Monday, April 30, 2007

White Pizza Dip

I was inspired recently when I perused The Appetizer Bible. Lots of interesting recipes: from dips to stuffed canapes to more elegant international nibbles. Here was one that caught my eye. It was delicious with toasted baguette slices. (And even yummier as the base of a pizza--half with chicken and red peppers and half with shrimp and spinach. Just spread the dip on a pizza shell, like Boboli, top with the other precooked ingredients and a sprinkling of mozzarella cheese and bake in a 350 degree oven until the crust is toasty and the cheese is slightly browned.)

White Pizza Dip
Note: The recipe calls for a package of Lipton soup mix, but it made the final product a little too salty for my taste. Next time I make it, I'll just substitute my own favorite spices. Maybe Italian herb seasoning. Or Fresh oregano and basil. Maybe a pinch of red pepper flakes for some kick.

1 envelope Lipton Recipe Secrets Savory Herb with Garlic Soup Mix
1 large container (16 ounces) sour cream
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1/4 cup (1 ounce) chopped pepperoni (optional) (You could also add, as I did, 1/4-1/2 cup of cooked Italian sausage)
1 loaf Italian or French bread, sliced, for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In medium bowl, combine soup mix, sour cream, ricotta cheese, 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, and, if desired pepperoni (and/or sausage). Pour into shallow 1 quart casserole dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese.

Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until heated through. Serve with bread slices. (I liked them toasted best.)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Improv in the Kitchen: Creamed Spinach

Sometimes a good meal is just gathering together the ingredients you have on hand and playing around with them. If you have some basic techniques under your belt, the experiments are successes. Don't worry...sometimes they're not. (I've had my share of Frankenstein recipes gone bad.) Just try, try again.

The other night, with spinach on hand and inspired by the basic cream sauce from these delicious potatoes, I came up with my own version of creamed spinach. It was so good that I thought I would pass it on. (And write it down for myself so I'd remember what I'd done!)

Creamed Spinach

1 teaspoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
3/4 cup milk
3 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup white wine
8 cups baby spinach
Grated nutmeg

In a medium pot, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 4 minutes.

In a measuring cup, whisk the flour and milk together. Pour into the onion mixture and stir constantly until thick, about 2 minutes. Add the Parmesan cheese and wine and heat for one minute. Stir in the spinach and continue stirring until mixture is well-combined and spinach is just wilted, about three minutes. Add a grating of fresh nutmeg (always good with spinach) and salt and pepper to taste.

It's ready to eat now, but if you really want to make it spectacular, pour spinach into a baking or gratin dish and top with 1/2 cup bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for ten minutes or until bread crumbs are golden.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Kitchen 101 Plus: The Perfect Hard-Boiled Egg

I've given you a couple of great deviled egg recipes. This hearty one. And this simpler one. It takes for granted though that you know how to make the perfect hard-boiled egg. One that's easy to peel. Without that horrible dark line around the cooked yolk. It's not complicated, but definitely scientific. Here's how it works:

First of all, a tip. Don't try to hard boil fresh eggs. They won't peel very easily. (I learned this the hard way recently.) You want them to be at least a week, and preferably two weeks, old.

Use a saucepan large enough to hold all the eggs you're cooking with plenty of room leftover. You don't want them banging together any more than they have to. Add cool water and eggs to the pan and put over high heat.

Watch carefully. When water comes to a full rolling boil, turn heat down to medium. The water should continue to boil moderately. After you turn heat down, let eggs cook for exactly 12 minutes.

At the end of the 12 minutes, remove eggs from pot with slotted spoon and place in bowl filled with ice and water. This will keep the sulfurous line around yolk from appearing and make them easier to peel.

You can store unpeeled eggs in the water bath in the refrigerator until you're ready to use.

To peel, tap gently on counter all around egg. I find them easier to peel under slowly running cool water.

Of course they make delicious deviled eggs, but they're also a quick healthy snack or breakfast. Especially yummy when you dip them in or sprinkle them with good sea salt or a flavored salt.

