Chicken Tinga Tacos

With all of the craziness of the holiday season, posting has been a little lighter than normal. Fortunately, I have been cooking the entire time- Christmas cookies, a very belated Friendsgiving, and this recipe for Chicken Tinga Tacos. I have mentioned before that I subscribe to numerous cooking magazines, and in effort to put many of the recipes to use, I have made a pact to try at least 1 recipe per week from a magazine. This recipe was at the top of my list in recipes to try, and for good reasons.

The chicken tinga tacos are divine. Deliciously spicy, juicy, and seasoned well, they pair well with a slaw, some lettuce, or just on top of a salad. The recipe is very easy to prepare, and more importantly, can be made in a slow cooker if desired. I chose to follow the recipe word for word, but have had friends who made the dinner in a slow cooker. I also made it on a Sunday, and served it on a Tuesday. It actually tastes better after the first day. The recipe is a winner in my book, and I'll be using it quite frequently in the future as I have just received my first poultry share from John Crow Farms.

Chicken Tinga Tacos
from Food & Wine Magazine, December 2011


1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 pounds trimmed, skinless, bone-in chicken thighs (I used boneless thighs)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 large garlic cloves, minced
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 canned chipotles in adobo, coarsely chopped (2 chipotles, not 2 cans)
1 cup chicken broth
12-24 corn tortillas
2 ounces Cotija cheese, crumbled
Sliced scallions and chopped cilantro, for garnish


Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper, add it to the skillet and cook over moderately high heat, turning once, until browned, about 12 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and pour off the fat in the skillet.

Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet along with the onion (I used the chicken drippings instead of the additional OO). Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is lightly browned and softened, 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, the chipotles and the broth and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened and slightly reduced, 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Transfer the sauce to a food processor and let cool for 15 minutes. Puree until smooth and season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Bake the chicken uncovered in the center of the oven for about 45 minutes, until the meat is tender and the sauce is very thick and darkened around the edges. Wrap the tortillas in foil and warm them in the oven for about 10 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the sauce and shred the meat; discard the bones. Return the chicken meat to the sauce. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of chicken onto each tortilla and sprinkle with the crumbled cheese. Garnish the chicken tacos with the scallions and chopped cilantro and serve hot.

MAKE AHEAD: The tinga can be refrigerated for up to 3 days and reheated gently.


Lavender Shortbread

I have always been curious about edible flowers. I've seen them, heard of them, but have never eaten them, until now. A few weeks ago, at my local farmer's market, I came across lavender buds, and knew that I had to have them.

Lavender is typically used in fragrances, candles, and cleaning products. I would guess that most people are unaware that it is actually edible! I decided to purchase the purple flower and try it out in some shortbread cookies. Coincidentally, Joy the Baker had blogged about lavender cookies a few weeks before I had bought some, and decided I would use her take on the cookie.

The dough was easy to work with, smelled delicious, and tasted even better. These are the perfect tea cookies, and give your mouth a lovely feel and taste! I will most certainly be making them again, as they make me feel quite sophisticated and feel as though I could easily fit in among the British :)

Lavender Cookies
adapted from Joy the Baker

1 tablespoon dried lavender blossoms

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon raw turbinado sugar- I used granulated sugar for the cookies, but turbinado for the topping

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 eggs, beaten (for egg wash)

extra sugar for sprinkling on top (I used turbinado)

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Set aside.

In a small spice grinder to grind up 1 tablespoon lavender and 1 tablespoon sugar. You could also use a mortar and pestle to grind the sugar and lavender together.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, fit with the paddle attachment add butter, ground lavender mixture, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Cream on medium speed until slightly more pale and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. There will still be raw sugar bits floating around. Add the flour. Mix on low speed until dough comes together. The dough will be crumbly, then begin to form when it continues to mix- about 5 minutes. Dump dough mixture out onto a clean surface and form into a ball with your hands. Shape each ball into a tube. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

Grab the dough out of the refrigerator, and slice into 1/4 inch slices. Use a fork to prick the tops of the cookies. Brush very lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Refrigerate cookies while oven preheats.

Place racks in the center and upper third of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. When oven is preheated, bake cookies for 8 to 11 minutes, until just browned around the edges. Mine erred on the 8 minute side. Remove from oven. Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Cookies last, in an airtight container at room temprature, for up to 4-5 days.


