Sunday, March 30, 2008

Comfort food from South Africa

As I was putting the groceries away yesterday, I pulled the ground beef out and considered what to make for dinner. We had already enjoyed pumpkin turkey chili last week, sloppy joes recently, so I was considering a meatloaf. However, writing this blog helps to keep me on my toes and serves as a motivator for me to try new things. So, I reached for a cookbook that I had admired for a while but barely used: Chef Marcus Samuelsson's Discovery of a Continent: Flavors, Foods and Inspirations from Africa.

I have to tell you, it's a gorgeous book that's absolutely compelling to read. The pictures tell a story, but so does his narrative about visiting South Africa after years of living in Sweden (he was adopted by a Swedish couple as a young boy.) So, the discovery of Africa and it's diverse cuisine, is not meant just for us the readers, but for his personal journey of self.

Marcus describes a bobotie as the country's national comfort food. To the Westerner, it can best be described as an African version of Sheppard's Pie. But it's that and so much more. This mixture of ground beef with local spices, dried fruits and nuts with a custard topping, is found at many tables but always looks a bit different. Every family passes down a recipe to add to it's uniqueness while staying within a certain formula. It's also a slow cooking dish, so best to try it on a weekend.

Bobotie by Marcus Samuelsson

1 1/4 lb ground beef ( I used 93% lean)

1 medium red onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 T curry powder

1/2 t ground cumin

1/2 t crushed coriander seeds

2 tomatoes, chopped or 1 cup of chopped canned tomatoes

1/4 cup bread crumbs

1/4 cup crushed peanuts or smooth peanut butter (unsweetened)

2 t salt, divided

1 cup of milk (I used fat free)

2 large eggs

2 egg yolks

pinch of ground nutmeg

Heat a Dutch oven or other large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the beef and onion and cook, stirring to break up any lumps, until the beef is well browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, curry, cumin, coriander, and tomatoes, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes.

Stir in bread crumbs, peanuts, 1 1/2 t of salt, and 1/2 cup of water and cook for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the beef mixture from the pot with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels (too messy for me! I used a colander.) Transfer to a plate and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350F. (At this point the recipe states to use butter to generously coat a 2 quart baking dish. I chose to use cooking spray to coat the pan.) Spread the beef mixture in the bottom of the pan and press down to pack well. Whisk together the milk, eggs, egg yolks, nutmeg, and the remaining 1/2 t salt and pour over the beef mixture.

Set the baking dish in a larger baking pan and add enough hot water to the large pan to come 1 9inch up the sides of a baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes, until the custard topping is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Makes 6 servings.

  • I did an internet search of bobotie before starting this recipe. The majority of recipes calls for golden raisins, currants or almonds to be added. This recipe does not indicate that, but I will definitely add it next time.
  • I fell victim again to neglecting the important role of mise en place (ingredients measured out before beginning recipe) with hilarious results. I took out cumin, curry and coriander and began measuring while the beef mixture simmered and awaited a spicy coating. I felt rushed, so I was impatient when spooning out the curry into a tablespoon and wound up spilling a lot of it on the (freshly cleaned!) counter. I decided to sweep it back into the container. Only...I wound up grabbing the cumin instead of the curry, because they were the same small size and not realizing my mistake until there a lovely curry & cumin trifle was created. You can guess the rest. Loud curse words followed by smacks to head.
  • I chose to use unsweetened peanut butter rather than crushed peanuts. I definitely hesitated before adding it to the ground beef, onion and garlic mixture. It seemed like such a strange combination of flavors. I had flash backs of playing "chef" as a little girl and making undesirable concoctions which always seemed to include mayonnaise and peanut butter. But, I took a deep breath and had faith in the bobotie, so I added the peanut butter to the beef (don't worry this story ends happily.) I wonder if the genius behind Reese's had the same hesitation before adding peanut butter and chocolate?
  • A quick tip: if you're out of toothpicks and need to check consistency of a dish, use a broken piece of spaghetti instead.
  • So...we loved it!! What a fun new way to use lean ground beef. Don't be afraid of the peanut butter. It will all be okay.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hope Springs Eternal

For me, Spring is bringing hope, although I'm not sure yet if it will be eternal. I have so much to look forward to right now that I'm having a hard time sitting still (yes the ankle is much better!)

