Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Meal in minutes: Angel hair with shrimp and feta

This is a dinner I've been making for a few years now. It's become a regular in our house for two reasons: 1) we love it and 2) it can be prepared in no time at all. (Don't believe me? I timed it tonight and it took less than 30 minutes, start to finish. Start the water then chop the garlic and shallots; while they cook with the shrimp, chop the tomatoes. Done in minutes!)

When summer tomatoes and basil are at their peak, this tastes best, but in winter, though a little more expensive, the two ingredients create a little taste of warmer weather.

To make it even faster, use cooked, peeled shrimp. One must: use fresh basil. I made it once or twice during the winter using dried instead of spending the money for fresh: never again! And good tomatoes make a big difference too. I almost always use vine-ripened. They're seldom mealy and add great flavor.

Angel hair pasta with shrimp and feta

1/2 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 small or 1 large shallot, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 Tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil
4-5 vine-ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
4 oz. crumbled feta (more if you like!)
1 small bunch fresh basil
Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 lb. angel hair pasta

In a large pot, bring water to a boil for the pasta.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and cook until softened. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute. Add the shrimp and wine. Cook until the shrimp are just cooked thru and the wine has mostly reduced.

Add the tomatoes. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes until the tomatoes are slightly cooked, but still very fresh. This is not a traditional tomato sauce!

While the shrimp and tomatoes are cooking, cook pasta according to package directions.

Add the basil leaves, tearing the larger one if you like, and crumbled feta. Stir and let cook until the feta is incorporated but still a little chunky. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Divide pasta into pasta bowls and top with the tomato and shrimp mixture. Top with a little crumbled feta if you like.

This serves two with generous portions (and sometimes leftovers depending on how hungry my husband is!)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Now that's a salad: Bacon-wrapped cippolini with goat cheese

For some reason, I've been on a kick where I like to make fancy salads. Maybe it's all the fresh vegetables at the farmer's market or maybe it's that I've found a bunch of recipes that catch my eye. Whatever the reason, my husband has been loving them which is quite startling given his usual hum-ho attitude toward salad! Of course bacon always helps.

This salad is based on a recipe in Michel Richard's Happy in the Kitchen. I love roasted onions and bacon so I thought this would be a great addition to a simple dinner of mushroom risotto with sauteed veal.

Salad of butter lettuce with bacon-wrapped cippolini and goat cheese

  • 1 head butter lettuce
  • 8 cippolini onions, end trimmed and peeled
  • 4 slices of bacon
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 2 slices from a log of goat cheese (about 1 oz. each)
Preheat oven to 400.
Heat oil in an ovenproof pan. Add the onions and saute until golden brown on each side. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, wrap each in half a slice of bacon then place in the pan seam side down. Sprinkle with a little salt and freshly ground pepper. Then sprinkle the thyme over the onions.
Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes. The turn on the broiler to crisp the bacon. Remove from oven. Set the bacon-wrapped onions on a plate. Set the pan over medium heat and whisk in the soy sauce and vinegar. (You can get rid of a little of the bacon fat if there's too much in the pan). Bring to a boil then reduce until slightly thickened. Strain.
Arrange lettuce on plates. Place 4 onions on each then drizzle with the dressing. Place the goat cheese in the center and serve immediately.
Serves 2

Salad Of Butter Lettuce With Bacon-Wrapped Cippolini Onions on Foodista

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summery lemon cakes with grilled pluots

Last Saturday, the farmer's market once again led me to try something new. Pluots look like plums, but are hybrids of plums and apricots. Sweet and juicy, they have greenish skin and bright pink flesh. I couldn't resist buying a container of 6 of them. I knew we'd never eat all of them (I had already bought peaches and raspberries), so I knew I had to serve them with something. I also gave one to my parents to try.

As I rode home, I decided on lemon cakes. I'd seen a recipe in Food Network Magazine that sounded interesting. So before the sun got too hot, I cranked up the oven. It was also a great opportunity to use my new mini bundt pan!! It makes 6 little cakes in 3 different designs.

