Thursday, October 16, 2008

We're all sleeping through the night...and I'm cooking again!

Hello everyone!!!

Yes, it's been forever since I've posted. My son is 12 weeks old today and I'm finally starting to feel like I can juggle more than one thing. Wow, it's been an incredible three months. We're blessed with the calmest, sweetest baby who has "trained" me very well as a first time mom. He is all smiles now and is started to sleep more now that his tummy can take in more formula.

Here's a picture of our little cookie monster....

My hubby and I have been reeling from the effects of sleep deprivation, lack of consistent excercise and a steady stream of good, wholesome food. The best I could do for dinner most nights was frozen skillet-ready dinners...full of veggies. It wasn't awful, but it certainly wasn't good. Boy, did our taste buds miss the real thing. Hubby promised to spend all of Sunday being Ryan's primary caregiver if I could start cooking for the week again. This week was our first try at this arrangement, and it worked out beautifully.

I had forgotten what a fun experience it was to look through all of my cookbooks - especially Mark Bittman's books - then casually stroll through the Whole Foods contemplating meals. As hard as it is to walk away from Ryan for thirty minutes , I managed to leave him in the care of his capable daddy and just do it already :-)

Fall is my absolute favorite time to cook, because I'm a squash girl. Love it. Any gourd is a friend of mine. Because I was craving it, I had to make the Barefoot Contessa's Butternut Squash Risotto with Saffron. But I also experiemented on my own a bit. I started out making a roasted root vegetable soup and wound up with a cross between a hearty stew and a casserole. Here's what I did:

1 lb of sliced baby potatoes

1/2 lb sliced parsnips

5 cloves of whole garlic

2 T extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

large bunch of kale, trimmed of stems

6 cups of vegetable broth

1 cup of orzo

1 can of White Northern beans, drained

Parmesan, monterey jack and cheddar cheese (as desired)

I started out by placing all the root vegetables (potatoes, parsnips and garlic) in a casserole dish and mixed in the olive oil and my preferred amount of salt and pepper. I also added a generous amount of a spice blend called "Tuscan Seasoning" by Victoria Taylor's Seasoning. I highly recommend that you add your favorite spice blend - I love Penzey's, too - to customize this stew to your liking.

I roasted the veggies at 400F for 40 minutes. Check on it three times and move the contents around a bit. They are finished when you can poke a fork in the potato and it's nice and soft.

Meanwhile I boiled about 2 cups of salted water and put in the strips of kale I had sliced off the stem. I boiled it quickly - about five minutes- to take away the bitterness. I drained the pot, left the kale in, and added the beans and broth. I brought it all to a quick boil, added in the root veggies, and put the temp to low and simmered it for about 45 minutes. I also added in another generous dash of Tuscan seasonings. Then I added in a cup or so of orzo.

Now came the insane part. It literally took me three hours to make this soup from start to finish. Wait! Don't get freaked. This had nothing to do with the complexity of the recipe - which you can see is not at all complex. Did I mention that I tried to make this starting at 4pm on a Tuesday afternoon. Big no-no in this house, as that's the beginning of the "unhappy hour." I had to keep stopping and starting again to feed, change and love (oh so hard, right) a very fussy Ryan.

One thing that went out the window on this meal, was any kind of measurement. I guessed at everything. No time to that's where my soup turned into a stew/casserole. The orzo took over the whole thing and the broth basically disappeared. Oh well. Still turned out really yummy. Oh, and the cheese? Just add in any of the three, or all of them, when you serve it hot.

What's that I hear? Ryan's waking up from his nap for another bottle. I've got to run. But here's another picture of the future heartbreaker:

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Worth the Wait

My hubby and I are overjoyed to announce the arrival of our son, Ryan Eli on July 24th at 2:32pm. We were fortunate to be there in the delivery to welcome him into the world. I hope you all understand that I disappeared for a while for a good reason...we were frantically getting ready for our son after learning we were going to be his parents just a few weeks ago!
I promise I'll get back to cooking and posting again, but for now, I'm going to be busy being a new mommy.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Well, that's random!

I'm excited to see that my blog is highlighted today as "Today's Ten Random Blogs" on the Foodie Blogroll. A very warm welcome to my new visitors! Thanks for stopping by. I needed that kick in the butt to write a new post, so I'm going to make this a good one.

Oh boy, you're going to love this.

Chocolate Beet Cake! Let's get ready to rumble!!

This week, I received three beautiful red beets in my CSA box. If you've been to my blog before, you know how much I adore beets, but have only used the golden variety. Honestly, I feel like Lady Macbeth after chopping up a vegetable that oozes red juice everywhere.

However, red beets were present and accounted for and I had to carry on. Carefully.

Recently, I've read that the natural sugar in beets can enhance the flavor of chocolate. Yes, you read that right. So, I found a recipe for chocolate beet cake and decided to give it a go.

You're shaking your head in disbelief, right? You've shoved your chair away from the computer desk in disgust. Hands thrown in the air in utter contempt. You may even be sticking your fingers in your ears and singing "I'm not listening!" But if you trust me at all. Even the tiniest bit. Please, please make this cake.

Chocolate Beet Cake, posted by Paula Borchardt, Tucson CSA

approximately 1 cup cooked, chopped beets
1/4 cup water
approximately 1 cup applesauce, unsweetened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 whole wheat flour
1/2 cup white flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup chocolate chips

Puree the beets and water in a blender or food processor. Pour into a large measuring container and add enough applesauce to make two cups total. Mix in the vanilla extract and apple cider vinegar.

In a separate bowl, mix all the other ingredients together; fold in the beet mixture and mix all thoroughly. Bake in a pre-greased 9×13″ pan at 325° for 35 minutes.

  • I boiled one large beet in a saucepan with just enough water to cover it. After I drained the water and pureed it, it was only 3/4 cup. I probably should have thrown in another half a beet to make it 1 cup. Oh well.
  • Quality ingredients make for a quality end product. I splurged and bought Ghirardelli cocoa and chocolate chips. No regrets here.
  • The original recipe called for 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour. I decided to take a chance and split that between 1 cup of whole wheat and 1/2 cup of white flour. Don't get me wrong, I love baked goods with whole wheat flour, but it tends to create a denser product. I wanted this cake to be light and moist. It was all that and more.
  • Notice there's no oil, eggs or milk in this recipe. If you used vegan chocolate chips, you would have a vegan dessert. Remind me to tell you sometime about my trip to San Francisco over a decade ago and my first visit to a vegan bakery (yes, JB, you were with me!) Aah, what a mere child I was then. So much to learn.

Notice there's no picture of the chocolate beet cake in this post.

That's because it's gone. Gone, baby, gone.

Now go make it!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I've done a massive amount of cooking (and baking!) over the last few days and have neglected to share it here. I promise that I'll put up the recipes today or tomorrow and share the pictures of this week's CSA box, too. But before I do that, I wanted to share my thoughts with you about a health issue that we all struggle with from time to time: stress.

Stress can be acute for many of us, while for others something that results slowly over the years. I've struggled with how much personal information I've wanted to share here and sometimes when I go silent for a few days it's because I'm not sure if it's even relevant to the blog. But the truth is, no matter how dedicated we are to living a healthy lifestyle, the unexpected can happen and we wind up sidelined.

I've been dealing with some acute stress brought on by the complexity and uncertainty of the adoption process and unfortunately it's manifested into some physical symptoms. Mainly, loss of appetite and energy. Hubby and I have had a very tough few weeks on our road to parenthood. But I'm pleased to say that we've managed far better than I ever expected. Mentally and emotionally, we've tapped our individual and joint strength. I'm so proud of the marriage we've created and our ability to deal with the emotional roller coaster we're on.