So get in the kitchen and get crackin'!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

It's Easy Being Green!

Earth Day was Sunday. It sure has changed from its first celebration in the 80's. Back then, it was almost "hippie fringe" and no self-respecting upper middle class suburbanite could be bothered to pay attention. Happily (or unhappily since it's a looming environmental crisis that is making people wake up and smell the ozone), it's mainstream these days. Heck, Martha Stewart and Oprah BOTH made it a focal point of last week's shows.

We do pretty well around our house. Some of our efforts are more involved--organic gardening, recycling, composting--all things that you might consider too. I'll blog about them in the weeks to come.

There are some simple things I've vowed to pay more attention to though.

  • Making sure lights are turned off when we're not in the room. I've always thought we're pretty good about this. When I pay attention though, we're really not. We've resolved to do a much better job. I'm even going to look into these to help save energy costs from our electronics and appliances.

  • Cut down on paper towel use. I already use the ubiquitous "tea towel" as my napkin during most dinners. I'm now going to go out and buy some rags that we can use to clean counters and windows rather than going through roll after roll of paper towels. However, I'm not joining the Sheryl Crow "one sheet of toilet paper" bandwagon.

  • Look for eco-friendly cleaners. We already use the dis soap put out by Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day. Added bonus is that it smells great. Now I'm going to look for other options for the laundry and to replace the Clorox Clean-Up we use on our countertops. Maybe Shaklee has something. (Speaking of laundry, I'm also thinking about drying our sheets on clotheslines outdoors. Since we feed the birds, we'll have to come up with a strategic place for the line...)

  • Switch to compact fluorescent bulbs. I've heard there's controversy over how environmentally friednly these bulbs actually are (apparently they include mercury which can be a problem when you discard them), but they are supposed to provide great light and save significant amounts of energy. I'm doing a test case on several of our lamps in the next couple of days.

  • Use a canvas bag at the grocery store. If asked, I'll choose a paper bag over a plastic one, but I might as well take a canvas bag that I can reuse over and over again.

  • Cut down on junk mail. While I already shred and recycle our junk mail, I'm going to check out Greendimes. They say they can cut down on your junk mail by 75-90%. Worth a try...

If all of you reading this blog would agree to just ONE of these things, we'd already be taking steps to make the world a better place...and guarantee that it will be here for future generations. Will you join me?

Monday, April 23, 2007

More Delicious Deviled Eggs

I promised you another recipe when I posted the best deviled eggs ever. Here's the runner-up recipe in my self-judged contest. It's almost as tasty and, quite frankly, even easier to prepare. They're sure to be popular at your next picnic or patio cookout.

Ranch-Style Deviled Eggs
Makes 12 servings

6 hard-boiled eggs
1/4 cup cottage cheese
3 tablespoons prepared Ranch dressing
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Peel eggs and cut in half lengthwise. Remove yolks, reserving four yolks. (Discard others or give your dogs a treat!)

In a food processor, combine cottage cheese, dressing, mustard and four yolks and process until smooth. Spoon filling into egg whites and chill for at least one hour before serving.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Pappardelle with Lemon, Baby Artichokes and Asparagus

Spring is a season about green. Not just any green though. The soft light green of new leaves, new grass and flower buds. This recipe captures those colors by including baby artichokes and asparagus. It's delicious--either by itself or with a grilled chicken breast or a few grilled shrimp alongside. Pair it with a crisp Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, go outside, and enjoy your first patio meal of the season.

Pappardelle with Lemon, Baby Artichokes and Asparagus
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine

12 ounces uncooked pappardelle (wide ribbon pasta)
2 1/4 cups cold water, divided
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
8 baby artichokes
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut diagonally into (1-inch) pieces
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid. Set pasta aside; keep warm.

