Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Easy, Breezy, Flavorful

Easy, breezy, weeknight dinners are something everyone is always looking for. I try to make dinners that are quick, healthy and have good left overs. Since I am cooking most nights of the week I also don't want to have to think too hard to do this.

The secret I have found is a simple formula, meat + vegetable + salad. As long as I have the ingredients at home, this never fails to give me something quick and easy to cook.


I try to have a variety of meats in the fridge or freezer at all times (chicken, beef, pork, fish, chicken sausage, etc.) Then, each night I can pick one I want to make and all I have to do is figure out how I want to cook it. Since moving to Boston, I generally throw on a marinade and send JR out to grill it up, but baking and broiling are also good.

Using different maridanes is an easy way to change up the meal and keep things interesting. The McCormick Grill mixes are great and work on anything. Most larger grocery stores will have 5 or 7 types in the spice aisle. I also use salad dressings which are really good on fishes and chicken and BBQ sauces (of which there are millions of different kinds).

+ Vegetables

Every week when I go shopping, I get 3 or 4 different types of vegetables to cook (asparagus, brocolli, green beans, peppers and onions, brussel sprouts, etc.) Vegetables are one of my favorite ways in which to experiment and try new things. There are a million different amazing sounding recipes and if I have some time I will plan ahead and give one a shot. If I am looking for speed or simplicity I frequently steam or sauté them, but grilling and roasting are super yummy options.

+ Salad

I love making salads because there are so many great options. I keep my pantry stocked with lots of easy and interesting choices so that every night the salad can be different. I keep a variety of dried fruits and nuts in the pantry (almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, cherries, cranberries, apricots) and easy to keep and use vegetables in the freezer (shelled edememe, corn, peas). Then I mix it up with some shallots, red onions, tomatoes or cucumbers and a variety of salad dressings. Every night is a different salad and we never get bored.

= a easy, breezy, flavorful and healthy meal!

I don't use this every night, 2 weeknights per week I make something creative and 3 nights I use my formula. I will also throw in a box of rice or couscous everyone once in awhile to keep JR on his toes. We are always eating dinner between 8 and 9, so I try to stay away from the carbs that late, but if I need something different some Near East Mexican rice always hits the spot. JR hasn't complained yet that I am a boring cook so for the time being this is my secret to being easy, breezy and flavorful!

P.S. Whose tagline did I borrow in this article? The first person to guess gets a prize!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ode to Onions

I love onions. I love them on their own, I love them in salads, I love them grilled, and I firmly believe that any meal is better by adding in onions. What makes them even more spectacular is that there are so many different types of onions. At any given point in time I probably have 5 varieties of onion in my kitchen, and sometimes I wonder if people think I am weird when they see me checking out at a grocery store.

What I don’t understand is why onions have a bad name? Sure they make you cry and I expect if you eat enough of them you may start to smell like them (I have asked friends and they have assured me that I don’t!) but they have so many great uses and flavors, that it should more than make up for their bad rep. If you don’t already love them, here are my favorite types, in no particular order, and how I use them.

Red Onions
From Wikipedia: “Red onions, sometimes called purple onions, are cultivars of the onion with purplish red skin and white flesh tinged with red. These onions tend to be medium to large in size and have a mild to sweet flavor.”

I love red onions in salads, sandwiches and mostly on bagels with cream cheese and a tomato. We mostly eat these raw and always have one in a baggie in the fridge that we can take out a cut a couple pieces off of.

Yellow Onions
From Wikipedia: “Yellow Onion is a variety of dry onion with a strong onion flavor. White inside, its layers of papery skin have a yellow-brown color.”

I use yellow onions as my every day onions. I don’t generally eat them raw but they are great in soups and stir-fry, on shish-kebabs and pizzas, in pasta sauces and fajitas, basically I add them to everything I cook. Just about nothing in the world smells better than some garlic, yellow onions and peppers sautéing with a little olive oil.

From Wikipedia: “The shallot is a relative of the onion, and tastes a bit like an onion but has a sweeter, milder flavor.”

I love shallots in salads. They are best when sliced super thin and they have a wonderful sweet taste. They are also absolutely amazing when caramelized and then added to sautéed brussel sprouts.

