Thursday, November 3, 2011

Greetings from a Friend and Chicken Mole

photo by Eneas de Troya
Day of the Dead at Mexico City cemetery

I was going to skip the whole Dia de los Muertos thing this year. Life has been so busy and I ran out of time. But then, last evening, I received a greeting and a nudge from a friend who passed two years ago....

You know Dia de los Muertos, right? Day of the Dead? It is an ancient tradition, predating Columbus,  observed all across Latin America.

It is believed that the veil which separates the souls of the dead and the living is especially thin on November 1-2 each year. This is the time when the lives of deceased loved ones are celebrated.

There are many local customs, but generally in Mexico, families build alters in their homes to honor their dead. They also decorate family members' graves and stay by them all night eating, drinking and remembering those who have gone before. In Mexican markets, you can buy sugar skulls, skeletons dressed in a variety of ways, marigolds (the traditional flower of Dia de los Muertos), and food.

In my family, typically, we observe Dia de los Muertos by making a pretty alter on our mantle. We also make a traditional food of the season, chicken in mole (pronounced mo-lay), which my friend, Lola, taught me.

Which brings me back to the visit from my friend. Lola and her husband, from Mexico City,  had come to the U.S. to make a better life for their son. Lola had been injured in a factory and, as a result, was disabled with chronic pain. She missed Mexico so much, but loved her adopted country for the opportunities it provided. We became friends when I met her through our elementary school and asked her to teach Spanish to my daughter and me.

Lola was an awesome cook and taught me so much about Mexican cuisine. She taught me about mole. I had only tasted it in Mexican restaurants before and thought it was hideous. But, I soon learned that mole is a very rich, complex sauce, varying greatly from region to region; some recipes have as many as 75 ingredients and most of those are toasted or ground in a mortar or both. The real thing is incredibly indescribable and I always am honored when offered a plate of it.

But, often, Mexican women these days use a base from which to make the sauce. Dona Maria is a popular one and is widely available in most grocery stores around here:

One of these jars fell out of my cupboard last night right onto the counter! I don't know how it got to the front of the cabinet in the first place, as it had been pushed to the back. I believe it was Lola saying hi and chiding me for not making the sauce this year.

I told my sister about my experience today and she said she misses Lola too. She hopes Lola is walking the beaches of the Yucatan, where she lived for a year and worked in a hotel's daycare. It was the happiest year of her life.

Here is her simple way of preparing the dish from the Dona Maria base:

Chicken in Mole
Serves 8

8 skinless chicken thighs
1/2 small onion, chopped into wedges
carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon peppercorns
1/2  teaspoon salt
bay leaf
sprigs of cilantro
1 quart chicken broth

1 jar Dona Maria mole
2 sections of Mexican chocolate (Ibarra or Abuelita seems to be a common brand)
sesame seeds for garnish

Cooked white rice (love the jasmine)
Chopped parsley or cilantro for garnish

Place the chicken in a dutch oven or large pan. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to just a simmer until chicken is done about 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit for 30 minutes. Check for doneness.

Remove chicken thighs from dutch oven and strain broth, discarding the solids. Wipe clean the dutch oven and pour strained broth back into pan, along with the mole base and chocolate. Stir over low heat until base and chocolate have melted. Let simmer for a few minutes, stirring frequently.

To serve, place on a plate a chicken thigh and scoop of rice. Garnish rice with parsley or cilantro. Ladle the mole sauce onto the chicken and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Gracias Lola. Te extraño (I miss you).

Friday, October 21, 2011

Consolation Quesadillas

Shrimp and Bacon Quesadillas
Sunset Magazine

My son's football team lost in a brutal game last night to an arch-rival. It was a no holds barred kind of game; the kind I imagine is played in prison yards. Kicks and punches were thrown, names were called, mothers were maligned. And that was just in the spectator stands.

I kid.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure at least one of the refs needed to have his glasses checked. Hits were much harder than they needed to be and several guys on both sides were carried off. The refs warned both teams' captains several times but penalty flags rarely were thrown. I'm not saying either side was completely innocent. I realize testosterone makes guys do crazy things, but geez. As a mom, I was horrified, not just worried about my son but all the boys.

I had seen this recipe in the October 2011 edition of Sunset Magazine. Since C is a huge fan of shrimp and bacon and quesadillas--well, it seemed a natural for last night.

So easy: Chop a few slices of bacon and fry in a pan. Remove bacon to a paper towel and drop shrimp, which has been sliced lengthwise, into the same pan. I had cooked shrimp on hand, so I just tossed it in the pan for a moment to heat.

In a dry, heated pan, drop in a flour tortilla, warm on one side, then flip to the other side and warm. Sprinkle shredded cheese (jack, cheddar or the Mexican blend would work) on half the tortilla. Then sprinkle bacon and shrimp onto the tortilla and sprinkle another layer of shredded cheese over all. Fold tortilla in half and flip. Cook for just a minute or two until cheese is melted.

I served this with sour cream, salsa, a large green salad and fruit salad for dessert. Many yummy noises were made :-)  That was just the appetizer though. It appears the remainder of the tortillas, a bag of chips and the rest of the salsa, a half loaf of bread (and maybe some ramens) also were consumed. Sheez, 16 year old boys!

Later, his dad asked our son how his day was, and he said, "The game was brutal, but dinner made the day better."

Sometimes we forget how hard an adolescent's life is. Make something special for your kiddos tonight. Food can make a difference, especially when a hug might hurt a little!

