Archive | May, 2011

Licking up the Pieces

31 May

It was turkey and mashed potatoes day in the cafeteria today.  Our staff also celebrated the May birthdays today which comprised of a small potluck in the teacher’s lounge featuring the main event: chocolate cake.  By 10:45 this morning, I was licking an already licked clean gravy spoon and using my first three fingers for what they do best: smooshing moist cake crumbs one by one onto my fingers to make sure not one morsel got left behind.  Can anyone relate?  Anyone?

Mashed potatoes count as a veggie serving, right?

Well, without going into too much detail, I didn’t sleep much last night.  And if chocolate cake and mashed potatoes is what kept me going today, then so be it.  Our new addition, an adorable little sheepdog mutt puppy, is a handful.  It’s a good thing he’s cute – it’s hard to stay mad at him for long.  But, I have to keep remembering that he’s a puppy, and puppies do puppy things, that’s why they’re called puppies.  Ah, I’m very tired.

But I must say, our little Sig (named after Sig Hansen) is a dog after my own heart; he is a foodie.  Well, maybe not so much a foodie, but a fury vacuum cleaner.  It took Sig only a very short time to figure out that the kitchen is where the action is in our house, and the noise of the stove lighting and pantry opening will most likely trigger rogue crumbs.  Per my mom’s great teaching, I’ve learned to be a fairly clean cook.  That said, chopped herbs still often become airborne, and diced vegetables do have an occasional tendency to go AWOL.

Enter Sig.  He sits between my feet with one little paw resting on my toe, physically anticipating my next move.  After the accidental kick or two, followed by a few choice words, he realizes he’s in the way and moves to a less precarious, but still observable position.  Then, while plates are coming together and dishes are about to be served, there will be one more inevitable soft trip over the sneaky little fur ball, as, by that time, his anticipation is overflowing and he’s sprawled out on his belly, his tiny hiney sticking out from under the cabinets as he goes to town literally licking up the pieces.

Rob enjoys this, as he is the one who usually mops the floor every few days – Sig is making his job much easier.

Sig got a treat this weekend – it was Memorial Day Weekend – the first day of grilling season!  The first twinge of summer in the air!  So the three of us lived it up.  Starting early Sunday morning, I made breakfast cookies, and laid out my plan for the day.   Straying away from the normal burgers and hotdogs, we decided to grill one of our fave
foods: pizza.  My grilled pizza needs homemade pizza dough, and fresh ricotta.  Both completely doable, but need time (I generally like to bulk ferment my pizza dough in the fridge for a few days, but this time I kind of sped up the process by letting it rise twice, and then bulk fermenting for a shorter time).  Then it was onto the fresh ricotta and changing Rob’s face from are-you-crazy-disbelief to delicious amazement that we were actually going to make cheese.

We made the cheese, and the rest was super easy to put together.  My mom’s grilled mustard onions and some melon with pepper and prosciutto served as fabulous side dishes to our two grilled pizzas: White Pizza with Arugula and Spicy Mushrooms with Mozzarella and Basil.  Brushing the dough with almost too much olive oil and then throwing it onto a super-hot grill makes a bubbly, crispy, and wonderfully chewy way to prepare the base.  And on top of good dough, simple ingredients are all you need to keep the pizza modest and magnificent.  Both pizzas turned out well, but we agreed the White Pizza was a definite homerun (and when Sig gets older, maybe he’ll even be treated with the crust, rather than just the crumbs).

During the cooking process, Sig chased us around, hopping from the kitchen to the backyard grill, sensing the tangible anticipation of the exciting dinner.  When we ate, he sat and looked at us – not begging, but in a way that was wondering why we got pizza while he got kibble.  Such is a dog’s life, I guess.  The night ended with a little bit of wine tasting and a very strategic game of Killer Bunnies with our neighbors.  With leftovers to look forward to the next day, we all went to bed happy and full (including Sig).  It was a fabulous way to celebrate the holiday.