In three weeks, hubby and I are visiting Calvert Farm to plant a row of lettuce. Back in January we joined a CSA and became shareholders. Recently, we contacted the farmers and asked if we could visit and bring a group of kids from a housing project in the city. Hubby has been volunteering with these kids for over five years, taking them on nature hikes and camping trips. Basically getting them in touch with nature, because they barely ever leave their immediate environment. We thought they would like to see where their food comes from, how organic farming works and learn about the life cycle of each vegetable that the farm produces.

That evening when we return home, another spring ritual begins for us. Passover, an eight day Jewish holiday, begins that evening with a dinner (called a seder) where we tell the story of the Israelites fleeing Egypt when they were slaves under the Pharoah. It also begins an eight day period of observing new dietary rules. Because the Israelites left Egypt in a hurry, there was no time for their bread to rise. So we observe the holiday by not eating anything leavened for the whole week. I can not wait to take on the challenge of cooking healthy meals that are kosher (okay) for Passover. For those of you that observe Passover, I hope by sharing and reviewing recipes that your experience will be enhanced. Growing up, there was ALOT of processed and super sugary foods - deemed kosher for Passover- eaten during the holiday. Needless to say, hubby and I will not be going that route. The holiday starts on April 19th, so I'll make a point to post every day during that week.

Another exciting Spring event will be the arrival of our weekly box of produce from Calvert Farm starting on May 20th. Test Drive Kitchen will shift gears at that point and focus primarily on how to integrate these vegetables in every meal without wasting any of them. Also, there will be veggies I've never tried before like radishes and kohlrabi. I can't tell you how excited I am about this upcoming challenge.

Lastly, on a much more personal note, Spring is bringing a revived feeling of optimism to my life. Right now I'm staring outside in my backyard at two beautiful trees slowing coming back to life. A pink & white dogwood and a bright yellow forsythia bush. I can't help but think of the two dreams that are blooming in my own mind. The daughter we're waiting for from China and the infant we're hoping to one day meet through a domestic adoption. Yes, we decided about six months ago to pursue what's called a "concurrent adoption." We've been waiting for over a year for China and it looks like it will be another three years. So recently we decided to diversify our efforts to become parents by updating our paperwork and begin the rollar coaster ride that is domestic adoption. Just this week, we completed a very long application process and a new wait period begins.

And maybe, just maybe, hope will spring eternal and nourish me throughout this journey.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Lights, Camera, Action!

I can cook. I also dabble in travel photography. But God love me, I am a terrible food photographer. I envy all of the bloggers out there who have mastered it. Please, please share your secrets with me. Perhaps I chose a poor first subject? I guess pumpkin turkey chili isn't the most glamourous subject, but it happened to be what was on the menu this evening.

Turkey-Pumpkin Chili-recipe courtesy of Whole Foods Market

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
2 jalapeños, ribs and seeds removed and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground white or dark meat turkey
1 can (14.5 ounce) diced tomatoes
1 can (15 ounce) pumpkin
1 cup water
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 can (15 ounce) kidney beans, drained

Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell pepper, jalapeno and garlic, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes until tender. Add turkey; cook until browned.

Add tomatoes with juice, pumpkin, water, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Add kidney beans, cover; stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.