Cipollini Onions
From “Pronounced chip-oh-LEE-nee this is a smaller, flat, pale onion. The flesh is a slight yellowish color and the skins are thin and papery. These are sweeter onions, having more residual sugar than yellow onions, but not as much as shallots.”

I have one recipe for these babies and am always on the lookout for more because they are so amazing. I make Balsamic Braised cipollini onions which are actually quite simple. I cook them for an hour in a balsamic red wine sauce until they are melt in your mouth delicious. I made them as part of dinner for my parents once and they stole the show, Mom raved about them for weeks!

From Wikipedia: “Scallions, also commonly known as spring onion or green onion…tend to be milder tasting than other onions and are typically steamed.”

Scallions are one of those things that you never run out of uses for. The other day I added them to turkey burgers because I was out of the parsley and cilantro that the recipe called for. They also make most dished a little prettier if you chop them up and sprinkle them on the top before serving. They aren’t super strong, but they just add a little bit of flavor and a lot of color.

Vidalia Onions
From Wikipedia: “Vidalia onions were first grown near Vidalia, Georgia, in the early 1930s. It is an unusually sweet variety of onion, due to the low amount of sulfur in the soil in which the onions are grown. Georgia's state legislature passed the "Vidalia Onion Act of 1986" which authorized a trademark for "Vidalia Onions" and limits the production area to Georgia.”

Definitely one of the most interesting varieties of onions, these bad boys have legislation protecting them! They are sweet and wonderful and only available in the summer time. We love them grilled or sautéed and just eat them plain. They are rather large and JR and I will chow down a whole one before the rest of the meal is done cooking.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Entertaining for 10!!!

This weekend was Passover and we celebrated with a wonderful dinner at JR's parents house. Since everyone was in town visiting, I decided to show off our apartment and invited them all over for brunch on Sunday. I had to work up my nerve since there was going to be 10 of us which is more than double the number that I have ever entertained before. JR was super helpful and the whole thing went off without a hitch. I decided to go really simple and I think that certainly helped. We served:

Bagels with lox, tomatoes, onions & cream cheese
Fresh cantaloupe, mangoes & strawberries
Potato Frittata with Gruyere & Canada Bacon
Coffee, Tea & OJ

Everything required no cooking except the frittata which could be prepared in advance and served at room temperature. I had made the frittata for Christmas this past year with my family and we all loved it. I simplified the recipe, but it involves one thing that does take some time. Oven potatoes. Mom convinced me at Christmas to use left over potatoes instead of using raw potatoes. I was nervous about doing so, but it turned out so good I had to do it again this time. Saturday I made up a batch of my Mom's famous oven potatoes so that they wouldn't have to be done Sunday morning.

Once that was done, all I had to do Sunday morning was prep the Gruyere and canadian bacon and cook the frittata which only took about 30 minutes.

One thing I really love about this frittata is that it's so easy to serve. It really holds it's own. My father-in-law pointed out this morning that it's eggs, bacon and hash browns all in one, and what can be wrong with that!

Potato Frittata with Gruyere & Canada Bacon

1 dozen large eggs
2T water
Salt & Pepper
1 packed cup shredded Gruyere
4 ounces slices canadian bacon
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 pound Yukon Gold Potatoes
1 packed Lipton Soup mix (French Onion or Garlic & Herbs)
2 scallions sliced

1. First make up the potatoes. If you can plan in advance, make them for dinner the night before, and just use the left overs. Chop the potato into bite sized pieces and throw them in a ziplock bag. Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to the bag and the Lipton Soup mix. Mush them all around to make sure the mix is spread out over the potatoes and then dump the potatoes out onto a flat baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 40-50 minutes or until soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside.

2. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the water. Add in the salt, pepper, Gruyere and Canadian Bacon. Stir well.

3. Heat a little olive oil in a Calphalon Non-Stick fry pan and add the potatoes. If using leftovers, heat for 3-4 minutes. Add scallions and stir.

4. Add the egg mixture to the pan and stir to mix. Allow to cook over moderate heat until the bottom is just set. Gently lift the frittata on all sides to allow the egg to seep underneath.

5. Bake the frittata for about 15 minutes until the center is nearly set. Turn on the broiler and broil the frittata about 8 inches from the heat until the top is just beginning to brown.

