Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmases of Yore....

The photo above is a gift from the Ghost of Christmas Past...it shows a replica of a Woolworth store that would have seen at Christmas time around the 1940's and 50's.  I love it.  And REALLY want to go visit it in person at the National Christmas Museum in Paradise, Pennsylvania.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Countdown to Christmas: Brown Sugar-Bourbon Ice Cream

You're likely to have some repeat desserts from Turkey Day at Christmas-time, right?  Maybe pecan pie.  Apple pie.  A cobbler of some sort.

Well, don't settle for the plan old do-over.  Throw a scoop of this deliciousness on for an added blast of flavor.

And then save the recipe for next Thanksgiving.

Brown Sugar-Bourbon Ice Cream
Makes about one quart.
From Bon Appetit.

1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
6 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon (or more) bourbon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Stir milk, cream, and brown sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until mixture comes to a rolling boil (it may look curdled, but this is normal).

Meanwhile, whisk yolks, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl until mixture is pale yellow and sugar dissolves.

Place a medium metal bowl in a large bowl of ice water; set a fine-mesh sieve over metal bowl. Whisking yolk mixture constantly, gradually add hot cream mixture (to prevent the eggs in the yolk mixture from scrambling). Return to pan. Stir custard over low heat until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 2 minutes. Immediately strain custard into metal bowl. Let custard cool completely, stirring often.
Stir 1 Tbsp. bourbon and vanilla into custard. Add more bourbon to taste by teaspoonfuls, if desired.

Cover and chill.

Process custard in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.

Transfer ice cream to an airtight container, cover, and freeze.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Spiced Pecans

These nuts are all over the place...and that's a good thing. Spicy, sweet, salty and smoky.  They will hit everyone of your tastebuds. When you serve them up as holiday gifts, you'll have a group of grateful folks on your hands.

The recipe I will post here is for pecans, but walnuts, almonds or a mix will do the trick nicely. Just be careful to keep stirring and don't cook at too high a heat.  You don't want these treasures getting too browned.

Spiced Pecans
Makes 2 cups.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups pecan halves
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons roughly chopped rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Heat butter in a 12 inch skillet over medium heat. Add pecans and cook, swirling skillet constantly, until nuts are just toasted, about 5 minutes.

Add brown sugar, rosemary, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, chili powder, salt, Tabasco sauce, black pepper, and cinnamon and stir until pecans are evenly coated. Continue cooking pecans, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 1 minute longer.

Transfer pecans to a parchment paper–lined baking sheet, spread into a single layer, and let cool, stirring pecans and breaking up sugar and spices occasionally.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Countdown to Christmas: Stocking Up....

Yes, Christmas is about egg nog and wrapping and yummy food.  But there's also a practicality to the holiday season.  It takes preparation.  So here are two categories you better stock up on.
  • You'll probably have unexpected guests dropping in. Be ready to entertain them in style by supplementing your pantry with extra supplies of mixed nuts, assorted cheeses, olives, crackers, and some bubblies. 
  • For those same guests, have some homemade goodies ready.  Tins of cookies.  Jars of pickles or preserves. Homemade infused vinegars or vodkas.  You don't want them leaving empty-handed.
  • Got kids?  (Even if they're not yours.) Have plenty of batteries (AA, AAA, D) and a small screwdriver ready so you can open and energize those noisy electronic gifts that they will unwrap.
What else do you stock up on so you're ready for Santa's onslaught?  Comment below...

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Kale with Chorizo and Garlic

I am glad to be getting greens in our produce co-op share these days.  As I figure out what to do with them, I can only hope that eating them is some sort of preemptive cleanse before the carb/fat/sugar/booze-loaded holidays come around.

Now this recipe isn't completely healthy, but what self-respecting green would be seen without at least a little pork fat by it's side? This makes a great side for pork tenderloin, roast chicken or a nice flaky piece of fish.

Kale with Chorizo and Garlic
Adapted from Bon Appetit.
Makes four servings.

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 ounces cured Spanish chorizo, casing removed, if needed; sliced into thin rounds
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 bunch kale, center ribs and stems removed, leaves coarsely chopped (about 8 cups)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry white wine, divided

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add chorizo and cook until lightly rendered (but not crisp) and oil turns bright red, about 3 minutes. Add onion and stir to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in kale; season with salt and pepper. Cook until kale begins to wilt, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup wine and 1/4 cup water. Cover partially and reduce heat to low. Simmer gently until kale is tender, 20-25 minutes.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

We've been loving our co-op produce share.  Pick it up every two weeks and it's been full of wonderful local organic goodness.  Of course, it's not tomatoes and squash at this time of year.  Instead, potatoes, onions, apples, wonderful lettuces and lots of winter squash.  Inspired by an Ina Garten recipe, I pulled squash, apples and onions out to make this delicious soup.

If you're being virtuously healthy, you can stop before adding the cream and butter, but it's the perfect decadent touch for the holidays.  Serve it in shot glasses with a few toasted pumpkin seeds on top at your Christmas cocktail party.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Makes 4-6 main course servings.

3 pounds butternut squash, peeled and seeded
2 yellow onions
2 red apples, peeled and cored (I used Fuji.)
4 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon good curry powder

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Cut the butternut squash, onions, and apples into 1-inch pieces. Place them in a bowl and toss them with the olive oil, a generous pinch of salt, and a grind of black pepper pepper. Divide the vegetable mixture between 2 foil-lined sheet pans and spread in a single layer. Roast for 35 to 45 minutes, tossing occasionally, until very tender. Make sure not to let the veggies brown.

Let the vegetables cool slightly, then pulse in a food processor in batches until roughly pureed Add a little chicken stock as necessary to keep things going.  Place vegetables in large pot and add the remaining chicken broth.  Using an immersion blender, blend the mixture until smooth. Heat the soup over medium-low heat until warmed. Add the curry powder and salt and pepper to taste. For an added velvety texture, stir in 1/2 cup heavy cream and 1 tablespoon unsalted butter.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Curried Turkey Pita

Curry powder is a mainstay in my chicken salad recipe.  Why not extend it to some of that turkey left over from Thursday?

Curried Turkey Pita
Makes 2 sandwiches.

1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups shredded cooked turkey
1/2 cup halved grapes
2 sliced celery stalks
1 sliced scallion
2 pita bread halves

Stir the mayo, curry powder, salt and pepper together in a medium bowl.  Add the next 4 ingredients and stir to combine.  Spoon into pita halves to serve.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Turkey Carcass Stock

Did you use all your turkey stock on this big day for gravy and stuffing?  Now what to do when it's time to make the turkey-noodle soup....