  • After a long week of cooking and making a complete mess of the kitchen, there's nothing like cooking a meal that uses only one pot. I know it's the first few days of spring, but today was unseasonably chilly, so I grabbed my chance to make this soul-warming chili with an unusual twist: pureed pumpkin!
  • It was a pleasing meal, but both hubby and I thought it needed more seasoning. I added a little shredded parmesan before I served it.
  • Cute story about the green table the chili is displayed on. The table is actually a square piece cut from an old barn door. We spotted it while on vacation in Asheville, NC about five years ago. It wasn't being sold at a store, it was actually the very table we sat at during our last lunch before heading home. That afternoon, after 4 years of dating, I decided to pin the boyfriend down on when exactly we would move in together (and later get engaged.) The conversation went from timing of the move to what furniture we needed. We both agreed that we needed a kitchen table and also were impressed at the uniqueness of the one we were sitting at. We asked the waiter where they got it, and it turned out the owner made them! They sold it to us and shipped it to Washington, DC for a very reasonable price. Now, when we sit down for meals we are at the very table where we decided to spend our life together. Nice, huh?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Giving Tree

As I write this post, a loud chainsaw is in the process of cutting down the 50 year old red oak tree- about 1/3 sick & 2/3 dead- in our backyard. As the branches come down, one by one, it eventually became a large tree with no branches. Then it was a large trunk with no treetop, now it's just a stump. As I watched the process, I started to feel a combination of delight, as our yard became a lot sunnier - and a real tug at my heart at the end of its existence. It had a purpose for 50 years, and now it's gone. It brought a lot of shade and beauty to the backyard in its heyday. Just yesterday, we were so worried that big branches would fall on our roof and cause damage due to the heavy windstorms we've experienced. Now, large chunks of trunk are laying on our ground looking a lot less mighty.

What does all of this have to do with healthy cooking, do you ask? I think that my love of real food, whether it's harvested on a farm, plucked from one's garden or born from a tree, has definitely deepened my interest in learning where exactly my food originates from.

Hubby just brought home a jar of Del Monte SunFresh Mangoes. Before popping the top, I wondered which country these mangoes came from - it certainly doesn't say anywhere on the jar. It could be Brazil, but it also could be as far as Thailand. I've never even seen a mango tree in real life. I looked down at the jar and I felt very disconnected to it. Even though it was fruit, it just felt artificial to me.

Still, the mangoes provided the natural sweetening agent for a homemade barbeque sauce for last night's dinner.

Chicken with Mango Barbeque Sauce by Ellie Krieger

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced (about 1 cup)
1 red pepper, diced (about 1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 cup low-sodium tomato sauce
1 mango, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 to 3 jalapenos, minced
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 3/4 pound each)

Heat the oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium-high. Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the red peppers, garlic, salt and pepper, and allspice and cook for 2 minutes more. Stir in the vinegar, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, lime juice and tomato sauce and cook for 1 minute more. Transfer the mixture into a bender and add the mango and jalapeno. Blend until smooth.

Put 1 cup of the barbeque sauce into a sealable plastic bag with the chicken and marinate for 1 hour.

Preheat the broiler. Put the chicken on a broiler pan and discard the marinade. Broil the chicken on high for about 12 minutes, turning once. Let the meat rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Spoon about 1/2 cup of barbeque sauce over the meat slices and serve.

  • If you haven't embraced the concept of "mise en place" translated as "everything in its place" this recipe is a good place to start. I usually do it everytime. For some reason, I skipped the important step of having everything chopped and measured before the oil hits the skillet and I paid for it dearly! For one thing, dark sticky molasses made its way onto the floor, cabinets and my shirt while I tried to squeeze a lime with one-handed. It was not a pretty sight. Mise en place from now on. Live it. Love it.
  • I made the sauce without the jalapenos. I didn't have any on hand and honestly, I really don't like them. However, it does provide some heat that balances the sweet. I guess next time I'll add some red pepper flakes.
  • My only complaint about this dish is I still can't figure out how to make chicken stay moist after the broiler. The chicken was far from dry, just not succulent. Maybe it's because I always use very lean chicken? I guess a little fat might go a long way (gasp!)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Three Beets, Three Ways

In the house I grew up in, there was likely to be about fifty cans of beets in the pantry at any given time. My dad just loved them. They fell out of the can in a perfectly cylinder shape with ridges mirroring the shape of the can. They were super sweet, bright red and very, very soft. They were served straight up in a bowl. Basking in the glow of performing accompaniment. In my parents' defense, it wasn't terrible. I ate them. But I didn't love them and haven't been too keen on embracing them as an adult. Seriously, I had eaten enough beets from ages 7-12 for a whole lifetime.

