Friday, February 27, 2009

A Mouse in My House

I think there’s a mouse in my house. The hunk of Parmegiano-Reggiano in my refrigerator shrinks steadily. The grated Parmegiano mysteriously disappears. Come to think of it, it seems like Parmegiano is always on the shopping list, even when we don’t eat pasta. Slices of cheddar cheese go missing, and so do slices of Swiss and provolone. And the Pecorino, which was supposed to be used for dinner, is no more. It’s time to catch my little mouse, and I know just how to lure him in—there’s no way he can resist. Where will the trail of shreds lead? Well, I have my suspicions…My husband did ask for his very own wheel of Parmegiano for his birthday.

Cheddar Crackers
Printable Recipe

6 ¼ ounces all-purpose flour
4 ounces (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced
8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar
1 teaspoon nigella seeds
¼ teaspoon powdered mustard
Generous pinch cayenne pepper
Several drops Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons water

Combine all of the ingredients in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low for about 3 minutes, or until the dough comes together. Transfer the dough to a sheet of parchment paper and roll into a 2-inch log. Refrigerate for about 45 minutes, or until firm.

Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Unwrap the dough and cut into 3/16-inch slices. Arrange the slices about an inch apart on parchment-lined baking trays. Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, or until lightly browned. Transfer crackers to a rack to cool.

Makes 4 to 5 dozen crackers. This is an extremely versatile recipe; try experimenting with different cheeses and flavorings. For example, instead of nigella, try freshly cracked black pepper—a very coarse grind is best. Or substitute Parmegiano-Reggiano and 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary for the cheddar and nigella, omitting the mustard, cayenne, and Worcestershire.

Nigella, which can also be known as kalonji or charnushka, tastes very much like thyme and is available at Indian markets and at Penzeys Spices. Crackers keep for several days in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dry place. The log of dough, or portions of it, may be frozen for up to 1 month tightly wrapped in plastic wrap.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Caramel Pastry Cream

It’s a basic every cook should know.

Caramel Pastry Cream
Printable Recipe

6 ounces sugar
¼ cup water
2 cups milk
1 ¼ ounces cornstarch
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
½ ounce unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine 5 ounces of the sugar and the water in a small, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, brush down the sides of the pan with water, and boil for 8 to 10 minutes, or until caramelized. The sugar will be fragrant and a deep amber color when it is caramelized. Remove the pan from the heat and dip the bottom into an ice water bath for a second or two. Slowly stir in the milk. Return the pan to low heat and stir until smooth. Increase the heat to medium and heat to a simmer.

Meanwhile, whisk together the cornstarch and remaining 1 ounce of sugar in a medium bowl. Whisk in the egg and yolks. Continue whisking while adding the hot caramel mixture in a thin stream. Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan and cook, whisking constantly, over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it thickens and just comes to a boil. Immediately strain through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl and stir in the butter and vanilla. Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface and refrigerate.

Makes about 2 ½ cups. A delicious alternative to the usual vanilla pastry cream—try it in cream puffs, éclairs, Napoleons, tarts, or between cake layers. For a light-as-air filling, fold in some whipped cream. Keeps for several days in the refrigerator. The plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface of the pastry cream will prevent a skin from forming.

Friday, February 20, 2009


Do you have a go-to dinner? A dish you make more often than any other? One that you can eat over and over again and never gets old? Here’s my current go-to.

Looks good, even if I do say so myself. I’m actually gonna go way out on a limb here and say that it’s the perfect meal—it’s budget friendly, it’s a breeze to throw together, it's got all the important stuff like starch, veggie, and protein right in there, and it’s so fresh and vibrant you feel good eating it. And the leftovers are great for lunch the next day. And, it just tastes so good. What, did you say you don’t have a go-to dinner of your own? Well you’re welcome to try mine.

