than the goat's milk version. However, those little tubs of pre-crumbled cow's milk 'Feta'... well, those shouldn't even be called by the same name. They're rather dreadful once you've tasted the others. Look for a good one, every market has a few to choose from nowadays.

This is truly one of those dishes that will be a staple in your recipe box. It's good with almost everything, uses so few and such simple ingredients, and takes only a minute to prepare. Give this one a try tonight.

Roasted Carrots with Parsley, Mint & Feta:
Yields 4 servings

2 bunches Carrots, washed and peeled
1/4 cup Italian Parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh Mint, finely chopped (I generally use Spearmint)
3 oz crumbled Feta cheese
2 TB Olive Oil
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 

2) Slice the peeled and washed carrots on the bias into 2" pieces. Toss them into a baking dish. Sprinkle with salt & pepper and toss with the Olive Oil. Roast uncovered for about 25 minutes until tender and a bit caramelized. Cover with foil and reserve until ready to use. 

3) Empty the carrots and any olive oil remaining in the roasting pan, right into a serving bowl. Chop the parsley and mint and toss in with the carrots. Add in the crumbled Feta and toss to combine. Season with salt & pepper to taste.


16 February 2010

Meyer Lemon & Vanilla Bean Marmalade

I came across this recipe last week, thanks to the ever inspiring Tea & Cookies, just as my Meyer Lemon tree was laden with the final explosion of this season's bounty. 

I'm fascinated by the idea of canning. It's always something I've been interested in. I love the whole idea of preserving the harvest at its peak of ripeness to enjoy on a cold winter day when the bountiful days of spring and summer seem like an all too distant memory. One of my resolutions this year is to delve into the art of canning in earnest. It makes me sad that we've lost this tradition along the way. So, I intend to bring it back, if only for my own enjoyment.

I hope to preserve all the beauty of the season that I find at the market. I visualize my cellar stocked full of jars in a rainbow of colors, jam in every variety of berry, pickles of all the best summer veggies.... When we bought our house we found jars of jam and pickles from the 1940's in the cellar. I intend to restore our cellar to its original purpose this year. That is, if I can only get over my fear of going down there into that dark room. I'll just keep reminding myself how good it is for storing preserves.

The world of 'putting by' is something I know very little about. However I intend to educate myself and share my adventures with you along the way. I didn't grow up watching my grandma or my mom preserve items every season. They always thought the task seemed like a whole lot of trouble. Even though I may not have a childhood memory to draw from I do have an interest, a few good books, and hopefully some knowledgeable readers to offer advice along the way.

This marmalade was my first attempt this year. I have to say that it all went quite smoothly and came out tasting delicious. I can hardly wait for tomorrow morning when I get to spread it on my toast with plenty of good cultured butter. 

Give this one a try and please share your tips and tricks with me. I'll post back about my next canning adventure.... I'm thinking perhaps Rhubarb or Apricots....

Meyer Lemon & Vanilla Bean Marmalade:
Yields about 8, 1/2 pint jars:

Flesh from 3 Navel Oranges
2 pounds whole Meyer Lemons
5 cups water
1 box fruit pectin
4 1/2 cups sugar
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
pinch salt
8, 1/2 pint canning jars with 2 piece lids

1) Sterilize your jars by running them through a cycle in the dishwasher. 

2) Remove the skin from the Meyer Lemons and cut them into thin strips. Add them to a large  (5 or 7 quart) stockpot. Slice the skinned lemons in half lengthwise, remove the seeds, and slice thinly into half rounds. Add the flesh into the stockpot with the rind.

3) Remove the rind from the oranges and discard. Slice the oranges in half lengthwise and chop the flesh into 1" pieces. Add those to the pot. 

4) Add the water and the salt to the pot, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to a strong simmer and cook about 10 minutes.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla beans and add them to the pot. Chop the remaining beans into 1" pieces and add those in as well.

5) Add the pectin and the sugar and bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly, for exactly 1 minute. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with a metal spoon.

6) Ladle the hot jam into the sterilized jars. Wipe jars and threads and cover with the 2-piece lids. Place the jars on an elevated rack in a canner and lower into a pot of hot water. The water should cover the jars by 1-2". Cover and bring the water back to a gentle boil. Process the jars for 5 minutes. Remove the jars and place them upright on a kitchen towel to cool completely. 

7) You'll hear the jar lids pop and seal after 40 minutes or so. Check the seals by pressing down on the middle of the lids with your finger. If the lids spring back, the jars are not sealed and you'll need to store them in the fridge. 

