Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Avocado Cucumber Salad

The textures in this salad are fabulous: crunchy cucumber paired with soft, creamy avocado. It doesn't keep well. It is possible to finish up a serving the following day, but it's better on the day you make it. There won't be many leftovers, I promise. And, as an added bonus, it takes about 10 minutes to throw together!


Avocado Cucumber Salad

Source: Smitten Kitchen
Serves: 4

1 seedless cucumber, 3/4-1 pound
1-2 scallions, to taste
1 large avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
2 T mayonnaise
juice of 1 lime or more to taste
pinch of salt or to taste
hot sauce, to taste
handful of chopped Italian parsley or cilantro, chopped

Combine vegetables in a bowl. Whisk together mayonnaise, lime juice, salt, and hot sauce, if using. Stir dressing into salad and taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. Sprinkle with parsley or cilantro and serve.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Rustic Spaghetti Carbonara

Spaghetti alla Carbonara is the quick pantry meal some cooks turn to when pressed for time. This variation combines all the familiar flavors but is particularly helpful for those who feel discomfort eating eggs which have been cooked only by hot pasta.


Rustic Spaghetti Carbonara

Source:  The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider

This is more a description of a process than a recipe. You may need to do a little multi-tasking.

Begin by frying some chopped bacon (or pancetta), at least one slice per diner, you can cook more if you like. Remove the cooked bacon and reserve for later, saving the skillet for frying eggs.

Using spaghetti or another variety of flat pasta cook the amount of pasta you plan to serve until it is slightly underdone since residual heat will allow it to continue cooking. Before draining save approximately a cup of the cooking water. Return pasta to pot and add about 1/2 c of the reserved pasta water and about 1/2 c of grated Parmigiano (per pound of pasta). Stir until the cheese has melted and coats the pasta, adding more pasta water to keep the dish moist but not runny. Season with salt and pepper and add the bacon pieces, tossing to mix well.

In the bacon grease, fry as many eggs as you need for diners.When the eggs are done (for this application they are a bit better runny, but it is your choice) make a mound of pasta on each diner's plate. Top with an egg or two, more Parmigiano, and chopped flat-leaf parsley, if you have it. Encourage each diner to break the egg yolk and toss their pasta lightly to mix in the egg.

Friday, June 12, 2015


With my most recent pregnancy, I ate a special treat every day that I was overdue; I posted a picture of the treat to Facebook to let friends know that the baby hadn't been born yet. I was five days overdue when we ate Anybody Want a Peanut? Bars, feeling extremely uncomfortable and like I was going to be pregnant forever. The following day, I went to the hospital for a non-stress test and was then admitted to labor and delivery. This beautiful baby's nickname is still "peanut," because we did want a peanut! And he came.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Anybody Want a Peanut? Bars

Essentially a homemade candy bar, this treat is called a Goody Goody Bar by Cook's Country Magazine. I made it for Betsy during the overdue days of her last pregnancy as a comfort for us both. At the time, Betsy's family was enjoying references and quotes from the movie Princess Bride. So we renamed the bar in its honor.

When I was in my late teens my mother came across a recipe for "Special K Treats" which, with their peanut butter flavor, gave some variation to the "Rice Krispie Treats" our family ate from time to time. In my high school and college years I must have made Special K Treats a thousand times, so when I found the recipe that follows, I knew it had an ancestor in common with my family's quick snack.


Anybody Want a Peanut? Bars

This recipe uses brown sugar for extra flavor and chopped peanuts, too, which also add crunchy texture. I decided to try a cereal flake made of whole grains (I used something called Flax Plus which ingredient list included whole wheat flour, the bran of several grains, etc.) rather than the cornflakes and found I liked them and it helped relieve my ambivalence about all the sugar in this recipe. I've topped the bars with semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolate and prefer the bittersweet variety (I used Guittard brand) although it had less viscosity. I also tried some with coarse salt sprinkled on top (so much for my concerns about "healthiness").

Adapted from Cook's Country Magazine
Makes a 9X13 pan

1 c light brown sugar
1 c light corn syrup
1 c peanut butter (I have used regular peanut butter and "natural" and both work)
1 c coarsely chopped dry roasted peanuts
6 c corn flakes (or you can substitute flake cereals that contain more grains)
1 c semi-sweet chocolate chips or 1 1/8-1 1/4 c bittersweet chocolate chips

Butter a 9X13 baking dish. In a large saucepan, cook the sugar and corn syrup until simmering and the sugar has dissolved, stirring occasionally. Don't let this simmer for long because the temperature will rise and the sugars will start to become harder candy (definitely not what you want in a "chewy" bar). Remove from heat; add the peanut butter and the peanuts, stirring until fully incorporated. It will still be lumpy because of the peanuts. Stir in the cereal flakes and stir until well mixed in. Without delay, scoop mixture into the baking dish and spread out using a rubber spatula to compress making sure you press well into the corners. Smooth the top somewhat.

Melt the chocolate by microwaving in a small bowl for 30-50 seconds, stirring to smooth. Don't allow it to microwave too long. The chips can look unmelted but are so hot that stirring will quickly turn it into a sauce. Spread melted chocolate on the top of the bars and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to set up.

These are best eaten in a couple of days--they begin to harden and the chocolate starts to bloom if they sit around a long time.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Strawberry Mousse

Late last summer I tried this at Betsy's house with strawberries from my garden. The recipe has been formulated to increase the flavor of the mousse when using supermarket berries which aren't always as strong in flavor as garden berries. I feel certain it will work with any fresh strawberries you can find.