Combine 2 cups water and juice in a medium bowl. Working with 1 artichoke at a time, cut off stem to within 1/4-inch from the base; peel stem. Remove bottom leaves and tough outer leaves, leaving tender heart and bottom; trim about 1 inch from top of artichoke. Cut each artichoke in half lengthwise. Place artichoke halves in lemon water.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Drain artichokes well; pat dry. Add artichokes to pan. Cover and cook 8 minutes, stirring occasionally; uncover. Increase heat to medium-high; cook 2 minutes or until artichokes are golden, stirring frequently. Place artichokes in a large bowl.

Place pan over medium heat; add remaining 1/4 cup water and asparagus to pan. Cover and cook 5 minutes or until crisp-tender. Add asparagus, parsley, and rind to artichokes; toss well. Add pasta, reserved cooking liquid, the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, thyme, salt, and pepper to artichoke mixture; toss well.

Place 2 cups pasta mixture into each of 6 shallow bowls; top each serving with about 3 tablespoons cheese.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Cocktail of the Week: Refreshing Gin Drinks

You know I love gin. Especially Bombay Sapphire. Here are a couple of recipes that I guess could be pejoratively called "Gin and Juice." Nonetheless, they're wonderfully refreshing. Perfect for an evening on the deck or patio.

Gin Madras

1 part gin
1 part orange juice
2 parts cranberry juice

Pour in order listed over ice in a collins glass. Stir if desired.

Gin Breeze

1 part gin
1 part grapefruit juice
1 part cranberry juice
Splash of lime juice
Splash of simple syrup

Shake ingredients in ice-filled cocktail shaker and pour into chilled cocktail glass.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Best Deviled Eggs Ever!

The warmer weather and beauty of the newly growing green things outdoors has me thinking picnic. And with Easter just a week ago, I'm thinking deviled eggs. So tried a couple recipes last week. This one is delicious. With diced ham in the filling and toasted bread crumbs on top, it's like eating a sandwich. Yum.

French-Style Deviled Eggs

8 large eggs
1/3 cup minced reduced-fat ham (Iused some diced prosciutto that I had in the freezer. You can buy it at warehouse stores, if you can believe it.)
1 tablespoon minced green onions
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise
1 teaspoon mustard
1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup toasted bread crumbs
Cooking spray

Place eggs in a large saucepan. Cover with water to 1 inch above eggs; bring just to a boil. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 12 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold running water until cool.

Peel eggs; slice in half lengthwise. Remove yolks; discard 4 yolks. Place remaining 4 yolks in a medium bowl. Add ham and next 7 ingredients (through pepper); stir until combined.

Spoon about 1 teaspoon yolk mixture into each egg white half. Top each half with 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs.

Garnish with fresh thyme leaves, if desired.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sesame-Seafood Tempura

This recipe comes from Andrea Immer Robinson. She says she made it on the Simply Ming show on PBS and that Ming likes this version better than his own. It's deliciously light and sweetly nutty. She suggests it with clams, but I tried it with clams, shrimp, oysters and haddock. Actually liked the oysters and shrimp the best. The batter is light enough that it really enhances the natural briny sweetness of the seafood. (My clams didn't turn out so well. I used clam strips, but next time would get large clams and shuck them myself.)

Sesame-Seafood Tempura

1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 1/3 cups cold club soda
2 cups rice flour

In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds until golden brown (about four minutes), stirring and tossing occasionally. Set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, slowly whisk the club soda into the rice flour, adding the club soda gradually until the mixture is the consistency of pancake batter. Whisk in the sesame seeds.

Fill a medium stock pot 1/3 full with canola oil and heat it to 35o degrees. Add seafood to batter and fry in batches until cooked through and golden brown. Remove to paper towel-lined sheet pan to drain. Sprinkle with salt while still hot and serve warm with your favorite sauces. (I particularly loved it with sweet chili sauce!)