Never fear.  See that turkey carcass there in the fridge?  Let's put it to good use.

Turkey Carcass Stock
Makes about 4 quarts.

Break the turkey carcass into 4 pieces and place in a large stockpot.  Cover with water.  Add fresh herbs (thyme, parsley, sage) and a couple of carrots and stalks of celery.  Let it simmer for about an hour. Probably won't need seasoning, but add salt and pepper if needed.

Strain and get that soup started....

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Last-Minute Turkey Day Tips

It's upon us.  The hordes will descend on Thursday.  (OK...that sounds more ominous than the situation really is, but you get my drift.)

You've probably got the dressing, turkey and pies all covered.  But do you have a handle on the pre-feast nibbles?  Before you object, yes, you need them.  Someone is going to show up early and you need to have something to keep them out of the kitchen.  Plus what happens if dinner is not ready at exactly the appointed time.

Here are a few simple appetizers that you can throw together to stave off the hungry masses...
  • Grocery list: Round of brie and a bottle of cranberry chutney.  Warm the brie in the oven at 325° for 10-15 minutes.  Place the brie on a serving plate, pour the chutney over the brie, sprinkle some walnuts or pecans around, and serve with crackers.
  • Pick up a tub of your favorite pre-made hummus.  Serve with carrot, red bell pepper and celery crudite.
  • Love this one.  Pick up a carton of butternut squash soup at the grocery.  (I like Pacific Natural Foods brand.)  Puree in a blender until smooth.  Place in a sauce pan and gussy it up (yes, that's a technical term) with a pinch of cayenne, a dash of lemon juice and a pinch of sea salt.  Warm until heated through.  Place three tablespoons or so in shot glasses or demitasse cups. Yum. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Make-Ahead Turkey Stock

You're going to want to have plenty of stock on hand next week.  And while acceptable, why use canned stuff in preparing one of the most visible meals of the year.  Fly your foodie flag high and make your own.  It's simple and you'll have good stuff to make gravy, moisten your dressing, and make the turkey soup or turkey and dumplings that you'll us to utilize those leftovers next weekend.)

Make-Ahead Turkey Stock
Makes 2 quarts.

5 pounds turkey wings (easy to find at your grocery store these days)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 onions, unpeeled and quartered
2 heads garlic, halved horizontally
3 carrots
2 celery stalks
1 pound mushrooms, halved (optional, but adds a nice umami richness)
4 sprigs thyme
5 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
6 leaves sage

Preheat oven to 450°.

In a large roasting pan, combine turkey wings, onion and garlic.  Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat.  Spread in an even layer and roast for one hour, until meat and vegetables are very brown.

Transfer to a large pot.  Add carrots, celery, mushrooms and herbs.  Add water to cover (2-3 quarts).  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours, skimming foam off of top of pot occasionally. 

Strain into another pot and boil until reduced to 2 quarts, about 30 minutes longer.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Cranberry-Pepper Jelly

Make this wonderul spicy/sweet/tangy condiment now so that you'll have it next week for your turkey sandwiches.  And you might as well buy a extra bag or two of cranberries so that you can make more of it in December to give as Christmas gifts.  And to have to spread on cream cheese-laden crackers at your holiday party.  And...well, you get the idea.

Cranberry-Pepper Jelly
Makes about 2 cups.
Adapted from Bon Appetit. 

2 finely chopped red bell peppers
1 finely chopped Anaheim chile
1 finely chopped jalapeño chile, seeded (or not if you want the extra spice)
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pouch liquid pectin
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 bag fresh cranberries

Combine first six ingredients (through salt) in a heavy pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring often to dissolve sugar.

Stir in pectin and lemon juice.  Reduce heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Stir in cranberries and continue to simmer until cranberries burst nad juices thicken, about 10 minutes longer.

Transfer to jar(s), let cool and cover.  The jelly will keep up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Pecan Cheesecake Pie

I love "love child" recipes.  You know what I mean...what happens when sicky buns and pumpkin bread get together?  These.  Or the fabulous results when cornbread and butternut squash souffle hook up.

Well, here's another.  Pecan pie is always my contribution to the family gathering.  No more.  I'll be bringing this instead.

And I'm guessing there won't be any complaints.

Pecan Cheesecake Pie
Makes 8 servings.
From Southern Living.

1 refrigerated pie crust
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
4 large eggs, divided
3/4 cup sugar, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups chopped pecans
1 cup light corn syrup

Fit pie crust into a 9-inch pie plate according to package directions. Fold edges under, and crimp.

Beat cream cheese, 1 egg, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and salt at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Pour cream cheese mixture into pie crust; sprinkle evenly with chopped pecans.

Whisk together corn syrup and remaining 3 eggs, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla; pour mixture over pecans. Place pie on a baking sheet.

Bake at 350° on lowest oven rack 50 to 55 minutes or until pie is set. Cool on a wire rack 1 hour or until completely cool. Serve immediately, or cover and chill up to 2 days.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Cornbread, Chorizo and Jalapeno Dressing

Yes, I love my cornbread dressing redolent with sage and black pepper and studded with celery and onion like any other red-blooded American.  But who says that you only have to have ONE dressing at the Turkey Day feast?  This one has a great Southwestern flair.  And it would be great any time of the year alongside roast chicken or pork.

Cornbread, Chorizo and Jalapeno Dressing
Makes 12 servings.
From Cooking Light.

For the cornbread:

1 cup all-purpose flour (about 1 cup)
1 1/4 cups low-fat buttermilk
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese
Cooking spray

To make the cornbread:
Preheat oven to 350°. Place a 10-inch cast-iron skillet in oven as it preheats.

Combine flour and next 6 ingredients (through eggs) in a large bowl; fold in cheese.
Remove skillet from oven. Coat pan with cooking spray. Pour batter into hot skillet. Bake at 350° for 35 minutes or until edges are lightly browned and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack. Crumble corn bread into a large bowl.

For the dressing:
1 jalapeño pepper, halved
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 ounces Mexican chorizo, casing removed and crumbled
1 1/4 cups diced red bell pepper (1 large)
1 cup thinly sliced green onions
2 cups (1/2-inch) cubed French bread baguette (crusts removed)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1 (14.5-ounce) can fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
To prepare dressing:
Remove seeds and membrane from half of jalapeño. Coarsely chop both jalapeño halves. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add chorizo; sauté 2 minutes. Add jalapeño, bell pepper, and onions; sauté 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add chorizo mixture to cornbread mixture; stir in baguette, cilantro, egg whites, and broth, stirring until bread is moist.