But now, it’s time for a  nap…

Grilled White Pizza with Arugula (serves 4)

  • about 1/2 lb pizza dough, about the size of a softball (make yourself, or buy – Trader Joes has a good whole wheat dough ready to be cooked)
  • 1 c fresh ricotta (homemade is the best, but if you don’t want to venture into the cheese-making world, then find a really good brand)
  • 1/4 c finely grated parmesan regiano
  • 2 c baby arugula, rinsed and dried
  • 1/2 c olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • juice 1/2 lemon
  • sea salt and coarsely cracked pepper (fancy s&p) 
  • sprinkle of cornmeal 

Preheat the grill until about 500 degrees.  While grill is heating, prepare dough by sprinkling your surface with cornmeal.  Spread the dough out using the tips of your fingers pressing out equally around the surface.  Spread dough until you have desired thickness and shape (I like this pizza very rustic looking).  Liberally spread the olive oil on the top of the pizza, and bring out to the grill.  In a quick motion, lay the pizza dough on the grill, not over the direct flame (if using a gas grill).  Cover and let cook for about 5 minutes. 

After 5 minutes, spread the ricotta cheese and sprinkle the parmesan regiano cheese on the dough.  Then give a decent sprinkle of sea salt and cracked pepper.  Heat until ricotta is slightly melted and creamy, and the dough lifts off from the grill without any resistance (the hot grill gives the dough a very crispy crust with a chewy, airy center).  

Place on serving plate, and while hot, pour on the baby arugula leaves, a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of s&p, and squeeze the lemon on top.  Serve with a great oaked chardonnay and red pepper flakes (for those who like a bit of spice!). 







Two Officers and a Smile

24 May

With the last week of travel, Rob and I are about spent – as Rob would say, we are quite a bit “soupy.”  Last Thursday, we hit five states in one day, not arriving back to our humble abode until 4:30am.  Which is, of course, just enough time to get adequate sleep for a full day of work on Friday.  Are you getting dripped on by overflowing sarcasm?

Despite the lack of sleep and on-and-off hatred/love towards the airlines, I would have done it again in a second.  Last week, we got to see my younger sister appointed as an Officer of the United States Coast Guard.  As she held up her right hand, taking the oath every Officer must promise and live by, I can only imagine the goosebumps she felt, especially realizing how many I had.  After a long journey in a prestigious 4-year military academy, Jenn reached the top, graduating and receiving a commission to serve her duty as one of America’s bravest and strongest, her main goal being so that others may live.

I remember when Jenn was a very small child, long before her extraordinary days of jaw-dropping bended corner-kicks in soccer and impossible-to-hit-last-second-game-winning jump shots (of which she had many), she tried ballet.  Now, for those of you who know Jenn, you may giggle, as she carries the surprise gene of clumsiness in our family, as do I.  Some, most, or well, all of our family members would probably agree that gene is more phenotypically seen in me, but rears its ugly, bruised head occasionally in my sister, too (it must have been a mutation of sorts, because neither of my parents seem to fall up stairs, nor slide down mountains).  So, rather than giggle, imagine a beautiful, tall, 5-year old emerging into the wonderful world of grace and dance.  Again, if you know Jenn, I’m sure you can picture it.

Well, at her culminating performance, where the whole ballet school showed off their talent and polished year of practice, Jenn’s class lightly glided out onto an auditorium stage in front of a packed house.  Those girls were so cute dressed up in their tights and tutus, and enough stage makeup to make a face cleanser company instantly rich.  And there was Jenn.  Graceful, cute as a button, with the biggest smile and reddest lips I’ve ever seen.  I mean this smile was huge.  Painfully large.  Actually, it looked like she was grimacing her way through every leap and plié.

“Is Jenn OK?” I remember leaning over and asking my mom.

“I think so,” she whispered back.  “They must have told the girls to ‘smile big.’”

Jenn did what she was told.

Over the years (though it didn’t take years to see) Jenn grew into the most beautiful woman with one of the most bright, lovely, and contagious smiles.  She even has the little gap between her front teeth, passed on from my dad.  It’s a great smile – yes, it’s a big smile, and it’s amazing.