If you would like the complete directions, click here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Autumn Bisque


There are many sorts of vegetables:

the sexy ones, such as artichokes, mesclun, asparagus...

the exotic, like bok choy, Napa Cabbage, chayote...

colorful characters like peppers, tomatoes, radishes, zucchini.

And then there are the lowly root vegetables, peasants really. Stuck in the ground, bland looking, reviled by children everywhere. But, I have a marvelous way to transform these poor, under-appreciated guys into a glamorous dish.

A bisque is a creamy soup made of pureed ingredients, such as seafood or vegetables.  This recipe came to me from my friend, Carol, who served it to me years ago and I've been hooked ever since. Making this soup in the fall is an annual tradition now.

This is luscious, velvety and elegant--serve it to company as a starter or as a main dish. Or, freeze it in single servings and have some whenever you like this fall. It is absolutely delicious with a crust of bread & butter.

Notes: The smaller you slice and chop the vegetables, the less time it takes to cook.
This is the perfect time to use your immersion blender.
Make the bisque the night before and let sit overnight in the fridge; this really melds the flavors.
I know I don't even have to tell you what a healthful dish this is. :-)

Autumn Bisque
Serves about 4 as a main course; 8 as a starter

1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup onion, minced
4 oz mushrooms, sliced
1 pound parsnips, peeled and thinly sliced
1 rutabaga, peeled and thinly sliced
1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced
2 small apples, peeled and sliced
3 cups broth, chicken or vegetable
5 sprigs fresh thyme, or 2 teaspoons dried
1 1/2 cups milk (you can use cream for a richer bisque, but I prefer milk)
1/2 cup apple cider
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and pepper, to taste
cream or olive oil, cracked pepper for garnish

In a large soup pot, melt butter; add onion and mushrooms. Saute over medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes.

Add remaining vegetables, apples and broth; bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes, until vegetables are very soft. Let cool slightly.

Remove thyme sprigs (if using) and puree until smooth. An immersion blender works great here. You also can let the soup cool a bit more, transfer to a food processor or blender and puree.

Return soup to the pot and add milk, cider and nutmeg. Reheat and season to taste. If bisque is too thick, taste and thin with additional apple cider and/or broth, whichever you think it needs.

To gussy up your dish of soup, swirl in a little cream (pretty!) or add a drizzle of olive oil and cracked pepper.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Mexico boasts a myriad of enchilada styles--perhaps there are as many types of enchiladas as there are Mexican grandmothers. While "enchilada" technically means "in chile", nearly any sauce will make a delicious one--tomato, chile, mole. And, nearly any filling will work--pork, beef, chicken, cheese. The tomato sauce recipe here, from Rick Bayless's cookbook, is simple to make and tastes terrific. I am including recipes for two different fillings: chicken with sour cream and onion/cheese. Make some soon!

One thing about enchiladas--once you make them, you have to serve 'em right away. The corn tortillas quickly turn to mush.

Enchiladas Suizas (with chicken)
12 corn tortillas
canola oil
enchilada sauce (follows)
2 cups sour cream
1 cup cooked, shredded chicken
2 cups cheddar cheese, grated and separated
3/4 cup sliced/chopped green onion
1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
garnish such as chopped lettuce, tomatoes, green onion, sliced black olives, a dollop of sour cream (any or all is optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 13x9 baking pan with cooking spray.

Mix sour cream, chicken, 1 cup cheese, green onion and spices.

Heat enchilada sauce in a saucepan.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, quickly fry tortillas one at a time--just a few seconds on each side will do; you don't want them to be crispy. After frying, dip quickly in the enchilada sauce, then place tortilla on a plate. Place a dollop of the chicken mixture down the center of the tortilla, roll it tightly and then place seam-side down in the prepared pan. Continue the process until all 12 enchiladas are in the pan. Spoon a little extra sauce on the enchiladas if you like. Don't douse them with the sauce, though, as that will make the tortillas mushy. Sprinkle with the cheese and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melty and enchiladas are bubbling. Serve right away with any garnishes you like.

Enchiladas with cheese and onion
8 ounces jalapeno jack cheese, grated
12 ounces cheddar cheese, grated and separated
2 ounces queso fresco, crumbled, plus more for garnish (available in most well-stocked grocery stores or Mexican market; if not available, substitute with extra cheddar or jack)
1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups onions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
Salt to taste
a few drops Mexican hot sauce (we love Victoria or Chalupa at our house)
12 corn tortillas
Enchilada sauce (recipe follows below)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and spray a 13x9 pan with cooking spray.

Mix together the jack, 8 ounces cheddar and the queso fresco in a bowl. Saute onions in olive oil until tender and slightly browned, about 5 minutes (you can continue to cook until caramelized if you like; this will make the finished enchiladas sweeter). Stir in seasonings and hot sauce.

Follow directions to make enchiladas as described above: briefly frying tortillas first, dipping in warmed enchilada sauce, and then assembling each with first the cheese and then the onion mixture. Roll and place seam-side down in prepared pan. Spoon a little extra enchilada sauce over, sprinkle with remaining 4 ounces cheddar and bake for 15-20 minutes. Serve right out of the oven, sprinkling with finely crumbled queso fresco.

Rick Bayless's Tomato Enchilada Sauce 
2 (28 oz) cans tomatoes, drained
2 serranos or 1 jalapeno
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups chicken broth

Stem and roast chilies in a small, dry frying pan until soft and splotchy black. Put chiles in a blender with the tomatoes and puree.

