Any Guesses What I’m Cooking Up?

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I’ve been busy at the stove all weekend. Any guesses what I’m cooking up, folks? Check back on Monday for the recipe!

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Truffle Love

Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody! With love on the mind today, I thought I’d post an essay I wrote for a wedding blog back in 2010. I had just relocated from Manhattan to Washington DC, and moved into my then fiancé’s apartment. Almost four years later, this is a battle still being waged in our home.

Truffle Love February 2010

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I am sure that in a past life I must have been a truffle-sniffing pig. I love everything about truffles; their strong woody flavor, their dark, knobby appearance, and the fact that they hail from France. During my culinary explorations throughout the United States and abroad, I’ve collected every truffle related item that I can find. I have truffle salts and truffle oils, I’ve purchased fresh truffles by the ounce to shave over risotto, and if there were a truffle perfume, I’d buy that, too. Last July when I moved from Manhattan to DC, I even cleared a special cupboard in my fiancé’s kitchen for all of my truffle paraphernalia.

So, it goes without saying that the first time we grilled steaks together as a couple, I reached into my special cupboard and pulled out a small jar of truffle salt. As I began seasoning the first cut, he stopped me to inquire what I was doing. I explained to him the delicacy of the truffle, and held the jar up for him to smell. “I hope you’re not putting that on my steak!” he said, then reached into his not-so-special cupboard and pulled out a clear plastic container that read “McCormick’s Montreal Grill-Mates Steak Seasoning.” Hmmm. He shook the contents over his steak, turning it the color of red brick, and smiled his wicked little smile. “You don’t even want to try my salt?!” I asked with exasperation. “No, I do not!” he replied. I let the issue drop. You see, although I may have complete rein over the kitchen, he’s made it perfectly clear that grilling is his territory. The only assistance I’m allowed to offer up is letting him know when my steak has stopped mooing so that he can remove it from the flame. And so it went; he seasoned his steaks with McCormick’s, and I seasoned mine with truffle salt.

As summer turned to fall, and our grill was put away for the season, we had to resort to cooking our steaks by stovetop. Soon after, fall turned to winter, and both of us noticed the extra padding around our middle that an indoor lifestyle will inevitably create; and so our steaks became steak salad. Now, my fiancé’s not one for health food, but he loves steak salad. He asks for it on a weekly basis. One evening when he was out of town, I got a single text message from him that read: I’m craving your steak salad. Not I miss you, or I love you, or even I can’t wait to see you tomorrow, just I’m craving your steak salad. Every time I serve it, he tells me it’s the best one yet, even though he knows that I don’t change a single ingredient from week to week. It’s always the same; bitter greens, sautéed mushrooms, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, pomegranate vinaigrette, and thinly sliced filet mignon, but to him, it just keeps getting better. After setting his meal in front of him, I wait for him take that initial bite, I watch for his reaction, and then I smile with satisfaction when he tells me again that it is the best one yet.

For months I’ve been patient, biding my time, waiting for him to notice, and then last week it happened. As he took his first bite, he sighed and said, “This really is the best one yet. The steak is so flavorful, what do you season it with?” My moment had arrived; he had finally asked the question I had been longing to hear. I wanted to savor it for all eternity. I put my fork down, looked into his eyes and said, “Truffle salt.” He stared at me for what seemed like an hour, silently nodded his head in defeat, and continued eating. And he was right, it really was the best one yet, because even more delicious than the truffle salt, is victory!

Stuff My Kid Eats: One-Pan Pasta

Stuff My Kid Eats

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What kid doesn’t love pasta? For that matter, what adult doesn’t love pasta? Much like soup, pasta has become a staple in our home. It’s simple, it’s delicious, and it’s the energy-booster my toddler needs to continue terrorizing our cat* on a daily basis. With as much pasta as we eat, I’m always searching for new recipes to liven up the routine. I found this one in Martha Stewart Living a while back, and regularly change up the ingredients depending on what I have in my fridge. See VARIATIONS at the end of this post for ideas on how you can alter this dish and make it your own. (Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living)

One-Pan Pasta

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I have to admit, as much as I trust Martha Stewart and her very accomplished staff (not that I’m biased or anything), I was a bit skeptical when this recipe called for throwing all the ingredients into a pan and cooking them together, rather than separately. Pasta in one pot, sauce in the other, that’s how I was raised — but WOW! this is so much better. And at the end of the meal, you only have one pan to clean. Brilliant!

Serves 4

  • 12 oz. linguine
  • 12 oz. cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups mushrooms, sliced
  • ½ tsp. red-pepper flakes
  • 2 sprigs basil, plus torn leaves for garnish
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for serving
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • 4½ cups water
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for serving

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Combine pasta, tomatoes, onion, garlic, red-pepper flakes, basil, oil, 2 tsp. salt, ¼ tsp. pepper, and water in a large straight-sided skillet. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil mixture, stirring and turning pasta frequently with tongs, until pasta is al dente and water has nearly evaporated, about 9 minutes.