One unique thing about this recipe is that it is prepared in a blender. So I hauled out my blender and started whizzing away. I made a number of modifications from the original and I also served them with grilled pluots. Here's my recipe. This makes 6 small or 12 mini bundt cakes. If you don't have the specialty pan, use muffin cups or whatever, just watch your baking time.

Lemon vanilla olive oil cakes with grilled pluots
For the cakes
  • 1 Tbsp. butter, melted
  • 1 cup flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. grated lemon zest
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla paste (or vanilla extract)
  • 1/4 cup Extra Virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
For the glaze
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • Confectioners' sugar (about 1 cup)
3 pluots, quartered, pits discarded (peaches or nectarines make a good substitute.)
Preheat oven to 350F. Brush pan with melted butter. Dust with flour, shaking off any excess.
Mix flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl with a fork. Set aside.
Pulse sugar and lemon zest in a blender until combined. Add eggs one at a time, blending between each addition. Add vanilla. Gradually pour in the olive oil and milk. Pulse until it forms a thin batter.
Add the flour mixture in 2 additions, mixing and scraping the sides between each.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in center of oven for about 25 minutes until cakes just start to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes then invert onto a rack. Cool slightly.
While cakes are in the oven, make the glaze. Whisk together the butter and lemon juice then whisk in confectioners sugar until glaze is the consistency you like. drizzle over the cakes.
Before serving, preheat the grill over medium-high heat. Grill the pluots, flesh-side down, for about 3 minutes per side. You want some grill marks to form, but you don't want them to turn to mush. Repeat on the other side.
Serve cakes with grilled pluots and a sprig of fresh mint.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Eye-popping color, simple salmon

Recipes appeal to me for a number of reason, as I'm sure they do any cook. Some catch my eye because of unique ingredients or techniques, some because of their level of difficulty. This salmon recipe was all about color. Bright green sugar snap peas, sunny yellow peppers and fresh pink salmon - simply gorgeous. The flavors and textures vary as well, providing a range that's sure to please your palate.

I adapted this for two from the August issue of Bon Appetit (find it on epi). At this time of year, most of the ingredients are easily found at the farmer's market. You can make the pistou a few hours ahead so the flavors come together. I made it after work and the whole meal took me about 35 minutes. Easy! (and super healthy - salmon's chock full of Omega 3's and snap peas have lots of fiber.)

Salmon filet with snap peas, yellow peppers and dill-almond pistou

1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
1/3 cup finely chopped scallions
1/2 cup skinned almonds, toasted, chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow bell peppers cut into strips about the size of the snap peas
8 ounces sugar snap peas, trimmed, strings removed
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup water
1 12-14-oz. filet of salmon, cut into 2 or 3 pieces
Lemon wedges, for serving

Make the pistou: Once the toasted almonds are cooled, combine them in a small bowl with the dill and scallions. Add a drizzle of olive oil and salt to taste then set aside at room temperature.
Heat 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the peppers and cook until slightly softened. Add the garlic, snap peas and water. Spinkle with a little salt. Cook until the snap peas are heated thru but still crisp and the water has evaporated. Stir in a heaping tablespoon of the pistou and stir. Pour the vegetables onto a platter and set aside.
Sprinkle fish on both sides with salt and pepper.
In same pan over medium-high heat, add 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the fish, skin side down. Cook about 3-4 minutes until skin is crispy. Turn the fish over and cook about 3-4 more minutes until just cooked through. Arrange on top of vegetables. Put a scoop of pistou on each piece of fish.
Serve with lemon wedges.
I served this with a simple side of Trader Joe's Harvest Grains - a mix of Israeli couscous, red quinoa, orzo, and baby garbanzos. I cookd the grains in chicken broth then added a little dill, lemon and some fresh chives.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Restaurant review: Emma's Brick Oven Pizza

On weekends, Emma's Brick Oven Pizza and Cafe in Cranford, New Jersey, usually has a line to the door. This no-reservations, BYO pizza and pasta place definitely draws a crowd. Perfect for families, it's a great place for an inexpensive dinner out. We've eaten at Emma's many times. If there's a line, don't fret; it moves pretty fast.