Fast forward twenty or so years and I'm now re-introducing myself to beets. In real life (non-canned variety), they are pretty darn irresistible. And who can pass up a vegetable where you can eat both the root and the leaves? Now that's what I call efficiency! Hubby brought home three beautiful golden beets from his last grocery trip. I didn't want to deal with red hands, red counter tops and even the dreaded red pee. (yes, I just got the yellow flag for violating the first of rule of cooking blogs: no bathroom humor)

Besides being very tasty, beets offer tremendous health benefits. According to the George Mateljan Foundation, beets are particularly rich in the B vitamin folate, which is essential for normal tissue growth and can prevent birth defects -so they play an important role in the diet of a pregnant woman. Also, your kids will love them because they are so sweet yet low in calories.

So yesterday, I had three perfect beets and their greens to make myself a meal. I was shocked and delighted that I squeezed three full meals out of them.

Karen's Roasted Golden Beets and Goat Cheese Salad

1 roasted golden beet, sliced

1.5 oz of goat cheese, crumbled

1 cup of beet greens

2 T extra virgin olive oil

1 shallot, sliced

Kosher salt & pepper to taste

I cut the greens off each beet and put them aside. Scrub, scrub, scrub those beets. It literally looked like a different vegetable once I got the layer of dirt off. Then, I wrapped all three of my beets in foil tightly. Although this recipe called for one beet, I knew I would use all three at some point this week. I placed the beets on a baking sheet and roasted them for 90 minutes in the oven (400F). It's important to make sure all the beets are about the same size, so they will cook evenly. The beets are done when you can slide a fork or knife until them easily. I let them cool for thirty minutes and chose one for my salad. Remove the foil, and wipe the thin layer of skin off with a paper towel. I then sliced it up and put it aside.

Next, the greens. I washed these very carefully and spun them in my salad spinner. Wheeeee!!! I love to see those greens spin. In a medium skillet, I added the extra virgin olive oil and cooked the shallots on medium low heat for about 4 minutes. Then I added the beet greens. Like Swiss Chard, they are hearty, so it took a while for them to soften bit. They will not wilt like spinach, which is much softer. I cooked them until they were tender. Be sure to add salt and pepper to your liking.

Finally, I plated the greens along with the goat cheese and beet slices. What a lovely lunch it was. Later I realized it would have benefited from a drizzle of my heirloom tomato balsamic vinegar. Oh well. Next time.

Later in the afternoon, hubby was coming home in the middle of the day to take me to the podiatrist. The ankle is healing, thankfully, albeit slowly. I start physical therapy tomorrow! Hubby asked for a sandwich to eat on the way. I put this together and I actually enjoyed it more than my salad.

1/2 roasted golden beet, sliced

1/4 cup of red grapes, halved

4 slices of turkey breast (thin deli slices)

1/2 cup of beet greens (steamed)

1 oz goat cheese crumbles

2 t balsamic vinegar

1 sun dried tomato tortilla

After steaming the beat greens in a Simply Glad steaming bag for a minute, I mixed all the ingredients together in a bowl. Then, I rolled the mixture up in the tortilla. Voila! Lunch on the run. Okay, I admit, I did slice a small piece off to try myself. The sweetness of the beets, grapes and vinegar just hit the spot.

Finally, the third and final dish was Cooking Light recipe.

Pasta with Beet Greens and Raisins

8 ounces uncooked pennette (mini penne)

1/4 cup raisins

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups coarsely chopped trimmed beet greens

2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic

1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Cracked black pepper (optional)

Cook the pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain. While pasta cooks, place raisins in a small bowl; cover with hot water. Let stand 10 minutes. Drain.