Pasta with Arugula, Roasted Peppers & Italian Sausage
Printable Recipe

4 links hot Italian sausage
1 pound fusilli, rotini, or penne
Kosher salt
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, grated
2 roasted red bell peppers, julienned
2 roasted yellow bell peppers, julienned
7 ounces baby arugula
Grated Parmegiano-Reggiano, for serving

Heat the grill to medium-low. Add the sausages and cook, covered, without disturbing for 8 to 9 minutes, or until they release from the grate and are crusty and brown. Using tongs, turn the sausages and continue to cook, covered, over medium-low heat another 6 to 7 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove the sausages to a plate, tent with foil to keep warm, and let rest for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water according to the package directions. Whisk together the oil and garlic in a very large bowl. Add the red bell peppers, yellow bell peppers, and arugula and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt. Cut the sausage links in half lengthwise and slice into bite-size pieces. Drain the pasta when it is al dente. Immediately add the pasta and sausage to the arugula mixture and toss to combine. Arrange on individual plates, top with plenty of Parmegiano, and serve immediately.

Serves 6. The arugula will wilt ever so slightly from the heat of the cooked pasta and sausage. Leftovers are delicious served at room temperature or reheated.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Button Mushroom

Wild mushrooms get all the glory. Sure, they’re exotic, rare, and colorful, and they look sexy on a menu. But the humble button mushroom deserves a little credit too.

Cream of Mushroom Soup
Printable Recipe

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ pounds button mushrooms, sliced
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup white wine
1 ½ quarts chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
¼ cup heavy cream
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the oil and butter and swirl to coat the bottom of the pot. Add the onion and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes, or until soft. Add the celery and carrot and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes, or until soft. Add the mushrooms and sauté for another 5 to 6 minutes, or until soft. Add the garlic and sauté 1 to 2 minutes more, or until fragrant. Stir in the flour. Add the wine and simmer, stirring, for a minute or so. Add the broth, bay leaf, thyme, and cream. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about half an hour, or until the flavors come together. Discard the bay leaf and thyme sprig, remove from the heat, and puree with an immersion blender until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper, ladle into bowls, and serve immediately.

Serves 6. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender but remember: never fill a blender more than half way with hot liquid. This means you will need to blend the soup in batches and reheat it before serving. The soup is intensely flavorful and delicious as is, but gild the lily by serving it topped with a drizzle of truffle oil.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


You know what else you just have to have with smork? Coleslaw.

Barbeque and coleslaw just belong together.

Classic Coleslaw
Printable Recipe

1 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon celery seed
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 head green cabbage, thinly sliced
½ head red cabbage, thinly sliced
1 carrot, shredded
Kosher salt

Whisk together the mayonnaise, cider vinegar, honey, celery seed, and pepper in a small bowl. Combine the green cabbage, red cabbage, and carrot in a large bowl, add the mayonnaise mixture, and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt, transfer to a serving bowl, and serve immediately.

Serves 8 to 10. Delicious as a side dish or sandwich topping. Cabbage is fairly bland and need lots of salt to bring out its flavor, so season the coleslaw liberally, tasting as you go.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Must Have Potato Salad

We just made smork again. A big smork dinner would be incomplete without potato salad. But it doesn’t have to be the same old potato salad.

Potato Salad with Sesame
Printable Recipe

6 large Yukon Gold potatoes
Kosher salt
¾ cup canola oil
¼ cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Freshly ground black pepper

Place the potatoes into a large pot and add enough water to cover by several inches. Add several large pinches of salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked through. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes to a plate. Let rest for about 15 minutes, or until just cool enough to handle.

Whisk together the canola oil, soy sauce, cider vinegar, and sesame oil in a small bowl. Peel and dice the potatoes when they are cool enough to handle. Mix together the potatoes, onion, sesame seeds, and oil mixture in a large bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper, transfer to a serving bowl, and serve immediately.

Serves 6 to 8. Boiled potatoes absorb dressing best when they’re still hot, so don’t let them cool too much before dressing them. This salad is tasty at room temperature or even chilled, but it’s most delicious served right away, while it’s still warm. Keeps for a couple of days tightly sealed in the refrigerator. Also try it with the addition of blanched green beans—it’s tremendous.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Sweets for Your Sweet

Everybody knows that nothing says “I love you” like chocolate. But making a dreamy chocolate treat for your special someone is infinitely more romantic than buying a heart-shaped box. And what could be more dreamy than warm, silky chocolate fondue with a just a hint of chile to turn up the heat? Here’s wishing everyone a sweet Valentine’s Day.