Lately, we have our meals picked out before we even get there, so we hardly glance at the menu - but have a look. The front page is all about pizza. Build your own or select one of their specialty pies. Inside you'll find three pages of salads, appetizers, pastas, entrees, panini and more. Our preference is for the pizza - thin-crust brick oven pies. Yum! We've tried the pasta, and it's not bad, but Emma's is our stop for pizza. If we want pasta, we head across the street to Bel Paese.

For starters, the fried calamari is enough for at least two people and has a light batter. Served with homemade marinara, it's a great start to a meal. We've also tried the mozzarella en carozza - basically a fried mozzarella sandwich - crispy, gooey, cheesy and wonderful! Salads are large enough to share as well.

When it comes to pizza, we haven't found another place in our area we like nearly as much. The pies are made fresh when you order and each is fired in the brick oven that occupies center stage in the restaurant. My favorite is the vodka pie. Homemade vodka sauce is spread over the crust and then topped with mozzarella, bits of prosciutto and a few mushrooms. A sprinkle of Parmesan completes the pie. This is a pie for garlic-lovers. A personal size has 4 slices - I usually bring at least 1 home. My husband opts for the classic margherita pie with pepperoni, mushrooms and onions. Emma's uses fresh mushrooms and red onions which are cooked, but still a bit crunchy. The marinara sauce has fresh basil that adds another layer of flavor to the pie. And the pepperoni is cooked to perfection - it gets a little crisp on the edges and isn't drowning in grease.

On other visits, we've tried the pesto bianco pie. This white pie has mozzarella and pesto ricotta. Add broccoli or broccoli rabe for a vegetarian meal that's outstanding. The Emma pie has provolone, fresh sliced tomato and basil, another winner.

With a BYO policy and friendly service, Emma's is a great place for a casual lunch or dinner. It's hand's down our favorite for pizza.

Have another favorite in the area? Leave a comment and let me know!

Emma's Brick Oven Pizza & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dry Curry of Shrimp

This dish is based on a recipe from Neil Perry's Good Food. It's a good example of my inability to follow a recipe exactly. I always change something. Usually I add more of at least one ingredient: garlic, cheese, etc. In this case, I had to substiute yellow mustard seeds for black as I could not find black. I also read a bit too quickly and prepared the tomatoes wrong. Maybe not wrong, but differently. But, you know what? It tasted great and I'd make the same changes again!

Served over white rice flavored with a little sea salt and sesame oil, we really enjoyed it! I had planned to serve it one night but we ended up going out so I had all the ingredients prepped. That done, it came together in minutes. So if you're pressed for time, do the prep a day ahead!

Dry Curry of Shrimp
  • About 20 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 vine-ripened tomatoes
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tsp. yellow mustard seeds (use black if you can find them)
  • 2 dried red chillies, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground pepper
  • about 12 1-foot long Asian long beans (snake beans) or a bunch of green beans if you can't get snake, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • juice of 1 lime

Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Preheat oven to 300F. Cut and X in the bottom of each tomato, then dunk into the boiling water for about 10 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and then dunk in cold water. When cool enough to handle, peel the whole tomatoes. Put them on a baking sheet and drizzle with just a little oil. Roast them for about 1 1/2 hours. When you take them out of the oven, put them in a bowl to cool a bit then mash the flesh with the back of a fork.

Pound the ginger and garlic with a mortar and pestle to form a rough paste. Remove and set aside.

Crush the mustard seeds with the chilli in the moratr then stir in the turmeric, salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a wok, heat about a tablespoon of oil. Cook the ginger-garlic paste until lightly colored and caramelized. Add the spice mixtures and stir until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and cook until just slightly thickened, about 3-4 minutes. Pour into a bowl and then wipe the wok clean with a damp papertowel.