In a 4 or 5 quart pot, heat oil to medium and add onion. Cook, stirring regularly until golden, about 7 minutes. Raise heat to medium high and stir in tomato puree. You might want to add a splatter guard immediately after adding the tomatoes as it will pop and sizzle. Cook until thickened, 10-15 minutes. Add chicken broth and stir, partially cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Sauce should have a slightly soupy consistency, not as thick as spaghetti sauce. If it is too thick, stir in a little extra broth or water.

I usually have some sauce left over and it freezes beautifully for making enchiladas another time.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Too hot to cook; therefore Pasta Salad

With the majority of the U.S. suffering under a severe heat wave, it is just too hot to cook. But, we still have to eat and we crave something light and refreshing.

Enter pasta salads. Pasta salads are notorious for being the flavorless, wilted dishes at picnics and potlucks.  Its reputation has not been helped by the scads of boxed mixes on the grocery shelves (please don't buy those!!) or by those who like to stir in mayonnaise-based dressings (does anyone really love macaroni salad? Anyone? Anyone?) Some like the convenience of a bottled salad dressing in a pasta salad. But don't fall into that temptation. A homemade dressing is easy to make and will really shine here. A pasta salad done right is easy, nutritious and best of all won't heat up the kitchen.

This is one of my favorites, which is a very basic recipe. You can play with it, adding different meats and vegetables according to your whim. Really like grape tomatoes? Add another handful. Or substitute sun-dried tomatoes for fresh.  Love broccoli? Blanch some and toss it in. How about olives or roasted red peppers? Delish! Or add little mozzerella balls or crumbled feta into the salad. If you like, you can leave out the meat and serve the salad as a side with grilled meat.

If you make it the night before or early in the morning, not only will the flavors improve, but you will have a cool kitchen and a perfect summer dinner.

Serve with a rustic loaf of bread and iced tea.

Stay cool, hydrated, sunscreened and safe, my friends!

Basic Pasta Salad
makes about 4-5 meal-sized servings

1/3 cup first cold pressed olive oil
3 tablespoons good quality red wine vinegar - I like the Alessi* brand, which I buy at Whole Foods
1 teaspoon salt
3 drops hot pepper sauce
1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 pound uncooked pasta (I love farfalle)
1/2 pound deli roast beef, thinly sliced (as for sandwiches) and cut into bite-sized strips
1 cup chopped celery
8 oz grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1 cucumber, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons basil leaves, chopped

Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar with tight-fitting lid and shake. Set aside.

Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente and drain. Mix in some of the dressing, pour into a large bowl  and let pasta cool, stirring occasionally.

When pasta has cooled, combine with remaining ingredients. Pour dressing overall and toss.

Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight to blend flavors.

*not a paid advertisement--I just really prefer this brand for both red and white wine vinegars

Friday, July 15, 2011

Holy Cats! It's Greek Salad!

Hans Silvester, "Chat in Grece"
Like most Moms, I frequent a lot of waiting rooms. There's the dentist and the doctor and the orthodontist and myriad other places where I simply have to sit and wait.

On a recent stint in a waiting room, I didn't have anything to read, so picked up a coffee table book there. It is a beautiful book of photographs by Hans Silvester, called Cats in the Sun. He spent years in Greece photographing the cats who live there. The cats, he explains, do not belong to anyone in particular and they do not live inside the homes. But, they are well fed and well cared for by the residents. The photographs are breathtaking: classic white stuccoed buildings against a deep blue sea, simple little tavernas and cafes overflowing with potted flowers and dappled sunlight, and the characteristic narrow flagstone paths, streets and patios. All of Greece becomes a stunning backdrop for exploring these kitties' lives through photographs.

This book lowers my blood pressure every time!

While I have not yet been to Greece, I do love Greek food. During the summer months, I make Greek salads, which, I understand, are ubiquitous on many cafe menus there. The following is one of my favorites because it serves as a whole meal. Because Handsome Dan thinks all meals should include meat,  I grill chicken breasts to slice over the top. If you have time to marinate the chicken in the lemon vinaigrette, make extra and let set overnight. If you don't have time, don't worry--it is delicious without marinating. Shrimp also would be delicious in this salad.

Greek Salad with Grilled Chicken
serves 4

Lemon Vinaigrette
(double recipe if you want to use some for marinade)
1/4 cup first cold pressed olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper

Salad Ingredients
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 head Romaine lettuce, chopped or torn into bite-size pieces
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 tomato, chopped
3/4 cup thinly sliced red onion (after slicing, place onion in a strainer and rinse under cold water--this takes out the sharpness)
20 Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced in half
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
lemon zest, fresh oregano, lemon slices for garnish, if desired

Put all dressing ingredients into a small jar, tighten the lid and shake until mixed. Set aside.

Place each chicken breast between two pieces of plastic and pound slightly so that the chicken is of even thickness. There is no need to pound them to smitherines for this recipe. If marinating, place the pounded chicken breasts into a gallon baggie and pour half the dressing/marinade over. Seal the bag and squish the contents so that all the chicken is covered with the marinade. Place in fridge and turn every now and then. Can be marinated for one hour or even overnight.

