Friday, May 30, 2008

First Try

I really love the flavors of the south of the border-Mexican flavors. Maybe it's because I spent a good part of my childhood in Los Angeles, hardly in the barrio, but still the flavors filtered through to the white jewish parts. I made a taco seasoned b.b.q sauce this evening for my grilled chicken breasts.
I'm not sure about this recipe- I need to try it another time, and make my own taco seasoning. And not over-grill it, and maybe include more olive oil and a bit 'o acid (vinegar) for good measure.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Easy as Pie-shell Cheesecake

I tried to be one of those good, brownie-point scoring parents and it just didn't work out. The good ones seem to have neverending amounts of patience and energy to do stuff like plan end-of-year picnics, and car-seat delegation on class trips, these saint's babysit the entire class during the Teacher Appreciation Luncheon! I just don't have it in me, on about 25 different levels. Instead I've decided to concentrate on what I'm decent at-cooking & baking. Sometimes I'll bake with the kiddles class for a specific holiday (Matzah Lasagne comes to mind) or just to indulge my kid-sized sweet tooth (fruity pebble marshmallow squares- not recommended for anyone over 6). Its fun to see your little critter in the company of other little critters. I handed in a cheesecake recipe for the school newsletter, something easy and creamy and yummy for the upcoming spring-time holiday. Something you can easily do with your little critter/s. Next time I'll bake brownie (points) cheesecake bars.

Easy Dreamy Creamy Cheesecake
Preheat oven to 350F. In a big bowl cream 2 packages of cream cheese together with electric mixer. Gradually add 3/4 c. sugar, 1/2 c. sour cream, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, 1 optional tbsp. lemon juice (for a slightly tarter taste), beat well. Add 2 eggs, mix, then add 1 tbsp. flour, beat well. Pour and scrape with spatula into ready made graham cracker pie shell. Place in oven for 45-60 mins, until firm and golden around the edge.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Country Club Sandwiches

This long weekend we heard the call of the wild and answered accordingly; we went camping! Much hemming and hawwing preceded our petite adventure. Should we gather the kids, pack up the car as though we were setting sail for the new world, plow through the doubts as to whether baby kiddle would be able to handle bed-time in a tent? Would girly-girl kiddlette be able to handle the dirt and bugs that come complete with the great outdoors? Alas, we declared "Screw it! Lets go" and simply hoped for the best, and for a remote campsite so that we wouldn't ruin everyone else's O Wilderness moment.
We found that remote campsite off the beaten track in the Catskills. In fact it was up on the mountain where hubbabubba and I got engaged 7 years ago this summer. Turned out we all had a great time around the campfire with the roasted marshmallows, we slept snuggled together in our tent, took a nature hike in the early morn to get the blood pumping and fill our lungs with cool, fresh, clean mountain air.
Baby Kiddle had the time of his life and a few bug bites to prove it. Kiddlette didn't freak out once- but insisited on taking a super-scrubby bath the minute we got home. Big-boy kiddle loved every second especially being terrified by the ghost stories whispered in the pitch black soundless night.
Even I had a great time, me, the kind of person who prefers to take a vacation in NYC rather than a remote sandy beach. I just love the buzz and hum and life of the City.
The Country is rife with beauty that is seperate from the man-made beauty of the city. It has it's own buzz and hum and life. The buzz of bumblebees, the hum of insects that provides a constant aural backdrop, and the wild profusion of natural life that is everywhere. The air out there is a wonder, all I could do was take greedy gulps. The farm stands that you can find in the countryside will send even the most jaded eater into a rhapsody of appreciation for Mother Nature and all the goodies she provides.
Before heading home yesterday, we stopped in a cute little cafe in some cute little country village, and had lunch. I ordered a sandwich that was just fantastic. It was a smoked salmon club on wonderful fresh baked bread, with ripe tomatoes, horseradish mayo, crisp lettuce, and thin strips of red onions. It was accompanied with a fresh garden salad that tasted precisely how you'd imagine a fresh garden salad in the Country would taste.
Tugging onto the experience for as long as possible, tonight's dinner will be another version of yesterday's lunch; smoked turkey clubs with taco mayo, slices of ripe avocado, crispy lettuce, thin rings of red onion . A garden salad on the side garnished with some of the tomatoes I bought at a farm stand on the way home from our wonderful wilderness adventure.