While pasta cooks and raisins soak, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add greens and garlic; sauté 3 minutes or until greens are tender. Stir in pasta, raisins, almonds, salt, and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper; toss to combine. Sprinkle with cracked black pepper, if desired.

  • I used whole wheat penne pasta, instead of white. I seriously can not remember the last time I had white pasta. I know it's healthier, but the real reason is it's just simply tastier.
  • My pantry is now stocked with dried fruits up the whazoo. I use raisins, cherries, cranberries and apricots all the time to add sweetness to savory dishes. I picked golden raisins for this dish and I think it was the right choice.
  • This was absolutely scrumptious. I saved the best beet dish for last!

After all that, I still have a cup of sliced beets left! If you're watching your budget - as we all should - beets give you the most bang for your shopping buck.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


It has been a very interesting two weeks here at Test Drive Kitchen. Anyone who has ever been on crutches will tell you the same thing. Sure they can get you somewhere, but what the heck do you do when you get there? Nada. Nothing. Zip. Ever try to hold a cup of coffee while on crutches? Not a pretty sight. I'm thinking of inventing a coffee patch for my forearm.

So, it's been quite a challenge to make any kind of meal without assistance. With hubby gone all day, I've figured out some shortcuts and relied heavily on anything I can roast, simmer, braise or slow cook. Basically recipes that are almost totally hands off and allow me to sit on my tush.

One of my favorite and not at all sprained ankle friendly recipes is risotto. Here is my post about a saffron butternut squash version:

Since risotto requires stove top hovering, I decided to make a "poor mans" version of this scrumptious dish with similiar flavor - but sadly not the creamy texture.

I toasted a cup of (rinsed) quinoa in a dry saucepan for five minutes, while I prepared previously peeled and cubed butternut squash in extra virgin olive oil, salt & pepper. I put this mixture in a casserole dish, which then went into the oven (preheated at 425F). Meanwhile, I added 2 cups of chicken broth to the quinoa and brought it to a quick boil. Yes, mom, I did sit while I waited for it to boil! After the boil, I covered the pot and let it simmer for 15 minutes. When the quinoa was finished, so was the butternut squash. The squash is finished when brown at the edges and soft and tender to the touch. In hindsight, I wish I put some roughly chopped shallots in the roasting pan, because that would have added a LOT of flavor to my final dish.

For an early lunch today, I took a 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa and 1/4 cup of roasted butternut squash and sprinkled 1 T of shredded parmesan cheese and a pinch of saffron threads. I mixed it together and let the cheese melt.

All in all, it was very satisfying lunch. I didn't expect the creaminess of risotto, so I wasn't disappointed.

Hey, 20 minutes with barely any standing up. I'll take what I can get!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Kitchen Sink? Everything, but.

Growing up in Southern New Jersey, my family spent many summers "down the shore." My aunt and uncle have a beautiful home on Long Beach Island where my husband and I usually spend a week in August. My favorite thing about LBI is there's virtually no big retail stores. Everything from the grocery stores to the restaurants - all locally run. There's not a TGI Fridays or Giant in sight. Hubby's favorite is an ice cream parlor that's been around for at least 30 years complete with a player piano. I have to say, it's special to see my spouse fall in love with a place from my childhood. He just gets it.

Beyond kayaking in the lagoon and sailing with my uncle, one of the best things about our LBI vacations is definitely the food. My aunt lays out dinners of grilled sweet corn, roasted summer vegetables, fresh herbs (growing on her deck), fish straight from the dock, and fruit from the farmer's markets. Lunch is always something to look forward to. It's composed of what we had for dinner the night before mixed in with fresh greens and balsamic vinegar with olive oil. Her salads opened my eyes to new flavor combinations and has inspired me in my own cooking adventures. Before this year, I was known for my own "everything but the kitchen sink" salads and it was a staple at my dinner parties. It usually included goat cheese, fresh corn shaved from the cob and dates.