Lentil & Vegetable Soup with Kale

I love a good lentil and vegetable soup. It's just simple food that's easy and inexpensive to put together and soul satisfying. It's perfect for this inbetween time of year, not quite Winter but not quite Spring. It incorporates the fresh flavors of the upcoming season with the hearty, earthiness of the winter season just past.

I add Dinosaur Kale for it's vibrant color and also the deep, rich flavor that only dark winter greens can provide. Kale is abundant at my Farmer's Market right now and I just can't seem to get enough of it. It might even be rivaling avocados and chocolate for one of my favorite foods... really!!

I serve this soup with a citrusy-herby yogurt sauce on top which really freshens and lightens up the whole dish. The yogurt adds tang and a little creaminess when it melts into the hot soup.

This dish is hearty enough by itself that all it really needs are some toasted pitas alongside and a simple salad to complete the meal. Enjoy!

For the soup:
Yields about 8 cups (4 generous servings)

2 TB Olive Oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 medium ribs celery, diced
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 bulb fennel, diced
1 1/2 cups dry brown or green lentils
1 bunch Dinosaur Kale, stems removed and thinly sliced
4 cups vegetable stock
2 cups water
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp red chile flakes
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp chopped fresh oregano
1 TB chopped fresh mint
2 scallions, white and light green parts only, chopped

1) In a large stockpot heat 2 TB Olive Oil over medium high. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and fennel and saute until just softened about 2-3 minutes. Add the lentils, the salt, pepper, cumin, red chile flakes, rosemary, and oregano and stir to combine. Add the stock, water and the Kale. Cover the pot to wilt the Kale, about 1 minute. Stir to combine.

2) Cover the pot and bring the soup to a boil. With the lid ajar, simmer the soup about 15-20 minutes until the lentils are just tender.

3) While the soup is cooking, make the yogurt sauce. 

4) Once the lentils are tender and the soup is ready, stir in the mint and scallions. Adjust the seasoning.

For the yogurt sauce:
1 cup lowfat greek yogurt, or other thick strained yogurt
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 TB lemon juice
1 TB extra virgin olive oil
1 TB chopped fresh mint

1) Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Dollop a tablespoon onto the hot soup when ready to serve. Garnish with chiffonade of fresh mint.

11 February 2010

Valentine's Day Cookies

I've been baking like crazy this week, preparing sweet treats for customers and friends and family in celebration of Valentine's Day. I've made a zillion of these Raspberry Linzer Heart Cookies so far. They're so pretty and delicious and loved by all. 

The Linzer cookie starts with a hazelnut dough which retains its nutty flavor once baked. I prefer to use fresh ground hazelnuts rather than store bought hazelnut flour here as I enjoy the bigger nut pieces in my cookie dough. I also prefer to leave the raspberry jam unstrained in the little cookie 'windows'. I happen to like the seeds, it makes me think perhaps I'm eating some actual fruit with my cookie, which maybe makes the cookie a little healthy... right?

I wanted to share the recipe, in case you felt inspired to bake a batch in celebration of the upcoming holiday. I certainly can't think of a better way to share your love for another than with beautiful, freshly made, sweet and nutty cookies. Enjoy!!

Raspberry Linzer Heart Cookies:
Yields about 36, 3" sandwiched cookies

For the cookie dough:
12 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature (2 1/2 sticks)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs, at room temperature
3 3/4 cups All Purpose Flour (I used unbleached Spelt)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups hazelnuts, toasted and ground

For the filling and decor:
8 ounces Raspberry Jam (I used Bon Maman)
2 tsp sugar
powdered sugar for sprinkling

1) Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Spread your hazelnuts out into a single layer and toast until fragrant and just golden, about 8-10 minutes.
Once cool enough to handle, rub them together in a clean kitchen towel to remove the skins. Place in your food processor and grind to a medium fine meal. Set aside.

2) In a stand mixer, cream your butter and sugar with the paddle. Sift together the flour, cinnamon and baking powder. Add in your ground hazelnuts. Stir to combine.

3) Add eggs, one at a time to butter and sugar mixture, scraping down the bowl between additions until well combined. Stir in the vanilla extract. Add the dry ingredients, 1/2 at a time, until just combined. Pat the finished dough into a disk (or two) and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Store in the refrigerator at least 2 hours before using or overnight (ideal). Any extra dough can be frozen for up to 3 months.