I've recently tried it again. Like a number of Cook's Illustrated recipes, the end result is very tasty but the process is somewhat fussy and requires a lot of dishes and pans. In spite of that fact, make the mousse and be glad you've got a dishwasher.


Strawberry Mousse

Source: Cook's Illustrated
Serves 4-6

2 pounds strawberries, hulled (6 1/2 c)
1/2 c sugar
pinch salt
1 3/4 teas unflavored gelatin
4 oz. cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces and softened
1/2 heavy cream, chilled

Slice or dice enough strawberries to equal 1 cup (at least) and keep refrigerated until ready to use as garnish (or reserve enough for this purpose and cut berries just before serving).

Pulse remaining strawberries in a food processor in 2 batches until most pieces are 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, although some larger pieces will remain and will be fine. Transfer chopped berries to a bowl and toss with 1/4 c sugar and salt. Cover bowl and let strawberries stand for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Don't clean your food processor but use it for future steps.

Strain the processed berries through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl. You should have about 2/3 c juice. Measure out 3 T juice into a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over juice, stir, and let sit until gelatin softens, about 5 minutes. Place remaining juice in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until reduced to 3 T, about 10 minutes depending on the heat of your stove. Remove from heat and add the softened gelatin mixture, and stir until gelatin has dissolved. Add the cream cheese and whisk until smooth. (If your range is electric, you may place pan back on burner if you need the residual warmth to help melt the cream cheese.) Transfer mixture to large bowl. (If you want to cut down on dishes cook the juice in a medium saucepan and stir everything together in it.)

While reducing the juice, return the chopped berries to the food processor and process until smooth. Strain puree through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium bowl, pressing on solids to remove seeds and pulp (you should have about 1 2/3 c puree). Add strawberry puree to juice-gelatin-cream cheese mixture and whisk until incorporated.

Using a mixer whip cream until it forms soft peaks. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 c sugar and whip until stiff peaks form. Whisk whipped cream into the strawberry mixture until no white streaks remain. Portion into dessert dishes and chill for at least 4 hours or up to 48 hours. (If chilled for longer than 6 hours, let mousse sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving).

Top with chopped or sliced berries. If you like the berries to be glazed with sugar, macerate them for 15 minutes or so before placing them on top of the mousse. Personally, I think this step is unnecessary and would make the dessert too sweet. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Buttered Green Pasta and Asparagus with Basil

Here's a recipe that highlights the asparagus season.


Buttered Green Pasta and Asparagus with Basil

Source:  The Italian Vegetable Cookbook by Michele Scicolone
Serves 8

4 T unsalted butter, divided
1/4 c chopped scallions
2 pds asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/2 in. pieces
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 c water
1 pd spinach pasta (of course, regular pasta can be substituted)
1/2 c basil, cut in chiffonade (rolled and thinly sliced)
1/4 c chopped flat-leaf parsley
3/4 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Meanwhile, melt 2 T of the butter in a large skillet. Add the scallions and cook about 2 minutes. Add the asparagus, salt and pepper, and the water. Cover and cook at medium heat until the asparagus is crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.

When the water boils, add about 1 T salt and add the pasta to the pot and cook until al dente. Saving some of the pasta cooking water in a bowl or measuring cup, drain the pasta.

Add the cooked pasta to the skillet with the asparagus and add the remaining butter, the herbs, and toss well. Add some of the reserved pasta water to the pasta if it seems dry. Add half of the cheese and toss. Serve; passing the rest of the cheese to diners.

Weeknight Waterzooi

When I found the Julia Child recipe for Chicken Waterzooi (a creamy chicken and vegetable stew) I read through several other recipes in my research. I loved the flavor of Julia's recipe and will likely choose to make it when the mood hits. However, it was somewhat time consuming, especially if you are a cook with limited time and a hungry family. I saw this variation on Food52 and decided to try it when I next visited Betsy so we could each form an opinion of the dish. I'm at Betsy's on a baby watch and I cooked this dish a couple of days ago. We both liked it and so did the family members who were willing to try it (one child abstained). We found the recipe as it stood somewhat problematic so we made some changes and feel like this version is both a tasty and quick meal.


Weeknight Waterzooi

Adapated from Food52 
Serves 6-8

2 T butter
1 onion, diced
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced
2 large carrots, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
salt and pepper to taste
4 chicken breasts (2-2 1/2 pounds), cut in bite sized pieces (1/2 in. by 1 in.)
4 to 5 c chicken broth (or 2 cans broth and extra water)
1 egg yolk
1 c heavy cream
2 T cornstarch
2 T white wine vinegar
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish

Melt butter in a Dutch oven. Add vegetables and about 1/2 teas salt and cook over medium-low heat until softened. Add chicken broth (or a mix of broth and water) to just cover the vegetables. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Stir in chicken and reduce heat to medium low or low. 

While the chicken begins to cook whisk together the egg yolk, cream, cornstarch in a small bowl. After chicken has cooked 5-10 minutes (it should have changed color but may not be completely cooked). Stir in the cream mixture and continue to heat until nearly a boil. Stir in pepper and taste for seasoning (add salt if needed). Avoid a heavy boil because it could curdle the egg. Stir in wine vinegar and serve, sprinkling each bowl with parsley.