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Season to taste with salt and pepper, divide among 4 bowls, and garnish with basil. Serve with oil and Parmesan.

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Sidekick: The simplicity of this pasta pairs well with a Pinot Gris or a Sauvignon Blanc.

VARIATIONS:

Silky Carbonara

Omit:
Basil
Mushrooms

Add:
2 egg yolks
1 tsp. water
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup cooked bacon, chopped

Beat egg yolks with water until smooth. After pasta has finished cooking, remove from heat, add egg mixture, butter, and bacon and stir until creamy. Season with salt and pepper and serve with grated Parmesan.

Spring Greens

Omit:
Tomatoes
Basil
Mushrooms
Red-pepper flakes
Parmesan cheese

Add:
1 bunch of asparagus, tender part only, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 lemon
1 cup spring peas, fresh or frozen
2 Tbsp. Italian parsley, finely chopped

Add asparagus at the beginning with dry pasta. Meanwhile, juice and zest lemon. Once pasta has cooked for about 7 minutes, add lemon juice and peas. Stir and continue to cook for 2 minutes or until pasta is al dente. Season with salt and pepper. Divide into 4 bowls and garnish with parsley and lemon zest.

Italian Chicken and Peppers

Add:
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 precooked chicken breasts, diced
2 Tbsp. fresh oregano, finely chopped

Add bell peppers at the beginning with dry pasta. Once pasta has finished cooking, add diced chicken and oregano. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper and serve with Parmesan.

Photo: The Toddler Terrorizing The Cat.

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Lobster Bisque for Valentine’s Day!

Lobster Bisque for Valentine’s Day!

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Lobster, with it’s high price tag, short refrigerator life, and fatty sidekick (butter!), tends to be a financial and dietary indulgent for many of us. Valentine’s Day is one of the handfuls of times that people are willing to spend the big bucks on this saltwater splurge (not to mention take the time to separate the delicate meat from it’s hardy shell). This year, why not try a more elegant approach to lobster and turn it into a rich, velvety soup. It’s decadent and creamy, and the best part is, you do all the cracking and cleaning in the kitchen, saving yourself messy hands, piles of shells, and swearing (in my husband’s case) at your nicely set dinner table.

Lobster Bisque

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There aren’t many recipes that I follow to a tee; I usually end up changing ingredients, altering amounts, and differing cooking methods, but this recipe is SPOT ON! No modifications necessary, unless, of course, you can’t muster the courage to handle a live lobster. In that case, substitute 2 uncooked lobster tails for the real deal. Note: Live lobsters can survive in the refrigerator for up to 24-hours, either in a plastic bag, or in a bowl of fresh water. Before cooking, place the lobster in the freezer for 30 minutes. This puts them in a hibernated state, making them easier to handle, and less intimidating to you. And, if it makes you feel any better, the first time I cooked a live lobster I wore workmen’s gloves and noise canceling headphones because I was sure I’d be able to hear it scream — it didn’t, and I looked ridiculous. (Recipe from Fine Cooking.)

For the broth:
  • 1 1-1/2- to 1-3/4-lb. live lobster, rinsed
  • 1-1/2 oz. (3 Tbs.) unsalted butter
For the bisque:
  • 2-1/2 oz. (5 Tbs.) unsalted butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1-1/8 oz. (1/4 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tbs. cream sherry
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Make the broth:

In an 8- to 10-quart stockpot, bring 1-1/2 inches of water to a boil over high heat. Add 1 tsp. salt and the lobster, cover, and steam until bright red and one of the smaller legs twists off easily, about 18 minutes. Remove the lobster with tongs and reserve the steaming liquid.

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When the lobster is cool enough to handle, twist off the claws and the tail. Using a nutcracker, crack the knuckles and claws and push out the meat with your little finger or a pick. Set the tail on a hard surface and use your hand to press down and crack the shell; push out the meat. Slice the tail meat in half lengthwise and remove the black intestinal vein. Dice the meat from one claw and half of the tail and set aside for garnish. Coarsely chop the remaining meat. Reserve the shells.

Rinse out the tomalley (green matter) from the upper body. Split the body lengthwise and use your fingers to remove the innards. (If the lobster is female, you’ll see bright-red roe; leave it in the body for additional color and flavor.)

Use kitchen shears or a chef’s knife to break the body and reserved shells into 1- to 2-inch pieces and then use a meat mallet or a small pot to flatten them.