Baked Eggs with Sauteed Mushrooms & Spinach

In my home, eggs are typically a breakfast food or included in any baked good. They are not, however, often served at dinner, with vegetables. I was intrigued by a recipe in Food & Wine in the October issue that highlighted an egg dish made with spinach and mushrooms, and decided to try and incorporate it into one of our weekly meal plans.

At first, I could not understand why someone would want eggs at any other meal besides breakfast, but after devouring this delicious dinner, I totally get it. Eggs are meant for dinner too. The combination of wine soaked mushrooms and a sauteed kale (spinach if you'd like), is heavenly, and paired with some sunny side up eggs, the meal turns into a real winner. Additionally, this meal is quick to make, so it's a perfect weeknight dinner!

Food & Wine magazine has truly wowed me with their last few issues. I am certainly glad that I subscribe to it now, and most definitely will in the future, as long as the recipes are this great. Unfortunately, this will also mean my stack of magazines will not diminish any time soon. Any suggestions for keeping recipes from magazines in a more organized, less space taking way?

Baked Eggs over Sauteed Mushrooms & Spinach
adapted from Food & Wine Magazine

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large leek, white and light green parts only, cut into 1/2-inch pieces- I used an onion
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 pound white or cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 cup dry red wine
5 ounces baby spinach- I used kale
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 large eggs
4 slices of whole-grain toast

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a deep skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the leek and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the butter and mushrooms. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are softened and most of the liquid is released, about 7-10 minutes. Uncover and add the soy sauce and red wine and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until the liquid is reduced to 2 tablespoons, 5 minutes. Add the spinach (kale) and stir until wilted, 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Coat four 1-cup ramekins or small gratin dishes with oil. Transfer the mushrooms and spinach to the ramekins and crack an egg on top of each. At this step, I just kept my entire dish in my cast iron skillet, and cracked eggs on top. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the white is barely set and the yolks are runny. Let stand for 2 minutes; serve with the toasts.


Salted Caramels

I love salted caramels. Like LOVE. Like Super Duper LOVE them. The salty sweet combination is not only melt in your mouth delicious, but also addictive. Thankfully, this recipe makes more than I can possibly eat. I think.

I have never made salted caramels, and frankly did not want to even try to make them for fear of overeating them. This all changed when I received my swag bag at the Boston Brunchers Birthday Bash. The lovely little swag bag contained two different, beautiful cookbooks. One of them, the new Cook's Illustrated book, which hasn't even been opened yet,and the other, Salty Sweets, just begged me to open it. I have since made two recipes from this book, and both are extraordinary.

As soon as I turned to the Salted Caramels page, I knew I would be making them. I had some heavy cream waiting to be used, and a sweet tooth that needed to be satisfied. So my caramel making adventure began.

Caramel making can be tricky, and more importantly, the cook needs to always keep an eye on the hot liquid so that it does not burn. The directions in the book are very helpful, and ensure that the caramel will turn out well. A few words of caution though: always where shoes when making caramel in case the liquid splatters, keep stirring the pot to ensure even heating, and be prepared when the caramel bubbles profusely when the heavy cream mixture is added.

Overall, this recipe was very easy to make, as long as precautions are taken, and a careful eye is always on the pot. I suggest that you try it too! You'll love it, and more importantly, never have to buy caramels again!

Salted Caramels
from Salty Sweets, by Christie Matheson

1 cup heavy cream
5 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp fine sea salt
1.5 cups sugar
2 tbsp light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1 tsp fleur de sel

1. Line the sides and bottom of an 8 inch square baking dish with parchment paper. Lightly butter the parchment
2. Combine the sea salt, butter, cream and vanilla in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil the mixture for roughly 4 minutes, and then remove from heat and set aside.
3. In a heavy medium sized saucepan (err on the larger side), combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir the mixture until the sugar is dissolved completely. Once the sugar is dissolved, boil without stirring- swirling the pan occasionally to keep the mixture cooking evenly- until it is a light amber color and the candy thermometer reads 340 degrees F. This should take about 7 minutes.
4. Turn the heat down to medium low, and carefully stir in the cream mixture. The addition of the cream will make everything foam a lot, so be prepared. Simmer the caramel, stirring often, until the it is 246 degrees F on the candy thermometer, about 6-8 minutes. The temperature may hover in the 200 to 220 range for a while, and then it will start to increase pretty quickly, so watch it carefully.
5. Stir in the fleur de sel, then pour the caramel into the prepared baking dish. Do not scrape the saucepan or you might get some burned bits that might be stuck to the bottom. Let the caramel cool for at least 3 hours. Cut the carmel into 1 inch squares and wrap each square in waxed paper or aluminum foil. The caramels will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.


Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onions and Blue Cheese Focaccia

Have you ever made focaccia? It's kind of a cross between a Sicilian bread crust and flat bread. The bread is made just like any other yeasted bread, and involves rising time, punching it down, and a second rise. Unfortunately, I do not get to make it as often as I would like, but recently I had the time to make it, and create a very seasonal focaccia pizza!

The dough is super easy to make, and more importantly, can be flexible to your schedule. I made the dough in my KitchenAid mixer (though I am sure you could do it in a food processor), and let it rise for about 4 hours, instead of the 2 hours instructed in the recipe. The reason for this being that my home is a little cooler, and I was gone during that 4 hour period. After arriving home, I stretched out the dough to fit a cookie sheet, placed it on it, and let the dough rise for a second time, which lasted about 2 hours.

I decided to top the focaccia with some seasonal veggies, including butternut squash and caramelized onions. I lasted put on some Great Hill Blue Cheese from Marion MA. If you have never tried Great Hill Blue, you definitely should. The cheese is terrific with a great balance of flavors that is not overpowering to first time blue cheese eaters.

After about 30 minutes, which seemed like an entirnity due to the delicious smells coming from the oven, I had myself a beautiful focaccia pizza! The crust and toppings tasted amazing together, and I will definitely be using this recipe again.

Rosemary and Olive Oil Focaccia Bread
Adapted from Flour Cookbook

1 3/4 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 tsp active dry yeast
3 1/2 cup All Purpose flour
1 1/4 cup bread flour
3 tsp kosher salt
2 Tbs sugar
3/4 cup olive oil- I used less on the top of the focaccia as it seemed like a lot.
2 Tbs Rosemary, roughly chopped- I used Thyme as that is what I had on hand

Combine the water and yeast together in the bowl of a standing mixer, and allow the yeast to start to dissolve, about one minute. Add the flours to the yeast mixture, 1 tsp of the salt, and sugar and turn the mixer on low, allowing the dough hook to bring the whole thing together. When the dough is a shaggy ball slowly drizzle 1/2 cup of the olive oil into the bowl. Continue to knead the dough with the mixer until it is a smooth ball - 4-5 minutes on a low speed. When the dough is smooth, turn the dough ball into an oiled smooth bowl. I use the same bowl- just take the dough ball out, spray with olive oil, and place back in. Cover the bowl with a lightly oiled piece of plastic wrap and let it rise somewhere warm (70-80 degrees) until doubled in volume, about 2 hours. For a cooler house, the rising will take longer. Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a 10"x15" cookie sheet spread with cornmeal. Stretch the dough until it fills the cookie sheet and poke it with your fingertips. Brush the top of the focaccia dough with the 1/4 cup of olive oil (I used less) and sprinkle the salt and rosemary (sage) on top. You can put toppings on it now if you would like, or bake plain. Bake the focaccia at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown and puffed.


Boston Brunchers at ICO Bar

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to dine once again with the Boston Brunchers for their 1 year anniversary at the Island Creek Oyster Bar in the Fenway neighborhood. Once again, the brunch was outstanding, the company fabulous, and the swag unreal!

A little background; The Boston Brunchers are a group of hungry eaters, bloggers, and tweeters who have monthly meet-ups at various brunch spots around Boston and the great Boston area. The group is typically given a sampling of a brunch menu at that specific restaurant, and later some members of the group may choose to review the experience. This benefits both the restaurant and the brunch eaters of Boston because everyone knows exactly what to expect at each restaurant.

Onto the dirty details! The ICO Bar generously hosted 40, that's right, 40 brunchers on Sunday and provided a delicious meal for all! We started with a choice of three available cocktails, followed by some house made pastries, and lastly finished off with a choice of brunch entree. The menu was as follows:

Bloody Mary- regular, extra spicy, or house
Red Beer- ICOB pilsner with homemade sangria
McCarthy's Crossing- Pear Brandy, Spiced Honey, Rose Vermouth, Bubbles, and Lemon

Pastries- blueberry muffins, doughnut muffins, cinnamon rolls, croissants, citrus scones, and raspberry coffee cakes

Main Course:
House Smoked Salmon with bagel, chive cream cheese, pea greens
Cinnamon French Toast with caramelized apples and toasted walnuts
House-made Baked Beans with slab bacon and a fried egg
Ethel's Lobster Roll with kettle chips, Cole slaw and on a rosemary roll