To assemble and finish the cookies:

1) Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. On a well floured board, working in batches, roll out your dough to 1/8" thick. Use a 3" heart shaped cutter to cut out the bottoms of the cookies. Use a 2" fluted heart shaped cutter to cut out the windows in the tops of the cookies. Make sure that you cut out equal quantities of cookie tops and cookie bottoms.

2) Place the cookie cutouts on your lined baking sheets and refrigerate the dough until chilled, about 15 minutes. Bake the chilled dough until just golden, about 12-15 minutes, taking care not to overbake.

3) While the cookies are cooling, heat the raspberry jam & 2 tsp sugar in the microwave. The jam should come to a full boil. Remove it and give it a quick stir. Sandwich the pairs of cookie tops and bottoms together. Pour the hot jam into a piping bag and flood the window of the cookies with the hot jam. Yes, it's hot and yes, it burns your hands while piping. Alternately, you can spoon the jam into each window, taking care not to get any on the sides of the cookies.

4) Once the cookies are sandwiched together and filled with jam, and while the jam is still warm (that part is important!), sift the powdered sugar over the top of the cookies. If the jam is still warm, it will melt the powdered sugar and leave you with a clear, red raspberry window and will adhere to the outside of the cookies only.

Let the jam and cookies cool completely and enjoy! These can be stored in airtight bags up to 3 days.

07 February 2010

Super Bowl snacks... my way

We're not much into football at my house. In fact I don't really know the first thing about football so I find the whole game watching thing rather boring and confusing. But, I do enjoy any opportunity to get together with friends and prepare and share food. 

So, this year I thought I'd make a few simple and elegant snacks to enjoy while watching the game, or any other time for that matter. I was inspired after watching a cooking demo yesterday with the fabulous Eric Ripert and came up with a few easy snacks 'ala Eric' for today's game. 

As you might guess I don't much go for the usual Super Bowl fare like wings & nachos. On 'Le Menu' today will be three easy spreads to serve with toasted baguette, crackers, or crudite including herbed goat cheese, smoked salmon 'rillettes' and a spicy limey guacamole. We're also having gougeres and sparkling wine and a few other yummy nibbles which I'm sure will make an appearance on Dinner Tonight in the coming days/weeks.

Hopefully you'll give these a try for your next game day get together or any other day that calls for some yummy nibbles.

For the Herbed Goat Cheese Spread:
5 oz fresh plain Chevre, at room temperature
zest of 1/2 lemon, minced
1 tsp fresh Thyme, chopped
1 tsp fresh Oregano or Majoram, chopped
1 tsp fresh Rosemary, chopped
sea salt & pepper to taste
1 TB fresh lemon juice
1 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1) In a small bowl, combine the room temperature goat cheese with the lemon zest and herbs. Season with salt & pepper. Stir in lemon juice and Olive Oil to reach a spreadable consistency. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

For the Guacamole:
2 ripe Haas Avocados
juice and zest of 1 lime
1/2- 1 medium Jalapeno, depending how spicy you like it, minced
2 medium scallions, white and light green parts only, chopped fine
sea salt & black pepper to taste
1 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1) In a small bowl, mash the Avocado coarsely. You want this to be a chunky guacamole, not one of those liquidy, soupy ones. Add the lime juice and zest and stir to combine. Adding the lime juice to the Avocado before any of the other ingredients will help to keep the Avocado from oxidizing.

2) Add the Jalapeno, Scallions, sea salt & black pepper to taste. Mix in the Olive Oil. Store in the refrigerator with plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface as well as over the top of the bowl until ready to serve.

For the Salmon Rillettes:
6 oz fresh wild Salmon, thinly sliced
2 oz Smoked Salmon, chopped fine
1 cup dry white wine
3 oz Creme Fraiche (or sour cream)
1 medium bunch chives, finely chopped
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
sea salt & black pepper to taste

1) In a shallow saute pan, heat the white wine until just simmering. Add the fresh salmon and gently poach, about 1-2 minutes per side, until just barely cooked through. Remove from the wine and drain on paper towels. When cool enough to handle, chop the salmon finely.

2) In a small bowl, combine the chopped poached salmon, the chopped smoked salmon, the scallions, chives, lemon zest, and Creme Fraiche. Stir together to combine. Add the lemon juice, salt & peper to taste. Adjust the consistency as needed with a drizzle of Olive Oil, just before serving. Store covered in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

For the Toasted Baguette & Crudite:
1 french Baguette or seeded Baguette, thinly sliced on the bias
2 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
coarse sea salt
peeled and quartered carrots & celery
radishes, jicama, cherry tomatoes....whatever other raw veggies you enjoy

1) Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the bread on a sheet pan, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and cook 6-8 minutes until golden and crunchy. Serve alongside your spreads and the crudite. 