Hubby was headed to Whole Foods yesterday, so I decided to use up the remaining vegetables in the fridge to create some room. Rather than a salad, I was totally in the mood for soup. I asked him to pick up some delicious crusty bread of his choice (he knows to look for 3 grams of fiber or more now!) I've also been reading "How to Cook Without the Book" by Pam Anderson which had a very helpful chapter on making soup. First rule? When junk goes in, junk comes out. Basically with fresh ingredients to start, it's easy to make an excellent soup.

Karen's "Everything But the Kitchen Sink" Soup

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 zucchinis, diced
2 Yukon potatoes, diced
4 carrots, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 large bunch of swiss chard leaves, roughly chopped and stems removed
1 15 oz can cannellini beans
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup bulgur, cooked
48 oz chicken broth (1 ½ cartons)
2/3 cup white wine
1 Chicken/Apple Sausage, thinly sliced
Penzy’s Northwood Spices (mix of coarse flake salt, paprika, black pepper, thyme, rosemary, garlic and chipotle.)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
Shredded Parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and let them sauté for 3-4 minutes until translucent. Then, add the remaining vegetables & wine. Spice generously with penzy (or your own mix), salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly and let the veggies stew in their own juices, wine and tomatoes for about 10 minutes with the lid tightly on the pot. When veggies are tender, you can add the chicken broth & beans. Taste and season to your liking. Put the lid back on the pot and cook for another 10 minutes (med-low heat). Add previously cooked Chicken Apple Sausage and bulgur at the end. In five minutes, everything will be heated up and ready to serve. Serve with a piece of crusty bread and a pinch of shredded parmesan cheese in the soup.

  • Recently filed in the Duh! folder: I burned my first pot because I left the oil sizzling on high heat without the onions for too long. It looks terrible, I may not be able to scrub out the scorch mark! First duh, followed by a second...I opened the french doors in my living room leading out to the back yard (unfenced) to clear the very smoked filled kitchen. I thought I tightly closed the doors when I let Sami back in, but a gust of wind blew it open and my puppy almost took off outside without a leash. Thank goodness she had the good sense to be startled and backed away in time for me to close it again! Damn this sprained ankle...yes, I'm blaming my lack of common sense on it.
  • Hubby brought home an outstanding loaf of oatmeal, flax, honey and date bread. The sweetness of the dates and honey with the savory taste of the soup was an unexpected, yet heavenly, combination.
  • I can't wait to have this soup for's always better the next day.
  • The best thing about this dish was how quickly it came together. From first chop to in the bowl was approximately 35 minutes. Twenty of which I was sitting watching tv!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Pantry Envy

I made another new blog discovery! Lydia at The Perfect Pantry ( keeps her kitchen well stocked with everything under the sun. Currently, her inventory counter is at 220. Hmmm...mine is at 75. At the rate I'm going, though, I could match that by June! An interesting result from reading stacks of cookbooks is that everytime I'm at the grocery store I pick up an ingredient I remember from a recipe. A few weeks ago, I picked up Coriander but it wasn't until yesterday that I found a reason to use it.

I won't even keep you in suspense here. It was crazy good. And unbelievably easy to make. Oh, and I had everything I needed on hand...or so I thought.

Spiced Chicken & Grape Skewers by Ellie Krieger

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

8 (10-inch) skewers

1 1/2 cups seedless green grapes

Cooking spray

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves

1 lemon, cut into wedges

In a medium sized bowl whisk together the oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, coriander, and salt. Add the chicken to the marinade and toss to coat. Marinate the chicken for 20 minutes. While the chicken is marinating, soak the skewers in water if wooden.

Thread 4 pieces of the chicken and 4 grapes onto the skewers, alternating them. Spray a grill pan with cooking spray and preheat over a medium-high heat, or prepare an outdoor grill. Grill the chicken until cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Sprinkle with mint and serve with lemon wedges.

