Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Book Club part 2

I mentioned that I'd share the other two apps after I fussed over caramelized bacon for a few days weeks.

Without further ado, here they are! 

Balsamic Pears with Taleggio (click here for recipe)

 Balsamic Pears with Taleggio
photo courtesy of

I cut this recipe out of the Wegmans magazine over six years ago and just now tried it.   I'm actually not kidding, and the proof is that we moved here four years ago, and Richmond doesn't even have a Wegmans. On that note, start rant. WHY, OH WHY doesn't this place have a Wegmans?! It is on the short -- very, very short -- list of things I miss about living in the DC area.   Considering the demise of Ukrops and its characterless replacement, the market here is totally ready for it. Please, Danny Wegman, I beg you to make it happen.   End rant. Sorry, that topic gets me amped.

Back to the topic at hand: yummy appetizers.  This little bite delightfully mingles a variety of textures with barely toothy fruit, crispy pastry and gooey cheese.  Even better: the complex flavor profile. Sweet, cinnamon spiced pears sing with a backdrop of balsamic vinegar accented with woodsy rosemary.  And then it's topped with a creamy layer of nutty cheese...need I say more?  I will!  It can be prepped in advance!  I made the pear mixture and froze it the week before.  I thawed it the day of serving, leaving only the steps of spooning it into cute little phyllo cups and topping with cheese before popping it into the oven for 8 teeny minutes.  Fab.

Jalapeno Cheddar Crackers

Who is the appropriate third amigo for a spicy/sweet bacon bite and tangy, fragrant pastry cup?  Why, a buttery cracker, of course!  This superdooper simple recipe is in Barefoot's latest book.  It sounded tasty to me, but what sold me was that this can be made weeks (in the fridge) or months (in the freezer) in advance.  This was just perf to pull off a hosting gig while hub was out of town.

Just slice, egg wash and bake.

My only comment is not about the recipe itself, but about the thickness of the crackers.  With such a rich result, I vote to slice thinner than the 3/8 inch width suggested. 

Ina Garten's Jalapeno Cheddar Crackers
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¹⁄8 teaspoon baking powder
14 tablespoons (13/4 sticks) cold unsalted butter, 1/2-inch-diced
5 ounces extra-sharp white cheddar, grated
1 tablespoon minced seeded jalapeño pepper
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
3 tablespoons ice water
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk, for egg wash
Fleur de sel or sea salt

Place the flour, kosher salt, and baking powder in a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse to mix. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the cheddar, jalapeño, and chipotle chili powder and pulse again. With the food processor running, add the ice water all at once. Continue pulsing until the mixture begins to form a ball. Dump the dough onto a floured board and roll it into a 14-inch log. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Cut the dough in 3/8-inch-thick slices. Place the crackers on the prepared sheet pan, brush with the egg wash, and sprinkle with the fleur de sel. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until golden brown. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Holy Pig

One glance at the recipe title and I could focus on little else.  A mere two words have captured my heart and have yet to relent.  Friends, if you've never met CARAMELIZED BACON, get ready to start living.

I was scheduled to host book club last week and was in dire need of some fresh snack inspiration.  A potentially risky choice, I opted to prepare three dishes for the gals that I had never tried before myself.  But with two of them being Barefoot recipes, my fears were eased.  As a rule, she never lets me down; that reliability coupled with a divine concept like caramelized bacon, how could this NOT be fabulous?   Salty, sweet and spicy mingle together on a satisfyingly toothy backdrop... of bacon... Are you sold yet?  Did I also mention that this is simple to assemble and can be made in advance?

The only thing better than a couple of these little beauties is a whole tray filled with them. 

I'll share the other two recipes in the next post. This one deserves the spotlight.

Ina Garten's Caramelized Bacon

1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup pecans
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 pound thick cut, applewood smoked bacon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a food processor or mini chop, combine sugar, nuts, salt, pepper and cayenne until finely ground. Add maple syrup and pulse until moistened.

Top a foil lined baking sheet with a baking rack.  Cut the bacon slices in half, and place them on the baking rack, being sure they're not touching.  Evenly spread the sugar mixture on each slice.  Bake 25 to 30 minutes and let cool to room temperature before serving.

Monday, February 18, 2013


It's been nearly a year since Nonnie, my maternal grandmother and one of the coolest ladies ever, passed away.  It's typical to feel the void of missed loved ones most acutely at holidays and special dates.  But sometimes it happens at quiet and unexpected moments.

As a child, I watched Nonnie halve grapefruits and remove the segments (with precision, as she did everything) with a jagged-edged spoon.  I had only ever seen those fancy spoons at her house; I found it fascinating that she managed to avoid cutting her mouth with each bite.  She'd offer the juicy segments to me, but even my best grown-up efforts couldn't get me past the sourness.  I was quite satisfied observing, however, since I adored drinking in this and so many other proper Nonnieisms: her painting her long fingernails a loud and sweet bubble gum pink,  passionately watching and commenting on the news, thoroughly washing the dishes - always with the same brand of soap, and answering the phone with an oddly but beautifully deep "hellooooo".