Spoon cornbread mixture into a 13 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until lightly browned.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Chard with Parmesan and Pine Nuts

Got a big bunch of beautiful organic chard in our produce share this weekend. Looked around for some recipes and found one that inspired this dish.  Dee-lish.  And could work with spinach also I am betting.

Chard with Parmesan and Pine Nuts
Makes 3-4 servings.

1 large bunch chard (about one pound)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons pine nuts
Kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Separate the chard leaves from the stems.  Rip leaves into 3 inch pieces and slice the stems into 1/2 inch pieces.  Rinse the leaves thoroughly and dry in a kitchen towel.

In a wok  or large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and cook until lightly browned, stirring constantly, about two minutes.  Remove to a plate, saving as much oil in the pan as possible.

Reheat the oil and add the chard stems and a pinch of salt.  Cook until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add the chard leaves and cook until wilted, about 4 minutes.  Turn off the heat and add the butter.  Toss until butter is melted.

Serve chard and sprinkle each serving with Parmesan and pine nuts.  Add a grind of black pepper and enjoy.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Pork with Mustard Applesauce Sauce

Taking a break from Turkey Day prep and posting a recipe that we loved last night for dinner.  the Other Half loves applesauce with pork and I tend towards mustard.  So, in the spirit of Election Day bipartisanship, what happens when you merge the two?  This yummy, yummy dinner....

Pork with Mustard Applesauce Sauce
Makes 4 servings.

1 pound pork tenderloin or pork chops
1/2 cup applesauce
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons Dijon or Creole mustard
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pork.  Come on...you know how to do it.  Sear the tenderloin on all sides with a little olive oil in a sauté pan and finish in a 400° oven.  Or sear chops on each side for a few minutes until done. Set aside and keep warm  Got it?  OK...moving on.

Using the same pan you cooked the pork in, deglaze it with the applesauce, scraping the bottom to pick up all the delicious brown bits.  Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the mustard and whisk to combine.  Add the chicken stock and thyme and cook, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon over pork and serve.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Jellied Cranberry Sauce with Zinfandel

I am not fond of the canned jellied cranberry sauce that is often served at too many homes with the can creases still visible.  But I must admit I like the flavor and even the texture.  So I was glad to run across this recipe.  Better yet, it includes wine.

(And, by the way, think creatively.  No reason to relegate it to just a turkey sidenote.  It's a great sauce for pork.  And you'll thank me when you have a dab on a blue cheese-topped cracker.)

Jellied Cranberry Sauce with Zinfandel
Makes 3 1/2 cups. (Although the recipe is easily halved if you're not serving an army.)

1 bags fresh cranberries
3 cups sugar
1/2 cup red Zinfandel wine
1/2 cup cranberry juice cocktail
1/2 cup orange juice
(I will confess I didn't have cranberry juice cocktail when testing this recipe, replaced it with more red wine and orange juice and it was quite tasty.)
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary (optional)
Minced zest of one orange (I would consider this ingredient optional as well.)

Boil cranberries, sugar, Zinfandel, juices, rosemary and zest in a saucepan over medium-high heat for 7 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Press mixture through a colander, then through a fine mesh sieve.  (Or through a food mill with the medium blade, then the fine blade.)

Transfer the sauce to the mold(s) of your choice and chill until set.  (Hint: Give yourself enough time.  Mine (in small molds took a couple of days to gel up properly.)

Friday, November 02, 2012

Poached Trout with Onions and Fennel Seeds

The holidays are coming.  And it's likely that you're going to add few pounds.  No, you won't go overboard, but cornbread dressing, pumpkin pie, egg nog and tamales are things that no one should deny themselves completely.  So take the next couple weeks to make really smart decisions and get yourself to fighting weight.  Here's a recipe that fits the bill nicely.

I've been eyeing the cleaned whole trout at our local warehouse store for a while now.  But knew the other half wouldn't eat them, so what would I do with five at a time?  Mealsaver to the rescue.  Vacuum packed them all individually and threw them in the freezer.  All I have to do is take one out a day before I am ready to cook it, and voila...I'm set.  Used just that process to get one ready last week for this delicious, healthy dish.

Poached Trout with Onions and Fennel Seeds
From Saveur magazine.
Makes 2-4 servings.

5 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1 large yellow onion, cut crosswise into ½″-thick slices, separated into rings
1 large red onion, cut crosswise into ½"-thick slices, separated into rings
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced crosswise
1 2-pound whole trout, cleaned
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups white wine
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. fennel seeds
5 sprigs flat-leaf parsley

Heat oven to 350°. Place thyme, bay leaves, onions, and carrot in a 9" × 13" baking dish. Season inside of trout with salt and pepper, and place over onions; season with salt and pepper and set aside. Bring wine, oil, and fennel seeds to a boil in a 2-qt. saucepan over high heat; pour over trout and onions. Scatter parsley over top, and bake until trout is just cooked through and vegetables are soft, about 40 minutes.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Countdown to Thanksgiving

Well, here we are...it's November.  And you've probably already been thinking about the impending Turkey Day holiday that's already only three weeks away.  You probably have your time-honored traditions; we all do.  But I also think this is a great time of the year to take inspiration from others, tinker with traditional recipes, and come up with new ideas that will become traditions of their own.

For the last several years, I've posted recipes leading up to Thanksgiving to make things easier.  As well as follow-up tips for ways to use those leftovers.  You can find past posts by going up to that little search box on the upper left and typing in "Thanksgiving."

And stick with me this year...there's even more to come.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Keep in Touch on Facebook...

I have been so busy living the Beautiful Life that I have not had much time to post on this blog.  I am still trying new recipes, enjoying great cocktails and collecting tips to make life more beautiful though.  I will do all I can to get more things up online, including some great things leading up to Thanksgiving.

But there is another great way to keep up with the fun I am having.  Follow the Life Should Be Beautiful Facebook page.  I post on there almost every day.  Recipe links.  Photos.  Tips.  Words to the wise.  All sorts of goodies.  Follow it today and join in the fun!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Lemony Cucumber Salad

Cukes hang out in our fridge all the time.  They are ubiquitous in salads.  I love them on sandwiches of all kinds.  And they take to vinegar and salt like chips to dip.  So I mix them with other veggies and herbs and eat them as a snack or a healthy side item for lunch all the time.