Brush grill with oil and heat to medium-high (Often, I use my indoor grill pan; it works great for just a few pieces of chicken).  If you haven't marinated the chicken, brush each piece with a little olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. If you have marinated, remove chicken pieces and drain well. Discard marinade. When grill is very hot, place chicken pieces on the diagonal. Let sizzle for a minute then turn pieces so they are on the other diagonal and let grill for 4-5 minutes. Flip chicken pieces and grill another 4-5 minutes. Remove from grill and let rest.

To make the salad, place lettuce, cucumber, tomato, onion and olives in a large bowl. Toss with a bit of the dressing and place portions on individual plates. Slice each chicken breast on the diagonal and scoop onto each salad. Sprinkle with feta cheese. Garnish with a sprinkle of lemon zest and fresh oregano, as well as lemon slices if desired. Serve, passing the remainder of the dressing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dog Days --Sangria Days

Whew! It is the dog days of summer! I love summer, but the heat during these days in July and August can be down right oppressive.

While many believe the expression, "dog days of summer," comes from the lethargy dogs exhibit on the hottest days, the expression really is quite ancient. The Romans named these days the dog days because of the rising of Sirius, the Dog Star. Sirius is the brightest star in the constellation, Canis Major, or large dog (one of Orion's hunting dogs). Can you see him here?

From Wikipedia
Yeahhhhh, well.... No? I couldn't either. Okay, so here it is all sketched out for us at night:

From Wikipedia
Weeeeell, okay, I guess I kind of see it.

Personally, when I look at this constellation, I see a pitcher of Sangria. Sangria is the perfect drink for the dog days of summer. It is cool, refreshing and a bit lighter in alcohol than other drinks. So, let's give the poor dog a break. Canis Major, go lie under a porch somewhere. I'm renaming this constellation, Sangria Major.

from Wikipedia

Do you see it? Are you thirsty, now?

Bring on the dog days--er, sangria days.

This recipe is my favorite and makes loads of smooth Sangria--not too tangy, not too sweet. You can halve the ingredients for a smaller get together. Or better yet, make up a full batch, without the club soda, ice and sliced fruit, and keep it in your fridge. Pour a glass or two, add some club soda, fruit and ice and enjoy.

Makes 3+ gallons

2 gallons inexpensive red Zinfandel (2 boxes + 1.5 liter bottle)
1 cup brandy (no substitution)
1/2 cup Cointreau (no substitution)
2 quarts good quality, not-from-concentrate, orange juice
2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup superfine sugar (I start with 3/4 cup and add extra if needed)
12-16 ice cubes
2 quarts chilled club soda
3 oranges, thinly sliced
3 lemons, thinly sliced

Thoroughly chill all ingredients. Pour the wine, brandy and Cointreau into a large punch bowl, pitcher or beverage dispenser. (I bought this one at Target.) Stir orange and lemon juice with the sugar until sugar has dissolved. Then add to bowl and stir to blend. Add ice cubes and soda and garnish with fruit slices.

Recipe from House and Garden Drink Guide, 1973, with my added notes. (and, no, I was not old enough to drink Sangria in 1973, thank you very much)


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Fruit Smoothies

Like all moms, I'm always on the lookout for breakfast ideas for my kiddos. Fruit smoothies are delicious, but never have enough protein. Adding powdered protein can be a good solution (watch out for sugar and artificial ingredients), but not an option in my house, because my son is allergic.

Recently I've been using strained (Greek) yogurt, which is creamy and thick as sour cream. This yogurt is packed with protein, 22 grams in a cup--more than twice as much as regular yogurts. It provides calcium and live cultures for good digestive health and makes an amazingly creamy smoothie. Berries or Kiwi provide loads of vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants; bananas have fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and potassium. Following is our favorite smoothie--strawberry banana. To make a kiwi smoothie, substitute a kiwi for the strawberries. To make a banana smoothie, omit strawberries and add a touch of cinnamon or even a spoonful of peanut butter, if you like. A few chunks of fresh pineapple will "tropic up" the flavor in any smoothie. All in all, the perfect breakfast!

Strawberry-Banana Smoothie
Makes about 12 ounces

1 ice cube, crushed
1/4 cup milk
1 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup strawberries, chopped
1 small or medium banana
honey, to taste (usually between 1 teaspoon and 1 tablespoon depending on the fruits' sweetness)

Whirl in a blender until smooth. Enjoy!

Monday, April 11, 2011

The "New" Frugality

Making do!
from wikimedia

With the Great Recession apparently behind us, it seems there is once again at least cautious optimism and hope for the future. But, in the past few years, we have changed as a nation. There is conversation about "the new frugality" and how Americans and their lives have changed.

Many of us grew up with parents and grandparents who survived the Great Depression AND World War II. I think frugality has been encoded into these generations' cells! In March, we visited the WWII Museum in New Orleans. I saw a poster with words I remember my elders saying:  "Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without."

Here are a few other things I remember:

* There's no reason to waste aluminum foil or plastic wrap to cover a dish before stowing it in the refrigerator. Simply place a plate on top the bowl. (I also use this system to microwave leftovers in glass rather than plastic containers.)

* If there were leftover food scraps, they went to the farm dogs and cats. At my grandma's house often our job was to take the old enamel basin with all other food waste (such as egg shells, coffee grounds and vegetable peels) "over the hill." It was an area, literally over a small hill on the path to a windmill, and it produced rich compost.

* My great aunt made delicious hamburgers. She would add small cubes of bread, as well as other ingredients, to stretch the meat. I love hamburgers prepared this way--I'll post a  recipe later. In addition, when making casseroles, it is easy to use less ground beef and add beans for protein.