Measure the steaming liquid and add water to total 6 cups of liquid. Melt the butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the flattened shells and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to blister and their color intensifies, about 5 minutes. Add the liquid and 1/2 tsp. salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface.

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Strain the broth through a fine sieve into a large liquid measuring cup. You should have 4 cups—if there’s more, boil until reduced to 4 cups; if there’s less, add water.

Make the bisque:

Clean and dry the saucepan and melt the butter in the pan over low heat. Add the onion, carrot, and garlic and cook until softened, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring, until golden and bubbly, about 2 minutes.

Add the wine, tomato paste, thyme, and bay leaf; bring to a boil, and cook, stirring, until the liquid is slightly reduced, about 3 minutes. Add the lobster broth and cook uncovered over medium heat until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped lobster meat and simmer for 2 minutes to heat. Remove the bay leaf.

In a blender, purée the mixture in batches until smooth. Strain through a medium-mesh sieve back into the pot, pushing on the solids with a wooden spoon.

Stir in the cream and sherry, season to taste with salt and pepper, and cook the bisque over low heat until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.

Serve the bisque garnished with the diced lobster meat.

Make Ahead Tips

The bisque and lobster garnish can be refrigerated separately for up to 1 day. Reheat over medium-low heat before serving.

Sidekick: Both Valentine’s Day and lobster bisque call for uncorking a bottle of bubbly. My favorite is Veuve Clicquot Rosé, but if you’re not one for champagne, try a big, buttery Chardonnay instead.

Staying Warm: Spicy Mexican Hot Chocolate

Staying Warm

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This week brought us 10 inches of snow, a mad hunt for our snow shovel, and a sub-zero trek to the park on a sledding expedition (which was only semi-successful with a toddler). Upon returning to the warmth of our home, and after shedding piles of wet clothing in the hall, I was bombarded with requests for hot chocolate. As I pulled the Swiss Miss box out of the cupboard, I was alarmed at how light it felt. Alarm quickly turned to panic as I realized the box was empty. The first snowstorm of the year and we were out of hot chocolate. Total rookie-mom mistake!  Frantically, I started digging and digging, and thankfully discovered that we had all the fixings for homemade hot chocolate — even better! So if this month has you shoveling snow and dreaming of a more tropical climate, than wrap your hands around a steaming mug of chocolate, tuck in with the ones you love, and smile as you weather the storm together.

Spicy Mexican Hot Chocolate

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The chiles in this recipe add just enough of a kick to get your blood circulating — and the orange? It just serves a little reminder that warmer days are soon to come.

Spicy Mexican Hot Chocolate

Serves 2

  • 3 cups milk
  • 4 oz. dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 dried chile peppers (such as Chiles de Arbol), cut in half
  • 1 3-4″ long strip of orange rind

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Divide chocolate among two mugs. Set aside.

In a saucepan over low heat, bring milk, cinnamon, cloves, peppers, and orange rind to a gentle simmer, continue simmering on low for 2-3 minutes, stirring. With a fine-mesh sieve, strain milk into a large measuring cup or bowl. Pour half of milk into each mug and whisk until chocolate has melted. Serve topped with marshmallows or whipped cream. (My toddler prefers mini marshmallows; “Ten for my hot chocolate and one my mouth,” as she says.)

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Stuff My Kid Eats – Pan-Seared Sausage with Lady Apples and Watercress

Stuff My Kid Eats

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Has there ever been a more beautiful union than that of sweet and savory? The unlikely marriage of salt and confection has inspired many food favorites: chocolate covered pretzels, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Rocky Road ice cream, corn dogs, fruit and cheese, pineapple pizza (my toddler’s pick) — the list goes on and on. So with Valentine’s Day hot on everybodys’ minds, why not put away your ideas of “what works” and go with your gut! After all, it worked with my toddler and her cat.*

Pan-Seared Sausage with Lady Apples and Watercress 

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Aside from pineapple pizza, this is my toddler’s favorite meal. The ultimate sweet and savory matrimony: Italian sausage, caramelized apples, and watercress — this dish has all the makings for a family favorite! (Recipe slightly adapted from Bon Appétit)

Serves 4

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. lady apples, halved through stem ends (if unavailable, use pink lady or fuji apples)
1 ½ lb. sweet Italian sausage
½ cup dry white wine
4 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 bunch watercress, trimmed (about 6 cups)
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Heat oil in a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples, cut side down, and cook, turning occasionally until golden brown, 5-8 minutes.

Prick sausages with a fork, add to skillet with apples, and cook, turning occasionally, until browned. 10-12 minutes. Add wine and vinegar to skillet. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until thickened (liquid should coat a spoon), about 4 minutes. Add watercress and toss to coat, season with salt and pepper.

Serve with pan juices spooned over.