Last week at work, I opened my own foil-wrapped, halved grapefruit (it turns out my adult palate happens to adore sourness), pulled out my very own jagged-edged grapefruit spoon, and daydreamed about emulating Nonnie's graceful movements.   

I miss her voice and how she cleared her throat, how she opened envelopes, her ceremonious approach to setting the table for even the most casual lunch, her slender hands, and perhaps most, her unintentionally hilariously enthusiastic expressions for the littlest of things (on her anticipating snail mail: "Darling, of COOOURSE I identify your handwriting on every envelope; it is DELIIICIOUSLY definitive.").

Till we meet again, Nonnie. XO

Sunday, February 17, 2013

New Go-To

WHY have I been sitting on the recipe for roasted chicken and vegetables with maple-mustard sauce for so long?  While it sounded tasty enough to cut out, it didn't necessarily strike me with the must-make-this-immediately pang that I (embarrassingly?) often experience.  Well, I was way wrong and have been seriously missing out. 

We have long enjoyed roasting chicken to juicy goodness and veggies till they are browned and sweet.   It hasn't occurred to me to add a sauce since, if well seasoned, this dish lacks nothing.   From now on, it lacks mustard-maple sauce.  This flavor combo evoked giddiness equal to first witnessing the marriage of roasted broccoli with honey balsamic dressing.   Sweet + savory + anything roasted = something special.

What is particularly awesome is how very simple this is.  Equal parts Dijon mustard and maple syrup are whisked and drizzled over the finished plate.  No fuss; no science. 

What is less than awesome is that the only home picture I have of this deliciousness is a meager, picked-over pile of veggies on the tray.  (I say "picked over" since we unashamedly devour the most scrumptiously caramelized morsels first.) I haven't been as good about snapping photos of plates just-in-case-they're-delicious as of late.   And with this meal, I don't believe any of us came up for air until it was too late anyway.

So I beg your forgiveness for the lack of original pictorial inspiration. Thanks for the stock recipe photo, Real Simple.

Roasted Chicken and Vegetables with Maple-Mustard Sauce (click here for recipe)

This was a weeknight event for us, which didn't allow sufficient time to roast a whole bird.  So we used bone-in breasts and adjusted the cooking time down.  We also omitted celery, which ranks fairly low on roast-worthy veggies as far as I'm concerned.  So this recipe is easy AND flexible.  Do it!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Hail to the Kale

Thanks to my dad, whose gardening brilliance yielded mounds of it every year when I was young, I'm seriously crazy about kale.  I know it's good for me, but I'm also just a total sucker for nostalgia, and this sweet childhood memory also happens to be delicious.  Win!

Lately, I've been constantly craving the crispy kale recipe I found in the latest -- and greatest, for real -- Barefoot book.  Hi, Ina!

 I wanted to share this recipe, as well as another tasty kale-featuring dish we've tasted and adored this season.

Kale chips are so in right now.  They're widely available to purchase, but popping these warm crisps into your face fresh out of the oven can't be beat.  They're surprisingly and seriously addictive... even for little ones.  Both kids hover when this stuff is around.

This recipe is perfection as is.  But you might thank me for the suggestion for a judicious approach in selecting the company with whom you partake of such leafiness.   You'll want to be comfortable with whoever gets the privilege of first witnessing the inevitable, comedic, green smile that follows this snack.  Consider yourself warned!

Crispy Roasted Kale

2 bunches curly kale (about 2 1/2 lbs)
1/4 cup olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fleur de sel

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Arrange 3 oven racks evenly spaced in the oven. 

Lay each kale leaf on a board and, with a small sharp knife, cut out the hard stem.  Tear large leaves in half.  Place the kale in a large bowl of water and wash it well.  Drain the kale and dry it in a salad spinner.  Dry the bowl, and put the kale back in the bowl.

Toss the kale with the olive oil, 1 tsp of kosher salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.  Divide the kale among 3 sheet pans or roast them in batches.   If you put too much kale on one pan, it will steam rather than roast and will never become crisp.  Roast for 15 minutes, until crisp.  Sprinkle with fleur de sel and serve hot.

Butternut Squash Baked Risotto (click here for recipe)

To me, the frosty season seems to beckon a snugly pot of risotto.  Starring energizing kale, this one by my girl Marth is scrumptiously savory with a light sweetness from the butternut squash.  It also happens to be refreshingly simple since it bakes in the oven, vs. the traditional risotto that requires constant stirring.

It's kind of awesome how this pile of kale -

cooks down to this.