* What do you do with that little bit of ketchup left in the bottom of the bottle? Unthinkable to throw it away! Open the new bottle of ketchup; turn the old bottle upside down and carefully place its mouth over the mouth of the new bottle to let the old ketchup drain into the new. If you are good at balancing, it can stand there by itself and take its own sweet time draining.  This also works for mustard, hand lotion and other thick liquids.

* During WWII, everyone planted a Victory Garden. This was a patriotic way for those at home to be self-sufficient and eat well, leaving commercially prepared vegetables for the soldiers. And, during the Depression, my parents tell me that they survived because their families had gardens. My mom and grandma canned during those hot days of August and September. The sweat and hard work would be rewarded by rows of jars, with jewel-colored contents.We could "go to the cellar" all winter to pick up a jar of green beans, beets, tomatoes, pickles, peaches and corn. My mom always says it is like opening a jar of summer.

 Alice Waters, who some call the Mother of American Food, has nine fundamental guidelines for food:

Eat locally and sustainably.
Eat seasonally.
Shop at farmers' markets.
Plant a garden.
Conserve, compost and recycle.
Cook simply.
Cook together.
Eat together.
Remember food is precious.

My grandmother would say, "Well, of course!"

What sorts of frugal feats do you recall from your elders?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Asparagus and Cheese Soup

Asparagus heralds spring like nothing else. Tender, green stalks push up from the ground when other vegetables are just getting started.

About the worst thing you can do to asparagus is overcook it and it is easy to do. This will make it turn an icky yellow-green color and will sap all the flavor and texture from it. Sometimes, this is the only kind of asparagus my clients have had--and that makes them no fan of the veggie. But, cooking it correctly makes all the difference; I have converted several of my clients to this delicious and healthful vegetable.

This recipe is geared toward babying the asparagus, so you shouldn't have any trouble with it.

Note: I love the new red potatoes in this recipe. But, once I forgot to buy the potatoes and had some leftover rice in the fridge. I dumped it into the soup, in place of the potatoes, and it made a creamy, comforting soup. Now I can't decide which I like best, so I have given you instructions for both. Hope you enjoy!

Asparagus and Cheese Soup
6-8 servings

1/2 large onion, chopped finely
2 medium carrots, chopped finely
1 red pepper, chopped finely
3 tablespoons canola oil
4 tablespoons flour
1 to 1 1/2 pound asparagus spears, tough ends trimmed off* and remainder chopped into 1 inch pieces
4 cups milk (I use 1 percent)
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
8 ounces new red potatoes, cubed, OR 1 1/2 cup cooked white rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (about 8 ounces)
8 ounces ham, chopped
1 tablespoon butter (optional)

In a large pot, heat oil and saute onion, carrots and pepper until tender. Sprinkle flour over vegetables and stir to coat.

Add asparagus, milk, broth, potatoes (if using) and seasonings.

Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly; reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 10 minutes or until vegetables are just tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in ham and rice (if using) and turn off heat. Add cheese and stir until it melts. Stir in butter, if desired.

*The easiest way to trim asparagus is to hold each spear in two hands and bend. It will snap at the place where it should be discarded.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spotted Dog

No, not you, Jack.

This spotted dog:

Spotted Dog is the traditional Irish soda bread, but with raisins. It is ridiculously easy to make and is delicious at St. Paddy's Day and anytime during the year.

My source for soda bread is Peter's Mum's Soda Bread Recipe.  This web page provides some history to the bread, as well as instructions to make the two types of soda bread: cake and farl. The web page also states that bits of fruit typically are not added to the soda bread, but done as a change of pace or for a treat. In this case, the "spotted dog" is considered a tea bread or tea cake.

My mom used to make soda biscuits often. They were quick (no yeast) and could be served warm with any meal. Rather than cutting tender biscuits into circles as they do in the southern U.S., these hearty biscuits were dropped by spoon onto a baking sheet, forming a crunchy crust on top as they baked. Adding a bit of sugar to the dough and sprinkling a little more on top of the formed biscuits before baking made for fabulous biscuits underneath strawberries with cream.

Here is the traditional recipe, with optional ingredients for the Spotted Dog.

Irish Soda Bread
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 to 1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1 cup raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet and set aside.

Put the dry ingredients in a large bowl (including the sugar, if using) and stir with a whisk to combine. Add  3/4 cup buttermilk to the dry ingredients and stir. If your kitchen's humidity is low (we had 8 percent humidity here yesterday--it is DRY in Colorado!), you probably will need more buttermilk. The important thing is to use a minimum of buttermilk--you don't want the dough to be too wet.

Add raisins (if using) and stir until mostly combined and then turn dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead the dough. The goal is simply to combine all the ingredients, not develop the gluten. Knead only 15-30 seconds.

Quickly shape the dough into a slightly domed circle about 6-8 inches in diameter and place it on prepared baking sheet. Using a very sharp knife, cut a cross into the top. This will help the bread to flower.

Bake the bread at 450 degrees for 10 minutes; then turn the oven to 400 degrees and bake for 30-35 more minutes. To make certain the bread is done, pick it up off the baking sheet and tap the bottom. If it is done, it will sound hollow.

One note: Leftover bread is delicious the next morning when toasted and smeared with lots of butter and/or jam!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Emerald Season

Shamrock leaf

Soon we will be upon what Barbara Kingsolver calls The Emerald Season. Early spring is when we start to see green again: in the early spring crops such as tender spinach, baby lettuces and bright green peas. I guess it is no accident that St. Patrick’s Day comes at this time. And, isn't the pert Kelly green so welcome and refreshing after a long, sleepy winter of browns and grays?

