Sunday, October 25, 2009

Best Pizza in Boston ... (so far)

A rainy Saturday night in the South End with friends and Rock Band lends itself well to pizza ... and luckily, one of the benefits of coming from Austin to Boston is killer Pizza.

Now - we do have a few great pizzerias in Austin (my fave is Homeslice in SoCo) - but nothing like the variety and quality that exists in the northeast in general and Boston in specific.

So last night was pizza from The Upper Crust ... and no ... I don't have a pic of the pizza because it was too good and we ate it!! (image courtesy of The Upper Crust:))

An MGH (spinach, broccoli & feta) plus mushrooms and canadian bacon was delish and sort of healthy (I told myself).  The crust is super thin with perfectly crispy edges that just defy being burnt ... eat the first bite or two with a knife and fork ... then fold that bad boy and get a huge bite!

When I was here during grad school, there was only one Upper Crust ... but now Boston is blessed with 13, count'em, 13 pie shops!  That means you can have hot, crispy and delish pizza in your house in like 30 minutes!!!

This town could get fattening ... especially since I still don't have a kitchen of my own.  Till then, I'll be eating and posting about restaurants:)))

Monday, October 12, 2009

My Party Pictures were terrible ... help!

Today's post is just a quick hit prompted by the feedback I got from my team here at HubSpot upon seeing my last post about party planning for our recent October shindig at my house ... they liked the party planning advice but were disappointed in my pics' image quality.  Rightly so.

With that backstory, my friend John, a pro photographer, decided to post a few tips on Getting the Most from Your Point & Click camera.  Regardless of the type of event you have - he posits that there is one tenet to aid in excellent images:

Lighting, Lighting, Lighting ...

In short, ensuring there is a significant difference in the fore- and back-ground of your subjects will take care of it ... but read his post for the full details.

Something else that I learned from John is that it really isn't as expensive to hire a pro photographer for your events.  In fact, he mentioned rates on the order of $50-100/hour for an event like the party I had last week. (John, maybe you can post a blog about some advice in this realm?) While maybe I wouldn't splurge for that particular party, I will certainly think twice when it comes to something like my 40th Bday (far far away I assure you:)))). 

His posts and advice have opened my eyes (pun intended) ... next time you plan a significant milestone event I encourage you to think ahead about who is going to record those memories!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cocktail Party Tips for Evening Events that Satisfy without a Full Meal ...

This blog post will mark a slight departure from the original theme of this blog ... because I am expanding the scope to include dinner party and other party planning ideas and tools here and on a new site I am building called (feel free to check it out ... it is under construction now:)))

That being said ... I recently had three wonderful reasons to throw a party:

1) John's birthday is this month ... this weekend in fact
2) I landed a new job in Boston at HubSpot and have hopped a plane to work here 3 weeks a month
3) ACL (Austin City Limits Music Festival) needed a kickoff!!!

Knowing how many people would want to celebrate these three occasions, I realized it couldn't be an intimate dinner party ... in fact I invited about 100 folks and we had around 45-50 over the course of the evening that were able to make it. Now, that may seem like a daunting number, but I was thrilled and find it so much fun to entertain. This is the reason that I'll be adding this theme to the blog ... there are so many things in life that deserve to be celebrated and taking the pain out of party planning is something that needs to be done.

So to keep it short and sweet ... what are the lessons learned and tips that I can share from this most recent party?
  • Be clear about food in your invitation: because this was such a large group and my home isn't huge, a full meal was not an option. My start time was 8PM because it was a 'school night' for many, but they all knew that there'd be heavy apps and snacks and therefore came prepared. I had enough for everyone without too many leftovers considering the size of the party.
  • Only serve things that you like and are willing to eat leftover: the above comment aside, we had hummus and cupcakes and a few other items after the party wound down at 1AM. Since I planned things I loved, John and I had great snacks all throughout ACL weekend:)
  • Don't serve more than 1 or 2 hot items unless you have an army of helpers: between the need to finish the item while your guests are arriving and trying to keep it hot doing anything more than 1 or 2 will just stress you out.
  • Consider a single hot passed hostess hors d'oeuvre: I experimented with a passed item (Pears with Sage wrapped in Proscuitto, courtesy of my gal Amy, blog post to follow) and used the passing as a really great excuse to chat briefly with all my guests making sure everyone felt welcomed and I could make quick introductions. If you have the right crowd, you won't feel like you are 'serving' - rather you'll feel like you have a great reason to mingle with speed:)
  • Make a list & a timeline: I had so much going on that week and couldn't leave most things till the final day of the party. I ran errands and did items in all four days leading up to the party ... and found that I wasn't missing anything when the time came for the corks to be popped!
  • Get all your serving dishes out early in the day: as you finish items, plan out what will go where. If you have a helper or two, you can even write up a quick post it note on each dish and let your helpers do some of the last minute 'placement' without distracting you from any of your last minute work.
  • Plan your music in advance ... or better yet ... use Pandora! OK, not so subtle plug for my favorite music service which will play a random list of music all based on a genre you select - saves you the hassle of creating a playlist if you aren't a total music buff. In fact, John even created an 'ACL' station for the party by putting in a few artist names of bands that we were going to see at the event ... fun and apropos
  • Keep the decor simple: If you are not hosting a themed party and it is at your home, you really don't need much in the way of decoration. Good food, beverage and laughs will be all you need to get smiles on your friends' faces.
That's it for this time around ... look out for more healthy recipes, party suggestions and thoughts on this channel. Cheers!!!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Summer Salad of Nectarines, Heirloom Tomatoes and Roasted Corn on Greens ...

Once again, Costco had shockingly beautiful flats of perfect nectarines (perhaps I have to thank modern pesticides and growth hormones for that ... but I will pretend I don't know about that:) ... which when complimented with other summer delectables inspired a new creation...

Nectarine, Heirloom Tomato and Roasted Sweet Corn Salad with Mixed Greens
  • 2 Ripe Nectarines
  • 2 Ripe Heirloom Tomatoes, ideally one red & one yellow or variegated
  • 15-20 Heirloom Grape Tomatoes, varying sizes and colors is ideal
  • 2 Ears of Corn, Microwaved & the briefly grilled for roasted flavor & markings
  • 1 Shallot & 1/4 of a Red Onion, Finely sliced
  • 1 Orange, Zested & Juiced
  • 1/4 cup Rice wine vinegar
  • 2-3 Tbsps Olive Oil
  • 1-2 Tbsps Honey
  • Fresh Mint & Basil, 10 leaves each, finely minced
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • OPTIONAL: Cayenne Pepper 1-2 tsps
Cut the nectarines and tomatoes into quarters and then finely slice them crosswise. Cut the corn off the roasted cob and mix the niblets with the tomatoes and nectarines. Add the sliced shallots and onions.

Combine the juice+zest, vinegar, oil, honey, herbs, salt & pepper blending thoroughly. I love the addition of the cayenne for a little bit of heat. Pour 1/2 of the dressing over the fruit portion of your salad and reserve the rest. Let the fruit sit and mascerate with the dressing for an hour or two before serving atop a bed of greens that will be dressed with the remaining salad dressing. If you prefer a creamier dressing, add yogurt or buttermilk to the mixture and shake to blend - this cuts some of the acidity without adding a lot of calories.

Voila ... a shocking little summer fun salad that is easy to make and can be prepared a few hours ahead! It was a hit at our recent couples grill out:)) See it served here alongside a buffalo blue cheese burger and sweet potatoes (courtesy of Chef Jeremy Martin) - YUM!!!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Flank Steak with Chimichurri, Purple Potato Salad & Fresh Summer Tomatoes, Avocado & Mozz!

Dinner party Saturday night ... OK a few Saturdays ago ... at my place ... and it is, guess what, 100+ degrees - who knew?

Right. Austin this summer has been a veritable inferno ... and I was NOT about to cook something warm and toasty in my house where I don't have a patio to grill. But serving my guests fish again was not optional either ...

Enter a nice flank steak over salad idea ... inspired by my lovely subscription to Bon Appetit (a bday gift courtesy of my friend Michelle:) ... about seven steak & chimi recipes later, I arrived at the below which was heralded by all as fantabulous!!! (measurements may be less than exact;))))

Try to have 3-4 hours for marinating ... so plan just a lil' ahead plz!

Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce, Purple Potato Salad & Summer Tomato, Avo, Mozz Salad
(will post the potato salad recipe separately) Serves 8-10

Steak & Marinade
  • 3 lbs Flank Steak (it was a bit much for my 6 person table, but mmmm the leftovers!)
  • 1/2 cup Red Wine Vinegar
  • 2-3 Tbsps Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 4-5 Cloves Garlic, Smashed
  • 1-2 Shallots, thinly sliced
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
Chimichurri Sauce - Kir's Tweak ...
  • 1 1/2 large bunch fresh Italian parsley
  • 1/3 bunch fresh cilantro (my add - not in traditional chimi)
  • 1/3 bunch fresh basil (my add - from my garden - sweetness that popped)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves(must be fresh - don't even think about dried)
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled (or 5 ... that's what I used:))
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar (add a smidge of balsamic to sweeten it & cut the acid)
  • 2 Tbsps dried red chili flakes (start with 1/2 of this and then taste periodically as you add - mine had heat, but not too much ... just right for my crew)
  • Salt to taste, sea salt is best
The beauty of this whole deal is that once you make the chimi & marinade ... it's all downhill!

Mix all the marinade ingredients and then place the meat in a shallow pan with the marinade, ideally covering it. You can also use the plastic bag methodology (which creeps me out for some reason ... flesh ... in a bag ... ugh). Put this in the fridge for 3-4 hours ... or overnight if you are that well planned (I usually am not).

Make your chimi a bit in advance to let the flavors meld and give yourself time to get dressed for guests:))) Because I use a really small Cuisinart (which I love - if I haven't told ya before - and you can get at Costco for like $40 - best gadget EVER) ... I usually do a large dice of my ingredients so I don't kill the thing. Therefore, smash your garlic and chop the leaves of your lovely herbs. Drop this plus your olive oil and vinegar into the food processor and blend away. Once you have a pretty sauce consistency ... start adding salt and red pepper flakes ... perhaps that drip of balsamic ... this is the fun part. You must taste. Add things, blend more and taste. I tasted with some pita chips ... and ultimately reached a heat that left me just wanting a bit more ... addictive heat is what we got ... and what my guests LOVED.

I was asked to blog about this and, Jeremy, now that I have ... I challenge you to try it ... tweak it ... and improve upon it!

OK. I digress. You've got your chimi and your meat chillin ... I then made a really nice potato salad and prepped my veggies for the evening ... so finally, the cooking happens.

Several options:
  1. Grill - I don't have a grill ... my man does (since I bought it for him two bdays ago ... but it resides at his abode ... so ... I'll give you my guess on cooking times). 4-5 minutes per side on med-hi heat.
  2. Grill Pan - Aha! A gift from my father, Le Creuset Grill Pan, results in very nicely scored flank steak ... that ... well ... I got 1/2 right and 1/2 overcooked since I had two big slabs. The good one was about 4 minutes per side and then rested. The bad one I did 3 then 4 and then put it in the oven to keep ... oops ... probably could've done 3 and 2 or so and then in the oven to keep warm and it would've been great.
  3. Broiler - I am not going to guess on this one ... go check another recipe!

Let that bad boy rest ... cut it on the bias* (very important!) and serve over your fave salad. My trick here was to take my chimi sauce and turn it into a much milder salad dressing by mixing about 2 tbsps chimi with 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp buttermilk. MMMM.

Cutting on the Bias - if you don't know is cutting at an angle ... ideally against the grain of the meat. This breaks the sinew allowing your guests to enjoy the shortest muscles and therefore tenderest mouthfeel ... and if you've marinated well ... then 'like butta'!

Enjoy beating the summer heat with this delish recipe inspired by Argentinian classics!!!!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lemon Scented Salmon with Roasted Beets and Greens, Oven Roasted Potatoes

Summer calls for light delish dishes ... and I was craving some fish on a Monday evening after decadent weekend fare. Fresh lemons in the house, plus beets and potatoes from the CSA ...

People keep telling me that baking fish with citrus is easy and very tasty ... which I agree with, however, I will say ... the result is very 'mildly' citrus ... hence the lemon 'scented' title. Hindsight 20/20, I would probably do this and add a lemon reduction of some sort to kick it up a notch. But anyway ... this was all a recipe based on my ideas, no cribbing from elsewhere and it is super easy.

Lemon Scented Salmon, served with greens, roasted beets and potatoes
  • Two 5oz filets of salmon, mild ideally
  • 1 lemon, zested (zest set aside) and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup Fresh Basil, in chiffonade (cut into thin chiffon like strips - see you learned a new word!)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Olive Oil
  • Pan & Tin foil
Preheat oven to 350. Rinse the salmon in cold water and pat dry. Get a piece of tin foil that is large enough to wrap both your filets in with enough to close it like a pouch. Line the base of the pan with the foil.

Place the salmon in the foil, drizzle with a little olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, lemon zest and basil. Squeeze one or two of the lemon slices over the fish and then layer three lemon slices over each filet. Close the tin foil tightly over the fish, ensuring that all the seams are tight.

Bake the fish for 16-20 minutes, checking to verify doneness. Normally, when I broil fish, it only takes about 10 minutes, but this method uses less direct heat. If you are so inclined, and I am because I love caramelization, when the fish is almost done, remove it from the oven, open the foil and set aside the lemon slices. Place the fish back in the oven on broil for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the top of the fish becomes golden.

Serve this very easy and light fish entree alongside your favorite sides ... maybe even creating a white wine and lemon reduction to go with it ...

I think this would go great with pasta and asparagus or even a chilled pasta salad.

Have fun, eat your omega 3s and see you soon!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Summer CSA produces Zucchini galore ... what to do!?!?!

In the fall I bought a share of the Johnson Backyard CSA ... then this spring/early summer I split a CSA share from a different farm (who shall remain nameless) ... Turns out this new farm really didn't subscribe to the concept of variety. I swear, I have never seen so many radishes and random greens!!! But in early June we got squash ... and I mean lots ... I think I had 6 or 7 full size zucchini and yellow squash on my hands with an impending business trip (meaning this stuff was going to go bad). What is a frugal, German girl who hates waste to do? Surf the net ... Locate variety of random recipes ... Settle on a tasty, yet semi-naughty one ... Zucchini Cakes - kinda like a Latke or as we say in Germany, 'Reibekuchen' (lecker)!!!! Pretty easy recipe that is only annoying when it comes to the whole shredding part. I was dining alone that night, so I paired them with a poached egg and some quick marinara sauch - TASTY and kinda healthy. John polished off the remaining EIGHT in the batch the next day for lunch:))))

Zucchini Pancakes (modified from Low Carb Cooking)

  • 4 cups shredded zucchini (or combo of shredded zucchini & yellow squash)
  • 1 medium sized shallot, diced (my addition)
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. dried basil (I also added thyme which I love)
  • 2-3 Tbsp. parmesan cheese (my addition, more if you like;)))
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Place zucchini and 1/2 tsp. kosher salt in a colander. Drain for ten minutes, pressing down with paper towels to push out all the excess water. Whisk the remaining 1/2 tsp. salt and eggs together in a large mixing bowl. Add the flour, baking powder, garlic, basil and zucchini. Mix until all the ingredients are well-combined.

Place the olive oil in a large nonstick frying pan and heat over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, drop the zucchini mixture by rounded tablespoons. Flatten gently with a fork. Cook 2 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. Flip and cook another two minutes. Remove to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Serve immediately.

Original nutrition info per pancake (without my parmesan adder) (based on 15): 26 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 28 g cholesterol, 4 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 2 g protein, 2% vitamin A, 8% vitamin C, 2% calcium, 2% iron

These make a great side and other than zucchini bread are a really tasty way to ensure you make good use of these veggies ... I bet you can even get kids to eat em!

Serving Suggestions: spicy marinara, chutney of any sort, pesto, chimichurri, apple sauce, apricot chutney, with canadian bacon and an egg on top as a modified benedict (mmmm) ... the ideas are endless!!!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Decadent ... out of character Chocolate & Peanut Butter Cake (made by John:)))

Dinner parties with friends are one of my fave things ... and since I have some friends who can throw down ... we knew it was time for the big guns when it was our turn for dessert ...

... with that, I will now blog on behalf of my man John who is the recognized baker of our couple ... I cook, he bakes. (I experiment with measures, he is a scientist and has a healthy respect for the chemistry of baking ... not I:))).

John let me help pick the cake to be baked so I gave him two recipes - both three layer chocolate cakes, one with a berry filly and chocolate frosting and the other with peanut butter frosting and a chocolate peanut butter ganache. Clearly, based on imagery you can see what we chose ... and can I say - PEANUT BUTTER!!!!! mmm mmm mmm ri-dic-u-lous!!!

We ended up doing a little Kirsten-ization of the recipes as we combined one choco cake recipe with the decadent frosting duo ... and 3 painstaking hours later, John was putting the finishing touches on this unbelievable cake, that we estimated at approximately 850 calories per slice!!!!

Needless to say you won't be seeing a whole lot of other posts with recipes like this on em ... :)))
Enjoy the abbreviated versions below and the images of that moist, flavorful, amazingly decadent cake below!

Genoise Cake Recipe - Courtesy of Emeril Legasse
  • 3/4 cup cake flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • Pinch of baking soda
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
Genoise (cake): Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour an 8-inch cake pan.

Into a small bowl sift together flour, cocoa powder, cornstarch and baking soda. In a large metal bowl set over barely simmering water, whisk eggs and sugar with a hand-held electric beater until thick, foamy and doubled in volume. Mixture should form a ribbon when beaters are lifted. Make sure that mixture does not get too hot and curdle eggs. Remove from heat and gently fold in flour mixture until just combined. Fold in melted butter and pour into cake pan. Bake 20 minutes until cake is springy to touch. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a cake rack, turn out and cool completely.

Frosting Recipes - Courtesy of Smitten Kitchen (whom I love, but for caloric reasons avoid!)

Peanut Butter Frosting

  • 10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2/3 cup smooth peanut butter, commercial brand (because oil doesn’t separate out)

1. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.

2. Add the peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze

  • 8 ounces seimsweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half

1. In the top of a double boiler or in a bowl set over simmering water, combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

2. Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm.

As you can see, this recipe is not for the faint of heart ... but it will certainly gain you a lot of admirers! Happy baking from me and John!!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Brunch Crepes with Pear-Pecan Filling

I forgot to take pics this morning because it was so tasty that we ate everything! Ooops ... so y'all will have to live with images of fruits & nuts:)
Crepes are not the healthiest, but I modified my recipe to add a little good stuff like wheat flour & flax ... and then filled them with fresh fruits & nuts for a fresh and flavorful breakfast.

Crepes with Pear-Pecan Filling
Crepe Batter
  • 2 Eggs + 2 Egg Whites
  • 1 Tbsp Ground Flax Powder
  • 1 1/2 c LowFat Milk
  • 1/4 c Wheat Flour
  • 2/4 c White Flour
  • 1/2 tsp Almond or Vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp Splenda
  • pinch of salt
  • butter for greasing the pan (i have a trick to use very little)

Fruit Filling
  • 1 Pear, Ripe but crisp, I think I used a d'Anjou
  • 20-25 Pecans, I used delicious Rhew Orchards Pecans
  • 1 heaping teaspoon Brown Sugar
Make the batter first because you want to let it 'rest' for about 15 minutes before using it. Beat the eggs, then add the remaining liquid ingredients and mix. Sift in the flax and flours whisking so that you avoid lumps. Stop stirring once combined, you don't want to overmix. Let the batter rest and ideally transfer from your bowl into a container that has a spout which will make it easy to pour.

For the filling, simply dice 1/2 of the pear rougly and slice the other half into thin slices. Save the slices for assembly. Put the diced pear, all the pecans and the brown sugar into a cuisinart or blender. Blend until chunky, but not liquid.

Heat a medium sized non-stick pan on medium, maybe 4 or 5 out of 10. Take your stick of butter and just lightly pass it over the surface - the heat will get a tiny bit of butter on the pan, just enough so that the crepe browns and adds flavor but does not stick. My trick to do this well is then to put the stick of butter in the freezer between each use - that way it is easy to handle and yet deposits just a teensy bit of butter.

Pour about 2 Tbsps of batter onto the surface and tilt the pan until you've coated a surface about 6-8 inches in diameter. Cover the pan and let it cook for 2 minutes or so. It should be ready to flip either with a spatula or chef style (which I learned to do today:). Once flipped leave the lid off and cook another 30-60 seconds. Your crepe should be done ...

Slide the crepe onto a plate, put two pear slices in the center, lengthwise and cover with the chopped filling. Roll up and serve .. you may want to garnish with another slice of fruit and a whole pecan or if you are feeling saucy ... a bit of melted brown sugar with butter (I didn't do this and don't think you need it ... but would be decadent!).

Enjoy your fruit & nut filled, semi-healthy crepes!!! Fill the same crepes with a fruit filling of your choice ... or skip the splenda & extract to make savory crepes sometime. They are much easier than you think:)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Roast Chicken with Garlic & Roasted Tomatoes ... mmmmm & easy!

An impromptu dinner party at my place inspired this recipe which I had once
before when my roomie and great friend Colleen cooked it during grad school ... this Saturday our friend, who shall remain nameless but disgraced, cancelled a 6 person dinner party at the last minute so I had folks to my digs instead ... we are still angry with you by the way!!!

Anyhow... I tried to remember and scanned a few recipes - then came up with this combo that resulted in a tender, juicy, crispy browned chicken that was lovely. The only thing I would change next time is cooking it breast up (oops) and probably make a pan gravy with the extra drippings.

Roast Chicken with Garlic & Roast Tomatoes (serves 4-5)
  • 1 Full Chicken, 4-5 lbs, defrosted
  • 2 packs grape tomatoes, like Cherubs or farmers market babies
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, depends on how much you like it
  • 2 Lemons, quartered
  • 4-5 Tsps Thyme
  • 3-4 Tbsps Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper
This was the first time I have ever roasted a whole bird, so needless to say I was a little intimidated. It turns out not to be all that scary in fact ... the worst part was getting the weird bits (read gizzards) out of the bum. Uck. But I used tongs and it wasn't all that bad:))) So, get the stuff out of your bird and toss that - cuz I don't do exotic dishes with that stuff. Total time for a bird this size, including brining is about 3 hours. I put it in the oven at 6:15 with the intention of eating at 8:30 ... allowing 2 hours in the oven + a 15 minute rest. Was a bit too long ... but gives you a guide for planning.

Fill a pot of water, large enough to submerge the whole chicken, with warm water and about 4-5 tsps of sea salt or coarsley ground salt. Brine the chicken in this mixture for 1-2 hours. Less if you don't have time, but the key to brining is that the chicken retains moisture longer and ends up being super juicy.

While the chicken brines, make whatever sides you are preparing and get the rest of the ingredients set up. Mix up the Thyme, Olive Oil and about 2-3 tsps each salt & pepper in a ramekin. Quarter the lemons and halve about half of the grape tomatoes. Crush and chop the garlic. Grease a roasting pang or 2-inch deep baking vessel. Preheat the oven to 425.

Once the chicken is brined, take it out, pat it dry with paper towel and then coat it in the oil & herb mixture. Use your hands, it is way more effecient than a brush. Place the chicken, breast up, in the roasting pan. Put some of the thyme mixture and about 1/4 of the garlic into the cavity, followed by one of your quartered lemons. Tie the feet together with twine - FYI - I didn't this time as I had no twine and guess what - nothing. Nothing bad happened - maybe it would have been even better if I had ... but no biggie if you dont.

Surround the chicken with all the tomatoes, garlic and any remaining oil/herb mixture. Squeeze the lemon quarters and then place them in the pan as well. Put that bird in the oven and you're off to the races!

For a 4-5 pound bird, you'll need about an hour and 40 minutes. Ideally, you'll cook it at 425 for the first 20-30 minutes and then turn it down to about 350 for the remaining cooking time. If you remember, try to check the bird and baste it with the pan juices once or twice during cooking. I only did it once - and being a bird novice, I don't have a baster - I just spooned some liquid back over the bird. Have a meat thermometer handy to test it - you want 170-180 for the thickest part of the bird. I cooked mine a bit too long and was closer to 190 when we took it out but it was still fantastic. The tomatoes will turn out roasted with some charred and some more juicy - but very very sweet and complementary to the garlic & chicken.

Once the bird is cooked to temperature, remove it from the oven, cover it in foil and let it rest for about 15 minutes before carving. It'll still be plenty hot and very tasty. In the meantime, you can take some of the pan juices and simmer them down with some white wine and a roux or thickening agent like cornstarch to make a killer sauce. I didn't do this and we had a lighter but scrumptious meal. Saturday I served this with roasted rosemary fingerling potatoes and a salad. But it'll go with just about anything.

Once you've kicked the bird, use the leftovers to cook down in some water for chicken stock or a mean chicken soup ... which I am doing tonight.

Enjoy and thanks again Coll!!!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pearl Barley Protein & Fiber Flavor Fest ...

So, unfortunately I am travelling and I just cannot get my camera to do that wifi upload thing ... so no foto for this post just yet ... I am at my friend Jen's and we are doing some healthy cooking together so I can share a few favorites that are super healthy and keep well ...

Tonight, in addition to making two of the three soups that I blogged about in the Bad Economy Broccoli Stem Soup post, I decided to make a grain & lentil based salad that was a kitchen leftovers inspiration a month or so ago. This salad is rich in protein & fiber, plus a bunch of nutrients and can be a main dish for a vegetarian meal or served as a hearty side for a larger dinner or picnic. Served cold, it keeps & travels well:)

The necessity is the mother of invention story of the salad went something like this.

Long week already ... leaving work on Wednesday night at 8PM ... look at my calendar to prepare for the next day and ... oh no ... we have that 'fun' pot luck planned ... darn ...

No time to shop ... super tired and not feeling energetic ... will just make pasta salad ... quick ... favorite ... easy and serves many. Decided.

Arrive at home. Only spaghetti in the house. Crap.

Rummage. Ponder. Experiment. Success!!!

Pearl Barley, Lentil and Veggie Salad with Feta (long, but easy prep ... you can multitask)

  • 1 Cup Pearl Barley, cooked to package instructions (about 2 hours)

  • 1/3 Cup Dried Lentis, cooked to package instructions (about 30 mins)

  • 1 zucchini, raw, small dice

  • 20 or so grape tomatoes, quartered - you can use a full tomato but I find the grape sweeter

  • 1/4-1/2 cup Feta, crumbled ... low fat is fine too

  • 1/4 cup Pine Nuts, raw

  • Basic Balsamic Dressing:

  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil

  • 1 Tbsp Balsamic + a hearty squeeze of lemon juice (optional)

  • 1 tsp each Low Fat Sour Cream & Dijon Mustard

  • 1 tsp each dried Basil & Oregano, or use the Gourmet Garden tubes if you got em

  • Salt & Pepper to taste
Once the lentils & barley are cooked and you've diced/prepped all your other ingredients, combine all the main ingredients in a large bowl. Combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together. Add the dressing to the salad ingredients and mix until well coated and distributed.

Serve alongside your favorite dishes in lieu of pasta salad ... this recipe is a lot healthier. Approximate nutritional info based on my estimates that this makes about 8 good sized servings: 200 calories 6 g fiber 7.6 g fat 6.6 g protein

Variations on this recipe could include:

  • Add sundried tomatoes, increases fat content & flavor

  • Replace lentils with black beans, replace basil & oregano with cilantro, and add bell pepper

  • Replace raw zucchini with roasted zucchini, replace pine with walnuts, replace feta with blue cheese and add craisins for a festive fall salad
Whatever your personal preference ... consider adding this as a tasty and healthy side dish when refined carbs just won't do:)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Feta Spinach - A Healthy & Tasty Take on Good 'ol Creamed Spinach

A month since my last post ... with a two week interlude in Northern Europe and I was in need of green vegetables! Last night spinach salad ... tonight, I wanted more spinach but needed a new and tasty way to present it so John wouldn't bore himself with salad and salad and salad:)))

Enter, creamed spinach. I have to admit, I am afraid of creamed spinach. Whenever I have seen or eaten it - well - it looks and often tastes like sludge or alternatively a vat of butter. Neither of those are in keeping with my taste buds or health habits. So I reviewed a few recipes on FoodNetwork and then modified to my heart's content.

The result - John loved it! His former opinion of cooked spinach was very low - to the point that I was worried he'd not eat his spinach (Popeye be damned) ... wrong I was. So if you want to enjoy a little healthy greenery, try this low(er) fat version of a favorite.

Feta Spinach, with Pine Nuts
  • 4-5 Cups Raw Baby Spinach
  • 1-2 Tbsps Raw Pine Nuts
  • 1/2 Small Shallot, Diced
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, Smashed & Diced
  • 1/4 Cup Chicken Broth
  • 1 Tbsp Low Fat Sour Cream
  • 2 Tbsps Crumbled Feta
  • 1 Tsp butter or Olive Oil (I mixed em & it was super tasty)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
The funniest thing I read in all the recipes for creamed spinach was that they wanted you to blanch the spinach, drain and then chop it. Save yourself some time - Microwave it! (seriously, 10 minutes to boil water, then cook and then redrain watered down spinach!???!) So Microwave that spinach in a pyrex dish and then roughly chop it.

Make your bit of chicken broth and let it cool down a bit.

Heat a pan on med-hi with 1/2 of the butter or oil. Saute the shallot & garlic until golden. Add the pine nuts and toast till lightly browned - during this step, don't leave the stove as pine nuts can go from toast to burnt in a split second! Add the remaining butter or oil and then the spinach.

While you stir the spinach and let it continue to wilt/saute, mix the sour cream into the cooled chicken broth. This mixture + the feta will take the place of your 'cream' and add a ton more flavor. Once the spinach is no longer wilting, add the liquid and let simmer for a minute. Don't be alarmed that you will get a clump or two of sour cream that wants to react negatively to the heat. Once you add the cheese this will subside.

Add the feta and grind some pepper in. Stir for another minute or so. Taste to determine if you need more salt - the chicken broth and feta are quite salty, so definitely test first. Add more if needed and you are done! Serve with your favorite entree ... tonight I served this alongside a simple Chicken Paillard and some roasted bell peppers.

Compare that to a real creamed spinach and you'll find a lot less fat with a lot more flavor!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Beets & Parsnips, Apricots & Olives

I made this meal for John's parents when they were here for a visit. Pork tenderloin has become one of my party faves because it is tasty, healthy and cooks while you are entertaining, making plate up the main part of the effort while your guests are there.

This version of the recipe is due in part to my friend Jill who had an extra parsnip, which I had never tried before ... and Johnson's Backyard Farm who supplied fresh beets in our most recent box o' veggie love. I also got a little inspiration from a few other blogs and recipe sites ... but created this combined unique recipe myself. The apricots & olives add a really interesting combination of sweet & salty that worked surprisingly well.

I served the pork with thyme-garlic-olive oil roasted sweet potatoes and a spinach and bell pepper salad with my signature dressing (that you can find in a prior post).

Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Beets & Parsnips plus Apricots & Olives
  • 1 Medium Pork Tenderloin
  • 5-6 Medium Red or Yellow Beets, or a mixture, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 Parsnip, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 15 Dried Apricots, cut into quarters or so
  • 15-20 seedless Kalamata olives, sliced
  • 2-3 Garlic Cloves, Crushed / Crudely Chopped
  • 2 Oranges, zest both oranges & squeeze the juice into the marinade
  • 1-2 Cups White Wine, ideally something a bit on the sweet side*
  • 2 Tbsp Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp Honey
  • 1 Tbsp Soy Sauce
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tiny pat butter for sauce
  • Thyme
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
*Feel free to use sparkling too if you like. I just used a wine that was sort of like a riesling that we found a bit sweet to drink for our palate.

Marinate the tenderloin for 3-6 hours in a dish with the wine, vinegar, orange zest + juice, soy sauce, honey, garlic, thyme apricots and olives. Remove the tenderloin and season with salt & pepper, reserving the marinade.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat a dutch oven or large pan with about 1 tsp olive oil until the oil is hot. Sear the tenderloin on all sides, return the marinade to the dutch oven or if you used a pan, transfer the tenderloin into an oven safe roasting dish and add the marinade. Add the parsnips and beets and place the roaster in the oven, lid off.

Allow the tenderloin to roast until it reaches an internal temperature of 140degrees when tested with a meat thermometer. This will be between 45 - 65 minutes depending on the size of the tenderloin. If it is one of those HUGE 4 inch diameter tenderloins, add another 30 - 40 minutes. Note, most meat thermometers are not meant to be in the oven with the item ... take it out and test it ... then put it back if it is not done:) I learned that years ago the hard way ... :)

Once the pork has reached temp, your veggies should be done as well. If they aren't then leave them in the roasting pan, take out your pork and let it rest covered in foil. Remove most of the liquid from the roaster and put it in a saucepan to create your pan gravy. Then place the veggies back in the oven under the broiler. You should be able to finish them quickly that way.

Either way, use the remaining liquid to make a sauce. I use corn starch to thicken my sauces and then add just a tiny bit of butter for flavor. In order to avoid a lumpy sauce, reserve about 1/3 cup of liquid in a small container and whisk/stir it together with about 1 tsp of corn starch. Then recombine that thickened liquid with the remainder in the sauce pan. Stir over medium heat while it thickens. If it still isn't as thick as you'd like, repeat. If you don't have enough liquid, you can add a bit more wine or some chicken broth/water to create your sauce. Add a small pat of butter, whisk and get ready to serve.

Your pork should be well rested and ready to eat now ... carve away and serve with the veggie combo, your sides and a drizzle of sauce on top for an impressive and mostly healthy, but fundamentally easy meal. And ... get ready for some tasty leftovers!!!!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Romanesco Broccoli Green Curry - Amazingly Delish & Beautiful!

Readers, friends ... my last box of goodies from Johnson Backyard Farms included one of the coolest vegetables I have ever come across.

Romanesco Broccoli ... which employs the fractals concept is wacky, intelligent and tasty. Check out this image of the veggie before I broke it up into pieces for my very simple curry.

The curry recipe below is kind of cheating, but it is one of the ways that I find making a tasty dinner in under 30 minutes really easy. By having a few key items in my fridge & pantry, I take the freshest of veggies + chicken and am totally in business. Keep reading for a tasty weekday fave. John and I skip the rice so that we have a much lighter overall meal, with only the complex carbs & fiber of the veggies to fill us.

Vegetable & Chicken Green Coconut Curry
  • 1 to 2 Tbsps Thai Kitchen Green Curry Paste
  • 1 can Reduced Fat Coconut Milk, you cannot taste the difference and this has huge calorie implications
  • 5-6 Cups Varied Veggies of your choice, this week I used the fabby Romanesco, Bok Choy, Reconstituted Dried Shiitake Mushrooms, Snap Peas & Orange Bell Pepper
  • 2 Cups Diced or Chopped Lean Chicken Breast
  • 1/2-1 Cup Chicken Broth, depending on how liquidy you like your curry
  • Optional: Fish Sauce & Brown Sugar to taste, tiny bits of both
This is seriously easy ... especially if you follow the instructions on the Curry jar:))) Combine the curry paste with the coconut milk in a large pan or moderate sauce pan and simmer for a few minutes. Add everything else, I usually go chicken first and let that simmer a teensy bit on its own ... then add all the veggies and cook until the toughest veg is done. That is typically 12-15 minutes, by which time your chicken should also be done.

Serve as is in bowls or if you are a carb fiend over brown rice for a healthy and quick meal. This should also provide a bit of leftovers for two people ... a lot if you add rice.

Enjoy and once again, stock your pantry with Curry Paste & Coconut Milk in a can, both of which keep for a loooong time, and you can whip this up with whatever veggies you have handy. Even if you don't have the coolest looking veg ever, Romanesco!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Healthy Pancakes with a Fruity Twist!

I love Sunday mornings ... not only because I sleep in a bit more ... but also because John and I often make a really scrumptious breakfast together. John is undisputedly the breakfast master of the two of us ... when it comes to an omelette or a pancake, he has a way with the pan temperature that I just cannot hold a candle to. So today, I prepped, mixed and blended while John manned the stove for one of our healthy faves.

Eggwhite-Oatmeal-Berry Pancakes with Mint-Berry Coulis
(This batch made 6 cakes total ... you may want to increase your recipe)
  • 6 Egg Whites, or 4/5 of a cup of pure egg whites that you can buy pre-separated
  • 1/2 C Rolled Oats or Quick Oats
  • 1 C Frozen Mixed Berries, thawed
  • 2 tsp Vanilla or Almond extract (based on your preference)
  • 1 tsp Splenda, triple it if you like things really sweet
  • 1 Tbsp Ground Flax Seed (optional, but makes for a great consistency and adds omegas)
  • 1 C Mint-Berry Coulis, recipe follows
Mix the berries and egg whites in a bowl, whisking together until they are well distributed but lumpy due to the shape of the fruit. Try to get out any clumps of fruit that are stuck together. Add the Splenda, extract and oats. Continue mixing until completely combined and you have a consistent batter. This will in NO way resemble batters you are used to. It will be a little translucent and slightly thicker in consistency.

Heat your pan or griddle to medium and butter or spray the pan with non-stick cooking spray (we use Pam). Make small 3-inch pancakes for best results, pouring the batter onto the surface and cooking for 3 minutes on one side or until the edges are white and the pancake can be flipped. Once flipped, cook them another 2-3 minutes on the other side until they are puffy and no longer squishy. They should once again be easy to flip and have a color that is a bit darker than your classic golden brown pancake. We typically try one 'sacrificial' pancake any time we use a new stove, pan or recipe since each of these variables can really change cooking time. Once you have it down ... make the rest and keep them warm on the griddle or in the oven.

Because these are so eggy, it is important that you get them cooked through. Else you will have raw egg, not good, and the pancake won't be as fluffy as it could.

Today, John did a trick that worked out great. We used a griddle pan across two burners with the front on 6-7 of 10 for the initial cooking ... and then he moved the pancakes to the back burner on about 4 to keep them warm and cook the center perfectly through.

Mint-Berry Coulis
  • 1 C Frozen mixed berries
  • 1 tsp Low Fat or Light Sour Cream
  • 8-10 Mint Leaves
  • 2 tsp Honey or Agave Nectar if you have it ... I have both and I mixed them mmmmm
Blend all ingredients in a food processor until it reaches your desired consistency. Optionally you can use Splenda to replace some of the other sweetener and you may add vanilla or almond extract if that is a flavor you like.

Serve the pancakes warm with the Mint-Berry Coulis, Syrup, Honey or your favorite pancake topping.

*For full disclosure, this recipe is modified from one that we found in Fitness Magazine about two years ago and we have been making and tweaking these pancakes ever since!

Miso-Ginger Glazed Salmon ... by request ...

Last week when I posted my recipe for Wasabi-Sesame Cucumber Salad ... it was an accompaniment to Miso-Ginger Glazed Salmon and I received a request to post that recipe. I am happy to do so and hope you enjoy this very easy classic.

In the case of this recipe, it is really more about having the right ingredients on hand than anything else. So stock up that pantry:))

Miso-Ginger Glazed Salmon
  • 2 6-8oz Pieces Salmon, skin removed, milder flavor works best for this, but whatever salmon you like best ...
  • 1 Tbsp Miso Paste*, sold in Whole Foods and many major grocers
  • 1 Tbsp Ginger Paste, back to my Gourmet Garden** favorites
  • 1 tsp Garlic Paste, Gourmet Garden**
  • 2 Tbsp Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp Soy Sauce
*Check out this post on how others use Miso Paste. If you thought you shouldn't buy it for just this one recipe, rest assured, there are many ways to use it. I use it for soup and a lot of different asian dishes in general.
**If you have fresh ... by all means crush and use these ... but in about 1/2 to 1/3 the quantities. I use fresh herbs about 40% of the time ... just find these things so handy to make a lot of different things without running to the store daily:)

Mix all the sauce ingredients and marinate the salmon in this mixture for 10-20 minutes, I usually do this while I am prepping the ingredients for the rest of my meal. When you are about 10-12 minutes away from having everything else prepared, turn your oven broiler on high. Place the marinated salmon filets on a baking sheet or glass oven dish. You may want to put some non-stick cooking spray on this, but it isn't required since Salmon is pretty oily, I find that they usually come off fine. Reserve the remaining marinating liquid.

Broil the salmon for 7-8 minutes ... check to see if it is close to your desired doneness. When it is, pour the remaining marinade over the fish and cook to finish.

HINT: If there is still foamy white stuff coming off the Salmon, it probably isn't done yet. I like mine cooked quite through ... so I typically end up with close to the full 12 minutes in the oven with some browning or caramelization on top.

Healthy, fast and easy (if you have Kir's Kitchen pantry items ...) so enjoy!!!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Year & New Ideas: Wasabi-Sesame Cucumber Salad

Happy New Year friends and fellow foodies!

This holiday season John and I spent a glorious two weeks in Europe (Bonn, Barcelona, Zurich & Brussels) with family, friends and a lot of great food:))) I should be specific though - cheese, meat, bread, repeat ... I will share more about our trip and the great dishes we enjoyed in another post, but suffice to say that we are not only doing our annual alcohol free detox ... we are craving lean, spicy veggie filled meals these days.

That led to last night's meal of Miso-Ginger Glazed Salmon with Stir Fried Veggies and an inspiration that came to me: Wasabi-Sesame Cucumber Salad. I will focus on this little gem of a light veggie salad that almost mimics and 'Indian pickle' which would be served with every meal ... something that is served cold, is a little spicy and serves to counter the flavors of the rest of the meal. Because most of our foods in Europe were so rich and not spicy at all we've been seeking punch ... as I made the rest of the meal I was rooting around in the fridge since we did a big Costco run on our return. I saw the baby cukes that I bought and though - ahhh - refreshing ... and then I spied one of my fave condiments ... Wasabi Mayo! Light bulb!!!

Wasabi-Sesame Cucumber Salad
  • 2-4 Baby Cucumbers or 1/2 an English Cucumber, both great as they are almost seedless
  • 1/4 Shallot thinly sliced and quartered
  • 1 tsp Wasabi Mayo, or sub in 1/4 tsp Wasabi Powder, 1/4 tsp Veg Oil + 1/2 tsp Sour Cream (mixed)
  • 1 Tbsp Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp Toasted Sesame Seeds
  • Salt to taste (I didn't add any, but could have)

Cut the cukes in half and then thinly slice. Slice and quarter the shallot. In a small Tupperware container combine the Wasabi Mayo and Vinegar, seal and shake to combine. Add the veggies and sesame seeds, seal and shake to coat. Done and done.

John loved this little addition to our otherwise pretty common meal and even asked me to up the Wasabi next time ... so tweak as you like ... you might even consider adding some other thinly sliced veggies - colorful bell pepper or maybe some radish would add color, interest and some additional sweetness and punch.

Wishing you all the best for a happy, healthy 2009 ... I'll keep you posted on how my Alcohol and Cheese Free Detox month progresses:)))