She walked across the CGA stage last Wednesday, again in front of a packed house, first shaking the hand of Admiral Burhoe – a highly respected man of great character and leadership – showing her huge, beautiful smile, familiar to us since she was a child.  Then, a few more steps forward, was a sturdy handshake and a strong congrats from Commandant Admiral Papp, another revered and honorable man as he is the leader of the Coast Guard.  Next, was the one-and-only Janet Napolitano, Head of Homeland Security, who, adequately comments on Jenn’s smile.  And then came the handshake of President Barack Obama, giving her a smile just as big as hers was to him (We found out later that she asked the President to tell the First Lady that she liked her style, and President Obama said he would and that Michelle would appreciate it… so if anyone from the White House Staff reads this, can you please let me know what she said?  Thanks!).

We celebrated, enjoyed time with family, and now Rob and my sister share a special common bond which make us all so proud.

I kind of wish I had the opportunity to see Rob go through the same ceremony back in his time, but I was able to experience a similar sense of pride with him yesterday, as he was promoted to Lieutenant in a small, meaningful ceremony at the air station.  Rob has accomplished so much and the love, joy, and pride I have for him was overflowing.  His Irish eyes were smiling, and he looked so handsome in his uniform with new shiny Lieutenant shoulder boards.  He truly is an Officer and a gentleman.

After the ceremony, we went back to our cozy home and shared a special dinner in his honor: Rosemary and Pepper Crusted Filet Mignon, Grilled Potato “Chips” with malt vinegar and mint, and Creamed Spinach.  We washed it down with our favorite Brut, and cheersed to his honor.

Thinking about my sister and my husband, and all that they have accomplished, they both deserve – at least – a Filet Mignon and champagne, and many more to come!

*** I’m including my recipe for Creamed Spinach, because it’s not your usual steakhouse recipe.  It has creaminess, yes, but also tang, herbs, brightness, and a little heat at the back of the throat.  I also don’t let my spinach wilt to the point of almost non-existent green strands of what used to be spinach leaves – I let them retain some body by not cooking them as long as other creamed spinach dishes.  It’s great for a special occasion, or even a side to summer’s coveted BBQ chicken.  If you aren’t a creamed spinach fan, give this a try – you might be converted.  And if you are a creamed spinach fan, then you’re in for a treat!

Goat Cheese Creamed Spinach (serves 2) 

  • 1 package baby spinach (about 6 oz), rinsed
  • 3 oz goat cheese 
  • 1 tbsp mayonnaise 
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp finely chopped thyme
  • 3-4 dashes Tabasco sauce 
  • 1 tbsp olive oil 
  • s&p 

To make the creamy dressing, add the mayo, goat cheese, lemon juice, thyme, and Tabasco sauce in a bowl.  Mix very well with a whisk, until the dressing gets very creamy, with no lumps (it will almost look like an aioli or a white hollandaise).  Taste for seasoning (I noticed I needed more pepper than salt), and set aside. 

Meanwhile, heat a large saute pan with the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the spinach leaves, and continuously turn leaves until they are starting to wilt.  When the spinach has reached a bright green color, and looks shiny and soft, season with s&p and turn off the heat.  Add in the creamy dressing, and fold the dressing into the spinach leaves.  The spinach will continue to wilt and cook, and the dressing will melt into the spinach from the heat of the pan.  

Transfer to a warm plate and serve immediately. 


Simply Butter

9 May

Tonight, I called my mom and asked her, at that moment which would she prefer: butter or a diamond.

“Ooooo.  They’re both good things.  I do love butter.”

Who doesn’t?  Is there anything better than butter?  Ok, don’t answer that, as I imagine creative minds are fashioning up many things that are better than butter.  Including me.

But as an ingredient for cooking, the versatility, flexibility, and simplicity of butter is unsurpassed.  It’s no wonder every classical French technique cookbook involves the careful use of butter in many recipes.  Notice the word “careful,” though.  There’s a reason why delicate care should be associated with butter.  First off, it “breaks” at too high or too low heats, or without enough emulsification (elbow-grease whisking) in sauces.  Secondly, too much or too little can affect the taste, texture, and presentation of a dish drastically.  Third, well, butter = FAT.  Personally, I love buttery fatty goodness, but I don’t think many would happily read a post titled “I Heart Fat.”

So what’s with my obsession with butter?  Lately, it’s simply been its own simplicity.  A spread on good bread.  A small pat turning sauces silky.  The physical chemical creamy change that occurs once beaten to death with warm egg yolks.  It’s all simply amazing.