Traditionally, the Irish have not been particularly well known for their cuisine:  potatoes and cabbage and cabbage and potatoes and did I mention cabbage? But, things are different on the Emerald Isle now. The focus is on locally grown meats and vegetables, artisanal  products such as cheese and bread, and high-quality ingredients.

Still, in the U.S. on St. Patrick's Day, we love the romantic notion of Ireland, where so many of our forefathers and foremothers left in the 1800s. We enjoy having some of the traditional Irish foods during this time.

Following is a potato soup, which sports the tri-colors of the Irish Flag: orange carrots, green parsley, white milky broth. Try serving a pot of this with a homemade Irish soda bread (recipe in the next post) on St. Patrick's Day or any cool, spring evening. Éirinn go Brách.

Pot o' Gold Soup
Serves 5 - 6

2 tablespoons butter
1 leek, white and pale green part, thinly sliced
1 carrot, shredded
5-6 cups potatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds), peeled and cubed
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
8 ounces shredded white cheddar
4 strips bacon, diced, and fried for garnish (optional)
Parsley, finely chopped, for garnish (optional)

Melt butter in large saucepan. Add leek and carrot and saute for a few minutes. Add potatoes and broth, celery seed, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, 10 - 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk flour and milk together in a pitcher or bowl until smooth; add to soup when potatoes are done and simmer until slightly thickened, just 1 or 2 minutes.

Remove half the soup to a blender or food processor (or use an immersion blender) and process until smooth. Return to saucepan, stir in parsley and simmer for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and add cheese. Stir until cheese is melted. Garnish with the optional bacon and/or parsley.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fruit or Cake?

photo from
Would you choose Fruit?

Keoln Maerz 2009 PD 20090327 078
photo by PolitiKaner
Or Cake?

Last week, my friend, Kathi, was talking about a study she had heard reported on NPR.

Subjects were given a series of numbers to memorize. They could take as much time as they liked to memorize and then they were to walk down a hall and tell the numbers to someone in another room. Some subjects were given 2 numbers to memorize; some were given 7 (previous research has shown that 7 numbers is about the maximum amount most people can remember).

What the subjects didn't know is that halfway down the hall, a person would offer them a snack as a thank-you for participating in the study. The subjects were welcome to choose fresh fruit salad or chocolate cake. Overwhelmingly, those who had only 2 numbers to remember chose fruit. Those who had the more difficult task of remembering 7 numbers, overwhelmingly chose the cake.

The idea, of course, is that when we are under stress, we tend to make decisions which might not be so good for us. Typically, the rational and deliberate part of our brain makes choices: "The fruit is good for me, it will keep me healthy, I choose fruit." But, when we are stressed--when our brain has too much to keep track of-- our emotional brain takes over and drives our choices: We might choose a food which brings us comfort.

This is not a new idea, of course, and you can find many studies showing the relationship between stress and overeating. But, I thought this study proved the point in an unusually simple and straightforward way.

To hear the complete study, go to Radio Lab.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

New Staff Member

Jack Ryan
We are delighted to announce an addition to our kitchen staff here at MAK! His name is Jack Ryan, or Jack for short. We snagged him away from the Humane Society a couple of weeks ago and we couldn't be happier.

Jack is four years old and has lots of kitchen expertise. While we have taken him on as a recipe taste tester, he also has considerable skills in trash can diving, vacuuming the kitchen floor and pre-dishwasher clean-up.

"Ick, not enough salt..."

He has excellent hearing, as well. He can hear a package opening from a hundred yards.

"All the better to hear the dinner bell, my dear...."

A fine specimen; now let's see, he reminds me of someone. Who could it be?

"A right handsome lad, I am."

Oh well, I'll think of it. In the meantime, here is a photo of our entire taste tester department. Juliette, on the left, is senior taster and head of the department. She has been with us for three and a half years.

"Juliette--it's a promotion! Really!"

Rat Terriers make excellent taste testers. We are so lucky to have them both. Now, watch them work:

waiting for the final stir....

You gotta be fast, Jack! Juliette got both pieces in the bat of an eye. Don't worry, boy, you'll learn.

Thanks for joining us, Jack! We love you!

"Is there anymore of that?"

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Decadent Chocolate Truffles with Raspberries

Dark chocolate and raspberries go together just like sweethearts, so how appropriate for a Valentine's Day dessert.

There are so many possibilities for desserts using these two ingredients, but this year I've chosen this one for our V-Day dessert. I love the way the tartness of the raspberries contrast with the richness of the truffle.

The truffles recipe is from Tyler Florence, with my additional notes. The truffles are so rich, one--or at the most two--is more than enough. It definitely can be eaten with a fork,  with a few raspberries on the side, to savor the flavor while you smile at your sweetheart across the table.

One other note: This is a great basic truffles recipe; add ingredients to change the flavor. For instance, you could add a bit of chile powder or instant expresso to the mixture. Crystalized (or ground) ginger or candied orange peel would be delicious. Instead of cocoa,  roll the truffles in chopped hazelnuts or ground blanched almonds.

Hope you enjoy!