6. Cut into wedges and serve.

Monday, April 21, 2008

4 Quick and Dirty Reviews

Since moving to Bean-town we have started going out to dinner significantly less. I think this is in part because it’s so easy to cook in our kitchen that I want to do it all the time. I also think it’s because the restaurants aren’t quite as accessible as in NYC. In Boston you can go out to eat at very nice places, you just have to think about it in advance. In NYC we would walk out our door and find a place down the street, and it wasn’t always great, but there were so many of them to choose from.

With that said, we have gone out a couple of times to a couple different places that I though I would tell you about.

Sibling Rivalry
We went to Sibling Rivalry with TC and JW for dinner after going to see some art in the South End. The restaurant has two Chefs and two menus. The Chefs are brothers and they pick ingredients and then each do a menu item based on that ingredient. It’s a unique approach that lends to a lot of sharing. We had fantastic service and the food was amazing. The only critique is that we had a reservation but were not seated until 25 minutes after. It seemed from the crowd in the bar that this was standard and they wanted to ensure you had just enough time for a couple drinks before being seated.

I met EB for lunch at Rangzen one Saturday morning. I wasn’t sure what to expect because I had never tried Tibetian food before. Someone had said to me “it’s a cross between Chinese and Indian” which made a lot of sense and sounded good. The restaurant is very cozy and off to one side had a fairly large buffet. We grabbed our plates and started filling them up. There was lots of fruit and salads, some tempura vegetables, a great chicken curry with rice and a Tofu and broccoli dish that I loved. There was also some excellent chai tea with milk. We had 3 or 4 plates of food and stayed 3 hours until they shut down all for 8$ a piece. All in all, a great place to grab lunch.

Harvest was written up in Food & Wine’s 2008 Go List. It’s a large restaurant in Harvard square with a beautiful back patio. JR and I went there to celebrate my birthday last week and of all the places I have gone in Boston, this was probably the biggest disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, we had some great food. My salad was excellent and JR had an excellent pork entrée, but the service was so-so and they sat us in the crowded bar although there were seats in the dining room. I would probably give it another shot except it was awfully expensive for what it was.

Gaslight Brasserie du Coin
Gaslight made me decide to give French Bistros another shot. We went here with a group of friends to celebrate my birthday. The choice was made by JR and my friends and was a surprise to me, and boy did they do a good job. We had a wonderful table that wasn’t too big for 7, but also wasn’t too small. Our waitress was the perfect combination of attentive but not pushy and she was super helpful answering our questions. I ordered a steak with caramelized shallots which was served with a side of fries. After making a comment about not liking fries, I wolfed down the whole thing, including every single little skinny perfectly salted fry. The steak was the best I have had in a long time and the caramelized shallots were perfection. The price was totally reasonable and I would go back in a heart beat.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Our Little Slice of Heaven

This week it officially turned into spring in Boston. Last weekend we bought a patio table and chairs from Lowes and I spent two days this week working from home in the sun out on my patio. It was glorious! I admit, it's a little hard to see the screen when you are sitting in full on sunshine, but I think as the summer progresses it will be perfect since we have 3 rather large trees that will provide shade.

I couldn't help myself, so I took some photos to share. Here is out patio with the table and pansy's Mom brought me for my birthday.

Here are some of the plants growing in our garden. We signed something in the lease saying we wouldn't touch the landscaping, but it's so hard since I am dying to grow things. This week I will order my self watering containers and in the next week or two I plan to get going on my growing.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Foodie Photos

This weekend my parents came up to celebrate my birthday with me. We planned a day at the Institute of Contemporary Art here in Boston followed by dinner at our place. I wanted to keep the meal simple because I wasn’t going to have all day to prep so I planned the following,

Fresh Halibut with an Orange Soy Ginger marinade
Broccolini with lemon wedges
Grilled Sweet Onions
Bell Pepper and Apple Salad with a Mint Oregano vinaigrette

I did as much of the prep before they came as I could. The fish, broccolini and onions were super easy. The salad was a recipe I had found last fall and was dying to try. It felt like a summer salad so I had been holding out for the spring time. I also thought it would be super colorful and really add to the meal.

The main ingredients are red, green and yellow bell peppers, red onion, cucumber and green apple all sliced match stick thin. I thought it was a perfect chance to try and figure out the Cusinart mandolin that I got for my wedding. Unfortunately, we had gone out with friends the night before to celebrate my birthday and the mandolin was significantly more complicated than my slightly fuzzy brain could handle. So I went ahead and enjoyed the repetition of chopping all the veggies by hand.