A little visit to the oven, and it comes together beautifully.

 We served this with roasted chicken, but it is absolutely hearty enough to play the lead. 

(You may have picked up on the title's subtle reference to the Skins.  This post is hereby dedicated to RGIII and his knee!)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hunkered Down

Whoa, Sally!

Preparations for this storm resulted in some surprise goodness at our place.  While clearing out our garage freezer to make room for ice, I happened upon five chicken carcasses.  Seriously, who finds five forgotten chicken carcasses?   I know I've saved a couple over time with the intention of making stock.  But five was a surprising volume to have amassed in the last year or so since we lost power -- and all the contents of our fridge and freezer -- with the last hurricane.   Well, at any rate, no time like the present to put the 'carcai' (Is that a word?  If not, shouldn't it be?) to work.

Homemade Chicken Stock (click here for recipe)

My major adjustment to the recipe was to use the bones I had instead of three whole chickens.  I also omitted dill because I forgot to buy it.

There was something very snuggly about a pot on the stove simmering away all afternoon, and the aroma in the house was deliciously inviting.   But the best part, for sure, was tasting the result the next day.   After freezing three quarters of the stock (yeah, loading up the freezer is precisely the opposite measure to take in the wake of a hurricane, but I didn't appreciate the HUGE quantity of stock this recipe would yield), I made chicken rice soup.  This gorgeous, rich stock made all the scrumptious difference.

I didn't really use a recipe here.  My dad used to make chicken and rice soup with random leftovers from the fridge and I always loved it, so I figured I'd attempt my own version.

I started by rubbing two boneless, skinless chicken breasts (further efforts to clean out the freezer) with olive oil and sprinkling them with kosher salt and black pepper before throwing them into a 375 degree oven for about 25-30 minutes.  While they were cooking, I got a small pot of brown rice going, which was simply 1 cup of long grain brown rice, cooked according to the package directions.  Next, I chopped and sauteed half a large onion in a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a large pot.  I medium-diced 4 carrots and 3 stalks of celery and added them to the pot to soften.  After 10ish minutes, I added the stock -- about 3-4 quarts, I think -- to the pot.  When the chicken was done in the oven, I chopped it and added it to the pot, along with the rice and a handful (about 1/4 cup) of chopped flat leaf parsley.  After a quick dash of salt and pepper to taste, it was ready! 

A bowl of soup and a crusty baguette is perfect storm weather in my book. 

Be safe, everyone!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Bye Bye Lulu's

Hub and I eagerly anticipated a rare, quiet date night out together to celebrate his birthday, only to find that our destination restaurant was CLOSED.  I mean, after lining up a baby sitter, getting ourselves dressed, downtown and parked only to be greeted by a little sign sending us the other direction for all hours other than brunch was a big, fat whomp whomp whomp. 

I'll clarify that we'd never let this - or anything for that matter - spoil a jewel of a night together, so we zipped to Zeus Gallery, another cozy food establishment on our go-to list, without skipping a beat.

Retrospectively, the thought of no more Lulu's dinners has been depressing me.  We've had some tasty dinners there, which I (of course, nerdily) had pictures of, so I'm sharing them in a goodbye tribute.

This is a grilled Caesar salad that didn't photograph well (slimy anchovies, anyone?) but tasted afreakinmazing.  The charred lettuce was the perfect backdrop to the rich egg, briny anchovies, nutty Parmesan, and crunchy house made croutons, all blanketed in Caesar dressing screaming of garlic and lemon.  (I just reread that.  If you're a Caesar person, you might be salivating.  If you're not, this may actually sound heinous and for that, I apologize.)  This was the dish I actually hoped to order the fateful night we found it closed!  RIP grilled Caesar salad.

Grilled mahi mahi over pancetta and sweet potato garnished kale resting in a blanket of celery root and apple puree.  Every bite was heaven, but I think my favorite part was the kale.  Have I mentioned my kale obsession?  I've got about a dozen recipes featuring on top of my pile, and I can't WAIT to try one or five.

Ahhh, classic shrimp and grits.  (I'm not sure who I think I am attempting to identify a classic southern anything with my Pennsyltucky roots.  I'd like to think I have a teeny bit of street cred after experiencing a few divine versions in Charleston, being a Richmonder for a whopping 3 years now, and my general inclination to stuff my face.  But I'd clearly be an impostor if I claimed to be an aficionado of southern cuisine.)  I'll just tell you the facts; this grits were buttery and rich, the shrimp were cooked to tender perfection, and the spicy, chorizo-speckled sauce was to die for.  Big fan.

With dinner out of the equation, I'd love to try the brunch here (who wouldn't find herself beckoned by a red velvet waffle with pecan cream cheese?!).  The typical weekend chaos doesn't often afford the luxury of brunch, but I'll put it on the Some Day list.

Photo courtesy of