Sidekicks:

  • A fruity Zinfandel and an off-dry German Riesling pair well with the sweet apples.
  • Crispy oven potatoes are an excellent starch to help soak up the delicious pan juices you don’t want to go to waste (recipe below).

Crispy Oven Potatoes

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I make these potatoes a few times a month and always change up the seasonings to match the flavor of the meal. For this dish, I like smoked paprika and dried oregano, which off-set the sweetness of the Italian sausage and lady apples, but you can use thyme and fennel, rosemary and parsley — or whatever else suits your fancy. 

Serves 4

  • 8-10 Yukon Gold potatoes, quartered
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. herbs d’provence
  • ½ tsp. smoked paprika
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly mist a baking sheet with cooking spray. In a bowl, mix all ingredients until combined. Spread seasoned potatoes evenly on sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, tossing half way through.

* Photo: True Love: The Toddler and The Cat

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Creamy Roasted Beet Soup

Plan Ahead for Valentine’s Day

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Ah, Valentine’s Day; a day of love and romance, of cupids and hearts, of chocolates and roses. It’s also a day of frantically searching your closet for something red to wear, of purchasing last minute cards and gifts, and stressing about restaurant reservations that are almost impossible to snag unless you’ve planned 6 months in advance. So why not forget about all that craziness and enjoy a romantic evening at home with the one you love. Set the table, light some candles, and serve up a delicious, heart-warming meal.

Creamy Roasted Beet Soup

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You don’t have to like beets to appreciate this soup. No really. My husband isn’t a fan of beets, and he loved it! So did my toddler, in fact, her comments were, “It’s pink! And pretty! And sweet!” This colorful soup is bound to get your heart-beet going! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun.) 

Creamy Roasted Beet Soup

  •  2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 medium sized beets
  • 1 sweet yellow onion, diced
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • ½ inch fresh ginger root, peeled coarsely chopped
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
  • 1 tsp. allspice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar (red or white wine vinegar would work, too)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4-6 Tbsp, sour cream for serving (optional)
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Serves 4-6

Preheat oven to 350°F. Scrub beets clean, then wrap in tin foil. Place in oven and roast for 1 hour, or until easily pierced with a fork. Let cool, then peel with a vegetable peeler. Cut into ¼-inch cubes. Set aside. (See Tips*)

In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sauté onions, carrots, and celery until soft and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and ginger root and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes.

Add stock, beets, allspice, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Partially cover and continue simmering for 30 minutes. Vegetables should be very soft. Add vinegar and salt & pepper and cook for another few minutes. Remove bay leaf.

Purée soup with an immersion hand-blender right in the pot; or in two batches, purée soup in a food processor or blender until smooth. Return soup to pot.

Add heavy cream and heat, stirring until soup is creamy. Ladle into pre-warmed bowls, and top with a dollop of sour cream. Serve hot. (See How To* for instructions on making sour cream hearts.)

*Tips: Beets can stain hands, clothing, cutting boards, and light-colored sinks and countertops. To avoid turning everything in your kitchen red, wear kitchen gloves while handling beets, and peel over an open plastic bag set in the sink.

*How To: To make sour cream hearts, whisk sour cream in a small bowl until runny (you may need to thin with a drop or two of water). Gently place a drop of sour cream on the surface of the soup, either in the middle or in a series of small drops along the edge. Starting about a ¼-inch above the drop, slowly drag a bamboo skewer or toothpick through the center of the drop, swooping away, creating a tail.

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Sidekicks:

  • Serve this elegant and slightly sweet soup with a glass of sparkling Rosé; my favorite is Veuve Clicquot Rosé (pictured below).
  • A spinach salad with strawberries, almonds, and pomegranate vinaigrette not only looks stunning next to this soup, but the bitter greens and tangy dressing also offset the sweetness of the beets (recipe follows).

IMG_1834 Vueve Clicquot Rosé

Spinach Salad with Strawberries, Almonds, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

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To make strawberry hearts, use a sharp knife or strawberry huller to carefully remove stem and hull from strawberry. Cut strawberry lengthwise in ¼-inch slices, then use knife to round tops, creating a heart.

Spinach Salad with Strawberries, Almonds, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Salad:

  • 8 cups spinach
  • 2 cups hulled and sliced strawberries, about 6-8 strawberries
  • ½ cup slivered almonds

Vinaigrette:

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar or rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. agave syrup or honey
  • ¼ cup pomegranate juice (preferably Pom Wonderful)
  • ¼ tsp. ground coriander
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Serves 4

Wash spinach and pat dry, and place in a large salad bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together vinaigrette ingredients until emulsified.

Dress spinach with vinaigrette and divide evenly onto serving plates. Place strawberries on each salad, then top with slivered almonds (dividing evenly).