With all that said, I've been pretty surprised at my own body's reaction. In fact, I was pretty darn frustrated that my head felt fine, but my body refused to get back in the game. My workouts have been for crap and I've had no desire to eat the wonderful, healing foods I've been making. I thought I could just "will" myself to feel better. But the truth is, stress can be a shock to one's body and no amount of pushing or yelling or encouragement will make healing go any faster. It just takes time and patience and the knowledge that it's just a temporary situation.

Recently, someone offered me a great metaphor for how stress affects our bodies. Imagine a swimming pool full of clear, blue, calm waters. Then, someone spills a bottle of ink in it. You can't just get a ladle and scoop the ink out. It's everywhere and the filters just need time to clean in out.

I'm learning to treat myself more gently and let my body's filters do their job. I'll eat better when my body is ready. I'll have more energy for the treadmill soon. But pushing myself-or judging myself harshly- is like adding another bottle of ink to the pool. It will only make things worse.

So, if you're dealing with stress now, please think about what I said. Whether your stress is the result of work, a sick loved one, buying or selling your house...please be gentle and kind to yourself. Putting high expectations on yourself might only aggravate your health further.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Packing lunch, among other things...

In my preparation for motherhood, I've been thinking a lot about how kids eat today. If you're a parent or not, you can't ignore the convenience products in bright & fun packaging on grocery store shelves and promoted rather effectively on television. Yogurt in tubes, purple colored ketchup, and cookies in "fun" shapes. Everything possible to entice kids to eat. Except it's so hopped up on preservatives, salt and sugar, that kids today never really know how tasty real food in it's pure form can be. I have some pretty strong feelings about this, so I'm trying to be careful and not go on a rant. I can only tell you that over the last 1.5 years that hubby and I have transitioned from processed foods to whole foods, I've discovered that my palate has suddenly come alive. There's so many flavors that I didn't even know existed. It's enhanced our lives in numerous ways and I doubt we'll ever go back to our old ways.

During the adoption process, hubby and I have been asked to reflect and write down our parenting philosophies. This is such an abstract question and it's really hard to know where to begin. One of the hopes I have when we are parents is that we'll be able to share our joy of nutritious healthful food with our kids. I've been thinking a lot about how to bring up "thoughtful eaters." And I've come to a few conclusions.

1) Plant a vegetable garden. It's incredibly empowering to order seeds, plant them, nurture their life, and eventually harvest them and add them to your meals. I think it instills a sense of wonder to watch it happen before you eyes.

2) Visit an organic farm. Talk about seasonal eating with your kids and let them discover for themselves the difference between a strawberry in January and one picked in the summer.

3) From a very early age, have your child eat exactly what you eat. I've been inspired by some of my friends who are parents who placed steamed broccoli and fresh pineapple on their 2 year old's plates. And when talking about food with your kids, nothing should fall in the "good" or "bad" categories. Just practice moderation. And don't use food as a reward or a punishment. Developing healthy relationships with food at a young age will be the best gift we can give.

4) Even though your young child can't run heavy machinery in the kitchen yet, there's no reason they can't be your sous chef by tearing pieces of chicken apart or separating orange slices for a salad. Involving your child in meal planning and cooking may encourage them try new food you introduce.

5) Pack lunch for your child - even if you do it the night before. It doesn't have to be elaborate, but it will definitely be healthier than those shrink wrapped plastic trays of "food" sold for your convenience.

Now, I know I'm taking a big risk by sharing my theories of parenting a child with you. I don't have a child yet and I'm kind of afraid you'll think I'm making unrealistic suggestions. But I do know that there's nothing more important than our health and well being. I really believe this is a life long gift we can give our kids.

So, I'm getting my practice in now and I've started to pack lunch for my hubby. He's been working very long hours recently and has been eating late. I decide to purchase a modern day "bento box" from Laptop Lunches. You can find their products at

Today's lunch consisted of aromatic lime-peanut whole wheat linguine with sugar snap peas, sliced fuji apple, spring mix (from the CSA!) with goat cheese & cranberries and a mix of pistachios, walnuts, pecans and cashews. The little blue box off to the side contains some homemade dressing. Each laptop lunch comes with a case with a place to insert an ice pack inside.

I'm curious to hear what you're doing to encourage your kids to eat well and have a positive relationship with food. Please share in the comments section!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Quick Recap for Week 2

I'm sorry I've been absent the last few days. I believe I caught a mild bug of some kind. The worst of the symptoms is that I've totally lost my appetite! I've actually still been cooking, just not eating as much. But I don't want these veggies to go to waste, so let me recap you on how I've been using the contents of the CSA box this week.

Even though I didn't get green onions in my box this week, I heard that some others received it, so here's a great way to enjoy a lean chicken burger with that addition.

Chicken Burgers with Peanut Sauce from Cooking Light


2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
1 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced


1/2 cup finely chopped green onions
1 tablespoon chile paste with garlic
2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger
2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, chopped
Cooking spray
4 (2-ounce) sandwich rolls with sesame seeds
1 cup onion sprouts or alfalfa sprouts

To prepare sauce, combine first 6 ingredients, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Prepare grill. To prepare burgers, place onions and next 5 ingredients (onions through chicken) in a food processor; process until coarsely ground. Divide mixture into 4 equal portions, shaping each into a 1/2-inch-thick patty.Place patties on a grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 4 minutes on each side or until done. Place rolls, cut sides down, on grill rack; grill 1 minute or until toasted. Place 1 patty on bottom half of each roll; top each serving with 1/4 cup sprouts, about 1 tablespoon sauce, and top half of roll.

Yield 4 servings.

  • I cheated and used the broiler. I have a confession. I've never learned to start a charcoal grill. I'd really like to invest in a gas grill (hubby is a purist and will be hard to convert) just so I can use the grill with ease during the summer. The broiler worked out fine, but I'm sure it would be fantastic on the grill.
  • Did you notice that lovely romaine leaf added to the burger in the picture? I've noticed recently that it's a lost cause asking for lettuce on sandwiches or burgers when ordering out. You never get a beautiful leaf like the one we received from the CSA this week. Instead, you get shredded iceberg lettuce that basically tastes like water in solid form. Makes for a very sad looking sandwich. Sniff.
  • To make my life easier, I passed on the food processor and went straight for ground chicken from Whole Foods. It actually was excellent. This dish literally took 5 minutes to put together.
  • When will I ever learn? I bought chili paste with garlic for this recipe and took a quick whiff and taste before adding it to the burger. I am a wimp. I could not handle the heat and totally skipped it. My throat was literally on fire from a mere pinch of it. Later, while peeking in the fridge, I noticed another opened jar of chili paste with garlic! It was basically full and it dawned on me that I probably just did the same thing twice. Bought it for a recipe, tasted it and never used it again. Classic Karen.
  • The sauce was decent, but I would add a little more water next time. It was very thick and not very appetizing to look at. But tasty, nonetheless.

Also on the menu this week was Roasted Lemon, Asparagus & Green Garlic - inspired by two bloggers. Lori at The Recipe Girl ( and Laura at The Spiced Life ( both inspired me to try roasting a lemon for the added depth in flavor. I just sliced the lemon and placed it on top of asparagus & green garlic on a baking pan. Before I put the lemon on, I added 2 T of extra virgin olive oil and kosher salt and pepper on the veggies. Then I laid everything flat on a baking sheet and roasted it at 400F for 25 minutes. I paired it with turbot cooked briefly (6 minutes on each side) in a skillet with white wine. I added freshly grated parmesan on everything and enjoyed it immensely! The smell of the veggies and lemon roasting was truly out of this world. By the way, as Laura suggested, don't try eating the lemon. Just squeeze the juice onto the veggies and discard the rest.