With a menu like this, it was certainly hard to choose what to eat. Thankfully, everyone that I ate with loved to share! My cocktail choice was the McCarthy's Crossing as it had sounded super unique, and I LOVED it! I am typically not a brandy lover, but the flavors of the drink melded so well together that I couldn't even tell that there was brandy in the drink. I tried both the citrus scone and cinnamon roll during the pastry round, and while I loved both, I happened to really like the citrus scone as it was refreshing yet sweet. Lastly, for the main course, I split my dish with Taryn, and we shared both the baked bean dish and the lobster roll. Both were outstanding! I only wish the baked bean dish had an additional egg so that there was more yolk to mix into the beans! Overall though, I would most certainly go back to ICO Bar. The food was great, service terrific, and restaurant decoration amazing!

Thank you to Boston Brunchers, ICO Bar, and all involved for hosting such a wonderful meal for so many to share! Thank you to the sponsors of our SWAG bags which included many wonderful and fun gadgets, books, and foods! To see the full list, check out the Boston Brunchers website.


Healthy Habits Kitchen

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Healthy Habits Kitchen in Wellesley. Healthy Habits is a small business that operates as a meal prep kitchen where busy families can come and put together, or just choose, meals that are guaranteed to be cooked in 30 minutes or less. All meals are designed to be less than 400 calories a serving; sides excluded, and are verified by a resident nutritionist.

I had heard about businesses like Healthy Habits before, specifically, Dream Dinners, but have never actually participated in the programs. Personally, I could never justify the cost for a meal, when I would only be cooking for two people. Healthy Habits has very reasonably priced meals though, which quite frankly, was surprising given the ingredients they use. They use produce from local farmers, and meats that contain no antibiotics, hormones, etc.

When visiting HHK, the owner spoke about the origin of the business, why she thought it would work, and most importantly how they captivate and keep regular customers. After her talk, I was hooked! I think it's a fabulous idea to have the option of having a home cooked meal, with all of the tedious slicing, dicing, and marinating already complete for you.

Let's get on to the good stuff though- the food! Healthy Habits fed a group of us a meal that they would have on a menu for folks to purchase on a regular basis. We tried root beer float pork, salsa chicken, quinoa salad, and dark cherry chocolate cookies. I was pretty skeptical, but after trying all of the food, I was impressed! It was all very tasty, and my favorite was actually the quinoa salad. I think it was the vinaigrette and veggies that really sold me.

I left HHK with a meal of turkey pumpkin chili to make when I had a chance. I have not tried it yet, but am anxiously waiting! The beauty of all of the foods that HHK sells is that they are all prepackaged in boxes that can immediately be put into the freezer.

I highly recommend Healthy Habits Kitchen for busy families, or anyone for that matter!



Between weekend travels, house decorating, and loads of work, I somehow tried to squeeze in some last of summer pickling. I happen to have a special place in my heart for dill pickles. They were a constant in my home growing up as my brother LOVED pickles as much as a dog loves bones. So, by default, I had them a lot too.

This year I decided to give pickling some cucumbers a go. I did not realize that it was so simple to pull together, and quite honestly, it took about 15 minutes hands on time! That's my type of canning! I will most certainly be pickling more next summer as it is really easy, and maybe I'll even try sweet pickles, as Jack likes them.

I have not tried my pickles yet, but if they are anything like all of the other recipes in Put 'Em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton, then I have no doubt they will be tasty. If you are a newbie to home canning, this is a terrific book to have. I love it because the recipes are all super simple, and are more current than those in the Ball Canning Book. Try it out!

Dill Pickles from Put 'Em Up

5 lbs cucumbers, ends removed, and cut into spears that will fit into the jars you are using
1/2 c salt
2 c of ice cubes
4 c distilled white vinegar
2 c water
2 tbsp sugar
8 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tbsp dill seed (or use fresh dill, which I did)
1 tsp celery seed
1 tsp peppercorns

1. Layer the cut cucumbers with salt in a large bowl and cover with ice cubes. Set aside for at least 2 hours. Drain rince, and pack into already hot jars. I suggest to start boiling your jars at the 1.5 hour mark. This way your jars will be hot just as your cucumbers will be done draining.

2. Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, garlic, dill seed (or fresh dill), celery seed, and peppercorns in a medium nonreactive saucepan, and bring to a boil. When at boiling stage, pour the brine over the spears which are in the jars already. Leave about 1/2 inch of headspace at the top of the jar.