Turkey Taco Club Sandwiches:
Combine 1/2 c. mayo, 2 tbsp. taco seasoning mix, 2 tbsp. chopped green chillies. Spread taco mayo on sourdough bread slices then place smoked turkey on top, sliced avocado, thin slices of red onion to follow.
note: as with all these recipes feel free to play around with proportions and vegetable combinations, like alfafa sprouts? Heap 'em on. As with most things, these recipes are works in progress.

Friday, May 23, 2008

St. Martha's Mixed Berry Terrine

Still on the fruity-beauty kick, I turned to the patron saint of overachieving homemakers- La Martha- for some guidance and inspiration. Of course she never disappoints. This fresh berry dessert is just gorgeous in every way. Every spoonful is jiggling with juicy flavor, life, and simple beauty.

Mixed Berry Terrine:
In a bowl sprinkle 2 (1/4 oz. each) unflavored gelatin over 1/4 c. white grape juice; let soften for a few minutes. Heat 2 c. sugar with another 1/4 c, grape juice in a saucepan until dissolved. Remove from stove; mix in softened gelatin until dissolved. Then stir in 1 1/2 c. grape juice.
Place about 5-6 c. of fresh mixed berries (I used raspberries, halved strawberries, blackberries) in a 4 x 8" loaf pan; pour gelatin mixture over. Rerigerate until firm- 3 plus hrs. at least.
To unmold dip bottom of pan in hot water for about 5 mins.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


In between drop off and pick up today I took a grand detour to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. Not having much time, I made like a whirlwind and blew through the 19th & 20th Century European & American artists. I left feeling inspired and slightly drunk on all the overwhelming beauty.
The still lifes of fruits and flowers made me want to run home and create a fruit plate of luscious color and graceful shapes. Fruits and vegetables are amazing objets d'art. Going to the Museum reminded me of this. Picture a shiny red apple, a bright round orange, a bunch of purple grapes, a fuzzy yellow peach - is there anything more basic than this kind of beauty? And the fact that you can eat it, and that it's good for your body- there aren't many things more perfect than this.
OK, this summer I'm devoting myself to fruits and vegetables. Salads that celebrate them. Desserts that glorify them. Dips that dress them. This will be my summer of fruit 'n veggies. I write this as I nibble on a perfect square of chocolate.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sorta Torta Rustica

The highlight of my day was making this super-stuffed pizza pie, and then coming up with a title for this post. This says a lot about my life right now.

Sorta Torta Rustica
Roll out pizza dough (ready made is obviously fine). Spray bottom and sides of springform pan with Pam. Cut 3/4 of dough and place in springform pan so that it covers the bottom and sides.
In a skillet, heat 1 tsp. olive oil and cook 1 chopped onion, 1 c. sliced mushrooms, 2 cloves chopped garlic. When onions are soft add a package of soy crumbles and a jar of pasta sauce. Stir until sauce bubbles. Spoon onto pizza dough.
Drain a package of thawed spinach, squeezing out as much liquid as you can. In a bowl combine spinach, an egg, and 1/4-1/2 c. grated parmesan. Spoon spinach on top of the soy crumble layer.
Then mix together 1 c. ricotta cheese and 1 c. shredded mozzarella. Top spinach layer with this ricotta layer. Place remaining dough over pie, cutting any excess dough. Place in oven at 350F, bake until crust becomes golden.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Monkey Bread

I've decided to play dutiful 1950's housewife and make sunday breakfast for my crack-of-dawners. No cold cereal, or frozen waffles for my Jr. Gourmands, we're having Monkey Bread.
My real-life 1950's housewife Mom used to make Monkey Bread for us, wearing pearls and a marvellous shirtwaist without a hair out of place, all the while singing cheery show tunes (not really, but you get the general idea). I requested the recipe, but she must have lost it in the flood of '96 or the great move of '01. So I've reinvented Mom's Monkey Bread and used maple syrup instead of brown sugar for a cozy sunday morning feel.