  • Yes, I'm supposed to be keeping my feet up and the apron off, but it was getting close to 8pm and the metro delayed my hubby. So I chanced it and hobbled around. Thankfully, there were only a few things to grab for the marinade. Hubby came home and took care of the rest.
  • If you asked me one thing I must have in my fridge at all times, it's lemons. I love to zest. I love to juice. I am a citrus junkie. It just heightens the flavor of everything.
  • Sadly, I didn't have any grapes. They there were this morning...and then there were gone. Hmm? Healthy burglar? Sneaky dog? Nope. Hubby just took them to work.
  • I used the broiler instead of the grill. They turned out great! Ten minutes total- turn the skewers halfway through.
  • For the sauce, hubby clipped some mint leaves from our plant growing in the dining room and added it to nonfat plain yogurt. He squeezed some fresh lemon juice for a final touch.
  • He served the chicken with cooked bulgur (our favorite grain by far!) the sauce and a handful of golden raisins to make up for the missing grapes.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Riding the Bench

I hate watching the game from the bench, but that's where I am. For at least two weeks. I'm nursing a grade 3 ankle sprain. It's been a unusual experience handing my hubby the grocery list and giving him cooking directions from the couch. Thankfully, he's totally on board with keeping up our eating habits and hasn't suggested take-out food. The thing is, once you start eating real food made from ingredients one can pronounce, it's nearly impossible to go back to crap. So, hubby is taking on double duty as breadwinner and breadmaker! Oh, and guess what...he made a statement that made me leap with joy from the sofa (almost.) He pronounced Whole Foods produce far superior and will no longer express frustration at our grocery bills.

We're keeping the menu light and easy this week. So far, it's been spinach and mesclun salads with cannellinni and black beans, shaved parmesan and dried cherries, baked fish, roasted cauliflower and raisin salad with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. He gets home between 7:30-8pm, so it's been imperative to make dishes with a shorter prep time. Honestly, I'm ravished by the time he gets home. Maybe that's because I'm sitting here reading cooking websites and Mark Bittman books all day!!

Since I'm determined to keep posting frequently, I'll write some more cookbook reviews and website discoveries (and try not to critique hubby's culinary attempts too much!)

For now, here's something completely different for your amusement. A friend from my comedy class added a video of us performing a few weeks ago on Youtube. The picture quality is not great, but I'm in the one in green pretending to speak in Lithuanian.


Monday, March 3, 2008

Holy Schnikies, that's one tasty salad!!

As much as I appreciate delicious food, it's pretty rare for me to have a reaction like I had last night. I was suddenly rendered monosyllabic.

Wow. Whoah. Soooo. Good.

Maybe it's because I was doped up on Aleve for the ankle, but I think I had a religious experience while eating this salad. If you're going to try anything on my blog, TRY THIS.

I stumbled upon this recipe yesterday while surfing the net with my foot propped up on an ottoman under a nice cold bag of sugar snap peas. There's not much I can do right now besides rest and dream of recipes I want to make. My husband has added to his duties of chief taster and clean up visionary (yes, he has many ideas on how to decrease the pileup), to Whole Foods mystery shopper and reluctant sous chef. Seriously, he's the best.

Are your reading Kitchen Queen Victoria? You are going to love this.

Oh, you wanted the recipe already? Here it is:

Spinach Salad with Caramelized Onions and Apples by Alison Anton

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 yellow onion, sliced thin

1 apple, sliced thin

1/2 teaspoon mild curry powder

4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Pinch salt

6 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons walnut oil (or use more olive oil)

1 cup pecans or walnuts

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons maple syrup

4 handfuls of baby spinach

2 ounces goat feta

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the sliced onion and apple. Saute for 2-3 minutes, turn down the heat to medium-low and cover. Add curry. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 35-45 minutes, until the onions have released their natural sugars and begun to caramelize. They should be a nice caramel color.

In the meantime, prepare the dressing and candied pecans. For the dressing, whisk all of the ingredients together in a small dish. Let the dressing sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes to allow the flavors to develop.

For the pecans, heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Place the pecans in the pan, stirring and flipping constantly, until the pecans are lightly toasted, about 8 minutes—watch out, they burn fast at the end.