Wine Pairing:
Andrea suggested a wonderfully lightly fruity and crisp Chablis. It was wonderful. The simple "cleanness" of the dish calls out for a similarly light and crisp wine. An albarino from Spain. A Pinot Grigio from Italy. A light sparkling wine. Or even a dry rosé. Cheers!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Cocktail of the Week: Blood Orange Cosmo

I'm an impulse shopper. Especially at the grocery store. Luckily though, it's not the candy bars or tabloid magazines at the checkout stand that grab me. It's more likely to be a great piece of fish. A steak. An unusual cheese. Or a great produce find. That was the case for me at Central Market a couple of days ago. I was sticking faithfully to my shopping list until I came across a display of beautiful blood oranges. Having no idea what I would do with them, I bought a couple. I couldn't resist their gorgeous maroon-orange skin...knowing the wonderfully complex juice that was inside.

They sat on the counter for a couple of days. Until tonight. Used them to make this twist on a wonderful, traditional cocktail.

Blood Orange Cosmopolitan

1 ½ oz. Absolut Citron (or, even better, Absolut Mandarin)
½ oz. Cointreau
¼ oz. lime juice (one lime or so)
¼ oz. Fresh Blood Orange Juice (juice from one half of a blood orange)
Splash of Cranberry Juice
Splash of simple syrup

Shake well with ice and serve in a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a slice of orange.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Battle Potato Casserole

We had a great Easter Sunday yesterday. Both families came over, with kids in tow, to celebrate the holiday--as well as my niece's first birthday. We had an Easter egg hunt for the kids and bowls of candy out for the adults. (Including those wonderfully awful marshmallow Peeps.) Topped it all off with a great dinner of ham, scalloped potatoes and spinach salad. But I couldn't decide between a couple of potato casserole recipes I had found. So I fixed both and took votes from the crowd.

One was an easy "dump" casserole of frozen potatoes, sour cream and cheese. The other was slightly more complicated. Sliced potatoes and onions. And a homemade cream sauce.

They were both fantastic, but the more complicated recipe won with most of us. (The ham really adds a nice rich sweetness.) I've posted it below. Stay tuned though. I'll be posting the runner up next week.

Scalloped Potatoes with Ham
Adapted from Cooking Light
Makes 12 servings.

2 teaspoons butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion (about 5 1/2 ounces), thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese (2 cups), divided
6 ounces diced ham (about 1 1/4 cups)
3 pounds peeled baking potatoes, cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°.

Heat olive oil and melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté 5 minutes or until onion is tender. Combine milk, salt, pepper, and flour, stirring with a whisk. Add milk mixture to pan. Bring to a simmer; cook until slightly thick (about 2 minutes), stirring frequently. Add 4 ounces cheese and ham, stirring until cheese melts.

Stir in potatoes. Place the potato mixture in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Cover with foil coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle remaining two ounces cheese over top of casserole and bake an additional 30 minutes or until lightly browned and potatoes are tender. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Eating Well...Environmentally Well

I post a lot of fish recipes here. Think not? Just search for them and see what you find. Eating fish makes me feel good. Makes me feel healthy. And usually makes me feel like I'm doing the "right" thing. Even though I'm a declared omnivore, you can turn someone off of beef by mentioning the horrors of a slaughterhouse. Even freak a person out about chicken by pointing out the poor birds' miserable lives spent in cramped conditions before they are inhumanely slaughtered.

But fish is different, right? It conjures up visions of bare-chested men dragging nets through the pristine waters of the sea. There are millions, if not billions, of fish in the sea, so humans can't possibly have a negative impact.


I was peripherally aware of the negative impact of fishing a couple years ago when I noticed a note at my local Whole Foods explaining why they wouldn't sell sea bass. Things were further brought home when I saw Sharkwater at the AFI DALLAS International Film Festival. It won the HDNet Award and graphically shows what's happening to the oceans thanks to the irresponsible overfishing of shark and other fish. Certainly can make one sit up and take notice.

