Tuesday, September 30, 2014


First, let me begin by saying that I will never drink anything filled with pumpkin, spice or frankly that much sugar. I like my coffee very strong and very black. So if you’re already tired of hearing about the latte of the season, never fear.

This post is all about how I spent my weekend as the Quick Bread Queen, pumpkin-style!

I am a huge fan of quick breads, particularly as the mornings get darker and my people get harder and harder to get out of bed. I love that I can just hand them a slab of buttered, fruit-filled bread and half an apple or some cheese sticks and head out the door on running-late days (we have a lot more of those this year as the nine-year-old flirts with tweendom and the five-year-old just loves his covers more than me).

I had already made one-too-many batches of banana bread and wanted to embrace the seasonal shift. Ergo ... pumpkin bread! Then low-fat pumpkin muffins! Then dark chocolate chip pumpkin muffins!

Wanna guess the winner?

First of all, I LOVE The Fanny Farmer Cookbook for traditional quick breads. (In fact, I love it so much that my first paperback version fell completely apart and my mom had to buy me the hardcover version). There are pages of quick bread recipes, and they generally have about five ingredients, all of which I have on hand, and every recipe I’ve experimented with can be whipped up in the time it takes for the oven to preheat. (BTW: getting the batter made and the kitchen cleaned up before the oven beeps is my own personal, crazy-lady Olympic event. It gives me the weirdest, most satisfying thrill. Sad, right?).

So, recipe #1 was my first batch of Fanny Farmer pumpkin bread ... so moist and delicious and simple. It makes the house smell amazing and it makes everyone who walks through the door a) ravenous and b) more likely to think you’re crushing it as a mom that day. Go me!

The problem? I had about ½ cup of pumpkin purée left. Which bummed me out, because what was I going to do with it? Enter the Interwebs! I googled “leftover pumpkin purée” and found the most amazing list, compiled by some genius at 52 Kitchen Adventures, of recipes to use up your leftover pumpkin. Truly. Genius.

Which leads to recipe #2: Happy Herbivore’s Single-Serving, Whole-Wheat, Low-Fat, Vegan Pumpkin Muffins. The recipe makes a single muffin, which in itself is fairly brilliant, and overall these are much tastier than they sound. I had enough purée left to quadruple the recipe, and I did not go vegan, because I only had 2% milk, but otherwise followed the recipe faithfully. These are a little too cinnamon-y and a little dry. But I loved the idea of muffins, if only because it makes it very easy to calculate calories accurately. (I’m all about My Fitness Pal right now – down 30 lb. and counting).

THEN: I realized, I’m in charge of Saturday morning soccer snack! Anyone who tells you this isn’t a competition is lying. And my kids are unapologetic foodies, doubling the pressure. So, back to the Interwebs for recipe #3, courtesy the Nestlé website of all places: Kid’s [sic] Favorite Chocolate Chip Muffins ... must be one lucky kid who gets to eat all of those muffins!

A few notes: I didn’t use Toll House semisweet chips – I used Ghiradelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Baking Chips. They’re darker, more delicious, higher quality and they’re HUGE. You don’t get as many per muffin, but they create craters of melty dark chocolate goodness. You’re salivating now, aren’t you? Buy these – your people will love them and you’ll thank me!

Did you wager on a winner? There is still ⅓ loaf pumpkin bread on the counter, I haven’t repeated the vegan muffins, yet I’ve made THREE batches of dark chocolate chip muffins already. Dee-lish!

So, get in the spirit of the season ... just don’t forget the chocolate. And these muffins are absolutely perfect with a hot mug of very black coffee.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Date Night Metamorphosis, or How an Ugly Duckling Became a Beautiful Swan

Don’t worry – this post is not about my magical transformation for date night. I was in yoga pants and Brooks running shoes the whole time.

No, this post is about how this:

Became this:

One thing I love about our CSA is that we’re given foods we either A) don’t think we like (kale), B) don’t know what to do with (garlic scapes) or C) don’t know what they are. This week’s mystery item falls squarely into category C.

So what is it? A red kuri squash. It looks like a small, technicolor cousin of the pumpkin, but it’s actually related to the Hubbards. Hey, me too actually! It’s described as having a chestnut-like flavor, and while I can’t really vouch for that (being a once-a-year chestnut eater), Ben and I both found it more flavorful and less one-note than butternut squash.

Last night we found ourselves alone, at home, with no children (woohoo!), but tired and still recovering from the seasonal crud. Sad as it may seem to some of you, we couldn’t imagine anything more delicious than a quiet, beautiful dinner at home followed by a little Cardinals baseball. You get older, you get lame. What can I say?

So, what to do with my red kuri squash? It was metamorphosed into the simplest, most gorgeous, most light-yet-satisfying soup. I used a recipe contributed by Alice Waters to Food & Wine. I figured Alice Waters ... how could I go wrong? She did not disappoint!

A few notes: this recipe couldn’t be easier from an ingredient standpoint. It’s literally cubed squash, half an onion, one bay leaf and some water. Simmer, purée, done. Garnish with roasted fennel (what a revelation!), toasted pecans and a swirl of olive oil. Perfection in a bowl.

However, if you’re not comfortable in the kitchen, then this recipe does leave some details out. First, it calls for squash “peeled and cubed.” So, the squash isn’t remotely easy to peel (I used an Oxo peeler) and it neglects to mention that you’ll need to scoop and deseed the center (just like a pumpkin). Not technical, but more time consuming that one might imagine.

Second, it calls for a medium fennel bulb “cored and cut into thin wedges.” Have you ever cored fennel? This was my first fennel experience, so I ended up on YouTube searching for “how to core a fennel bulb.” Easy as can be, not at all technical, but I had no idea what that meant.

That said, the soup was incredibly flavorful, gorgeous in color and remarkably dynamic given its simplicity. The garnish is key.

I served this with sourdough bread, Fromager d’Affinois (one of my favorite double creams), and a simple salad made with delicate skyphos butter lettuce (another CSA favorite), avocado, cucumber and a white wine vinaigrette.

All in all, a huge date night success (and I didn’t even have to change out of my yoga pants)!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sautéed Shishito Peppers in 3 Easy Steps

When you have a cold and everyone else in your house has a cold and you can’t really taste anything, then your best bet is to whip up some delicious shishito peppers for bedtime snack. Because, why not? It may be the only thing you can savor, and savor you will!

So, here’s how to make Sautéed Shishito Peppers in 3 easy steps:

1) Get some. Seriously, you won’t regret this step. I got mine from my Ollin Farms CSA, seemingly the source of all organic goodness in our household this summer. I first had shishitos with great friends over sushi in Vail. They look like they’re going to be spicy, but they’re NOT. Except about 1 in 10. Then they are, but just a bit. Totally worth the gamble.

2) Sauté them. Heat a bit of olive oil over medium heat, then sauté for about 10 minutes until they’re a bit blistered and a bit charred. Sprinkle with salt (I used kosher) and douse with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Done!

3) Fight. You’ll likely have to battle your significant other for them while they’re still warm. You won’t regret this step either. They’re delicious!

Last night, I served my sautéed shishito peppers with a side of NyQuil. Tonight, I’ll be preparing them as a side for my absolutely favorite we’re-too-busy weeknight dinner, Bacon and Broccoli Rice Bowls.

If you manage to get your hands on some (see step 1), let me know what you think!


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Joseph & Giada, or Your Five-Year-Old Can Make Pesto

First of all, if my five-year-old met Giada De Laurentiis, he would be rendered speechless. Joseph has been drawn to (and flirted with) beautiful women almost since birth ... a true Lee man.

Second of all, if Giada met Joseph, I suspect she would be equally smitten, if only because he loves to cook. My kids spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and we’ve learned that Joseph, unlike his truly omnivorous sister Sophia, eats better if he has a hand in preparing the meal.

As for basil pesto, no convincing was required. The kid who routinely picks the basil chiffonade off his dad’s homemade pizza LOVES pesto! Devours it. Kids are weird, right?

On to our culinary adventure. Short on time and long on basil courtesy my Ollin Farms CSA, Joseph whipped up a batch of Giada’s basil pesto. In about 5 minutes. And mostly by himself.

One quick word about the basil. The farm delivers the bunches with the roots still intact. Brilliant! You can place them in water like fresh flowers for a much longer shelf (or counter) life.

Using my trusty 17-year-old Cuisinart, Joseph was able to manage nearly all of this recipe solo. I merely measured for him and toasted the pine nuts. Other than that, he picked the leaves off the basil plants, pulsed, puréed, grated and tasted for seasoning. And it was outstanding! Nothing tastes more like pure, unadulterated summer. Sadly, our pesto wasn’t served with grilled tuna steaks as in the recipe – we simple served it over frozen ravioli. No judgement.

So, if you don’t have a five-year-old handy, you’ll have to tackle pesto on your own. Head to your local organic farm stand, grab a handful of basil and get cooking. Oh, and if someone wants to bring me the tuna steaks, Joseph and I would be happy to make our pesto again!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Pure joy & a plum tartlet (or two)

I have recently started working for myself again, and it seems the first thing that means is that I’m cooking for myself again, too! Not just to feed the hungry at home, but to nurture myself.

It’s no accident that my last post was in January 2010 ... I had just started working full-time again. Sadly for me, 1 full-time job + 1 school teacher husband + 2 kids = very little blog-worthy cooking. Of course there were memorable meals here and there, but I definitely lost the space in my life for a marriage of my passions, cooking and writing.

So now I’m working my way back towards balance – more exercise, more time with my husband and kids, more laughter and more cooking!

I have some serious blogging catch-up to do from this week (watch for these to become links to fresh posts): Pattypan Squash Soup, Giada & Joseph’s basil pesto, Italian sausage–stuffed globe zucchinis and peppers. But tonight, I start with Shiro Plum and Almond Tartlets, because, honestly, Andrea asked me to, and what Andrea wants, Andrea gets!

Like everything else from this week, this amazing tart (of which I made two) starts with produce from my Ollin Farms farm share. This is the absolute favorite gift I give myself each year. We visit the farm each Monday and pick up a bounty of gorgeous, organic produce, which serves as the nutritious start to the week’s menus.

Starting with precious little Shiro plums, which look just like yellow cherry tomatoes, I made the tartlet from one of my all-time favorite, completely-falling-apart cookbooks, Patricia Wells At Home in Provence. I have made this recipe countless times, but always as a full-size tart – with apricots, plums, raspberries. So easy, so beautiful, so, so delicious.

As my nine-year-old pointed out, the crust smells like spritz cookies and tastes like the richest shortbread ever. This tasty cookie-like crust is topped with fruit halves and a luscious honey and almond cream. Yum.

But here’s my newest discovery: TARTLET, not tart. The recipe halved perfectly to fit in a six-inch tart pan. Why the supremacy of tartlet over tart? EVERY PIECE IS AN OUTER PIECE! Meaning lots of crust in every bite. Seriously, to die for.

The second best thing about this tartlet? I had enough fruit to make two, which made me a total hero at home. It only takes about 15 minutes to put together, an hour to bake, and about four minutes to gleefully inhale.  

And the very best thing? Making it on a Friday morning, at home with my husband and kids, puppy playing at my feet, windows wide open, for no other reason than pure, unadulterated culinary joy!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Chicken Bouillabaisse

I haven’t posted in a while and am feeling a little rusty, but I didn’t want tonight’s dinner to go undocumented because it was absolutely gorgeous, healthy and fantastic. Every Sunday morning over coffee, Ben and I plan all of the meals for the upcoming week. I use a standing grocery list for breakfast and snacking staples, then we plot out every lunch and dinner, Sunday afternoon through Saturday afternoon. Some people think this seems like a lot of (high-maintenance) work, but a) I am not a particularly good pantry cook and b) we definitely eat better and try a lot more new things because we put this work in up front.

We peruse the calendar and, cookbooks in hand, plan around days when one of us won’t be here to help with dinner preparation (usually saving leftovers for those dinners). I’m also a big believer in hot, homemade lunch, so we have to plan for Sunday “secret cooking” for that, too. (Usually this entails making an extra pot of soup on Sunday afternoon for half of the week’s lunches).

Ben will be the first to tell you that he... intensely dislikes the weekly menu planning portion of our life (that one’s for you, Mom!). He knows it’s a crucial part of what makes this whole operation run smoothly, it’s just that he feels that he’s not much help in the process. So, he was thrilled that tonight’s new recipe was not only his choice but was also scrumptious.

Ben is not a shellfish lover (ha... the first two times I read through this I read it as “selfish lover”... ha!), so I’ve never attempted homemade bouillabaisse. But this was surprisingly easy and delicious, even without all of the traditional tasty fish and shellfish. Plus, when I looked this up after dinner, the recipe’s remarkably similar to Julia Child’s seafood bouillabaisse in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

To make this dish, I just created a simple broth of sautéed onion, thyme, saffron (a wee bit pricey, but worth it), long strips of orange peel, diced tomatoes, broth and white wine, then threw in some bone-in, skinless chicken thighs and drumsticks. I stuck it in the oven, covered, for an hour and wow! The whole house was filled with a tantalizing aroma, the chicken was fall-off-the-bone tender and the broth had a remarkably dynamic flavor for so few ingredients.

I served this with baguette slices I’d brushed with olive oil, broiled and then rubbed with halved garlic cloves—Joseph absolutely devoured his toast, and Sophia loved hers so much she cried real tears when I told her she couldn’t have any more! I also roasted organic fingerling potatoes (also great dipped in the broth) and tossed together a salad of organic baby arugula with tomatoes, cucumber and hearts of palm and a red wine and balsamic vinaigrette.

The only reason this is a four-star recipe is that it wants a bit of fennel bulb or a splash of Pernod next time (both recommended in the “Reviews” section of this recipe on epicurious).

This all sounds like a lot of work, but it really wasn’t. The recipe calls for you to bake the bouillabaisse for 45 minutes; because I was also putting potatoes in the oven, I baked it for an hour and threw the potatoes (tossed with olive oil, kosher salt and pepper) in the oven at the 30 minute mark. It all came out perfectly cooked!

By the way, the whole time I’ve been working on this, I’ve had Gene Autry’s “Back in the Saddle Again” in my head. Hope that’s true... I’ve missed this!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Breakfast for Dinner

My people are tired. My people are run-down. My people are at the ends of their proverbial ropes and, frankly, not that much fun to be around. To be fair, I count myself among them. When I headed to the store at 3:45 this afternoon, it was with simple comfort food in mind to maybe soothe the souls of my overworked, buried-in-grading husband, my end-of-the-preschool-week, one-too-many play dates, exhausted daughter and my own anxious self. So, what comfort food did I turn to? Mashers? Soup? Breakfast!

I have a wonderful old friend who works at my neighborhood Vitamin Cottage with whom I always chit-chat when I stop in. She teases me now because on at least two occasions I’ve gone in the store to buys eggs, filled up my basket and gotten home with no eggs. So, every time I see her, she reminds me: “Don’t forget the eggs!”

Eureka! If you can’t cheer people up with breakfast for dinner, I thought, then they just cannot be pleased. So, I whipped up a batch of organic blueberry pancakes (I use the Arrowhead Mills Multigrain mix) with butter and real maple syrup. At the same time, I sautéed some organic baby spinach in a bit of butter, then added beaten eggs, bacon left over from a quiche earlier in the week and diced organic tomato. The kids finished the meal with plain organic goat yogurt—Joseph has discovered he loves this and kept yelling “bipes!” (bites!) at Sophia, who was feeding him. Seriously adorable.

By the end of dinner, we were all grooving to Johnny Mathis Christmas music and in a much better place emotionally. Something to keep in my back pocket for the next time my frazzled family needs an extra touch of culinary comfort.