I saved the apple for just before I serving the salad because I was worried about it turning brown. I tossed the rest in the super simple vinaigrette and put it in the fridge to wait out the day. When we got home, I pulled it out, added the slices apple, put it in a beautiful bowl and toped it with a sprinkling of feta. It was BEAUTIFUL! Which then got Mom and I talking about photographing food.

Food and photographs go together like peanut butter and jelly. I love to drool over the photos in cook books and magazines and my friends (most of who don’t cook at all) all enjoy looking and dreaming about eating as well. In fact, one of my favorite foodie blogs, Smitten Kitchen is as much about the photos as it is about the food, and yet, I just can’t get into photographing my food.

There are a couple of reasons, but if I want to be honest the main one is that photographing food is really hard. The lighting has to be perfect and it rarely looks as good in the photo as it did when you made it. I also don’t like to wait to eat my food. I like it hot (sometimes JR thinks too hot) and if I have to set it up for a photo, it’s longer that the food is not being eaten. I could always do photos of the process, but that just means I have to be thinking about two things at once (Do I put in one egg or two? Is that a good photo? Wait where are the batteries for the camera? Oh s*** the rice is burning!) and the cooking would stop being relaxing.

In the end those are all just excuses, and so we got a camera and took a photo. I’ll keep trying.

Kitchen Report Cards

Part of my system of trying new recipes is to give them grades. This came from my Mom who would write peoples reactions at the top of a recipe when she made it. I like to do this whenever a try a new recipe but it’s harder than you think.

For a while everything I made was getting an A. What’s not to love about food? If it was fun to cook and I enjoyed eating it, it got an A. Then I realized that wasn’t a very accurate way to judge them for future reference.

Next I started asking JR. His grades ranged more than mine did (C – A), but I didn’t entirely trust him to tell me the truth. You see, he, like all loving husbands who have wives that cook for them, has learned not to bite the hand that feeds him.

Now I am trying the following range

A – Amazing, I want to make it again tomorrow night
B – Very Good, I will make it again for family/friends
C – Good, I will make it again at home
D – Not Good, I won’t make it ever again
F – Awful, I can’t finish this dish

The recipes can also get stars. Stars are for when the recipe needs adjustments. So for example, I make a recipe that was a C but if I used less butter and added in some more garlic could be a B, it will get a C*.

I am not anal, I swear.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Working for spring!

The thing about New England is it really makes you appreciate spring. After 5 or 6 months of winter you are so ready for these amazing warm days, and today, my birthday, was a perfect 10! It was 70 degrees and sunny here in Boston. JR and JB took me out for ice cream at lunch and when I got home I pulled some chairs and a bottle of wine out to the patio and enjoyed the end of the day reading my book without even a sweater on!

Tomorrow is supposed to be 50 and rainy. I mean it when I tell you, New England makes you appreciate spring.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Eat Your Vegetables!

One of my #1 requirements for our apartment here in Boston (right up there with more than 350 square feet, a dishwasher, a washer/dryer, and a parking spot) was outdoor space. Although out place in Brooklyn was less than 2 blocks from a fantastic park, it didn't give me what I needed. I dreamed of barbecuing all year round, and fabulous parties under the stars with pitchers of sangrias and margaritas and most of all a garden.

My desire to get my hands dirty (literally) comes from a couple places. First, I need more foliage in my daily life than I get living in the city. This must stem from my country up bringing, and I figure I need to import green-ery in order to be satisfied. Second, friends of mine in NY have the most beautiful roof top garden of which I am insanely jealous , and third, I know that fresh pick vegetables beat anything you can buy in a grocery store and I am afraid they will be infinitely harder to find here in Boston. In Brooklyn we were near an amazing farmers market where I was able to feed my tomato habit. I just don't know if I can find that here and I am not willing to take the chance that I can't. Last but not least, it's in my blood, check out all my Mom's vegetables way back in the day!

So during the great apartment hunt, this was a requirement and we met it beautifully. Our apartment is a garden apartment, with a brick patio out back and landscaped gardens. We did have to agree, and initial, in our lease to never touch the landscaping, but thats not going to stop me. I have been heavily researching container gardens and think we have the perfect spot for the thriving contain garden filled with vegetables. I just purchased "Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers" by Edward C. Smith, which is proving to be a fascinating read, and exactly what I need to learn about container gardening.