Chocolate Fondue for Two with Strawberries
Printable Recipe

½ cup heavy cream
1/16 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped or scant 2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound strawberries

Combine the cream and chipotle in a small saucepan and heat to a bare simmer. Place the chocolate into a medium bowl, add the hot cream mixture and vanilla, and whisk until smooth. Transfer to a fondue pot and serve with the strawberries immediately.

Serves one couple. This recipe is quick and easy and takes only a couple of minutes to make. Dark chocolate makes for the most intensely flavored fondue, but you can substitute milk or white chocolate if you prefer. Be sure to give the fondue a stir every time you dip into it to keep the chocolate from scorching. If you don’t have a fondue pot, you can serve the fondue in a large ramekin or a small bowl, and it will stay fluid for about an hour. You can also try it with banana slices, tangerine segments, dried apricots, cookies, cubes of pound cake, pretzels, you name it—everything tastes great coated in chocolate. Even lips or other exposed skin, if you know what I mean.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


I’ve got a thing for pomegranates. I’ve absolutely loved them since I was a little girl. My mother would sometimes surprise me with a big shiny pomegranate, a rare treat, my favorite treat. I would patiently clean the entire thing and then suck the juice out of a handful of arils at a time. I still do that sometimes, but now I usually just buy fresh pomegranate juice. What can I say, I’ve also got a thing for immediate gratification. Though it is a bit tannic, Evolution Freshest Pomegranate juice is, by far, the best I’ve found.

Pomegranate Potion
Printable Recipe

1 ½ ounces vodka, chilled
6 ounces pomegranate juice, chilled
4 ounces soda water, chilled

Combine all of the ingredients in a chilled martini glass and serve immediately.

Serves 1. The vodka really brings out the flavor of the pomegranate juice, but feel free to leave it out if you prefer a nonalcoholic beverage.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

More Maitakes

So here’s what I did with the rest of the maitake mushrooms, although I admit it’s more about the clams than it is the shrooms.

Clams with Maitake Mushrooms
Printable Recipe

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ pound maitake mushrooms, torn into bite-size pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup white wine
2 cups chicken broth
2 pounds Manila clams
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pot. Add the maitakes and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes, or until soft. Add the garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the wine and broth and bring to a boil. Add the clams and simmer, covered, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the clams open. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice, parsley, and butter, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Serves 2 to 4 as a main course. Purchase live clams the day you intend to cook them. When you bring them home, the shells may be open, especially if they’ve been stored on ice. Tap them gently and see that they close; discard any that do not close. To prepare them, scrub with a stiff-bristled brush. Discard any clams that do not open once cooked. Serve with a baguette for sopping up the flavorful broth.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Maitake Mushrooms

I just scored a pound of maitake mushrooms for cheap. I love their nutty flavor and crunchy texture, they sort of remind me of potato chips. The only trouble with having a whole pound of maitakes is deciding what to make with them.

Quinoa & Maitake Mushroom Pilaf
Printable Recipe

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ pound maitake mushrooms, torn into bite-size pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ cups quinoa
2 ½ cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons soy sauce
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup sliced green onions

Heat a medium, heavy saucepan over medium heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the butter and maitakes and sauté for 6 to 7 minutes, or until soft. Add the garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the quinoa and stir until coated with the butter. Add the broth and soy sauce, season to taste with pepper, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 20 to 22 minutes, or until the quinoa is tender and all of the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in the green onions and fluff with a fork. Transfer to a bowl and serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish. Another name for the maitake is hen of the woods. If you cannot find maitakes, try this recipe with any cultivated or wild mushrooms that are available—a combination of oyster and shiitake mushrooms would be nice. And feel free to substitute vegetable broth or water if you prefer a vegetarian dish.

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