Maple Walnut Monkey Bread
Instead of refrigerated biscuit dough I used 2 boxes of refrigerated ready-to-bake challah egg twist rolls. Follow thawing directions on box. Once thawed cut each roll into quarters. Grease a bundt pan and spread 1/2 c. chopped walnuts on bottom of pan. Mix 1/2 c. granulated sugar with 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon. Coat each challah dough quarter in cinnamon sugar. Place sugar coated pieces in bundt pan on top of the walnuts, pressing pieces lightly together until all quarters are used. In a saucepan melt 1/2 c. butter/marg, 1/2 c. maple syrup. Add 1 tsp. vanilla extract. Pour over monkey bread. Place in 350F oven for 25 min. Serve warm with leftover cinnamon sugar if desired.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Simple Potato Wedges

Just to prove that I haven't been transformed into some sort of lettuce-eating-calorie-and-carb- obsessed rabbit lady, I've decided to "splurge"and make some hearty potato wedges to go along with tonight's dinner. Should be good, especially if they're roasted to a golden brown crispiness. After they're baked to their perfect hue, I'll then spash some malt vinegar onto them and sprinkle some salt on top, Brit style. And then I'll serve with a variety of dipping options; dijon mustard, honey mustard, horseradish sauce, BBQ sauce.....

Potato Wedges:
Wash and peel 4-6 potatoes cut into uniformly sized wedges. With a pastry brush brush 1-2 tbsp olive oil onto wedges. Sprinkle 1-2 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. paprika, and a few pinches of salt on wedges. Bake in 450F oven, after about 1/2 hr. flip wedges over with a spatula- continue baking until they get to your perfect level of doneness.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Crock of Guac

Day 3 of my summer slimmin' plan, and I'm already starting to gag at the thought of another good-for-you bite. I want things that are so bad for you, that just thinking of them makes you gain weight. As a diversion for my dulled and weary taste buds, I mixed up a batch of oh-so- garlicky guacamole and baked a batch of no-cheating tortilla "chips". Not as satisfying as a plate of greasy spoon cheese fries, but it'll have to do.

Garlicky Guacamole:
chop top off a head of garlic so that cloves are exposed. Drizzle olive oil over garlic head, wrap in foil paper. Place in a 450F oven. Roast for 30-45 mins. Mash 2-3 ripe avocados, add roasted garlic cloves (squeeze em out), and juice of one lime. Mix until all ingredients are incorporated

No Cheating Tortilla "Chips":
Spray flour tortillas with cooking spray sprinkle taco seasoning mix evenly over tortillas. With a pizza cutter cut tortillas into bite sized wedges. Place on baking tray and bake at 450F until "chops" are golden brown and crunchy.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Ahi Tuna Salad Nicoise

As the weather becomes more temperate I invariably arrive at the point where I need to shed not only my dark winter layers but also my "cookies on the couch" layer of fat. Believe me I have no illusions or, rather, delusions of working a bikini like a Victoria's Secret model, but I know where I need to be in order to look good, for me, and I'm usually not there by early spring. So in order to move it along, I've put myself on a pseudo-diet/quasi work-out regime.
Tonight for dinner I made a ahi tuna salad nicoise, it isn't as fat-free as it should be, but it's good enough. "Good enough" is now my new motto. Why must we all break our necks trying to be the best at everything, when being good enough - is good enough. There are some things worth being a shining star at, and what they are is probably different for everyone. With everything else "good enough" is just fine.
This salad is better than good enough, it's really delicious, in a way that only the french can make a salad delicious. Go easy on the dressing, and it'll be good (enough) for you too.

Ahi Tuna Salad Nicoise
Grind black peppercorns and place on shallow dish, roll ahi tuna cubes in pepper. Sear tuna on each side, but do not over cook. the tuna should be a little raw in the center. Squeeze lemon over tuna cubes.
Lay out lettuce on a serving platter. Arrange in sections on platter blanched green beans (haricot verts), boiled and halved small red potatoes, roasted red pepper cut into strips, kalamata olives, 4-5 hard boiled eggs cut into halves, and seared ahi tuna. Optional: sprinkle 2-3 tbsp. capers over salad. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
dressing: whisk together juice of 1/2 a large lemon, 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar, 1 tbsp. dijon mustard, and 1 1/2 tbsp. honey. Whisk in 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil,. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Mozzarella & Tomato Jam Grilled Cheese

There are a few things, kitchen-wise, that everyone should know how to do:
1. fry, scramble, or boil an egg
2. boil pasta
3. mix up a good cocktail
4. make a grilled cheese sandwich

If you have mastered the above skills you will never go hungry, and you'll probably be able to host a fairly decent dinner party. It's like what Rabbi Akiva said "....all the rest is commentary", well in this case "...all the rest is Whole Foods".
A grilled cheese sandwich, is, in my opinion, tied with pizza for being the world's best comfort food. Dressed up with fancy french bread and exotic cheese it is a gourmet delight. And when keeping it real (and real easy) with American slices and Wonder bread it has a satisfying junk food appeal. Whenever I eat a grilled cheese sandwich, every bite is accompanied with the wish that it would never end. During my pregnancies the grilled cheese sandwiches actually didn't end until my claim that the baby needed bread and cheese fried in butter was no longer valid.