One other quick dish I made was a Spinach & Strawberry Salad. We didn't recieve that much spinach this week, but it is so mild and sweet that I prefer eating it raw. I chopped up some spinach, sliced about 4 large strawberries, added 2T of crumbled goat cheese, 1T of sliced almonds and drizzled my favorite balsamic vinegar on everything.

On tap today is soup. We have some amazing collard greens this week. I thought I would create a white bean and greens soup and use the rest of the green garlic, too. I'm totally winging it!

Monday, May 19, 2008

CSA - Week 2! Can you handle this?

Okay, first off, I'm in love with fresh herbs. Who knew that chives were so darn beautiful?

That picture alone would woo any baked potato with sour cream, in my book.

Okay, here's what's on tap for this week. Clockwise starting at the chives in the upper right hand corner: Spring mix, romaine (but I'm not positive, since the leaves are unusual), radishes, asparagus, rhubarb, spinach, green garlic and in the center, there are collard greens.

You may be wondering how I did getting through the mother load that was CSA Week 1. I'm pretty happy with how it went, considering my hubby ate out for a few dinners and we were gone all day yesterday. I did work pretty hard to get through everything, though. The only recipe that I didn't report on was a spinach-feta turnover that was just "okay"in my book, but my best buddy who dog sat for us yesterday ate one and loved it.

I do have some mint left - which I've been enjoying in iced tea all week. Also, there's a huge head of romaine that I never in touched. So, I'll be serving that with dinner tonight. Oh, and a cup of sliced rhubarb that I'll make into a savory chutney tonight to serve with fish or chicken later this week. My blogger pal Mo at Paws & Pours ( made that great suggestion.

Compliments from the chef

If you live in the Washington, DC area and happen to find yourself on Rockville Pike take it all the way to The Lemon Tree Mediterranean Market and Gourmet Cafe ( and get comfortable for a bit. There's a lot of wonderful meals to sample. We've had great luck there both food and service-wise. A little while ago I was having lunch there with my friend and her baby girl. I soaked in (though thankfully didn't spill a precious drop) their red lentil soup. I went so nuts for it, that for the first time in my life I asked if I could have the recipe. Pretty brazen of me, eh?

About ten minutes later, a lovely man in his seventies came to our table and carefully explained all of the steps for his treasured red lentil soup. He spent thirty minutes with us to make sure I had the recipe down pat. I was blown away by his generosity and kindness. A few minutes later, we received a plate of grape leaves. Compliments from the chef. They were outstanding.

With that in mind, I decided to use the remaining spinach from my CSA box this week to make something similar.

Thank you to Ricki at Diet, Dessert And Dogs for this fantastic recipe for Dolmade Casserole.

Go straight here, do not pass go or collect $200 for Ricki's take on a deconstructed stuffed grape leaves:

Hey that's my wedding china that dolmade casserole is on! I took it out last week for a Mother's Day lunch and haven't put it back yet. Guess I better do that before our puppy Sami decides to make us register for one last place setting. Yeah, right.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Putting that "Easy Bake Oven" to shame

Back in the early 80's, when I was so tiny that I could barely see above the kitchen counter, all I wanted was an "Easy Bake Oven" by Hasbro. I also thought I would die without the Snoopy shaved ice maker, but that's a story for another post. My parents bought one for me - even after I dyed the living room rug pink after an unfortunate Hawaiian punch incident.

There it was...a mini version of my grandmother's oven. I remember that day so well. I chose the brownie mix, placed it gently in the oven (heated by a 100 watt bulb) and waited patiently before I slid the purple plastic spatula in to try my creation.

I enjoyed it so much, that I never ever used it again after that first time. Was the brownie inedible? Did I complain that it was just too much work and I had a pile of bills to get to? I truly have no idea what happened next. But it was never seen again. It found it's way into our basement and I assume it's still there today unless it was picked up by a neighbor after one of our summer yard sales.

Perhaps baking, even the easy bake way, wasn't my cup of tea. Fast forward about 25 years later and I'm still wary about baking. But the rhubarb in my CSA box presented a new challenge to me. I've never had one, but I heard they were pleasantly tart. I was also told that I must balance that tartness out with sugar. So, I located a recipe by a fellow Cooking Light bulletin board participant and gave it a shot this morning.

Oh. My. Rhubarb. Where have you been all of my life! It's an unusual treat for me to get to try a flavor that I've never had before. I'm struggling to describe the exact taste - I would have to say it has a lovely lemony taste to it. Basically, this pudding cake really is a perfect balance of tart and sweet.

Rhubarb Strawberry Pudding Cake from Epicurious

1/4 cup water

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar

2 cups chopped fresh rhubarb stalks (10 ounces)

1 cup chopped fresh strawberries (5 ounces)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large egg

1/2 cup whole milk

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Butter an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish. Stir together water, cornstarch, and 1/3 cup sugar in a small saucepan, then stir in rhubarb. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, then simmer, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in strawberries.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl.Whisk together egg, milk, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined.

Reserve 1/2 cup fruit mixture, then add remainder to baking dish and pour batter over it, spreading evenly. Drizzle reserved 1/2 cup fruit mixture over batter.

Bake until a wooden pick inserted into center of cake portion comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.

Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes before serving.

  • This was ridiculously easy and fast. It took me about 15 minutes to put together. If you see rhubarb in the store, don't pass it up.
  • I found this dessert very satisfying, but I didn't reach for seconds. Not because it wasn't good, but because it hit the spot without being irresistible. It's just tart, crunchy and interesting.
  • I can't remember the last time I purchased whole milk. I used fat free milk and it didn't affect the outcome at all.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

And now for something completely different

Okay, I've never in my life tried a radish. In fact, I'm sure I've gone out of my way to avoid them. Of course, I appreciate a lovely garnish as much as the next guy - especially vegetables carved to look like flowers. However, I wasn't about to take out my paring knife and go to town on the 10 little radishes I received in my CSA box this week.

So, I turned to roasting! I quartered the radishes and placed them in a casserole dish mixed with a little extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper & minced shallots (for a touch of sweetness.)

Paired with cooked orzo , goat cheese, and freshly squeezed lemon juice, these little roasted radishes were not half bad. Pretty tasty, actually! There's a bowl waiting for hubby upon his return from work. I'll let you know his verdict later tonight.

Take a looksie...

Yellow & Mellow: a spring risotto

Little darlin, it's been a long cold lonely winter. Little darlin, it feels like years since you've been here.

Here comes the sun.

Here comes the sun.

And I say, it's alright.

The downpour of the last four days has finally stopped and the sun has never looked better. I was really missing it after several days of gray and dreary. But even through the rain yesterday, I noticed CSA members were all smiles and downright giddy about getting the first box of the season. I even bumped into a dear friend from a job I had long ago - how funny that we would be at the pick up spot at the same time! I'm sure we'll share a few CSA inspired meals now that we found each other again!

Last night after organizing & separating the goodies from the box, I pulled out the green garlic and asparagus for dinner. Green garlic, also known as baby spring garlic are the fresh shoots of an immature garlic plant. They look almost exactly like scallions, but a quick whiff will prove otherwise. While it's certainly milder, there's no doubt it's garlic. I only used the white and pale green parts for the risotto.