Here's a perfect example.

Lemony Cucumber Salad
From Cooking Light.
Makes 8 servings.

1 cup thinly sliced radishes
1/2 cup finely chopped orange bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 English cucumbers, thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine first 4 ingredients in a large bowl.

Combine lemon rind and remaining ingredients in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Pour over cucumber mixture; toss well to coat. Serve at room temperature or chilled

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Spaghetti Squash with Tomato-Basil Sauce

I have learned that there is one major enemy in my ongoing weight loss attempts...

Carbs. At least the processed starchy kind.

I don't really crave them, but bread, rice and pasta are the things that bloat me up and pack on the pounds the quickest.  So I look for the high-fiber, whole-grain alternatives.  The bread I actually enjoy, but whole wheat pasta and brown rice are not on my list of favorites.  

The veggie world offers a pretty plausible substitute when you're having an Italian craving.  Try this recipe and then adapt to your liking.

Spaghetti Squash with Tomato-Basil Sauce
From Cooking Light.
Makes 6 servings.

1 (3-pound) spaghetti squash
Cooking spray
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14.5-ounce) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil, divided
6 tablespoons shredded pecorino Romano cheese

Preheat oven to 350°.

Cut squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds; discard. Place squash halves, cut sides down, on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until tender.

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes; bring to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat; stir in 1/3 cup basil.

Cool squash at room temperature for 10 minutes or until cool enough to handle. Scrape inside of squash with a fork to remove spaghetti-like strands to measure about 5 cups. Divide squash evenly among 6 plates; top each serving with about 1/3 cup sauce and 1 tablespoon cheese. Top with remaining basil.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Classic Returns: Poppy Seed Dressing

I mentioned in yesterday's post that I am working to lose some poundage.  That means lots more fruits and veggies..some days with nothing but fruits and veggies.

But I am NOT the type to be happy having steamed veggies and salads all day.  So I look for tricks that will entice me to eat what I should.  I have discovered that poppy seed dressing is one such trick.

I make a big batch of the recipe at this post.  (Read it all to learn the Neiman-Marcus genesis of the recipe.) I take the jar to work and leave it in the fridge.  When mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack time comes around, I smear a tablespoonful or so on the bottom of the bowl and drop in a big handful of halved strawberries.  Provides just enough sweet and sour tang (and yes, I know, sugar and fat) to make strawberries something I could eat everyday.  And a MUCH better alternative to a handful of pretzels or potato chips.

Try it and see what you think....

Monday, October 08, 2012

Back in the Saddle: Garlic Confit

Did you miss me?  Sorry to have been so scarce around here. Still cooking and cocktailing and enjoying the beautiful life.  Just so busy doing it that I haven't had time to come on and blog about it. I'll try to do better in the weeks to come.  And already have preloaded some great Thanksgiving posts that you won't want to miss.

Part of what has taken my time lately is the new (again) health kick I am on.  Eating well (and less) and exercising more.  Down 10 pounds in a month.  Hopefully I will keep with the trend...and I will definitely share some of the recipes and tips I'm learning.

This post shows you a good way to add a kick of flavor to the things you cook every night.  I found myself with a surplus of garlic the other day and decided to try this one.  It's easy and delicious.  Use a spoonful of the flavor boost in pasta after you've drained it, veggies after you've steamed them, or even as a sandwich spread. It makes mashed potatoes garlicky and, of course, is perfect for garlic bread.  Refrigerated, it will keep for up to 4 months.

Garlic Confit
From Food & Wine Magazine.
Makes 3 cups.

6 heads of garlic, cloves peeled (2 cups)
6 thyme sprigs
3 small bay leaves
3 dried red chiles, such as chiles de arbol
2 cups pure olive oil

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan and simmer over low heat until the garlic is tender but not browned, about 30 minutes. Let cool.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the garlic, herbs and chiles to three 1/2-pint canning jars. Pour the cooking oil on top, seal and refrigerate for up to 4 months.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Water, water, everywhere....

We've all read those stats of how many gallons of water we're supposed to drink a day.  I try...but good grief, I don't want to drown.

I found a blurb in Men's Health magazine that pointed out some other ways to take in that needed H2O.  Bonus is that you get fiber and nutrients at the same time. Here's the list (with percentages of water content by weight):

  • Cucumber (97%)
  • Radishes (95%)
  • Celery (95%)
  • Watermelon (91%)
  • Broccoli (89%)
  • Peaches (89%)
  • Yogurt (88%)
  • Carrots (88%)
  • Plums (87%)
  • Apples (86%)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Chicken Pot Pie with Potatoes and Leeks

It's finally starting to cool off here in Big D, so I'm ready to turn the oven back on. This one is worth the heat...

I'll admit that I don't use leeks a lot.  They are pretty labor intensive; you have to wash them carefully and then cut/cook them just right so you don't end up eating an approximation of an onion peel. But they are perfect in this recipe, adding a flavor that mere celery and/or onion couldn't provide.

Chicken Pot Pie with Potatoes and Leeks
Makes 6 servings.

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 slice bacon, chopped
1 1/2 cups cubed red potato (about 8 ounces)
1 large carrot, chopped
4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 leeks, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced (After slicing them, put in a bowl of cold water to clean thoroughly.)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups chicken broth
1 pie crust from a package of refrigerated crusts
1 tablespoon milk
1 large egg, slightly beaten

Preheat oven to 450°.

Cook bacon in the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until almost crisp, stirring frequently. Increase heat to medium-high. Add potato and carrot to pan; sauté 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chicken; sauté 3 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Stir in flour and next 3 ingredients (through pepper); sauté 1 minute, stirring frequently.

Slowly add broth to pan, stirring constantly; bring to a boil. Cook 2 minutes or until slightly thick, stirring occasionally. Spoon mixture into a 1 1/2-quart glass or ceramic baking dish. Top with dough, folding under and pressing down on edges to seal.

Combine milk and egg white; brush mixture over top of dough. Cut small slits in dough to vent. Bake at 450° for 30 minutes or until crust is golden. Let stand 10 minutes to cool before serving.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Lamb Lettuce Wraps

This is a nice Greek-Turkish fusion dish.  I ran across the recipe in Cooking Light magazine and adapted it slightly with a little less cinnamon and a bit of oregano.  And while they suggested hummus mixed with yogurt and a parsley/tomato/cucumber salad as toppings, we went full-on gyro with some tzatziki and a sprinkling of feta.  Speaking of, it would be yummy in a pita bread, although these lettuce wraps make it friendlier to folks avoiding the dreaded carbohydrate.