Heat another tablespoon of oil in the wok and stir-fry the shrimp over high heat until cooked, working in batches if needed. Set them aside in another bowl. Add the beans and stir-fry until they are heated thru and bright green. Add the shrimp and tomato mixture and mix together well. Finish with the lime juice.

Serve over steamed rice - use white, brown, jasmine or even basmati.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Farmer's Market finds

You know you're a foodie when... So many things could finish this sentence but when summer kicks in, I know I'm a foodie when I get more than a little excited to see what's at the local Farmer's Market in Scotch Plains each Saturday morning. As the season progresses, the choices change offering new surprises each week. Last Saturday, one of the farms was offering gorgeous striped beets and fresh-picked zucchini blossoms. I had to have them!

I bought one bunch of beets - 4 medium-sized beets with white and pink concentric circles inside. And I grabbed a bunch of zucchini blossoms. I decided I'd use both to make a salad of goat cheese stuffed zucchini blossoms with marinated beets and caramelized walnuts.

Sweet tender, roasted beets combine beautifully with the tang of the goat cheese. The blossoms add a bright punch of color and the walnuts add some crunch. For a little extra flare I added a little basil chiffonade and a sprinkling of chopped chives.

And note well, I served this with country-style lamb chops and homemade pappardelle with wild mushroom ragu and my husband's response was that the salad was the best part! He never says the salad is the best part!!

Roasted beet and Goat Cheese-Stuffed Zucchini Blossom Salad

Serves 4

  • 2 large or 4 medium beets (red or striped)
  • 1 4-oz package goat cheese, at room-temperature
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 scallion, chopped
  • 12 zucchini blossoms
  • 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Walnut Oil (optional)
  • Sherry vinegar (optional)
  • Caramelized walnuts (see recipe at bottom)
  • 4-6 fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade just before serving
  • a few chives, chopped for sprinkling
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Sea salt

Preheat oven to 400F. Scrub the beets then rub each with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with a bit of sea salt. Wrap each in a piece of foil then roast for 1 hour or until easily pierced with a knife. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

In a shallow dish, combine the red wine vinegar, parsley, and garlic with about 7 Tbsp. of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Peel the cooled beets, then slice each into 1/4 inch thick slices and set in the dressing. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

In a small bowl, combine the goat cheese, scallion and just enough egg to moisten the mixture (probably about half of the egg). Set aside. Gently open each blossom and remove the stamen and any bugs. Fill each with about 1 to 1 1/2 tsp. of the cheese mixture. Twist the top to close.

When ready to serve, place three slices of beet on each plate, leaving the dressing behind. Heat 2-3 Tbsp. olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sautee the blossoms until golden, about 2 minutes on each side. You may have to do this in batches.

Lay three zucchini blossoms on each plate. Drizzle a little walnut oil and sherry vinegar, if using, over the beets (or use some of the marinade if you prefer). Then pile the basil chiffonade on the beets and sprinkle with the chives. Finally, sprinkle with some caramelized walnuts and serve.

Caramelized walnuts
1 cup walnut halves
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
Spray a small baking sheet with sides. Stir the water and sugar together in a small saucepan until the sugar is dissolved. Allow the mixture to boil until it caramelizes. When it gets the color you like, turn off the heat and stir in the walnuts. Pour the mixture onto the sheet and allow to harden. Break it into large pieces and put it in a zipper sandwich bag. Smash the caramelized nuts into small pieces with a rolling pin. Sprinkle on salads, munch on them, serve with ice cream...

Monday, July 6, 2009

Restaurant review: Craft

We kicked off 4th of July weekend with a memorable dinner at Tom Colicchio's Craft in New York City. The restaurant itself is beautiful - sleek and modern but with comforting colors. Blond wood tables and leather on the walls provide a warm atmosphere, as does the gentle light from filament bulbs hanging from the ceiling.