Leek and Green Garlic Risotto
Adapted from "Local Flavors" by Deborah Madison

Green Garlic and Leeks:

4 medium leeks, white parts only
3 large heads green garlic
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup white wine
salt and pepper to taste

6 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup chopped chervil or parsley, and/or leftover green garlic tops
Zest of 1 lemon, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Quarter leeks lengthwise, cut them crosswise into 1/4-inch slices, and wash well. Remove any tough papery husks from garlic, then finely chop bulbs.

Melt butter in a sauté pan. Add leeks and garlic, stir to coat, then add wine and cook over medium-low heat until leeks are tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside while you cook the rice.

Have stock simmering on the stove. Melt butter in a wide soup pot over medium heat. Add rice and cook, stirring for 1 minute.

Pour in wine and simmer until it is absorbed, then add 2 cups of the stock. Simmer until it has been absorbed, then raise heat to medium and begin adding stock 1/2 cup at a time. Stir energetically and continue adding liquid after each addition is absorbed. Rice is done when tender with a slight bite, about 35 minutes. Stir in leeks, cheese and herbs.

  • I didn't have any leeks last night, so I used three small shallots in it's place. I thought it added a lovely sweetness to the dish. However, cutting shallots always makes me cry! No matter what I do...
  • You know, I usually make risotto on the weekends because of the time factor. But the truth is, once you get the hang of it, it's not so hard to make. You definitely need to commit to standing in one place for 30 minutes. That's for sure. But it's worth the stirring effort. At least I think so.
  • Don't skip the zest!
  • I steamed the asparagus - which was absolutely beautiful- sliced it, and added it at the very end.

Monday, May 12, 2008

We're going to need a bigger boat

May 12, 2008. CSA Week 1

All I have to say is....


I'm utterly speechless.

I remember reading somewhere that the first few weeks of the CSA were leaner. If this is lean, I think we're going to need a bigger boat, folks. (What movie, please?)

So, if the picture is a clock face, we've got spring mix at 12:00, then the biggest head of romaine lettuce I've ever seen, rhubarb, radishes, green garlic, unidentified lettuce (this one's a mystery, but it's definitely mild tasting)**, asparagus, and wonderful refreshing mint! And there's another bag of spring mix I couldn't fit in the picture.

To give you some idea of how large the contents of this box is, it takes up half of my dining room table which seats 6 people.

I wish it wasn't so rainy and grey, because the natural light in the dining room is the best in the whole house. So future pictures will look much better than this, I promise!

At some point a few months ago, I read about green garlic soup on someone's blog. If you're out there reading this, be sure to drop me an email, please!

I will take any and all suggestions for recipes, folks. I've done my own research, but I love hearing from other test-drivers out there.

**I'm a doofus. It's spinach.

Today's the day! It's finally here!

I've been counting the days ever since we sent our application into Sandy Springs CSA in January. Today is the first day of our CSA membership. Around 2pm, I'll drive to my local pick up point and receive my weekly veggie box. I assume today's box will contain asparagus, spring mix and rhubarb.

I realized I didn't update anyone on the actual visit to Calvert Farm - the source of our CSA - last month. Here's a quick recap:

Calvert Farm's owner, Farmer Pam, and her farm manager, an Amish Elder, were incredibly knowledgeable and couldn’t have been nicer. On Saturday, April 17, they gave a very enlightening tour of the organic farm to my group which was made up of five children and several volunteers from Sierra Club’s Inner City Outing (ICO) program. The ICO participants leave their neighborhoods – often some of the roughest and under-resourced areas of DC- to commune with nature on hikes and camping trips. The farm was certainly a new experience for them. Farmer Pam set a beautiful table in the shade for us when we sat down to lunch. She dressed it with mason jars full of fresh apple and pear blossoms. Those fruit bearing trees greeted us as we turned into the farm for the first time. Pam offered us some freshly picked spinach, which was by far the most delicious spinach I've ever had. The adults couldn’t get enough of it, but I believe it might have been the first time these kids have ever tried it.

A few minutes later, we were all standing in the fields where the spinach was growing, learning about the natural ways to battle the weeds around them. First, they use a hot pepper spray made from the peppers grown on the farm. But, one particularly resilient weed to kill was thistle. Farmer Pam explained that they were trying to suffocate the thistle with heat by laying mats on them held down by bricks – allowing the sun to do its job.

As the kids were soaking all the information in, they also tried to keep track of the other tour guides which led them through the farm – 18 friendly cats! Each cat had a different personality. Some brazenly trotted alongside the cauliflower pushing it's away up from the ground. Others slept quietly in the tomato plants. One even sat on a chair with us during lunch like a gracious host.

My favorite moment of the day was when our kids discovered that mint actually grew from the ground. After smelling herbs like rosemary and basil and recalling how they were used in cooking, they were blown away when they caught a whiff of natural mint. You could see the wheels turning in their head, wondering how this scent made its way into a stick of gum!

At the end of our tour, we had the opportunity to plant spring onions. The kids took the job very seriously. They thoughtfully listened to Pam’s instructions and carefully watered the new vegetables after planting them three inches apart.

We were very honored that Pam and her workers took the time out of their packed day to spend a few hours with us. You can see how hard they all work to have a successful farm. It's definitely not a 9 -5 job.

Here's a quick FAQ about our CSA:

What exactly is a CSA?
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Our CSA is a led by volunteers and receives it's vegetables from a farm less than 100 miles away. It's usually a certified organic (and local) farm which offers shares to it's consumers. By offering shares, the farmers are able to plan their crop, limit waste and pay their expenses up front. Basically, it allows them to make a living with less risk.

Tell me more about this share....
We paid $600 in January for one share. One share provides a weekly box of vegetables and fruit for 20 weeks. With rising food costs, we'll probably be saving money along with supporting a local farm. We won't be able to chose the contents of our weekly box. It's made up of what's been harvested that week. We'll be eating seasonally and trying new things. During the summer, the box will get fulller and fuller as the crops are more bountiful.

How do I find out about a CSA near me?
I found Sandy Springs CSA by going to and typing in our zip code. I also asked questions on discussion boards like Chowhound and Cooking Light to read about other people's experiences. I mostly found that the idea was incredibly popular. People were on waiting lists to get a share!

Any other questions?
Please feel free to email me at or leave a comment. I'll be sharing CSA stories on this blog as well as recipes throughout the next 20 weeks.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Chicken or Salmon?

Yes, it's that time of year again. The flutter of large envelopes falling from mail slots everywhere and landing in your foyer. Pretty stamps, fancy writing and loving words. All enticing pick chicken or salmon. Which will it be?

After attending about 25 weddings in a three year span, I always went with our pink friend from the sea. Why? Because you really have to try hard to mess it up. I mean, you have to have a fish vendetta to make it taste inedible. It's light, it's healthy and it doesn't need much to showcase it's flavors.

If you read any cooking, nutrition or fitness magazine, you're bound to see the benefits of salmon highlighted within the pages. If for some reason you've missed it, here's a great article about salmon's nutritional benefits:

Personally, I've found that eating fish at least 2 or 3 times a week - especially salmon- provides relief from any pain I feel due to inflammation. Fish oil is a natural anti-inflammatory. But why take those horse pills full of fish oil when I can enjoy the actual fish?

When picking salmon from the glass case, I always ask the fishmonger for the tail. It has virtually no bones in it and I enjoy my meal more because of that. I also make salmon the first day I purchase it. I know that it can be frozen, but for me defrosting fish affects the flavor.

Usually when you unwrap your fish when you get home you will notice the portion is uneven. I finally figured out that I must slice through it horizontally to create even fillets. Otherwise, I'm constantly going into the oven and finding a cooked fish all around with a red mushy center. I used to overcook the fish to make sure the center was done, and that led to the worst tasting over cooked meal ever. But this trick has helped (if I remember to do it!.)