3. To can using the boiling water method, release the trapped air, wipe the rims clean, and put the lids and screw bands on the jar. Process in the boiling water for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat source, remove the canner lid, and let the jars rest in the water for 5-10 more minutes. Remove the jars from the water and let sit, undistrubed for 24 hours. Check the seals and then store in cool, dark place for up to a year.


Canning Craze

With summer on its last legs, I have been trying to save away the best of it by canning loads of fresh veggies. You'll have to forgive my absence, as most weekends have been spent blanching, chopping, and stewing tomatoes, pickles, and peaches. This of course, is not to say I mind spending time now in the kitchen so as to save for later, rather, I do enjoy it, but it just gets Hot, Hot, and more Hot! The only thought that helps me get through it, is knowing that come January, I will have fresh peaches and tomatoes whenever my heart desires.

This year, I tried a few new recipes, including canned pizza sauce and peach butter. The pizza sauce was incredibly time consuming, but I believe it will be totally worth it as it will save both time and money later in the year and early next. The reasoning for the lengthy recipe time was really the de-seeding and de-juicing of the tomatoes. Who knew tomatoes had so much liquid and seeds?!

Canned peaches for winter eating

While the pizza sauce was extremely tasty, what I really want to share is the recipe and method for making peach butter. I was inspired to make it when my best friend gave me a jar of it from Lancaster County (PA), and then Jack unfortunately dropped the jar and broke it before I even had a chance to try it! I decided that it looked and smelled tasty enough to give it a try, and I am very glad that I did.

The beauty of this recipe is that you can actually use peach "seconds," or those peaches that might have a small blemish or hole which would otherwise be unappetizing. I purchased a 20lb basket of peaches, and used some of it to make the fruit butter. The first step is the blanch the peaches to rid of the skin. Next, dice peaches and put into a non-reactive pot along with a variety of spices. Lastly, you will need to use a stick blender or potato masher to rid of any remaining chunks, and then process in clean cans.

Fortunately, this recipe can be scaled down if you would like, and none of it has to be canned at all. You can make a few jars to just store in your refrigerator, however, it will only last about 6 months at most.

Peach butter, while a little time consuming, is a great way to put away fresh peach flavor for a cold, snowy day. The butter certainly gives you a taste of summer on a piece of toast. I highly recommend making it, if you can score some peaches!

Peach Butter
from Ball "Complete Book of Home Preserving"

4.5 lbs peaches- peeled, pitted, and coarsely chopped
1/2 c water
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
4 c sugar

1. In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine peaches, water, lemon zest, and juice. Bring to boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring occasionally, until peaches are soft- about 20-25 minutes

2. Using stick blender, puree peaches, but do not liquefy. Measure 8 cups of peach puree.

3. In a clean saucepan, combine peach puree and sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil over med-high heat, stirring frequently. Be careful not to burn or scorch. Reduce the heat, and boil gently, stirring often, until the mixture thickens and holds its shape on a spoon.

4. If canning, prepare the canner, jars, and lids. If not, put into jars and let sit out to cool. Put in refrigerator when cool. Store for up to 6 months.

5. When jars and lids are ready, ladle the hot butter into the hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch of head space. Wipe the rim, center the lid on the jar, and screw the band tight.

6. Place jars in canner, and make sure they are covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove the canner/pot lid and let stand for 5 minutes. Remove jars and then cool and store.


Homemade Celery Salt and a Pyrex Scare

Heidi from 101 Cookbooks recently posted a recipe on how to make homemade celery salt, and it certainly intrigued me. While celery salt is not a spice that I tend to reach for on a regular or even semi regular basis, I thought that it could become part of my repitoire, specifically on my morning eggs. The trouble with the recipe though, was finding celery that still had leaves intact.

Fortunately for me, Allandale Farm had homegrown celery at their farmer's market stand in Roslindale last weekend-I was in luck! Later that week I finally had a chance to make the spice, and it sure was easy! All that was involved was chopping the leaves off of the celery stalk, and then spreading the leaves on baking sheet and baking for 5 minutes. Lastly, the leaves need to be crumbled and then an equal amount of salt should be added to the dried celery leaves, which then completes the spice. After a quick shake together, you have a homemade spice!

I have used the celery salt on scrambled eggs, salad, and bread. I definitely have a new appreciation for celery salt, and will be trying to make other spices soon.

On a totally separate note, I wanted to talk about a terrible and scary experience that I had this morning while making bread. I was trying out a recipe from my new book, "Aritsan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day," which asked that you put water into a dish that was sitting in an already preheated oven. The book did mention to use the broiler pan, however, I do not have one, so I used a Pyrex dish. When I started pouring the water into the already hot dish, the dish exploded in the oven! Fortunately, no one was hurt, and the bread was still intact, but I now will not be using Pyrex in the future.

Apparently, after I conducted some research, I found that Pyrex cannot be subjected to extreme temperature changes, or else it will explode. This began occurring when the company was sold, and the manufacturing of the products was outsourced. The manufacturer switched to a cheaper raw material, which is when all of the instances of exploding Pyrex dishes started to occur.

I wanted to tell everyone this so that extra care and precaution is taken when using Pyrex dishes. I hope this does not happen to you!


Grilled Panzanella

Summer is certainly flying by, and it seems to be even quicker this year! It is already tomato and eggplant season, and I can already smell the onset of fall in the early mornings. Before fall arrives though, I am trying to utilize loads of new recipes involving late summer's bounty, and more specifically, our garden's bounty.

While perusing through one of my many monthly cooking magazines, bon appetit, I stumbled across Grilled Panzanella and thought it would really be a perfect summer dinner, especially when it gets too hot to really cook at all. As tomatoes are in season, and I had a few extra summer squash hanging around in the crisper, I decided to incorporate these two items along with some basil paste in a lovely salad with some delicious garlic bread.

If you have not read August's bon appetit, I suggest you pick it up soon as it has loads of recipes that incorporate summer veggies and fruits. I have many page flagged down in it, as all of the recipes look very tasty, and more importantly, simple.

How have you been using summer veggies? Any suggestions to try?

Grilled Panzanella
adapted from bon appetit, August 2011

1.5 cups fresh basil leaves, divided
2/3c plus 2 Tbsp EVOO, divided
1 large shallot, thinly sliced (I used green onion)
1 small red jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
2 tsp grated lemon zest
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 lbs ripe tomatoes, various varieties
1 12oz rustic bread
1 garlic clove, halved

Puree 3/4c basil leaves and 1/3c plus 2 Tbsp oil in blender until smooth. Set a strainer over a large bowl. Strain mixture into bowl, pressing on solids to extract as much oil as possible. Discard the solids left in the strainer. Add shallot, chile, lemon zest, and lemon juice to the basil oil. Whisk to blend and season to taste with S&P.

Slice tomatoes into assorted wedges, rounds and cubes. Add to the bowl with the dressing and toss to coat. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat a gas grill to high or if doing inside, your broiler to high. Brush the bread with remaining 1/3c EVOO, season with S&P, and grill/broil until charred ins pots. Rub grilled bread with cut sides of the garlic clove, and then tear into bite sized pieces.

Add bread and remaining 3/4c basil leaves to bowl with the tomato mixture and toss to coat. Season the panzanella to taste with S&P and serve.


Homemade Ricotta Cheese

As part of my Christmas present last year, Jack so graciously gave to me (and him!), cheese making classes with none other than the Cheese Queen herself, Ricki Carroll. The gift involved a 6 hour class at Ricki's beautiful and eclectic home in Western Mass. We started with making a farmer's cheese, which we unfortunately did not get to taste. However, throughout the day, we sampled various types of yogurt, two types of ricotta cheese, queso blanco, and her beloved 30 minute mozzarella.

If you have never made cheese, the task itself can seem quite daunting, however, after watching Ricki work her magic, the craft of cheese making seems much easier than originally thought. After leaving class, and picking up numerous supplies, Jack and I set out to find "good" milk. Good milk is defined as milk that has been pasteurized at a temperature that is less than 180 degrees F. Believe it or not, finding milk that has been pasteurized at less than 180 degrees is extremely difficult, even at Whole Foods. We tested out a few brands, and decided that either Sky Top Farms or High Lawn Farms milk are the best available at our grocery stores. It should be noted that there are a few local dairies near Boston that will deliver to your door that more than likely have good milk, however I have yet to try them out.

I have to admit that Jack was the first of us to try to make cheese. He successfully made both mozzarella and queso blanco cheese, and they both tasted terrific! I finally took decided to try to make ricotta cheese, as it was both simple to make and easy to use in so many recipes.

The method for making ricotta cheese is fairly simple. Bring a mixture of milk and citric acid to a temperature of 190 degrees, make sure the milk starts to separate from the whey, and turn off the stove and let the mixture sit for 5 minutes. After the resting period, drain the mixture into a cheesecloth lined strainer. Gather the cheesecloth and tie into a knot and let hang to drip for at least 30 minutes, and up to overnight. See, it's simple!

I used the ricotta cheese in a Zucchini and Ricotta cheese galette. I have to admit, it certainly took a plain old galette to the next level. The homemade cheese really makes a difference in the taste of all of the foods that it is used in.

Here is the link to Ricki's website, which also includes the recipe for Ricotta cheese, amongst many others.


Julia Child's Potato Salad

I have always disliked potato salad. Much like the case with pasta salad, which is typically drenched in some sort of condiment, potato salad most always has loads of mayonnaise, which I despise! Recently, when reading through my new issue of Vegetarian magazine, I stumbled upon a recipe for potato salad that did not contain mayo. Seeing this led me to think that there had to be other recipes for potato salad that did not contain mayo.

Fortunately for me, a quick google search led me to a recipe by one of my favorite chefs, Julia Child. I would have never thought that the queen of butter would have a lower fat and non mayo containing version of a delicious summertime treat! After a quick review of the recipe, I realized that this particular recipe would be one that I would use time and time again.

Red potatoes are cooked for about twenty minutes, and then let to cool off until able to handle with your hands. After a little slicing and dicing, the potatoes are drizzled with some EVOO, white wine vinegar, parsley and S&P amongst other items. The end result is a refreshing, light and mayo free salad! I highly recommend making this version of potato salad, and especially recommend eating it a day after making so that all of the flavors have a chance to meld together.

French Potato Salad
from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking"

1 1/2 pounds red potatoes
2 Tbs shallots or scallions, finely minced
White pepper, freshly ground
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 Tbs white wine vinegar
2 to 3 Tbs fresh parsley, chopped
2 to 3 Tbs light olive oil, optional

Fill a three-quart saucepan half full with cold water.
Wash the potatoes and drop into pot full of water. Cook in simmering water for about 20 minutes. Drain and set in a bowl to cool enough until able to touch. Slice the cooled potatoes, and then toss with scallions, S&P, white wine, vinegar, and olive oil. Sprinkle on parsley to garnish. Allow salad to rest 30 minutes to give the dressing time to be absorbed by the potatoes. The salad is best the next day.


A Pasta Salad fit for Summer Heat

Memorial Day weekend in New England was HOT! It was at least 80 degrees on Sunday and Monday, which lent itself to Jack and I being unable to eat heavy meals. On Monday we decided that a pasta salad was in order because it's not too heavy and it's served cold.

I don't typically love pasta salads because they are either filled with mayonnaise (which I hate!), or drowned in salad dressing. I happened to stumble upon one though that fit the bill for both Jack and I. The salad involved lots of spring veggies and a roasted red pepper dressing. The dressing had about 5 ingredients in total, and was very light in heft but heavy on flavor.

Overall the Roasted Red Pepper pasta salad was a hit, especially with the addition of some bleu cheese. It was certainly filling, but did not make you feel overly full which was ideal with the heat we are experiencing.

I suggest you try this out for any hot summer night, and think that the peas could very easily be substituted for eggplant and squash, depending on the season.

What is your go-to hot summer night meal?

Roasted Red Pepper Salad
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 pound of small pasta- I used a spinach pasta
1/4 pound snow pea pods, ends trimmed
1/2 pound fresh summer peas, which yielded about 1 cup once shelled
3/4 to 1 cup Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette (recipe below)
1/4 cup bleu cheese crumbles

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and prepare a small ice water bath. Boil the pea pods for about two minutes. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and drop them in the ice water bath or strainer under a cold water facet. Cook the peas for about 10 minutes, scoop them out with a large slotted spoon and plunge them into the ice water bath as well (or cold water/strainer method). Drain both peas. Cut the snow peas into thin slivers.

Add the pasta into the boiling water and cook it according to package instructions. Drain and let cool, then toss in a large bowl with peas and Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette and cheese, seasoning to taste.

Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette

Makes about one cup of dressing

1 red bell pepper, roasted, skinned and seeded or the equivalent from a jar, drained- I used a pepper from a jar
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (and up to 2 tablespoons more if you, like us, like that extra bite in your dressing)
1 tablespoon chopped shallot (about 1 small)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Several grinds of black pepper

Puree the red bell pepper in a food processor or blender as much as possible, then add the remaining ingredients and running the machine until the dressing is silky smooth. Adjust the vinegar level and seasonings to taste.


An Ode to Asparagus Pizza

Asparagus season might be my favorite time of the year. It signifies the renewal of spring and warm weather, and shows us that winter did not conquer all green and delicious living things. The first sighting of asparagus at the farmer's market or farm stand really makes my heart jump for joy with all of the prospects that the veggie has.

One of my favorite ways to serve up asparagus is in pizza form. With the guidance of Deb, Jack and I have mastered pizza making from start to finish, including a way to incorporate this odd veggie topping. The blend of Parmesan and mozzarella really lend an otherwise crunchy vegetable, a smooth and creamy texture that melts in the mouth. This is one pizza recipe that you will be sure to bookmark for years to come.

A few notes about the pizza dough. We use Deb's recipe with the addition of whole wheat flour. It yields one very thin crust, one that we unfortunately just discovered burns entirely too easily on the direct heat from a grill. My suggestion is to use a pizza stone in an extremely hot oven instead of even attempting to grill. Another note- with an oven at the high temperature of 500 degrees, be sure to block off any sensitive fire alarms. Ours go off as soon as the oven even hits 375!

What is your favorite way to cook asparagus?

Asparagus Pizza
from Smitten Kitchen

1 recipe pizza dough- we use this one
1/2 pound asparagus
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 pound shredded mozzarella
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Several grinds black pepper

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees (or highest temperature it can handle)

For the Asparagus: Use a vegetable peeler to slice the asparagus into thin strips, or if you are impatient, slice the asparagus very carefully, into thin strips. Mix the strips with olive oil, salt and pepper in a bowl.

For the Pizza: Roll your pizza dough to a 12-inch round. Transfer to a cornmeal-dusted pizza stone or baking sheet. Sprinkle pizza dough with the Parmesan, and then the mozzarella. Place asparagus on top of the cheese. Bake pizza for 10 minutes, or until edges are browned and the cheese is bubbly. Note that the asparagus might be lightly charred, but that is okay! Remove from the oven, slice and eat.


Flourless Chocolate Cake in a Jar

On Mother's Day, Jack and I celebrated a different holiday than most- Lilac Sunday at the Arnold Arboretum in Roslindale. The Arboretum hosted hundreds of visitors who toured the lilac collection, walked throughout the park grounds, and picnicked with family, friends, and dogs.

Jack and I were tasked, or rather, I volunteered to make desserts for our friends who would be joining us. I have been spotting various recipes around the blogosphere for cakes baked in jars, and decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to make one. I must admit that I was a little unsure at first as to how to proceed- did I need a specific cake recipe, how full should I fill the jars, did I need to alter the baking time?

Finally, I decided I would bake a cake as though I were making it in a small Pyrex baking dish. I poured each mason jar about 1/3 of the way full, and the cake rose some, but not a lot, as I had chosen a flourless cake recipe. All in all, I was very pleased with the results, however, I wish that I had stuck with all 4 oz jars instead of some 6 oz and some 4 oz jars. These were perfect for a day in the park, and the cake itself was delicious. In fact, this cake has made it into the running as one of our many recipes for our wedding cakes!

Have you ever tried baking cake in a mason jar?

Flourless Chocolate Cake
from here, where it was adapted from Gourmet Magazine 1997

4-oz dark or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup cocoa powder (pref. dutch process)

Preheat oven to 375F. Line an 8-inch cake pan with parchment paper and lightly grease. Or alternatively, spray 6 mason jars with cooking spray
In a small, microwave-safe bowl, melt together chocolate and butter, stirring with a fork until very smooth.- I used the double boiler method for melting
Pour warm chocolate mixture into a medium mixing bowl with sugar. Whisk to combine. Beat in eggs one at a time, waiting until each has been fully incorporated to add the next, then mix in vanilla extract. Sift cocoa powder into the bowl and whisk until well-combined.
Pour into prepared cake pan or pour a mason jar 1/3 of the way full. If using mason jars, place on a baking sheet for ease of moving from counter to oven and back
Bake for 25 minutes for cake made in pan, or 20 minutes for cakes in mason jars.
Allow cake to cool in pan for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the cake and invert onto a serving platter. Dust with cocoa powder, if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store leftovers in an airtight container.

*Note- I recommend using 4oz jars as they look more full when finished. Also, do not bake with the metal rims on the jars.