Lamb Lettuce Wraps
Makes 4 servings.
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
6 ounces ground lamb (If your grocery doesn't carry, buy a 10 ounce bone-in lamb chop, strip off the bone and grind in your food processor.)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 Boston lettuce leaves
Garnishes: tzatziki sauce, feta cheese, toasted pine nuts, chopped mint

Heat a large skillet over high heat.  Add oil and swirl to coat.  Cook onion for 2-3 minutes until just starting to turn translucent.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add lamb, cinnamon, oregano, salt and pepper to pan.  Sauté until lamb is done, about 5 minutes. Let cool slightly.

To serve, place about 1/4 cup lamb mixture in each lettuce leaf and garnish as you see fit.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

It's Sunday Brunch Time

Nothing better than Eggs Benedict for a leisurely Sunday brunch.  This version, which we devoured this morning, uses delicious prosciutto in place of Canadian bacon.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Easy Key Lime Pie

This is one of the best..and definitely the easiest to make..Key lime pies ever.

Easy Key Lime Pie
From Real Simple magazine.

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1 6-ounce can frozen limeade concentrate (not thawed)
1 cup heavy cream
1 6-ounce graham cracker pie crust
zest of 1 lime
Place the condensed milk, limeade concentrate, and cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat until fluffy and soft peaks form.

Pour the filling into the pie crust and smooth the top. Refrigerate until chilled and loosely set, at least 4 hours (and up to overnight).

Sprinkle the pie with the zest before serving.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Fish Tacos

There's lots of tilapia in our freezer.  I do a simple pan saute with it often, but here's a good way to switch things up.

Fish Tacos
Makes 8 tacos.

1 pound tilapia, cut into 8 equal portions
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs

Lightly coat each fish portion with flour.  Shake off the excess flour and dip into beaten egg.  Let excess drip back in to dish and dredge in panko.

Fry fish in a little oil in a saute pan until cooked through and golden brown.

Serve on corn tortillas topped with shredded cabbage and pickled radishes.  Or whatever garnishes you can come up with...

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Tuesday Tips

I try to be frugal in the kitchen.  While I don't spare on quality ingredients, I try not throw anything away.  Leftover wine goes into the vinegar crock.  (If you've never had homemade red wine vinegar, you don't know what you've missed.) Stale bread becomes breadcrumbs in the freezer before it goes bad.  And cherry tomatoes just past their prime get roasted and tossed in pasta for a light dinner.

Here are a couple more thrifty ideas that I was reminded of by a perusal of a recent issue of Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine.

  • If you've clipped too much of a woody herb like rosemary or thyme, tie it with twine and hang upside down for a week or so.  Transfer to a jar and use as dried herbs.
  • Keep a large zip-loc bag in the freezer. Dump veggie trimmings (onion peels, carrot tops, wilted celery) in and use to make stock periodically.  (The stock can be frozen too.  If you put into an ice cube tray, freeze and then store in another plastic bag, you can add to sauces and pasta dishes for an extra kick of flavor.)
  • And this one my grandmother would appreciate.  Strain sediment out of bacon grease after you've fried up a batch and keep in a jar in the refrigerator for up to six months.  Just a little (only half a teaspoon or so) adds a lot of flavor when you are frying an egg or sauteing greens.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Tomato, Squash and Red Pepper Gratin

It's Labor Day, but I can still find summer goodies at the farmers market.  Hopefully you can also.  If so, this is a perfect casserole that combines tomatoes and yellow squash--two ingredients ubiquitous in many a summer garden. As well as some fresh basil that is thriving despite the unbearable heat. And, of course, everything's better with a little Gruyere and some breadcrumbs.

Tomato, Squash and Red Pepper Gratin
From Cooking Light magazine.
Makes 6-8 servings.

5 teaspoons olive oil, divided
2 cups chopped red onion
1 1/2 cups chopped red bell pepper
1 pound yellow squash, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices (about 3 1/2 cups)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup cooked quinoa (Note:  I dind't have quinoa handy so I used some cooked wild rice.)
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
3 ounces aged Gruyère cheese, shredded (about 3/4 cup)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Cooking spray
1 1/2 ounces French bread baguette, torn
1 (12-ounce) beefsteak tomato, seeded and cut into 8 slices

Preheat oven to 375°.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 4 teaspoons oil; swirl to coat. Add onion; cook 3 minutes. Add bell pepper; cook 2 minutes. Add squash and garlic; cook 4 minutes. Place vegetable mixture in a large bowl. Stir in quinoa, 1/4 cup basil, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and black pepper.

Combine remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, milk, cheese, and eggs in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add milk mixture to vegetable mixture, stirring until just combined. Spoon mixture into an 11 x 7–inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Place bread in a food processor; pulse until coarse crumbs form. Return skillet to medium-high heat. Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add breadcrumbs; cook 3 minutes or until toasted. Arrange tomatoes evenly over vegetable mixture. Top evenly with breadcrumbs. Bake at 375° for 40 minutes or until topping is browned. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup basil.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: Tequila Cucumber Mint Cooler

I more and more am drawn to cocktails that are salads in a glass.  I love the trend that includes cucumber in the glass.  Here it partners with the heat of mint, the smoothness of elderflower liqueur and the bite of ginger beer for a drink that is sippable all the day long during your Labor Day weekend festivities.

Tequila Cucumber Mint Cooler
Makes one cocktail.

1 1/2 ounces silver tequila
1/4 ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur
3/4 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
5 very thin slices cucumber
2 mint sprigs
3 ounces ginger beer
Angostura bitters

Place tequila, St. Germain, lime juice, cucumber and mint in a shaker.  Add ice and shake briefly.  Pour into a collins glass and top with the ginger beer.  Add a dash of Angostura bitters to top things off.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes, Basil and Parmesan

This is one of those great pantry/farmers market throw-togethers that is quite the appropriate salute to the last days of summer.  You can still get great tomatoes and. hopefully, your basil plants are still producing.  With a little garlic and Parmesan, here's a dinner that would make an Italian happy.

Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes, Basil and Parmesan
Makes 4-6 servings.

2 1/4 pounds ripe tomatoes (I use an assortment of cherry tomatoes, Roma-types and big beefsteaks, preferably several different colors.)
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 pound spaghetti or angel-hair pasta
Parmesan cheese, for serving

Finely chop tomatoes, basil and garlic.  Stir together with olive oil.  (You can take the easy way out like I did and pulse it all in a food processor...you'll just lose a little texture that way.)

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water until al dente.  Drain the pasta and toss with the tomato sauce.  Season with salt and black and red pepper.  Drizzle with more oil and sprinkle with Parmesan.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Coctail of the Week: Pegu Club Cocktail

After a long break, I'm back blogging on this August Saturday evening.  I think that calls for a cocktail, and a semi-tropical one like this fits the bill perfectly.  Try it and see what you think...cheers!

Pegu Club Cocktail
Makes one cocktail.

2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
3/4 ounce orange curacao
1 dash orange bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

August is the Quietest Month...

Since I've heard from a couple of you faithful readers out there (who knew?), I thought I'd post a quick update and assure you that all is well in Life Should Be Beautiful Land.  This blog has always been a labor of love so when between unbearable heat, technology problems at home and too many other things on the to-do list, it becomes a chore, I give myself a forced time out.  Besides, I always thought the Spaniards had the best idea of all...basically shut down for the month of August.  (Don't believe me? Try and get something done with someone in Madrid these days.)

But, never fear, I've still been cooking and cocktailing, and gardening and shopping.  And also thinking...I have an idea for a series or two on things (gadgets, ingredients, techniques) that make life much more beautiful.  So stay tuned.  I'll be back soon...

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: Kona Swizzle

This time of year I always crave a trip to the tropics...it would still be hot, but at least I'd be on the beach with a cocktail by my side.  But since Hawaii or Tahiti aren't in the cards, I'll have to settle for the cocktail.

Get your swizzle sticks ready...this one simply screams for an umbrella garnish.

Kona Swizzle
Makes one cocktail.

4 tablespoons spiced rum
1 1/2 tablespoons orgeat syrup (almond syrup...Monin makes a great one.)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon simple syrup (or 1 sugar cube)
2 mint sprigs

Gently muddle all ingredients in a shaker.  Pour into a collins glass filled with crushed ice. Top with 2 dashes Peychaud's bitters and 1 dash Angostura bitters.  Garnish with a couple of mint sprigs.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Classic Pesto

My basil plants are thriving in this heat.  (Unlike our St. Augustine lawn...)  So much so that I have to pinch it back regularly to keep under control.  No worries there, just gives me an excuse to make a batch of classuc pesto to slather on tomatoes or a grilled chicken breast or toss with hot pasta. 

Keep it coming, basil.

Classic Basil Pesto
Makes about one cup.

1/4 cup pine nuts (I prefer this classic ingredient, but you can sub in walnuts or pecans if you don't have pine nuts on hand.)
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves (I like to blanch the leaves for mere seconds in boiling water and then shock in cold water...helps the pesto keep a vibrant green color when stored.)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves (optional)
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Combine first four ingredients in a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped.  Add the olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt and process until smooth.

Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the Parmesan.  Adjust seasonings with salt to taste.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Carrot Spinach Soup with Dill

Did you overdo it this weekend?  Too many burgers and dogs on the grill?  A margarita or two too many?  Make a batch of this soup for lunches the next couple of days.  I will admit it's not the most exciting recipe in the book, but it's quite healthful and Whole Living magazine says it's cleansing.

P.S. It makes three servings because this is supposed to be the dinner portion of a three-day cleanse.  Check last Sunday's post for the lunch-beet and avocado salad.

Carrot Spinach Soup with Dill
Makes three 3-cup servings.
From Whole Living magazine.

Soup Base:
1 large onion, diced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
7 carrots, diced (about 5 cups)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon coarse salt
8 ounces green beans, cut into 1/2-inch piece

For each serving:
1 packed cup baby spinach
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons lemon juice

In a pot over medium heat, cook onion in oil until tender, about 6 minutes. Stir in carrots, turmeric, and salt. Add 10 cups water, bring to a boil, then simmer, 30 minutes. Add beans and cook until just tender, about 2 minutes.

To serve, fill a bowl with spinach and dill. Ladle 3 cups hot soup over greens, cover with a plate, and let steep 5 minutes. Add lemon juice and serve.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Corn Chowder Salad

I've always liked the idea of corn chowder.  Who can find fault with a combination of corn, bacon and potatoes after all?

But I've never made it.  When corn is at its peak, it's hotter than hell here...who wants to make and eat hot soup???

Here's a nice compromise...the same flavors in salad form.  It's makes a great side dish and the leftovers are perfect for lunch. (You might add the bacon right as you serve it so that it stays crisp.)  Found the recipe in People magazine courtesy The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook. Cookbook looks like it's worth a purchase.

2 teaspoons olive oil
3 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces
8 ounces Yukon gold or red potato, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 red bell pepper, ribs and seeds discarded, cut into 1/2 inch dice
Kosher salt
3 cups fresh corn kernels
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced (Soak in cold water to remove some of the heat.  Drain before incorporating into salad.)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Crushed red pepper flakes

Cook the bacon in the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel to drain. Drain the bacon grease from the skillet, reserving two tablespoons.

Cook the potatoes in the 2 tablespoons of bacon drippings for five minutes until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Add the bell pepper, season with salt, and cook, tossing occasionally until the pepper and potato are tender, about 5 minutes longer.

Add the corn and cook 3 to 5 minutes until hot.

Transfer to a bowl. Add the onion, vinegar, and bacon.  Season with salt and red pepper and stir to combine. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: Tequila-Mint Smash

Cool and refreshing.  That's all I look for in a drink during these dog days of summer.  And if it's high-octane enough that I can sit an nurse it and not have to expend energy to mix another, all the better.  This one fits the bill nicely.

Tequila-Mint Smash
Makes one cocktail.

1 1/2 ounces añejo tequila
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier
3/4 ounce agave syrup
6-8 fresh mint leaves
4 lemon wedges

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice.  Shake vigorously and strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice.  Garnish with a mint sprig and enjoy.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Classic Caesar Dressing

The folks at Cooks Illustrated have a great series of "The Best..." cookbooks.  The Best Recipes.  The Best International Recipes.  The Best American Side Dishes. Etc.  They are great reference books and sit on the top left of my cookbook library shelves.

This time of year, as the 100° weather settles in, I crave salads more than ever.  Crisp and cool, they are the perfect meal requiring little to no heat and not too much energy-draining time in the kitchen.

And while I will make a chef's salad, spinach salad or farmers market salad any old day, the classic Caesar deserves a turn in the rotation.  And I found the perfect recipe for it in The New Best Recipe. I guess you could tinker with it to suit your tastes, but I see no reason to mess with perfection.