05 February 2010

Homemade Nutella

Happy World Nutella Day! Yes, apparently the famed chocolate- hazelnut spread even has its very own 'day'. I love the idea of Nutella but I avoid the actual product given that it's filled with hydrogenated oils. I also find it cloyingly sweet but I do enjoy the chocolate and hazelnut flavors together. The idea of spreading that chocolatey deliciousness on toast...well, that's an idea I can really get behind, especially for breakfast, or lunch, or dessert or... in my case tonight, dinner. And here you thought you were reading a healthy food blog!

Although I can hardly claim this spread is healthy, it is wholesome and made with very few and very simple ingredients. So, ever inspired by the trusty David Lebovitz, pastry chef extraordinaire, I set out to make my own 'Nutella Naturale'. Btw...he has a very interesting recipe on his blog that makes a spread out of cocoa nibs and hazelnut oil, which I intend to try soon.

There are a few decent non-hydrogenated versions out there in natural foods markets but I think this one is much yummier. I hope you'll give it a try and let me know how you like it.

Nutella Naturale:
Yields: @ 15 oz

10 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted ( I used 70% El Rey)
4.75 oz hazelnuts, toasted, skins removed
1 oz unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp sea salt, plus more for sprinkling

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Toast the hazelnuts for 8-10 minutes until lightly golden brown and fragrant. If the skins are still on the nuts, just roll the warm nuts in a clean kitchen towel to remove most of them. It's perfectly fine if a few skins remain. Set aside to cool.

2) Melt your chocolate, either in the microwave or over a water bath. If using the microwave, heat the chocolate in 20-30 second intervals, stirring after each cycle until melted. If using a water bath, place a small amount of water in a saucepan and heat to a simmer. Place the chocolate in a heat proof bowl and heat over the simmering water, stirring until melted.

3) In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts to a medium fine grind. Add in the melted chocolate and the 1 tsp salt. Pulse until combined. With the machine running, drizzle in the cooled, melted butter and process to emulsify. The mixture will be thick and shiny but still grainy from the nuts. 

4) Spread onto toasted bread (or whatever yummy morsels you fancy) and sprinkle a bit more sea salt over the top when serving.

*Store the spread in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will harden up when chilled but just reheat it in the microwave until it reaches a spreadable consistency.

03 February 2010

Sweet Potato & White Bean Casserole

This casserole is one of my 'go to' favorites, especially on a busy weeknight. Today I knew I had a crazy day and as such I made the casserole at 6am and left it in the fridge all day so it would be ready for the oven when I got home.

All I had to do was grate some cheese and season some dried breadcrumbs and dinner was ready. It's nice to have a few of these dinners in your recipe box for when you just want a proper home cooked meal that doesn't require any fancy or exotic ingredients and you want to eat quickly.

Sweet Potato & White Bean Casserole:
Yields 4 generous servings

3-4 medium sweet potatoes (orange flesh)
1, 15 oz can navy beans ( I like Eden brand)
3 medium Roma tomatoes
1 medium red onion
1 medium red bell pepper
1/4 tsp red chile flakes
1 TB fresh chopped Thyme
salt & pepper to taste
3 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2/3 cup dried breadcrumbs ( I like Panko but use what you have)
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1/2 tsp Herbes de Provence

1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grab your 9"x13" baking dish and have at the ready. Peel and slice your sweet potatoes lengthwise and slice them into 1/2" thick half moons and add them to the baking dish. Seed and chop your red bell pepper into 1" dice and chop your tomatoes into 1" dice. Add those to the baking dish. Drain and rinse your beans and add them in. Dice your onion, chop your thyme and add those right in. Season with salt and pepper and the red chile flakes. Toss all the ingredients with 2 TB of the Olive Oil. Bake the casserole, uncovered, for 45 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are just tender.

2) Meanwhile, grate the Gruyere and set aside. Mix the breadcrumbs, the Herbes de Provence and a bit of salt & pepper with 1 TB of the Olive Oil and set aside. 

3) After 45 minutes, remove the casserole from the oven and sprinkle on the Gruyere. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the cheese and spread evenly across the surface of the casserole. Return it to the oven for another 15-20 minutes until the cheese is melted and the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.