Add the spices and salt; mix about 30 seconds to toast the spices. Turn the heat to low and add the maple syrup. Stir constantly, cooking until the mixture has thickened and is very sticky, about two minutes. Remove to a plate and cool completely.

Place a handful of spinach onto four salad plates. Drizzle with the dressing. Place 1/4 of the warmed caramelized onions over each of the plates of spinach and top with the candied pecans and feta. Give each a grinding of fresh black pepper. Serve while the onions are still warm.

  • First, check out Alison Anton's blog at I must have spent an hour perusing it last night. I found at least 10 recipes I want to try.

  • You know what's great about caramelizing onions? Even though it takes a while, it's pretty effortless and the result is outstanding flavor. I was being careful not to stand up too long, so basically I covered the pan for 30 minutes and checked in only twice for quick stirs.

  • I highly recommend using walnut oil in the dressing rather than using extra olive oil. It adds a unique touch.

  • I had both walnuts and pecans on hand, so I used a half cup of each. After we made the spiced nuts, it's amazing that any landed in the salad. They are outrageously good.

  • I wish I could make this blog "Scratch & Sniff." Remember those stickers? Curry & Cinnamon. Wow. I'm starting to feel monosyllabic again.

When I sent hubby out to Whole Foods yesterday for a grocery run, I armed him with one of my favorite things from

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Great Shed of 2008

Dear Karen,

I know that we've been dancing around the subject for the last two weeks, so I thought I would just address it. You've quietly swept and swiffered fruitlessly as I leave new gifts for you. You've used special tools, like the Furminator, to lessen the pile up only to create more mess. Even Dyson's special vacuum - the Animal- has failed to meet your expectations.

Big E for effort, though. You're a trooper.

But seriously, I didn't ask to blow my coat. It's just that the Great Shed stops for no one. Not even the furry inhabitants of Test Drive Kitchen.

Keep your chin up. It's almost over. Oh, and can you pass me your slipper? I wasn't done nibbling on it. Thanks.

I feel better now that we've had this talk.


Saturday, March 1, 2008


That was the unfortunate sound my body made when it met the ground yesterday. A very well intentioned jog turned into a recipe for elevation, ice and rest. Long story short, I had a great run with a friend of mine which ended with a flying leap off the sidewalk to the grass. I'm told it was quite impressive. So, I'm nursing a sprained ankle at the moment, but still managed to hobble over to the kitchen to make lunch today. I sought comfort in some fantastic blueberries. I'm not a huge fan of them usually, but when they're good I can't resist them. Here's what I did:

1/2 cup of cooked bulgur (made with low sodium chicken broth)
1 cup of baby romaine lettuce
1/3 cup of fresh blueberries
2 T slivered almonds
1 T shredded Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup of steamed broccoli
1/3 cup of chopped orange bell pepper
1 T Newman's Light Balsamic Vinaigrette

I'm optimistic that an infusion of superfoods will accelerate the healing process!!

If I could have maintained my balance longer, I would have definitely made my own dressing. I think Newman's Own and Maple Grove products are pretty decent, but nothing really compares to homemade. Plus I just purchased a bag of limes and lemons for just this purpose this week. Oh well. Best laid plans.

Speaking of limes, this creamy lime-fig dressing is to die for.

Creamy Lime Fig Dressing from Greens Glorious Greens!

3 dried Turkish or Calmyrna figs (stems removed)
3 T Freshly squeezed lime juice
1 T apple cider vinegar
1 T mirin
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup canola or olive oil
3/4 cup of water
salt to taste

To make dressing, place figs, lime juice, vinegar, mirin, garlic, oil, water and salt in a blender. Blend for 2-3 minutes until creamy and smooth.

  • Figs are a great source of calcium, iron, potassium (which helps control blood pressure) and fiber. I've always been a big fan of fig newtons (not so much of figgy pudding). It's nice to learn they're a nutritional heavyweight!
  • I usually drizzle this dressing on a bowl of spring mix and fig slices.

One more time for the cheap seats: