Archive for September, 2009

Wasn’t Roman outside this cold morning…I was too chicken

September 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Go ahead, call me a Sally.  I did not visit the farmers market this morning to get my produce for the week due to the blast of cold air that awaited outside.  I was snuggled up in my XL old college sweatshirt and the thought of heading outside did not seem in my best interest. Or the interest of my two year old daughter.  She seemed to have picked up hand-foot-mouth disease, a virus that leaves lovely blister-like sores on the aforementioned body parts.  Yes, we are so into eating in our household, even when we get sick, it relates to eating food!  Fortunately I had overbought the previous week, so I was all good.

With the chilly weather, I was extra psyched to have a warm chicken dish that warms your belly.  I am not a huge Food Network groupie, but I happened to stumble upon an episode of Giada (and of course her “girls”) making this Roman Chicken dish.  If I just saw the recipe in a cookbook, I probably would not have made it.  But on TV it really looked good, so I gave it a whirl, and it has remained a fav.  I serve it with oven roasted potatoes…when on the plate with the chicken, they really soak up the juices and taste freakin awesome.  The red peppers, proscuitto, herbs and capers really harmonize well together.  I end up eating more the peppers than anything!  And the best part, even if you over cook the chicken, all the juices make the chicken moist anyway. 


Lucy is on the floor, waiting for something tasty to drop

Lucy is on the floor, waiting for something tasty to drop

Roman Chicken - plated

So now I think I shall head to a different farmers market later in the week. I feel like I am cheating on my favorite vendors at the Woodstock FM.  Last week after we had left, a handful of them were sporting Spiderman stickers courtesy of my 5-year-old son.  They leave their mark on our family with their wonderful produce, so I guess it was our turn to literally leave our mark on them.


Green Goddess Salmon w/Black Bean & Tomato Quinoa

September 28, 2009 Leave a comment

Feeling like a salmon this week…gotta swim upstream to keep things going.  Speaking of salmon, that was on the menu tonight.  I enjoy wild salmon, as the idea of adding color to fish is rather unsettling to me, let alone the environmental impact of farmed fish.  When selecting types of fish, I do find it confusing as to which fish are okay to eat.  A few years ago, I found a great online guide that you can print out and keep in your wallet.  Seafood Watch is a great way to find the best choices, good alternatives and types of fish to avoid.

This recipe for Green Goddess Salmon does not use the mint green salad dressing that sat on our formica  kitchen table, alongside French and Thousand Island.  It is super fast to whip up  and is a favorite in our household.

green goddess salmon with black bean and tomato quinoa

Green Goddess Salmon
1 cup loosely packed cilantro
2 Tbs parsley
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. lime juice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 garlic cloves
4 salmon fillets
2 plum tomatoes, diced

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking pan with foil.   Place all ingredients, except the fish and tomatoes in a food processor and process until smooth.  If it is really thick, add 1 Tbs of water at a time to thin out.  Place fillets on pan and divide sauce among the top of each fillet and top with diced tomatoes.  Bake 13-18 minutes.

As a practical person, I like to serve the salmon with Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa, since it uses many of the same ingredients.  This may be the second quinoa recipe I have done; I am not a quinoa freak, it just has been coincidence, trust me.   For the salmon and quinoa, I rate this recipe an 8/10.  (I think I gave it an extra point since I was starving when I ate.)

Quinoa again?

Quinoa again?

You may have noticed a lovely lemon drop martini in the first photo.  In addition to a fever-ridden two-year old, the week is not starting on a high note.  If you have kids, give them an extra hug that they are healthy and enjoy the miracle and beauty of life.

In Defense of the Vegetable…Italian Vegetable Stew

September 25, 2009 1 comment

This entry is going to be dedicated to stew.  Like making a stew, I am just going to throw a bunch of things in here and see what happens.

My husband has been gone for a few days, up north forging for food (aka fishing) and taking part in Meat-A-Rama.  He will be running in the fest’s 5K run, the Rump Roast Run.  This is not something out of The Onion; I am serious.  Apparently the major awards are beef roasts.  It is a little unnerving to see animal flesh being awarded to those that are the fastest.  A kind of Neanderthal way of rewarding those who are the leaders of the pack.  rump  Anyway, in his absence I had more time than usual to peruse my latest copy of Gourmet Magazine.  I found a very easy recipe  – Italian Vegetable Stew – more or less just throwing every ingredient from my garden (and then some) into a pot.  I have to admit, I was a little thrown due to the fact no herbs were used.  I am an herby kind of gal, but all of it came together with the veggies forming their own little union, thus proving me wrong about the need for herbage.  I give it a 7/10.

italian vegetable stew

Speaking of Gourmet Magazine, snaps go to a high school classmate of mine, Matt Vanderzalm.  His recent photographs were on the magazine’s website (not sure about whether they will be in the glossy mag).  He is a very talented individual who raises the bar for Facebook status posts.

Not even realizing that I have been on an Italian theme pretty much this whole week, I will be ending the week making insane amounts of pesto.  I usually make enough to last me the entire year, then I repeat the whole process over again.  In a way, it is a ritual that signifies the end of summer.   The vibrant green basil gives way to brown and rust colors that are slowly permeating the outdoors.  This is the recipe I have been using for years, as you can’t screw up pesto too bad.  It freezes quite well.  I put it in any type of freezer worthy container.  And I do mean any…a few years ago after having my last baby, I had some extra BRAND NEW, NEVER BEEN USED breast milk bags.  I am not one to waste much, so I went for it.  I mean, these bags are meant to be frozen and protect their contents.  It was the perfect size and storage was so much easier.  Yes, I will admit, kind of creepy, but that’s my practical side for you.

4 cups fresh basil leaves (from about 3 large bunches)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino Sardo or Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

Combine first 4 ingredients in blender. Blend until paste forms, stopping often to push down basil. Add both cheeses and salt; blend until smooth. Transfer to small bowl. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Top with 1/2 inch olive oil and chill.)

Focaccia Darn It, Eat Your Dinner!

September 23, 2009 Leave a comment

As a parent of three children ages seven and under, I usually get asked if my kids truly eat every dinner I make.   My kids are not the norm when it comes to eating, and it tickles me.  Their idea of a snack is a “big, juicy carrot”, known as BJC’s in our household.  Their favorite vegetables are asparagus, broccoli and anything with any type of beans in it.  I don’t know about you, but I feel a sense of happiness when my kids eat all of their food.   It is a strange, peaceful feeling, like nature is telling you, “Congrats Mom, you just nourished their little bodies with healthy food.  Job well done”.

But there are days when they don’t eat.  And it really ticks me off when it is something I know they like.  Tonight I made focaccia bread, a favorite in the household.  Usually it just has rosemary and garlic, but for some reason a little voice in my head said, “Put something else on it – like tomatoes…yeah tomatoes sound good”.   The kids barely ate it, along with the salad and veggies with dip.   Since it was just us, I thought it would be fun do something as not quite the typical dinner.  Oh well, at least I enjoyed it!

I have been making this recipe for a few years now, from who else but the queen of Italian food, Julia Child. Sounds crazy but true.  Start to finish, it only takes 2 1/2 hours, and a majority of that is rise time.  It’s quite easy and who doesn’t like fresh bread?


1 package (a smidge less than 1 Tbs) dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tsp salt
3 or more slightly more cups flour
2 1/2 tsp olive oil
For the topping:
1/2 to 3/4 tsp kosher salt (I prefer sea salt)
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and cut into slivers
1 large sprig fresh rosemary (dried doesn’t work as well, but if you must, 1 Tbs dried)

Put the yeast in a measuring cup and pour 1/4 cup of the warm water over it.  Let stand a few minutes and stir. Transfer the yeast to the bowl of a standing mixer.  Add the remaining water, salt, and 2 1/2 cups of the flour.  Mix with the paddle for about 2 minutes. Add another 1/2 cup flour and blend again until the flour is absorbed. The dough will more moist than the usual bread dough.
      Scrape the dough out onto a well-floured work surface and with floured hands knead lightly for only a dozen times and then plop it into a large bowl that has been greased with 1/2 tsp olive oil. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled, about an hour to two depending on how warm your kitchen is.
       Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and generously sprinkle cornmeal over the center of a standard sized baking sheet.  Turn the dough onto a floured surface and start patting it into an oval shape.  Move it to the prepared sheet and distribute remaining olive oil on top of the bread, using your fingers makes this easier.  Now continue the stretch and pat the dough until you have a 10 inch oval.  Sprinkle the coarse salt over the surface of the dough and insert the slivers of garlic at intervals all over the surface, using a knife to cut little slits in the bread.  Go back over the slits and insert the rosemary.  (If you would like other toppings, like oven roasted tomatoes, get creative and go for it!)  Let the dough rest for 15 minutes, then bake for 25 minutes and serve while warm.

On Deck:  It’s time to euthanize my basil…do I hear pesto?

Parmesan-Shrimp Pasta Bake

September 22, 2009 1 comment

Lately my conscious has been getting the best of me.  With the explosion of non-fiction food-related books out there, I have been forced to examine my own relationship with food.  That relationship starts with the origin of your food, and I don’t mean your local grocery store.  Where some feel guilty with the calorie count of a meal, I get guilt with where the food comes from.  Rectifying this internal matter, I have taken steps to truly know where the majority of my food comes from.   I get my produce, chicken, beef and eggs from local farmers.  In addition to the wonderful relationships I have made with these farmers, I have placated myself in knowing that they were raised responsibly*.

But shrimp is another matter entirely.  It goes beyond just responsible and sustainable eating.  It travels further than animal rights and  lands smack dab in the middle of human rights.  Long story short, remember to buy US origin wild shrimp.  I don’t like to get preachy, but if you want the full story, check out Barry Estabrook’s article  from Gourmet magazine.

Moving on…I woke up Monday morning to a sore throat and runny nose and felt like I got hit by our Monday morning garbage truck.  Fortunately, we had celebrated my son’s birthday the day before, so his excitement over new toys gave me the opportunity to become one with the couch.  (Side note, kudos to Dave on a fantastic deep fried Cajun turkey!)  So I was glad when I realized on the menu was the shrimp bake.  I am not a huge casserole person, so don’t expect to see many recipes on here like this.  Many folks say that seafood and cheese should not be combined in the same recipe, but this one definitely works.   I think it is the fresh dill that ties it all together.

 Shrimp Bake Casserole


On Deck: Focaccia Bread – let’s keep using those herbs!

*As responsibly as one can raise animals/animal by-products.  I am not a vegan or 100% vegetarian, but I wholly respect those who are.  For me, personally knowing how those animals were raised and treated absolves any guilt I feel about cooking with them.

Vines, Vines, Everywhere There’s Vines (my apologies to Tesla and the lesser known The Five Man Electrical Band)

September 18, 2009 5 comments

IMG_1671It’s the tail end of tomato season in Illinois and we are surrounded by tomato vines.  My kitchen counter has been overtaken by five different varieties.  Dave and I have made numerous bowls of salsa, bruschetta, oven roasted tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato pesto, ketchup,  stewed tomatoes and over 20 pints of pasta sauce.    I have put a tomato on anything that can physically hold a tomato – sandwiches, grilled cheese, pasta, salads, Caprese salads, BLTs, kabobs…okay I am exhausted.  But why is the tomato the one garden beauty that everyone gets excited about come spring, but by this time of the year, you can’t even give them away?  Tomato burn-out.  At this point I just want to make recipes that will use up massive amounts of tomatoes so I can be done.   So as I lament about the lack of counter space that the buggers are using up, I think ahh…Tomato Soup.