Mr. Smith has conducted some extensive studies on vegetable gardening in self-watering containers and holds that these containers might just be better than the ground for all your vegetable needs. The secret to a self-watering container is that they have a reservoir below the soil to hold up to 16 quarts of water. One of the significant problems when you are gardening is that plants need a lot of water, and frequent watering washes all the nutrients out of the soil. The self-watering container collects both the water and the nutrients so that instead of running into the ground, they are fed right back to the plant's roots. This not only decreases the frequency of waterings, but also frequency of fertilizing.

Based on my research, and the amount of sun we have, I plan to start with 3 large containers which will hold about 40 quarts of soil and 16 quarts of water. The first container will be dedicated to my tomato habit. These large containers can hold two tomato plants maximum. Beginners generally have better luck with starter plants as opposed to starting from seeds. I would like to get two varieties of heirloom tomatoes, but it depends largely on what I am able to find in the garden stores near me.

The second of the two planters will be dedicated to fresh herbs. I love fresh herbs, everything is better with them. A large planter can grow around 12 herb plants, so far I am thinking basil, oregano, mint, dill, parsley, rosemary, cilantro, thyme and chives. Since that is only 9 different herbs, I might throw in more than one type of basil. (Who knew there were types of basil?!?!) The only concern here, is that I believe cilantro does better in the shade than in the sun. It tends to go to seed and produce flowers in the sun, but all the other spices do quite well in the sun. I might have to veto the cilantro in favor of another more sun loving herb, but I haven't read up on the herb gardening yet, so more to come on this.

The third container is the major debate. I am struggling between bush beans, pole beans and a variety of lettuces. I love fresh off the vine green beans. Just about nothing beats them. However, based on my reading, bean plants are only good for a couple rounds of beans and they take up a lot of space, where lettuce keep on coming as long as the weather stays good, and it doesn't take up nearly as much space. JR and I eat a lot of salad, and while I want foliage in my life, I don't want it taking over my patio. At the same time, I really love fresh green beans, to the point that in college we used to do a run that went along a field where green beans were grown. At the end of every run in the fall, I would sit my self down in the field and eat green beans until my stomach felt like it was going to burst. You couldn't keep me away. Decisions, decisions, decisions!

The only sad part about my reading is that I need to wait another couple weeks before I can begin on my growing adventure. I do believe that my food obsession is going to spread from eating, buying and cooking to growing this summer. Be sure to check back as I keep you updated on my progress.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Sugar & Spice...

JR is one of those people who doesn’t like sweets. He doesn’t crave baked goods like I do, and has complete self control when there is a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food in the freezer. The only sweet things he eats are banana bread and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal (how he manages to eat this is beyond me!)

As a result my budding baking career slowed to a halt when we moved in together 3 years ago. There was no point to making a pan of my mother’s famous raspberry brownies, or try a new recipe for Crunchy Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake that calls out to me, because I would be the only one eating it.

Then I came across the ultimate cookies-for-people- who-don’t-like-sweets recipe in Food & Wine, Baby-Buttons. I held onto the recipe for a little while, but yesterday it was cold and dreary and I decided it was time to give it a go. The recipe is simple and results in perfect little bite sized, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth-and-moan cookies. JR promptly wolfed down 6 and the recipe was called a success.

I sent all the remaining cookies to work with JR today just so I don’t sit here and eat them.



• 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
• 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
• 1/2 cup cornstarch
• 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour


1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a food processor, pulse the butter with 1/2 cup of the confectioners’ sugar until combined. Add the cornstarch, vanilla and flour and process until a soft dough forms. Transfer the dough to a work surface and divide it into 4 equal pieces.

2. On a lightly floured work surface, roll each piece of dough into a 12-inch rope. Cut each rope into 12 pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Transfer the balls to the baking sheet; they won’t spread much. Bake the cookies on the center rack of the oven for about 22 minutes, until the bottoms are golden but the tops are still pale.

3. Sift the remaining 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar into a bowl. Add 12 warm cookies to the bowl at a time and toss to coat. Transfer the cookies to a clean baking sheet. While the cookies are still warm, poke 4 shallow holes into each one with a toothpick or skewer to make a buttonhole pattern. Let the cookies cool completely before serving or storing.