Upon being seated, we were welcomed by our waiter, served some water and then presented with the menu. The menu at Craft is somewhat different. There are several sections of first courses, then main courses and then sides. The idea is to pick a main and sides that go well together - in other words, to craft your own meal. For some that might be intimidating but the waitstaff answer any questions politely and knowledgeably. For me, it was a chance to have a little fun! The menu was full of fresh seasonal ingredients with some not-so-common things too!

Jeff and I each selected a first course that was a little unusual. I picked stinging nettle agnolotti. These were delicious little agnolotti stuffed with a bright green stinging nettle mixture. Simply prepared, they were garnished with just a touch of fresh cheese. Jeff thought they were a little plain, but I enjoyed them. He ordered the pig Ballotine (vegetarians beware!). The waiter had to explain to us that Ballotine is made by using the snout, feet, ears and other interesting pig parts. They're seasoned and cooked in a roll and then thinly sliced. It was served cool on a platter with tiny fresh seasonal vegetables that were lightly pickled. I tried it (with some hesitation) and it was really quite good - the meat had a rich deep flavor and the tiny morels and other veggies provided a perfect contrast.

For our mains, I chose braised halibut which was finished with an almond foam. Jeff selected braised short ribs. We shared garlic risotto and their signature hen-of-the-woods mushrooms for sides. I love halibut and I order it or cook it as often as I can get my hands on it. This was the best cooked halibut I've ever had. Each bite was tender and juicy.

The braised short ribs simply melted in your mouth. The best word I can think of for them is luxurious. Silky and rich, they were perfectly caramelized and were served with a few tiny onions and carrots.

The risotto and mushrooms were both perfectly prepared as well. Not a bite remained!

We don't always have dessert but we felt like trying something at Craft. We shared their Boston Cream donuts. Two small homemade Boston cream donuts were served with a small dish of cheesecake ice cream and a shot glass of malted chocolate milk. On the side was some homemade blueberry compote full of big juicy blueberries. The dessert was definitely good, but the dinner itself was much better.

We finished off the meal by sharing a glass of Moscato d'Asti, a sparkling white dessert wine that we first tasted not long ago at Esca. A crisp cool finish to the meal, we order it whenever we find it on menus.

Throughout the meal the service was gracious and attentive. Our wine glasses were never empty and we were well cared for.

I've watched Tom Colicchio again and again on Bravo as one of the judges on Top Chef. After dining in his restaurant, he may in fact be more deserving of that title than those he judges. If you find yourself in New York and want a perfectly executed memorable meal, try Craft.

P.S. On our way out, they gave us each a homemade zucchini muffin which we had for breakfast the next day. It was moist and full of fresh zucchini and cinnamon! Yum!
Craft on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Merguez lamb: not your typical weekend lunch

Five days a week, I pack lunches for my husband and myself. Usually. it's some type of sandwich so on the weekends, I like to do a little something different and summer's the perfect time to fire up the grill. Last weekend we tried some Merguez Lamb Sausages. You can find them at some grocery store and specialty markets. I got ours at Barth's Market in New Providence, NJ.

These North African sausages are zippy so I made some tzatziki to balance the spice. I served them on ciabatta rolls that I had cut in half then sliced like a hot dog bun. And we topped them with thin-sliced cucumbers and tomatoes. Served with a cold Sam Adams in a frsty mug and we were well on our way to enjoying a sunny Saturday afternoon.


  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 small cucumber, shredded or minced, excess water squeezed out
  • sea salt
  • lemon juice
  • 2 Tsp Extra Virgin Olive oil
Combine all the ingredients, adding salt and fresh lemon juice to taste. Best if made a few hours ahead so flavors can meld.

I use fat free Greek yogurt for this. I was a little skeptical the first time but it has the flavor and consistency of regular without all the fat. I like Chobani or Fage brands best, but any Greek yogurt would work. If you can't find Greek, you can use plain yogurt, just strain it over a bowl in several layers of cheesecloth for a few hours first to get the same consistency.

Also great on marinated chicken, lamb or beef kebabs.
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