Dark Chocolate Truffles
makes 15 - 20 candies

1/2 cup heavy cream
8 ounces good-quality (70 percent) bittersweet chocolate, chopped finely
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup cocoa powder, for dusting

In a sauce pan, bring the cream just to a simmer over low heat. Pour the cream over the chocolate in a bowl and let stand about 10 minutes to melt the chocolate (be certain it is finely chopped or it won't melt). Add vanilla and stir until smooth. Set aside to cool for one hour at room temperature. Then, beat the chocolate at medium speed until it gets thick and lighter colored. Spread over the bottom of a baking dish (a glass, 9" square pan is perfect) and smooth the top. Refrigerate two hours until firm.

Sift cocoa powder into a shallow bowl. I used a spoon to scrape out some truffle chocolate and then formed them into little 1 inch balls with my hands. Don't worry about perfectly smooth or round truffles; these are handmade after all.

After forming, drop each truffle into the bowl of cocoa and roll between two forks to coat completely. Lift out the truffle with the forks and place onto a parchment or wax paper lined baking sheet. Chill until firm and, if making these ahead, wrap and refrigerate.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Loving Valentine's Day Dinner

Ah, Valentine's Day! Something about this holiday always makes me so happy! I think it is because the pretty pinks and reds brighten the gloomy weather and our outlooks. And, there’s nothing like receiving a valentine to brighten one’s mood. While expressions of love and friendship are always welcomed, it is this time of year when we might just need them most!

What are you doing for Valentine's Day this year? I am planning to make a special family dinner. Since I have two teens in the house, I am NOT planning a menu with aphrodisiac foods. Enuf said.  :-)

In 2011, I am working to take care of my favorite hearts--those of my husband and kids. So, I've been thinking about some delicious celebratory dishes using heart-healthy ingredients. Keep in mind, though, this is a special occasion dinner, so of course it has more calories and fat than usual--in this case we just watch our portion sizes and enjoy every bite.  

Here is my menu: 

Almond-Crusted Salmon with Leek and Lemon Cream
Salmon is a number one heart-healthy food--lots of Omega 3 fatty acids; try for wild pacific salmon (which will cost you a fortune) or a good Norwegian "ocean-farmed" salmon, which will still be expensive, but less so than wild. It should not be as red as the wild: if it is, it probably has artificial coloring which should be avoided. Almonds are another superfood with plant omega-3 fatty acids; vitamin E; magnesium; fiber; heart-favorable mono- and polyunsaturated fats; phytosterols.

Brown rice
Brown rice is filled with B-complex vitamins, fiber,  niacin and magnesium. Avoid the instant stuff and use a rice cooker to turn out perfect brown rice, which is so much better for you.

Roasted asparagus

Asparagus is a good vegetable choice with beta-carotene and lutein (carotenoids), B-complex vitamins,  folate and fiber. Using a bit of olive oil is all the better. Click here for guidelines on how to roast it. 
Pinot Noir 
Twenty years ago, we were introduced to the concept of the French Paradox and discovered the benefits of red wine. A glass of red wine (5-6 ounces) with your meal provides catechins and reservatrol (flavonoids), and could improve "good" HDL cholesterol.

Dark chocolate truffles with fresh raspberries
Reservatrol and cocoa phenols (flavonoids), found in dark chocolate (70% or higher cocoa content), may reduce blood pressure. In addition, researchers say that chocolate triggers "feel-good" chemicals in the brain. One truffle would be sufficient. Served with raspberries, we also get potent antioxidants, vitamin C among other benefits.*

I can't wait!

Today, I have the salmon recipe for you, which I have adapted from Bon Appetit magazine. I have made it many times--truly, it is one of my favorites. This year I will use milk instead of cream in the sauce (by the way, DON'T use half and half or you will get a curdled mess). Even if you use cream, you really only need a dollop of the sauce. 

Almond-Crusted Salmon with Leek and Lemon Cream

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium leek, halved, thinly sliced (white and pale green parts only)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 cup sliced almonds, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 6 skinless salmon fillets (4-6 ounces each)
  • 2 egg whites, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add leek; sauté 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low; cover and cook until leeks are very tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Increase heat to medium; add lemon juice and stir until liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Mix in cream. Simmer until slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Cool slightly. Transfer mixture to blender. Blend until smooth. Strain sauce into same saucepan, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. (Sauce can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

  • Mix almonds, parsley, lemon peel, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper on plate. Place flour on another plate. Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper. Dredge salmon in flour, shaking off excess. Lightly brush 1 side of salmon with beaten egg whites. Press brushed side of salmon into almond mixture, pressing lightly to adhere. Arrange salmon, nut side up, on baking sheet.

  • Heat 1 tablespoon oil in each of 2 heavy large skillets over medium heat. Add half of salmon to each skillet, almond-coated side down, and cook until crust is brown, about 5 minutes. Turn salmon over. Sauté until salmon is cooked through and opaque in center, about 5 minutes. Transfer salmon to plates.

  • Reheat sauce, stirring over medium heat. Spoon around salmon and serve.
Tomorrow: Dark Chocolate Truffles!

* Thanks to for nutrition information in this post.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Field of sugar beets

In my previous post I wrote about the USDA considering genetically engineered alfalfa; they were to decide whether to completely deregulate or only partially deregulate its use. As we know by now, the USDA completely deregulated the genetically engineered seeds (click here for full story).

In a stunningly fast development last week, the USDA then went on to agree to a partial deregulation of genetically modified sugar beets. They are allowing farmers to plant these seeds this spring while they finish work on a full environmental impact study. (click here for full story)

Both of these crops' seeds have been modified to be resistant to the weed killer Roundup, which is produced by Monsanto, the same corporation who has created and lobbied for the modified seeds.