I've also been baking salmon at a high heat for a shorter period of time. Try 450 F for 12 minutes and see if you're there yet.

For flavors, I always go very simple. A little white wine and some fresh dill does the trick. But you can do any herbs you like. It's totally up to your preference.

I do have a funny salmon story to tell you. The first year that my hubby and I lived together, he took a ten day trip to Alaska with "the boys." I was bummed because I wanted to go to Alaska on my honeymoon, but he was taking the trip ten months before our wedding. Well, he made it up to me by promising to send fresh salmon that he caught on a fishing trip. I honestly didn't know what to expect when the fed ex cooler was on the doorstep. I honestly imagined a whole fish with blank eyes staring up at me. I was totally freaked and didn't want to open the cooler. So I took everything out of the freezer and tried to stick the entire cooler in. I was short about 1 1/2 inches. I couldn't do it. So alas, I sucked in my breath, put on some latex gloves, peeked through squinted eyes and opened the cooler preparing to see one dead ugly fish.

What?! No scary fish! It was fillets!!! Oh thank goodness. My heart began beating again and I had a good laugh. They filleted them on the dock. I had 18 1lb fillets (we enjoyed them for about six months) not one scary fish like I expected.

Speaking of chicken or fish, weddings and hubby, today is our wedding anniversary. I'm a very lucky girl to be married to such a talented and loving guy. I would love to put up our wedding portrait, but I'm respecting hubby's privacy. But here's a shot of me trying desperately not to lose my veil to the wind before the ceremony:

Guess what? In a few short days - May 12 to be exact - our CSA begins and the blog shifts gears. From May 12-October 20th, we'll be receiving a veggie box from Calvert Farm every week. I'm going to showing you what's in our box every week and letting you know how I use everything and try not to waste a precious morsel. Check back this coming Monday to see the first box!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Behind the scenes

This week was a perfect time to re-organize my pantry & kitchen. Now that Passover is over, grains and slowly making their way from my secret hiding place (the office) and back into the kitchen. Now is also a great time for me to remember the strategies I've developed to eat healthy and not waste food or money while doing it.

Now, I've never been what you would call "organized." Just ask my mother. Or my hubby. Or my freshman year roommate at college. But, I do like a good system now and then. So, I want to share a few ways that have worked for me this year.

1) First and foremost, I'd be lost without a clean pantry. If I can't see it, I won't use it. Even worse, I'll go out - buy it again - and send it into the darkest corner of the cupboard never to be seen again. Only to start the vicious circle over again. Once or twice a year, it doesn't hurt to take everything out of the pantry, take an inventory of what you have and make an honest assessment of what you really use.

2) I find the fridge much more difficult to keep organized. Up until yesterday I was relying on keeping a note on the door which listed my perishables for the week (which is usually 90% of my groceries!) If you peeked inside my fridge, you would find that the bottom shelf looked like a mosh pit after a Pearl Jam concert. It was impossible to pick out a scallion from a bag of spring mix. Finally, yesterday, I went to mecca (aka The Container Store) and purchased ten different clear containers & lids in various shapes and sizes. I can see what I have now! No more plastic bags! Seriously, this was the highlight of my week.

3) Sunday is my designated grocery shopping day. Back in the day when I wasn't so organized, I meandered into the grocery store say 3 times a week. That would lead to $200 weekly bills and food that would inevitably turn pretty colors before I could use it. But by taking the time to go through my recipe books over the weekend and meal plan for the upcoming week, I can write a reasonable grocery list and not buy in excess.

I've mentioned a few times on this blog that hubby and I have slowly changed our eating habits over the last 18 months by buying less and less processed foods and more whole foods. I'm not going to kid you, it's hard work to use up all of my vegetables, fruits and herbs in a week. But in the end, it's less expensive and far more satisfying. Here's how I get through most weeks:

1) I find a way to include a fruit or a vegetable in every single meal and snack hubby and I eat. The easiest meal in the world is soup. On Saturdays, I will take whatever I have left, put it in a pot and just go for it. As long as I have a can of tomatoes, chicken broth and a few herbs, I'm good to go.

2) To keep your meals interesting, you've got to take some risks and try flavors from around the world. Let your spice rack lead the way. This year I've been experimenting with so many different cuisines, but I have to say South African has been my favorite, so far. I ran out of cumin the other day and without it I felt totally lost.

A quick side note, I'm a big "Top Chef" fan and was particularly excited about this week's challenge. The chefs had to make a healthy meal for 4 people on a budget of $10. TOTAL! They all shook their heads depressed, but slowly realized that it could be done. I smiled as I watched them reach for beets, bok choy, lean chicken, peanut butter and zucchini. I knew they could easily win this challenge and present something fabulous while doing it.

More behind the scenes to come...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

April 27, 2005 - A Passover Memory

As John Lennon beautifully sang, "Life is what happens to you when you're making other plans." I learned that lesson very well three years ago today.

Back in April 2005, I was working as a fundraiser and an event planner for a wonderful nonprofit that mentored teens from disadvantaged areas of the city. I was in charge of a major reception to honor this program which was set to occur inside the U.S. Capitol building on April 27. Needless to say, I was juggling quite a bit to make it a success. Typing emails at 2 am, sitting at a desk all day answering phones and faxing letters, barely eating, sleeping or exercising took a toll on me and I didn't acknowledge the fact that I wasn't feeling well for days. My body was sending me a lot of signals that I ignored - shortness of breath, pain in my leg and a burning sensation in my chest. What did I do? I tried to pretend it wasn't happening because I had the biggest event of my career to plan. I even made sure the catering services prepared kosher for Passover appetizers to serve the guests!

On the day of the event, I decided I couldn't ignore it any longer because I was in bad shape. I took a cab to the hospital (yes I went into work that day!) to just make sure everything was okay before I went to the Capitol. I was still answering my cell phone and giving parking information to guests when the nurses called me in. I was admitted immediately due to blood clots in my lungs that began as a Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) in my leg.

It's April 27, 2005. I am 30 years old and about to married in less than two weeks.

Obviously, I came through okay. More than just okay, actually. I spent a week in the hospital getting better. They found the cause of the clot was my use of the birth control pill. I had absolutely nothing else wrong with me. I walked out of that hospital and never looked back. What a crazy fluke. I'm one of the 1% that gets a clot on the pill! With those odds, I should have bought a lottery ticket, maybe?

What does all this have to do with my blog, you ask? Well, from that day forward I've been learning some very important lessons that I would like to share. Listen to your body and treat yourself really, really well. Be pro-active about your health & be your own advocate. Get eight hours of restorative sleep every night. Take a brisk walk everyday. Eat gorgeous vegetables with most meals. Enjoy dessert in moderation. Love yourself and act like you mean it. And don't believe that the world will come to a screeching halt if you do any of the above. You deserve to live happily and healthily.

To end this public service announcement, I'd like you to do me a favor. I feel I have a responsibility to share with you the causes and the symptoms of a DVT. Will you please go to, read about it, commit it to memory and then go on with your day? It's extremely treatable when caught - but you have to know when to act.

In Judaism, we have a toast. L'chaim. It means, "To Life."

Thanks again for reading today's memory and this week's Passover recipes. I hope you continue coming to my blog to learn about what's cooking in Test Drive Kitchen. Now raise your glass and join me in a toast.


Last day of Passover! Where did the time go?

You know what's strange? I really haven't missed bread at all this week. There was so many fantastic fruit and vegetables available to us this week that I didn't feel denied at all. Last night at the movies I could have used a small popcorn, but that was the only time I felt like I wanted something not kosher for Passover.