Caesar Dressing
Makes enough for four salad servings.

2 large eggs
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon minced garlic
4 anchovy fillets, minced to a paste (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Bring 2 inches water to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat.  Lower the eggs into the water and cook 45 seconds; remove with a slotted spoon.  Let cool slightly.  When cool enough to handle, crack the eggs open and separate, reserving the yolks and discarding the whites.

Add the lemon juice, Worcestershire, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, garlic and anchovies.  Whisk until smooth.

Whisking constantly, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream.  Season the dressing with salt and pepper to taste as needed.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Maple-Soy Chicken Thighs

No photo for this one since my final product was a little pasty looking.  Turns out I missed the step that calls for you to reduce the marinade to a glaze.  That would have made all the difference in the appearance of the completed dish.  They still had a wonderful flavor though...this is one I will revisit soon.  They would be great with a little couscous or rice and some steamed spinach or stir-fried bok choy.

Maple-Soy Chicken Thighs
Makes 4 servings.
From Cooking Light.

1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sliced green onions

Combine first 7 ingredients in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Place maple mixture in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add chicken thighs to bag; seal. Marinate in refrigerator 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375°.

Remove chicken from bag, reserving marinade.

Place marinade in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Cook until marinade reduces to 1/4 cup (about 5 minutes).

Arrange chicken in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Baste with 2 tablespoons maple mixture; sprinkle evenly with salt.

Bake chicken at 375° for 20 minutes. Turn chicken over; baste with remaining 2 tablespoons maple mixture. Bake 15 minutes or until chicken is done; sprinkle with onions.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Beet and Avocado Salad

Here is an absolutely delicious salad that combine things perhaps in ways you wouldn't think to.  (I certainly hadn't.)  It's crisp, earthy, and sweet all at once.  I made a big enough batch that it was a great lunch two days in a row.

Hint: Don't mix the beets in with the other veggies and lettuce until you're ready to serve.  The beets leach their color into its neighbors pretty quickly.  And sprinkle the sunflower seeds on at the last minute so they stay crunchy.

Beet and Avocado Salad
Makes 3 servings.
Adapted from Whole Living magazine.

2 beets, roasted, peeled and diced
4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 English cucumber, seeded, thinly sliced
2 scallions (green parts only), thinly sliced
3 cups sliced Romaine lettuce
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 avocado, diced
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, toasted

In a large bowl, toss beets, celery, cucumber, scallions, and avocado.

Shake olive oil, Balsamic and salt and pepper in small jar.

To serve, place one cup lettuce in bowl or on plate.  Top with beet mixture and drizzle with dressing.  Sprinkle with seeds and serve.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bacon-Stuffed Yellow Squash

You probably have a lot of squash around.  If you're ambitious, you're growing it yourself.  If you're a locavore, you head to the farmers market.  And if you're healthy-thinking (if a little lazy), you grab it at your neighborhood grocery.

The other half and I love it every which way.  Coated in cornmeal and fried to crispness.  Grilled after a marinade of balsamic and dried oregano.  Even simply boiled with a couple of slices of American cheese melted to gooey goodness.

Here's another version to try. The bacon keeps it just on this edge of healthy, but, heck...make it a main course and feel good about yourself.

Bacon-Stuffed Yellow Squash
Makes 6-8 servings.

12 small yellow squash
6 slices bacon, fried and crumbled (Reserve drippings.)
1 cup chopped onion
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat the oven to 325°.

Remove the stems from the squash and cook whole squash in salted boiling water until tender, but still firm, 8 to 10 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly.

Half each squash lengthwise and scoop out seeds.  Discard seeds.  Scoop flesh out of large end of squash, leaving 1/4 inch flesh on skin.  Place squash flesh in a bowl and mash with a potato masher.

Arrange squash shells cavity side up in baking dish treated with cooking spray.

Heat reserved drippings in skillet and add onion.  Sauté until tender, 4 to 5 minutes.  Add mashed squash and Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Stir over medium heat for 3-4 minutes. 

Remove from heat and add bread crumbs, bacon and cayenne.  Stir to combine.

Spoon mixture into squash shells and dot each with a pat of butter.  Bake until heated through and lightly browned, 30-40 minutes.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It's National Hot Dog Month!

Just found out from one of my many cooking/foodie e-mail newsletters that it's National Hot Dog Month.  That means it's the perfect time to repost an oldie but a goodie from last year.  Here's how you construct a perfect Chicago-style dog. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Summer Frittata with Zucchini and Corn

"Clean Out the Refrigerator" Quiche is a pretty regular Sunday night task around here.  I combine any veggies from the fridge are counter that are almost past their prime with eggs, a few herbs and maybe a handful of cheese.  Sometimes with a crust, sometimes without.  It means that tomatoes, onions, spinach, mushrooms and asparagus go into my breakfasts for the week rather than the compost pile.

With that logic, we might as well call this Farmers Market Frittata.  No leftover vegetables here...instead, stars of the summer harvest at the peak of their flavor.  Use the freshest, preferably local, produce you can find and see if you don't agree.

Summer Frittata with Zucchini and Corn
Makes 4-6 servings.
From Whole Living.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced
1 zucchini, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh corn kernels
Kosher salt
8 large eggs
Preheat broiler. In a medium ovenproof (preferably cast-iron) skillet, heat oil over medium heat and cook onion and jalapeño, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add zucchini and corn and cook until tender, about 7 minutes more. Season with salt.
In a bowl, whisk eggs with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pour into skillet with vegetables. Cook until sides are just beginning to set, 2 to 3 minutes.
Transfer skillet to oven and broil until just set in the middle and lightly golden and puffed on top, 2 to 3 minutes.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: A Simple Margarita with Simply Limeade

Everyone has their favorite margarita recipe.  (Mine actually involves a drive to Gloria's and the ordering of a Cointreau meltdown or two.) I posted one that I found in a fun little cookbook recently as a matter of fact.

Here's a formula for those evenings you simply don't want to try too hard.  I love the "Simply" brand of products...lemonade, raspberry lemonade and limeade.  I put the limeade to use in this simple, but tasty 'rita.

Simply Limeade Margarita
Makes 2 cocktails.

4 ounces Simply Limeade
2 ounces tequila
1 ounce triple sec
Juice of one lime (optional, but adds a nice tang)
Splash of mescal (optional, but do it if you have it...I have grown quite fond of the smokiness it brings to the cocktail party.)