The best recipe I have come across for tomato soup is one that has some extra little fixin’s, that give it that needed edge.  Applewood bacon, Gruerye cheese and chives  make this soup stand out and up the wow factor.  I have made it before with swiss cheese and regular bacon and it turns out just fine. 

Tomato Soup
6 bacon slices, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 -3 pounds tomatoes, cored and chopped into quarters
2/3 cup whipping cream
1/3 cup water

1/3 cup gruyere or swiss cheese
3 Tbs. chopped chives

Saute bacon in large pot until crisp.  Transfer half of bacon to paper towels to drain.  Add onion and pepper to bacon that is left in the pot and saute until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes.  Add tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes are tender, about 7-9 minutes.  Add cream and water and simmer on low heat for around 10 minutes.  Working in batches, puree soup in blender.  Season with salt and pepper and garnish with reserved bacon, cheese and chives.  Makes around 6 servings.  IMG_1748_edited

The first time I made this recipe I learned a very valuable lesson in cooking, specifically with a blender.  Just as a point of reference, that the recipe did not point out, is that when putting hot liquids in a blender, only fill up the blender half-way.  I have white cabinets in my kitchen that go all the way up to my nine-foot ceilings.   Cleaning tomato soup off cabinets while on a step-ladder is not my idea of cleaning up the kitchen when you are done cooking.   Also, using a pot holder to press down the top lid is a helpful tidbit as well, just in case the lid should happen to shoot out the top.

So while I will make salsa and bruschetta for parties this weekend, I am glad to say I am done cooking with my tomatoes.  And I know, yes come winter and spring I will be killing to eat a garden fresh tomato, for now I am done.  Good night Brandywine, see ya Early Girl, Bye -Bye Beefsteak.

The Sage Saga

September 16, 2009 Leave a comment

Okay first of all, after a lengthy discussion over dinner, I have decided to re-evaluate my ratings system.  It seems that according to my husband Dave, that my rating for the peppers was too high.  It is a 1 through 10 system and I need to use the scale accordingly.   Apparently I was rating them like ice skating and giving too many high marks.  While my technical scores were on the money for the peppers, the score for overall taste was too generous.  I blame the Swiss judge on that one.  So  the new rating for the peppers is a 7.   Moving on…

I have herbs I keep in pots year round.   To clarify to those who see a blue-ish light coming out of my basement during the winter months, I have herbs in my basement…nothing else.  Anyway, my sage plant did pretty well through the winter.  But when I went to the nursery to buy some basil, parsley and other herbs, the sage plant caught my eye.  “I already have one…no….I don’t need another…but it looks so PRETTY.  I shall take it home, JUST IN CASE my other plant decides to spontaneously die”.  Well, no one died and now I have two sage plants.  What really can do you do with sage in the summer?  Not much I have found. 

But I do have one stellar recipe a la Bon Appetit Magazine, Chicken with Asiago, Prosciutto and Sage.  It cooks pretty fast, mainly because you have to pound the living snot of the chicken breasts to make it “wafer thin*”    *my term, not Bon Apps.  After you pound the chicken you just saute it in some butter and then top with the cheese and prosciutto. While it’s in the oven for a few minutes, you deglaze the pan with some white wine and fresh sage and that becomes a lip-smacking sauce that makes the chicken happy.  It’s a tasty dish for company, but realistic enough for a weeknight.  I served it with some steamed broccoli and roasted red and yellow potatoes, all from the Woodstock Farmers Market.   I enjoy that market and the people who sell there, but that’s a story for another blog.


All and all, based upon the newly adapted Rocks rating system, I give this dish a 8 out of 10.  I made the Swiss judge sit this one out.

In the Hole:  Tomato Soup with Fixin’s