I hope you found some recipes this week that helped you to not only "get through" the holiday, but really enjoy your meals. I would love some feedback on any of the dishes you tried.

Sundays are usually our grocery shopping days, so I decided to see what was left in the fridge. Woohoo! We still had our golden beets left. A couple of nice oranges, too. I grabbed a few items like cider vinegar and honey from the pantry and started lunch.

Here we go:

Roasted Beet and Citrus Salad by Cooking Light

1 1/2 pounds small golden beets

Cooking spray

1/4 cup orange juice

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon honey

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 garlic clove, minced

4 cups mixed salad greens

3 cups chopped beet greens (about 3 ounces)

1 1/2 cups tangerine or orange sections, halved crosswise (about 8 tangerines) 2 tablespoons shaved fresh Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted

Preheat oven to 400°. Leave root and 1-inch stem on beets; scrub with a brush. Place beets on a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray. Lightly coat beets with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 45 minutes or until tender. Cool beets slightly. Trim off beet roots; rub off skins. Cut beets in half.

Combine orange juice and next 6 ingredients (through garlic) in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add beets, tossing gently to coat. Remove beets with a slotted spoon, and set aside, reserving orange juice mixture in bowl. Add salad greens and beet greens to bowl; toss well.

Place about 1 cup greens mixture on each of 6 salad plates; top each with about 1 1/2 cups beets, 1/4 cup tangerine sections, 1 teaspoon cheese, and 1/2 teaspoon nuts. Serve immediately.

  • I confess. I have basically given up on finding a tasty orange. Most of the time, I buy oranges to zest or juice and get rid of everything else. You see, I've been hurt before and I just don't trust that once I peel an orange it will turn into a sublime snack. Usually they are just mediocre. Even Clementines have started to disappoint me. So, imagine my utter shock, when I peeled this orange- said a little prayer- and popped a slice in my mouth. It was fantastic!!! The best orange I've had in years. Seriously. I was so excited. This salad was going to rock. (Yes, I realize we're just talking about an orange here. I should probably not admit to these things.)

  • I sampled the array of nuts I had left, and truthfully, the pistachios were a lot more appealing than the walnuts. So I used them instead. They were so yummy that I didn't even bother to toast them.

  • This is the first time I've roasted beets without wrapping them in foil first. Usually when I take them out of the oven and remove the foil, the first layer comes off with it. This time, my heart skipped a beat when I opened the oven and saw charred beets. I burned them! They're ruined! Then I paused a moment and scratched the layer to reveal a perfect golden beet underneath. Now I just feel stupid, but relieved.

  • You know what they say. Put quality in and quality comes out. I can't even take credit for how amazing this salad turned out. I did nothing but accidentally put the right ingredients in my grocery cart.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Four fruits. One dessert.

Sweet, caramelized baked apples. What's a more perfect dessert than that? Well, I found a recipe that kicked it up a notch.

This Passover-friendly dessert uses four different fruits: lemon, orange, banana, and of course, the apple.

Here's what you'll need:

Two apples
One ripe banana
Pinch nutmeg
A few drops of lemon juice
Juice of one orange
1 teaspoon sugar

Recipe makes two servings.


Mash the banana. Add nutmeg, lemon juice and sugar. Peel the apples and divide into two. Scoop out the centers and fill with the banana mixture. Pour the orange juice over the top.

Bake in a hot oven at 400-degrees for 20 minutes or until the apples are soft. Serve hot.

  • The flavors were really terrific, but it wasn't as easy to make as I expected. First it took me forever to pare the apple. And I was on the phone talking to my friend at the same time. Accident waiting to happen, right? Next time, I'm purchasing an apple corer.
  • Then, it took forever for the apple to get brown and caramelize. Twenty minutes just didn't cut it. Even the extra ten minutes I added didn't help much. I used a Fuji apple, my favorite. I wonder if they're just too crisp? Next time I'll try a Granny Smith or a Red Delicious. Don't you love all the different names for apples? I even tried a Pink Lady once (at a farmer's market, not at Rydale High)
  • I added a 1/3 cup of vanilla ice cream. You really don't need a lot. Trust me. This is good stuff.

Passover memory for today:

It's March 2001 and I'm no longer the youngest child in my family at Passover seder. Being the youngest child meant that every year I'm expected to sing the four questions in Hebrew. The questions are meant to engage meaningful discussions about the Passover story and how we celebrate the holiday. It's an honor to sing it - I've had it memorized since I was 8 years old. This year was different, though. The youngest child is now my three month old niece who is barely awake through dinner, much less ready to test her vocal abilities. She's my parents' first grandchild. We're all in total and complete awe of her.

I took her in my arms, held her in my lap and sang the four questions to her. Welcome to the family, sweet little one.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A milestone and an award

I started this blog in December as a way to remember all of the hits and misfires (and real fires) that occur in my kitchen. I mentioned it to a few friends, who mentioned it to their friends and I occasionally started to post messages on other people's blogs and get involved with some foodie discussion groups. I never in a million years expected to see 5,000 visits this year. I admit it...I was watching the site meter yesterday as the number rolled over.

It's an old habit. When my dad's cars' odometers showed a number like 99,987, the whole family would pile in the car and drive around the neighborhood to witness it turn to 100,000 miles together. And yes, more than one car of his reached this milestone.

I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for visiting me here. I really love to cook dishes that are good and good for you. And I like to make people laugh. Hopefully you've gotten a recipe or two or at least a chuckle since you've gotten to know me.

And I'm totally humbled by the amazing kitchen feats and adventures my fellow foodie bloggers have achieved. I've seen some incredible dishes out there and I've been inspired more than a few times.

Thank you to one such blogger, Patsyk at Family, Friends and Food- -for sharing her "Blogging with a Purpose" award with me.

It's the first blogger award I've received. Now that she's passed it on to me, I will pay it forward to five new recipients. I'll do that on Monday after Passover ends and I've had enough carbs in my system to make a coherent decision.

I'll check in with you tomorrow! G'night.

Only two more days to go (stop staring at that bagel!)

Hey, this isn't so tough. It's six days into Passover and I'm not even thinking of bread...much.

If you're observing the holiday, I would love to hear how you're "breaking" Passover on Sunday. For us, it's almost always pizza. But this year I'm craving some risotto. Mmmmm. Risotto.

(Looking at watch) Only 50 plus hours to go!

For now, we've got salads. Not a crouton in sight. Sorry.

Ina Garten's Tomato & Feta Salad

3 pints (6 cups) cherry tomatoes
3/4 pound good feta cheese
1 small red onion, chopped
3 tablespoons white wine or Champagne vinegar
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and place them in a large bowl. Dice the feta in 1/4-inch dice, crumbling it as little as possible. Add the feta to the tomatoes and then add the onion, vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, basil, and parsley. Toss carefully and salt, to taste, depending on the saltiness of the feta. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

  • I skipped the cherry tomatoes because the tomatoes on the vine at Whole Foods have truly been perfect recently. And I'm not a huge fan of raw tomatoes, but honestly I could have bitten into these like they were apples.
  • I skipped the onions and added a diced yellow pepper and cucumber instead. I also used Champagne vinegar instead of wine. I find that salads like this need to marinate at least an hour in the fridge before serving.
  • Add some cooked quinoa with this for a meal or spread some on a piece of matzah for a snack.

Mollie Katzen-inspired Pear, Walnut & Goat Cheese Salad

2 cups of romaine lettuce

1/4 cup of crumbled goat cheese

2 T lemon juice (fresh!)

1 pear, sliced

1/4 walnuts, chopped

2 T walnut oil

2 t Champagne vinegar

First I combined the pear, lettuce, walnuts and goat cheese in a bowl and set aside. I whisked the walnut oil, champagne vinegar and lemon juice together for the dressing and drizzled it on the salad.

Mollie Katzen's recipe substitutes feta for the goat cheese, but I've had a lot of feta lately. Also, she suggests marinating the pears in lemon juice first then finishing off the dish with a freshly ground black pepper.

  • You must try this. I think it's the lemon juice that puts this salad on another level. Or maybe it's the walnut oil? I don't know. Just try it and let me know what you think.

Passover memory for today:

It's April 1983 and my parents are taking us to Disney World for spring break! Epcot Center is unveiling the big silver earth thingy and we're truly excited. However, nobody told sis and I that the week my parents chose to go was (drumroll please) Passover! Yes, we visited Epcot Center's France, Italy and Greece. No pastries, pasta or spanakopita for us! We existed on potato chips. Lots and lots of potato chips.

After a few days in the Magic Kingdom, Mickey Mouse's ears started to look like bagels to me.

I'm not still bitter or anything. But I haven't been to Disney World since.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

From Quinoa to Quiche. These are great Scrabble words, don't you think?

Remember that long list of vegetables I had on the Passover grocery list? Well, it's time to take them out of the fridge. I would suggest you save this recipe for the weekend. It's not a hard to do, it just took longer to prep everything than I expected. I started by taking every single ingredient out and laying it on the dining room table. I almost completely covered the table. Yep, that's a lot of goodness in one spot. I wish I took a picture of it, as it was a sight to behold!

For all of you CSA subscribers out there, this is a fantastic way to use your excess vegetables before your weekly box of produce arrives. In fact, I think my hubby should anticipate this as our Sunday brunch meal for the summer.

Doesn't this look pretty?

Vegetable Quiche from The Healthy Kitchen by Dr. Andrew Weil & Rosie Daley


1/2 cup purified water

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes

1/2 pound asparagus (about 2 cups chopped) or broccoli florets

1/2 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, sliced

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 carrot, cut in small cubes (about 1 cup)

5 mushrooms, sliced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, or 1 teaspoon dried

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1/8 teaspoon chili flakes

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 small red potatoes, washed and thinly sliced

1/2 cup grated cheese, Pepper Jack or Swiss

1/4 cup milk

1/2 cup low-fat sour cream

6 eggs

1 medium tomato, sliced (seeds squeezed out)

3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375º F. Boil the water, pour over the sun-dried tomatoes, and allow to soak for about 15 minutes until they become soft and plump. Strain off any remaining liquid, and coarsely chop.

Cut off about 1 inch of the coarse ends of the asparagus stalks and discard or save them for soup. Cut the remaining stalks into about 6 pieces or chop coarsely. (If you are using broccoli, cut into florets.) Blanch the asparagus by boiling it in a medium pot of water for 2 minutes or less. Asparagus should be bright green and firm to the bite. Drain, rinse the asparagus in cold water, and drain again in a colander.

Sauté the onions and the garlic in the olive oil over low heat until the onions are transparent, approximately 10 minutes. Add the carrots, mushrooms, basil, parsley, chili flakes, nutmeg, salt and pepper and continue to cook for 5 more minutes. Remove from the heat.

Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Line the bottom with the potato slices, overlapping them slightly.

Whisk together the cheese, milk, sun-dried tomatoes, sour cream and the eggs in a large bowl. Mix in the sautéed vegetables and the blanched asparagus, coating everything with the cheese, milk and egg liquid, then pour into the potato-lined pie pan.

Arrange the tomato slices on top and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 1 hour, covering after 45 minutes if top browns. Completely baked quiche should be very firm. Let cool 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

  • Purified water? I would like to tell you that I went down to the rambling stream by my house, paused to pet a deer and dipped my golden ladel in the water. But that didn't happen. I got it right from the tap.

  • Instead of blanching my asparagus, I decided to steam it for 2 min. with a Glad Simply steaming bag. I didn't want to wash another pot!

  • If I had this to do over, I would cut the carrots a little smaller and probably sauteed it a bit longer. Or maybe grating them would have been better? It was still a little too hard when I ate a piece of the quiche. Not bad at all, just inconsistent with the rest of the texture of the other veggies.

  • I saved some time by purchasing sliced mushrooms. But I'm not going to kid you...this dish took about 40 minutes to prep. It was incredibly simple to put together, though. Oh, and did I mention it is really, really tasty? So please try it. Just do it on the weekend.

  • To lighten it up a bit, I used three whole eggs and three egg whites. I also chose a lowfat Swiss cheese, but a full fat sour cream. Like Ellie Krieger, I prefer some things full fat, but in moderation.

Passover memory for today:

No one in my family can remember the year, so I'm going to say it's circa 1980. I was very young, possibly 6 years old. We are all gathered at my aunt and uncle's home for seder and there must be 25 people in attendance. The seder goes on as normal- no flaming hairdos to speak of- but one unusual thing did happen. It snowed. Alot. Actually, it was a blizzard. Now this is Philadelphia, mind you, in the Spring. By the end of the seder, no one could get their cars to budge an inch. We were snowed in. All 25 of us had one big sleepover.

Did I mention it was April Fool's Day? I know, I know, it sounds like a joke. But it really happened. I remember thinking my father should keep extra pillows in the car just in case this happens again.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Quinoa. Keen-what?! No, it's keen-wah...

My breakfast most mornings consists of Bob's Red Mill 5 grain oatmeal with fruits and nuts. But, not on Passover. All the smoothies in the world can't make up for the heartiness of warm oatmeal in the morning. I decided to try a little experiment with a Kosher for Passover seed (not a grain!) called quinoa.

Gourmet magazine said this of quinoa:

"Like the new kid in town rolling up in a shiny convertible, this grain-that’s-not-a-grain is becoming the belle of the Passover ball." Wow, so clearly quinoa is in the running for prom queen!

Actually, quinoa is a member of the beet family and is not related to any of the five grains prohibited on Passover. It's very easy to make and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.

Here's how you make it:

First, rinse. Repeat. And rinse again. You see, there's a coating on quinoa that can be tough on your digestive system. Rinsing it is the only way to get it off. Remember to use a very thin sieve to drain the quinoa because the seeds are so tiny. Squeeze out any excess liquid, then place in a medium saucepan. Now, toast quinoa in a dry saucepan. Toasting it first brings out a nice, nutty flavor. After toasting for five minutes, add about 2 cups of water. Bring to a rapid boil, then cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Now that you have cooked quinoa, what do you do with it? Really, anything you want. Here's one option:

1 cup of cooked quinoa
2 t pure maple syrup
1/2 banana, sliced
large pinch of sliced almonds
10 large golden raisins

And, here was the result:

Looks good, doesn't it? I wish I had a better camera so you can see what cooked quinoa looks like. Basically, it resembles couscous but it's translucent. You can really play with quinoa and make a dish that suits your tastes. If I had any dried cherries, I would have used them instead of the raisins and replaced the maple syrup with pure vanilla extract. Also, I would have traded the almonds for crushed hazelnuts.

Passover memory for today:

It's April 1991 and it's been a long winter for my parents. We had been caring for my ailing grandfather in our home for the last three months. After a lifetime of smoking, emphysema was taking it's toll on him. Even though it was a miserable condition, my grandpop always made others smile and laugh with his flirting, joking and dancing. His knowledge of cards and magic tricks were unmatched. He had one blue eye and one brown eye. And they both sparkled mischievously.