My parents instilled in me a sense of simplicity from a young age – now I know that doesn’t sound flattering, but it is!  In looking at art, admiring nature, even experiencing a good “red, juicy meat” (a simply grilled steak), it just is.  Simple.  Elegant.  Fantastic.

When Rob and I got engaged (a not so simple story involving a white lie, a dog, and a bench called ‘Helen Stanley’), he presented me with a ring – which he designed – of what my dad called “elegant in its simplicity.”  Again, don’t take simple down the wrong path to negative town because seriously, Rob knocked it out of the park as this ring is one of the most beautiful rings I’ve ever seen.  My dad was right – what makes it so beautiful and special is how elegantly simple it is.

Now, here’s where I compare my gorgeous engagement ring to – you guessed it – butter.  An odd challenge, I know, but a challenge nonetheless!  Like my ring, butter is simple, but also extravagant.  Like my ring, butter must be handled with care.  And like my ring, butter stands the test of time.

Last Saturday, Rob was pretty ill.  I think he contracted one of the kiddie germs I inevitably bring home everyday, and I just happened to be immune to that particular germy invasion.  Around dinnertime, he was feeling well enough to eat, but I knew I needed to keep the meal on the lighter side while still remaining flavorful.  Thinking of our almost bare fridge and pantry (the Costco run came later in the weekend), I remembered the Herb Butter I made last weekend to top Rob’s birthday Ribeye.  Whisked together with a good acid (I was thinking lime juice), that butter would created a fantastic sauce for everyone’s favorite comfort food: pasta.

So in a quick 10-minute prep (not including prior butter chilling time), dinner was served: Spaghetti with an Herbed Butter & Lime Sauce and fresh tomatoes.  It was fresh, easy, and delicious.  The butter sauce was not heavy or greasy, and added just a touch of creaminess to the pasta.  The dish was elegant and more than simple to make, which is the perfect combination for a fancy weeknight meal, to impress guests, or aid a husband with the dreaded “man-cold” (I’d like to think the dinner is what made Rob feel so much better – it had nothing to do with the NyQuil, fluids, and sleep. 🙂 ).

So, between diamonds and butter, the choice is a hard one.  But seeming as one is so much more easily accessible and conveniently priced, make your own elegance… eat your butter.

Herbed Butter (makes about 4 tbsp)  Note: this is technically called a “compound butter.”  This basically means any mixable ingredient incorporated into butter.

  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 scallion, white and light green parts, thinly sliced 
  • 1/2 tsp chopped fresh mint
  • 1/4 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary 
  • 1/4 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Thoroughly mix all ingredients together in a bowl with a spatula.  Pour butter onto a sheet of plastic wrap.  Using the plastic wrap, quickly form into a log shape, twisting the ends in opposite directions to tightly seal.  Put butter into the fridge to chill and harden, about 2-3 hours.  

Spaghetti with Herbed Butter & Lime Sauce and fresh Tomatoes (serves 2) 

  • 2 nickel-sized amounts of dried spaghetti pasta
  • 3 tbsp Herbed Butter 
  • juice 1 lime
  • 2 tbsp grated parmesan regiano cheese (plus more for garnish, if desired) 
  • 1 on-the-vine tomato, seeded and diced 
  • basil, julienned for garnish 
  • s&p 

Heat a pot of water to boiling, and add a small handful of salt.  Put in the pasta, and cook until al dente (“slightly toothsome”).  

While pasta is cooking, put the Herbed Butter in a saute pan with the lime juice and heat over med-high heat.  Continually whisk, emulsifying the lime juice and butter.  The sauce should look shiny, smooth and almost creamy.  If the sauce is not coming together, then the butter is melting too quickly; pull off the heat and continue whisking for about 30 seconds, and then continue on heat, lowered to medium.  

When pasta is done, use tongs take the pasta straight from the water to the sauce – it’s ok if pasta water mixes in with the sauce – it’s actually a good thing (adds more thickening starch).  Season with pepper, add the parmesan regiano cheese, and mix.  Plate into pasta bowls, and top with tomatoes, basil, and any extra cheese.  


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