Lawsuits against the USDA rulings will go forth in both cases.

*     *     *

In an update to the funding of school breakfasts for poor children:

It looks like Colorado lawmakers might be on the path to doing the right thing. A senate committee has voted to reinstate free breakfasts for poor children (click here for full story). The decision isn't final but must be approved by the House and Senate.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back....

(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Lots of news in food, this week. First the good news!

As we know, Michelle Obama has taken on obesity as her priority issue. This week she announced that Walmart will begin offering healthier food options. Walmart will offer more affordable produce and will decrease sugar and sodium in their store brand foods. They also will work with other corporations whose products line their shelves to create healthier foods. In addition, Walmart will open stores in "food deserts," urban areas where fresh produce is difficult to find.

Ingenious! Millions of Americans shop at Walmart every day, so the corporation is in a unique position to have a positive influence on the way Amercans eat. Fresh produce is more expensive than pre-packaged meals, which typically are packed with so much sodium, sugar and chemicals there is little real food, or nutrition, in them. But because they are so cheap, many parents have to choose between buying something healthful, versus buying something that will fill their family's tummies. It is time Walmart stepped up and changed their role in this.

And now, it is time for the government to stand up. Imagine if carrots and broccoli were subsidized rather than corn.

By the way, here is an interesting article, released this week, about a study that says those who live near Walmarts are fatter. Let's hope that changes soon.

* * * * *

And now, I'm sorry to report several pieces of bad news in the media this week. But, there are ways we can help.

First, Monsanto is at it again. Several years ago they petitioned the USDA to deregulate genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa and allow it to be planted anywhere. This will cause great harm to organic farmers, as well as farmers with traditional seeds, because the GE alfalfa will cross pollinate. GE crops have been banned completely in other countries and there are many valid concerns, including evidence that GE seeds create a new class of herbicide-resistant "super weeds," and require more powerful herbicides. Organic alfalfa is used as feed by most organic dairies.

The USDA will announce a decision this Monday, January 24, as to whether to completely deregulate the GE alfalfa or conditionally regulate it, which would place restrictions on where it could be planted so that it would limit contamination of organic crops.

You can help by asking the USDA and your congress representatives to conditionally regulate GE alfalfa. Many believe that the decision on GE alfalfa will be used as an example for future decisions on GE crops.

For information, as well as how to make your opinion known, you can go to this posting on the Whole Story Blog, Whole Food's official blog.

* * * * *

Finally, an article in today's paper says my own state of Colorado will end free school breakfasts in March (read the full article here).

Yes, Colorado, like many other states, is in big trouble, facing large deficits for the foreseeable future. Of course, any cuts will be painful. However, poor children going without breakfast? Seriously? Even if you set aside the moral argument (which is nearly impossible to do) we need to take a long-term look at how this will affect America's future: Hungry students do not perform well in school. Do we really want to go there?

Under this plan, breakfast will still be served but will no longer be free. Children would be charged 30 cents per breakfast on the reduced-fee program. For many of us, 30 cents seems like not a lot to ask. But for parents who are struggling in this difficult economy and are already "food insecure" (a full 11 percent of Coloradans did not have access to enough food during the years of 2005-2007, the most recent numbers available. We can only imagine how high the numbers have gone since the recession hit).

The lawmakers have not yet decided on the 2011-2012 budget and whether or not the free breakfasts will be available. Now is the time to let them know this is unacceptable.

For more information and ways to get involved, visit Hunger Free Colorado. For those of you who live in other states, check out Share Our Strength.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pasta and Roasted Vegetable Casserole

Here is another great way to get your veggies, any time of year. It takes a bit of time to make it, but is well worth the effort. This recipe yields a big batch, so you can make it on a Sunday afternoon and enjoy it twice during the week. Or, use two smaller casserole dishes and freeze one for later.

Serve with a baguette.

Pasta and Roasted Vegetable Casserole
makes 8 entree servings

2 pounds vegetables
Here is a sample combination, but you can substitute your favorite; just make certain you have a colorful combination: 1 small eggplant, 1 zucchini, 1 yellow crookneck squash, 1 red bell pepper, 1 orange bell pepper, a handful of mushrooms, 1 red onion
3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Cracked pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (if desired)
1 teaspoon oregano
1 pound rigatoni
28 ounce marinara sauce, good-quality purchased or homemade (see recipe here)
1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, drained
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella
1/3 cup parmigiano reggiano, grated
Chopped basil or parsley for garnish, if desired

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Roast the veggies and garlic by using the basic method here, baking for about 10-12 minutes.
3. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
4. While vegetables are roasting, cook pasta according to package directions for al dente. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of cooking water, and return pasta to pot.
5. To the cooked pasta, add roasted veggies, marinara sauce, red pepper flakes, oregano and sun-dried tomatoes; mix well. If the mixture seems a little dry, add 1/4-1/2 cup of the reserved cooking water.
6. Pour into a greased baking dish (you can use a 9 x 13, or split mixture into two 9-inch pie pans, saving one for later). Slice mozzarella and place atop the casserole(s) and sprinkle with parmesan.
7. If you plan to freeze this dish, cool the mixture, cover tightly and freeze. Before baking, defrost overnight in the refrigerator.
8. To bake the dish, cover with foil and bake 15-20 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Garnish with chopped basil or parsley, if desired.