Today I decided to go a little more high end with a mozzarella grilled cheese sandwich that is elaborated with a layer of sweet 'n savory tomato jam. I didn't have any fresh basil around, but if I did I'd put it in. Cut this up in quarters and you can serve it as an hors d'oeuvre at aforementioned dinner party.

Mozzarella & Tomato Jam Grilled Cheese Sandwich:
tomato jam: dice up 5-6 med. tomatoes (I used plum tomatoes) place in saucepan. Add 1-2 tbsp. sugar, a pinch of salt, 1-2 tsp. balsamic vinegar. Cook and stir over medium heat until the tomatoes get juicy and it comes to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until most of the juice evaporates and the mixture thickens.

Melt 2-3 tbsp. butter in a skillet. Place 1-2 slices of mozzarella on bread, spoon tomato jam on top of cheese, cover with second slice of bread. Put sandwich in melted butter skillet and cook over med. heat. Tamp down sandwich with spatula, flip over and repeat until cheese melts and bread is sufficiently toasty. Say ahhh and serve.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Zabaglione Stuffed Strawberries

Being a mom can be a hard and lonely job. You usually don't get praised for doing it well, yet there always seems to be a chorus of little voices that are more than willing to point out when you've fallen short of the ideal. Some days with your li'l darlings can feel longer and bleaker than a symposium on tax code reforms. And after navigating your way through a two year old's marathon tantrum, you can understand why motherhood is not a paid position- there isn't enough money in the world to cover that kind of aggravation and despair. That's exactly why I think Mother's Day should be celebrated with bells and whistles, or at the very least flowers and chocolates.
So in order to sell the chocolates, and to reach out to my fellow moms, yesterday evening I hosted a Mother's Day Dessert Tea. I used a bunch of teapots as vases, found paper plates and napkins in a chintzy print, mixed up a pitcher of sweet and fruity sangria, and served my chocolate truffles alongside tiramisu cupcakes and key lime cupcakes.
These zabaglione stuffed strawberries were also noteworthy. Fresh, juicysweet strawberries are the perfect frame for the subtle and creamy vino-spiked filling. Using jumbo long stemmed strawberries are crucial, and a melon baller really makes the job easier. You can gild the lily by sprinkling the strawberries with mini chocolate chips or chopped nuts. But, as with children, keeping it simple is sometimes the best option.

Zabaglione Stuffed Strawberries
Rinse and pat dry 2 punnets of long stemmed strawberries. With melon baller scoop out the center area of each strawberry about the size of a quarter. In a bowl combine 1 container of mascarpone cheese (8oz.), 1 container of cream cheese (8oz.), 3-4 tbsp. powdered sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, 3-4 tbsp. marsala wine. Mix until smooth. Scoop into a pastry bag or a ziploc bag. If using pastry bag fit with star tip, if using ziploc bag snip off the corner. Squeeze mascarpone mixture into strawberry cavities. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Marmalade Salsa

As usual, re-entry into regular life proved to be a little bumpy. The weather hasn't been too helpful. I'm ready for the sun. I'm itching to bust out my warm weather wardrobe. I took the kiddles to the park twice this week, in spite of the chilly conditions- in my mind I was thinking: Hell's bells!! It's May already, park time! We're going whether we freeze or not... We went to the park in LA last week and all got sunburnt. Well kiddles, we're not in Cali anymore... But all is not chills and bitter pills, I bought a punnet of beautiful red strawberries the other day, that were delicious and bursting with sweetness- that must mean something good.
Tonight's dinner will be a prayer for tasty and healthy summer livin'. I don't care if I'm forcing it! I've had enough of gloomy weather and winter fruits and vegetables. Gimme color, gimme flavor, gimme sunshine, gimme ripe juiciness (and while I'm asking for stuff, gimme a bikini body)- and gimme it NOW!

Grilled Tuna Steaks with Marmalade Salsa
Grill or broil tuna steaks. In a skillet heat 1 tbsp olive oil add 1 chpped red onion and 2 minced garlic cloves, cook for a minute or two, add 1 chopped tomato, mix into garlic and onions. Add 2-3 tbsp. marmalade and 4 tbsp. balsamic vinegar and, if desired, a tbsp. or two of capers. Stir until bubbling. Spoon over tuna steaks.