Made ME take notice of Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch. They publish guides for every region of the United States telling you what seafoods to buy and what to avoid. For example, shrimp. Those from the United States, both farmed or wild-caught are ok. But stay away from those that are imported. If you want cod, buy stuff from Alaska and not from the Atlantic. And we still need to avoid sea bass altogether.

Check out their website. Print out a guide and take it with you when you're grocery shopping. Using it to help you make your decisions just might be a small, but important contribution to keeping our oceans vital and productive.

Friday, April 06, 2007

A Day Off...

I'm exhausted. Tired. Burned out. Fried. (Insert your favorite synonym here. ) I've worked too hard for weeks, and have then spent the last several days catching up on bills, laundry, household chores, etc. I need to chill out. A day off. So that's what I have planned for Saturday. You could probably use the same.

Now a day off for me is literal. A day off from everything. No schedules, no to-do lists, and no pressure. You get up when you want to. And then take things as they come. There is no requirement to do a dang thing.

If you want to take a nap, do it. But don't feel obligated.

If you want to walk around the back yard, do it. But don't feel obligated.

If you want to go see a movie, do it. get the idea.

Personally, I like to spend a day with no TV, no computer, nothing. Even watching TV implies a schedule and requirements. You have to wait until a commercial to go to the bathroom or get something from the kitchen. That's confining. Just chill out. If you need to, refresh yourself on "the power of now."

If you feel guilty looking around the things you "need" to do, get over it. If you can't, get a room. Literally. Check into a local hotel. There's NOTHING to do there but relax.

Everything you need to do will still be there the day after your day off. And you'll be reenergized and much more prepared to handle it all.

Who's going to join me?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Baked Halibut with Orzo, Spinach and Cherry Tomatoes

Here's a simple recipe that combines all the "food groups": protein, starch and vegetable in one dish. It's healthy and delicious. A perfect dinner when you just don't want work that hard and still serve something really special...

Baked Halibut with Orzo, Spinach and Cherry Tomatoes
Adapted from a reader's recipe in Bon Appetit

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 6- to 7-ounce halibut fillets
1 cup orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup chopped onion
4 cups (packed) baby spinach
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes

Preheat oven to 425°F. Whisk 2 tablespoons oil and lemon juice in bowl; season dressing with salt and garlic pepper. Set aside.

Place halibut on rimmed baking sheet; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with some of dressing. Bake until just opaque in center, about 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in large saucepan of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite; drain.

Add 2 tablespoons oil, garlic and onion to same saucepan; sauté over medium heat 2-3 minutes. Add drained pasta, spinach, and tomatoes; stir to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Cover; let stand 1 minute (spinach will wilt). Divide pasta between 2 plates. Top with halibut and remaining dressing.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Life Should Be Beautiful: Chapter Two

I've finally emerged from my work with the AFI DALLAS International Film Festival to return to the blogging world. It's interesting timing actually; I posted my first entry here six months ago yesterday. And it's time for another chapter.

I will be spending lots of time over the next several months to take this blog to a new level. Different categories to sort entries. More images and updated design. Probably an ad link or two.

But the content will remain the same. Great ways to make your life more enjoyable, healthier, more beautiful. Things to look forward to include:
  • More recipes that are delicious and healthy.
  • Ways to make your home and garden more environmentally friendly.
  • New wines and spirits I discovered at Savor Dallas.
  • Sample recipes and reviews from LOTS of new cookbooks I've been picking up.
  • Suggestions on ways to relax and make life more fun.
  • Party ideas and family entertaining suggestions.
  • Spring cleaning and organization tips.
  • More and more on wine: wine list suggestions, educational bits and food/wine pairings.
  • And of course, some delicious cocktails perfect for taking out on the patio or deck with friends and family.

Thanks to all of you who are regular readers. (Site traffic indicates I have a couple of stalkers out there!) I hope this new phase of the blog will include many more readers who can join us in our conversation. PLEASE forward the link on to as many of your friends, colleagues and family members as you can. More of us should be living the beautiful life.

Stay tuned...onward and upward!