Right before Passover, my grandpop entered a hospice, as we could no longer give him the care he needed. He was always a fixture at Passover seder and it was hard to think about celebrating the holiday without him. Amazingly, we didn't have to. The staff at the hospice cleared out the furniture in their beautiful sun room and set up a long table and chairs for us. About 15 of my family members came with our meal served from tupperware dishes instead of the usual china. With my grandpop at the head of the table, and sunlight streaming in, it was the most beautiful seder table I had ever seen. We concluded the seder with the usual toast: Next Year in Jerusalem!

My grandpop passed away a month later. A man- who only had an eighth grade education - had seen the world by joining the army. My mother and aunt decided the grandkids should honor his memory by going on our own adventures. So, my sister and I both spent the summer in Israel. When we finally reached Jerusalem and gazed at the Western Wall, he was definitely with us.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Peel me a grape

Shopping for delicious blueberries, strawberries and grapes can be really a hit or miss endeavor. You just never know. You can do your best by shopping for fruit when it's in season. But even then you take a chance. I love those days when I open up a bag of red seedless grapes and every single one of them is sweet perfection. I happened upon a bunch like this yesterday. Today's Passover-friendly recipes are inspired by the grape!

Banana, Berry & Grape Breakfast Smoothie

1/2 frozen banana
1/2 fresh banana
8 red seedless grapes
1/2 cup of blueberries
1/2 cup of nonfat plain yogurt
1/4 cup orange juice
2 t of honey
handful or two of crushed ice

If you have an immersion blender, you can put all of these ingredients in a plastic pitcher to blend. I always put the ice in last since that's what the blade touches first. However, if you have a conventional blender, you may want to blend the ice first, stop and then add the other ingredients before blending again.

Moving on to lunch, I focused on the grapes again and made a Curried Chicken Salad with Grapes and Apples. I adapted this recipe from Gourmet magazine.

Poached Chicken:

1 1/2 lb of chicken
4 cups of water
1 3/4 cups of chicken broth
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
7 baby carrots
handful of flat leaf parsley

Add the water, broth and vegetables to a large saucepan and bring it to a simmer. After a few minutes of simmering, add the chicken. Simmer for 6 minutes uncovered, then turn off the heat and move the saucepan to another burner. Cover the pan tightly with foil and a lid and let it sit for 15 minutes. By adding the vegetables to the broth/water mixture, the chicken turned out very flavorful! Thank you to my mother in-law for that suggestion. It made all the difference in this dish.

For the salad:

1 1/2 lb of cooked chicken, cubed
1 cup of red seedless grapes
1/2 cup of toasted & crushed cashews
1 Fuji apple, chopped roughly (you can leave the peel on)
1 celery stalk, diced
1/2 cup of lowfat mayo (kosher for Passover)
1 T freshly squeezed lime juice
1 T honey
5 t curry powder
1/2 t ground ginger
1/2 t salt
1/4 t ground black pepper

Add chicken, grapes, apples, celery and cashews to one large bowl and set aside. In another bowl, whisk the mayo, lime juice, honey, curry, ginger, salt and pepper. Combine the dressing with the chicken mixture. Dish can be served warm or cold.

As you can see from the picture, I'm serving this with a swiss chard leaf. Since you can not have torillas on Passover, I rolled it in the leaf like a sandwich. You can do this with a big Romaine lettuce leaf, too. But I find swiss chard to be heartier and the "sandwich" stays together better.

Finally here's another Passover memory from the past.

It's 1998 and for the first time in many years, my extended family is divided by a large ocean for Passover. Our custom has always been to share the holiday with my mother's sister and her family. My aunt was working at the London School of Economics for four months that Spring. But as a family we were determined to not let that stop us from spending Passover together. So we went to London! My uncle, cousins, their significant others, my parents and I made the trip to be with my aunt for seder. Incidentally, this was my parents first trip abroad which made it that much more exciting. My aunt was renting a flat that happened to be on the fifth floor. No elevator. The stairs were so steep you can literally feel them brushing against your nose as you climbed. You had to be an Olympic athlete to get up those stairs without stopping at each landing. When my aunt called around to rent tables and chairs for seder, there wasn't one company that would make the round trip up and down those stairs. She wound up purchasing everything so they would come! Don't ask me what the owner of flat said when he came back after renting it to my aunt and found the extra furniture.

Ever year on Passover we ask, "Why is this night different than all other nights?" Gathered around that table for seder, in a cramped London flat, was certainly different & one of the most wonderful memories I've ever had. Here were all were in London, thousands of miles away from our homes. But we were home because we were together.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A nice palate cleanser

Welcome back! If you're celebrating Passover this year, you may already have one or two seders under your belt. Now that the first two nights are over, it's time to put down the brisket and try something new. A nice fish dish.

What's that you say? You've had your fill of gefilte fish and you wouldn't mind if a month passes before you touch any fish again?

Before we get to the recipe, I must take a moment to share that growing up, I experienced what can only be described as a beta version of "Fear Factor." About one or two times a month, my entire family would get together with our grandparents and great aunts and uncles for a Sunday brunch. The buffet table contained many exotic treats including white fish salad and pickled herring. But the piece d'resistance, was a very large, dead and unhappy looking fish with blank eyes. Of course, the fish was used to showcase how fresh it was - but to the kids it only served as the object of many games of "Dare you to try it."

Back to Passover. One of these delectable - daring to some- dishes is of course gefilte fish. Gefilte fish is best described as a sweet fish sausage with carp as the main ingredient. Sounds okay so far, right? If I never saw how it was packaged, I'm sure it would be fine. But if you frequent the Kosher for Passover section at the grocery store, you will see that it's jarred in a congealed jelly.

Enough said.

I've believed for a long time that you either have the DNA strand that indicates whether you will enjoy gefilte fish or if you're destined to hate it. Let me make this clear. I LOVE IT. I can't get enough of it. Hubby hates it. But that's okay because usually he's sitting next to me at seder and I will just eat it right off his plate. Last night, we had a newcomer to our seder at my parents house. I watched out of the corner of my eye as he stabbed the gefilte with his fork, tasted a mere morsel and pushed the plate out of the way. What? You don't like it? No problem. I'll take it.

So, back to a dinner recipe for the post-seder, non-gefilte, mid-Passover week.

Sea Bass (or any white fish fillet) in Lemon Butter Sauce (adapted from Cooking Light)

2 (6-ounce) sea bass or grouper fillets
Cooking spray
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon butter
1/2 cup chopped plum tomato
(6-ounce) bag baby spinach, coarsely chopped


Sprinkle fish with salt. Heat a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add fish to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Remove fish from pan. Place one fillet on each of 2 plates; keep warm.

Add wine and juice to pan; cook over medium-high heat 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in parsley and butter. Drizzle sauce over fillets.

Add the tomato and spinach to pan; cook 1 minute or until spinach wilts. Arrange 1 cup vegetables on each plate.

  • This really is a delicious and quick dish. I haven't made it with sea bass yet, because it's rather pricey. But I'm sure it would be outstanding. I typically use turbot. But I'm sure any white fish fillet would be excellent. Just make sure it's thin enough (but not too thin because then it would fall apart!) for you to flip it while it maintains it's shape.
  • Speaking of flipping, run out and get yourself a fish spatula if you don't have one already. It's a flexible spatula that bends at the end- to pick up thin flaky fillets of fish- but it also has wide open slots. Anytime I cook with hot oil, I use it. Basically when I flip, the oil doesn't flip with it. It just slides through the slots. I'm a huge fan of this spatula because I never get splattered anymore.
  • Please use fresh lemon juice with this recipe. It's the main flavor of the dish and bottled lemon juice will not cut it.