MIx all ingredients together in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and strain into two ice-filled glasses with salted rims.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

El Fenix Enchilada "Gravy"

The other half had a craving for beef enchiladas the other day.  He makes a pretty good version using canned sauce.  But I had a hankering for cheese and onion enchiladas about the same time and decided I wanted them El Fenix-style.  (For those of you out of the Dallas area, El Fenix is a decades-old family run restaurant here in town.  Not the best food in the world, but quintessential Tex-Mex.)

Scoured the Internet for a copy cat recipe of their enchilada sauce and found this one.  It gets pretty close...mine was a little darker both in look and taste, but I think that's probably because I was using some really high-quality chili powder.  Next time, I'll experiment with that particular ingredient to see if I can get it closer.

In the meantime, this one is worth a try.  Those of you who are El Fenix aficionados, test it for me and let me know what you think in the comments below.

El Fenix Chili Gravy for Enchiladas
Makes enough for a full casserole of enchiladas

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon mexican oregano (optional, but very much worth using if you have)
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 cups chicken broth  (I might try beef broth next time.)

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-hi ghheat. Stir in flour and continue stirring for 3 - 4 minutes until it makes a light brown roux. Add all remaining dry ingredients and continue to cook for 1 minute, constantly stirring and blending the ingredients. Add chicken broth, mixing and stirring until the sauce begins to thicken. Turn heat to low and let sauce simmer for 15 minuntes. Add water as necessary if sauce becomes to thick. (Consistency should be like a gravy).

And you do know how to make enchiladas, right?  For cheese-onion, put some grated cheese and minced onion on a corn tortilla you've softened in some hot oil or chicken broth.  Roll, place seam-side down in a baking dish and cover with the sauce and some additional cheese.  Bake at 350° for 30 minutes until cooked through and bubbling.  To make beef enchiladas, sauté some chopped onion and ground beef in a pan until browned.  Add a little taco seasoning if you'd like but it's not critical.  Assemble just like you do the cheese-onion enchiladas.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Macaroni Salad

This is just as good as you remember from your trips to the cafeteria.  Maybe even better.  It's a perfect addition to a picnic or barbecue dinner menu.

Macaroni Salad
This recipe makes a whopping 10 cups.  Adjust amounts downward for a family dinner-size portion.

1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked, drained and cooled
1 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup diced green pepper
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup diced dill or sweet pickles, optional

1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons coarse-grain mustard
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk all dressing ingredients together in a large bowl.  Stir in the macaroni and vegetables and mix well.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Chill before serving.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Housemade Sweet-and-Sour Mix

If you follow this silly little blog, you know I believe in using quality ingredients in my cooking.  I believe the same thing about cocktails.  Not only good-quality spirits (which, by the way, doesn't always mean the most expensive) but fresh juices and herbs and mixes.  Here's a perfect example. 

Don't use that nasty neon green stuff that you can buy at stores that they call sweet and sour mix.  It's nastily sweet and reminds me of antifreeze.  Instead, mix up a batch of this and keep it in the fridge.  Your next margarita will thank me.

Housemade Sweet-and-Sour Mix
Makes 2 cups.

1/2 cup simple syrup
3/4 cup fresh lime juice
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup water

Mix all ingredients together and store in a jar or bottle in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Basil

It's that beautiful perfect time of year when tomatoes are abundant and delicious. (I'm concentrating on that piece of summer so I don't obsess on the hellaciously hot temperatures we'll endure for at least the next six weeks.)

I've used tomatoes from the farmers market and from a work colleague's garden plot to make mozzarella and tomato salad, bacon and tomato sandwiches and a big batch of salsa (that recipe still to come).

Last night, I had an assortment of a few tomatoes of different sizes and shapes: a pear tomato or two, a few cherry tomatoes and a big beefsteak with a couple of bruises.  Used them to make this wonderfully tasty dinner.  Italian summer on a plate....

Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Basil
Makes 6 servings.

(The quantities here are really just guidelines.  You could use the same ratios to make smaller batches, or adjust things if you'd like a little more basil or a bit less garlic.  A pinch of red pepper flakes might also be just what the doctor ordered if you'd like a hint of heat.)

2 1/4 pounds ripe tomatoes
3/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 pound cooked spaghetti or angel hair
Grated Parmesan cheese, optional

Finely chop tomatoes, basil and garlic and mix with olive oil.  (You can also process everything in a food processor to a rough chop or finer puree if you'd like things easy.  That's what I did.)

Toss sauce with hot pasta.  Drizzle a little more olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese before serving.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Basil Pesto

Summer is about fresh.  Tomatoes.  Squash.  Peaches.  All prepared with a minimum of fuss and very little heat.  So while the rest of our yard withers, I take advantage of the big bushy basil plants and whip up a batch of this delicious pesto.  With a tomato and a hunk of mozzarella, dinner is served.

Basil Pesto
Makes 1 1/2 cups

2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/2 cup pine nuts (or walnuts or even pecans)
Generous pinch of kosher salt
2 cups fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan (optional)

Prepare a saucepan of boiling water and an ice water bath.  Working in batches, blanch the basil leaves for 15 seconds and immediately plunge into the ice water.  Let cool, then drain thoroughly and pat dry to remove as much extra water as possible.

With the motor running, drop the garlic cloves into a food processor to mince.

Turn the processor off and add the walnuts and salt; pulse to coarsely chop the nuts.  Add the basil and process until finely chopped. 

With the machine running, drizzle the olive oil through the feed tube until pesto forms a puree.

If desired, add the Parmesan and process until pureed and incorporated fully.

(It's easy to freeze this in an ice cube tray and then dole out as necessary.  The blanching should keep the pesto a bright green.)

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Banana Nut Bread

We have fleas.  There...I said it. And, not literally, "we," but our yard and our pets.  The mild winter has meant an explosion of all sort of bugs.  We've got most of them under control but are still battling the fleas.

We try to be organic as much as possible and read that fleas are repelled/killed by banana peels.  So we've thrown them around the yard and under the deck.  Left me with quite a few bananas.  Time for this classic.

Banana Nut Bread
Makes one loaf.

2 ripe medium bananas, mashed
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans if you prefer)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325°. Butter and flour a 9x5x3 loaf pan.

Whisk bananas and eggs in large bowl to blend. Add remaining ingredients and stir to blend well.

Transfer to pan. Bake until top is golden brown and tester comes out mostly clean (a few crumbs is good). This will take anywhere from 1 hour to 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Cool in pan for 20 minutes, then finish cooling on rack.