Sunday, September 19, 2010

Simple Pleasures (Brined, grilled chicken with garden salsa)

So, it’s the end of the season. You’ve still got tomatoes, peppers, and boatloads of basil. You’re tired of making salsa. You’ve got enough pesto. What to do?

As little as possible. That’s what:

  • 1/2 c. salt
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 c. water
  • boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • a tomato or two, diced
  • a green pepper or two, diced
  • pine nuts
  • basil leaves, chopped
  • couscous

Now, if you’re running really short on time, you can skip the brining. But if you have 10 minutes the night before, it’s so worth it. Brining makes anything (other than beef) juicier, more tender, and more flavorful.

Other than the brining ingredients, vary the amount of ingredients to your liking.

Put the water, salt, garlic, and sugar in a pot over high heat. Stir occasionally until all the solids have dissolved. Remove the pot from the heat. Either let cool to lukewarm or add a handful of ice cubes. Put the chicken in a ziploc bag. Add the brine. Seal the bag and put it in the fridge for at least four hours – overnight is better.

When dinnertime gets close, get a grill to medium-high heat. Drain the chicken and pat dry. Rub the chicken with a little olive oil. Sprinkle with ground pepper. Grill the chicken until the juices run clear – usually 6-8 minutes per side.

Meanwhile, heat a skillet over high heat. Add the pine nuts. Toss until lightly toasted. Add the tomato, pepper, and basil leaves. Cook, stirring, for one minute. Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

Also, make your couscous. For this one, we used pearl couscous – but you can really use anything you like here.

When the chicken is done, remove from the grill and let stand for 5-10 minutes. Plate up. Pour a medium bodied, fruity white wine. Torrontes is a great choice. Chow down.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Easy like Sunday Morning (tortellini with corn, tomatoes, & ham)


So I got accused by my friend Denise of dogging it with the recipes over the last few weeks. I’ll plead guilty. Been a lot going on around here. Also, many of the recipes I’ve been doing lately have been something to the effect of: “throw meat of some type on grill; serve next to fresh vegetables and maybe something starchy.”

Not a lot of source material there. But since it is fresh vegetable season, we might as well run with the theme. Prep for this one is under five minutes, so it’s a great “on the fly” meal. Just make sure you keep a bag of frozen tortellini in the freezer.

  • 16 oz. frozen tortellini
  • 3 fresh tomatoes, seeded and chopped (or about an equivalent amount of fresh cherry tomatoes, if that’s your thing)
  • 4 ears fresh corn, kernels sliced off
  • 4 oz. prosciutto or blackforest ham (optional, or substitutable), cut into small pieces
  • basil leaves – a bunch
  • garlic cloves, minced – a goodly amount

A little nonspecific. Big deal.

So, melt 1/2 tbsp. butter in a little bit of olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute, or until fragrant. Add the meat if you’re using it. Saute for a couple of minutes. If you’re using prosciutto (which I recommend), cook until done. If you’re using ham (which is what I had around), until it starts to crinkle a bit. Add the corn and tomatoes and saute for one minute.

We have a bumper crop of basil this year, so I’ve got plenty to burn. If you don’t have much basil, then just chop it up and set it aside for now. If you’re swimming in it, add probably a cup of leaves (that’s about what I do) and saute them until they’re wilted. Remove the pan from the heat.

When the tortellini is done, drain well and add it to the pot with the corn, tomatoes, et al. If you’ve reserved basil, add it now. Toss everything together. Plate it up. Chow down. Be happy.



Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cincinnati’s Hidden Gem – The Summit

(cross-posted at The Naked Vine)

“I don’t think this is the second floor.”

The Sweet Partner in Crime and I were wandering the halls of a Cincinnati State classroom building, looking for The Summit – the restaurant that’s the centerpiece of the Midwest Culinary Institute at Cincinnati State where we were going to meet our friends Mike and Shelley. Music and the laughter of students having some kind of event on a Saturday night (which was cool to see at a community college) filtered down the hall, but there was no sign of a restaurant.

We discovered that we’d accidentally pulled up a floor short, so we climbed one more flight of stairs and found a small sign pointing us down a hall past a closed-up snack bar area typical of what you’d find in just about any student union on any college campus in the U.S. The hall was lined on either side with darkened (but impressive looking) test kitchens. Around another corner and there we were.

So, what is The Summit? It’s a fine dining restaurant largely run and managed by the culinary arts students. As such, it’s located in the academic building on Cincinnati State’s campus where the students get their training. We arrived and were greeted with a smile by the manager, Donna Schmitt, who poured us our first round of Albariño while our table was prepared.

We were lucky enough to be seated at the “Chef’s Table” beside a large window opening into the kitchen, so we could see this eager bunch of twentysomethings honing their skills. Having spent decades in the world of the academy, I know how important it is for students to get real-world, hands-on experience. Even though I’d heard really good things about the place, I still had it in the back of my head that these were chefs-in-training. I wondered just how good a student-run high-end place could be.

I don’t wonder any more. It’s good. Real damned good.

What the place lacks in décor, it more than makes up for in service and quality. The Summit’s dining room is little more than a large open room with 30-40 tables. There’s not a lot in the way of fancy décor – but we were there to eat after all, not stare at pictures or admire faux paint. Our server (name) informed us that the menu was left intentionally vague so that patrons would ask questions so as to give the waitstaff practice in discussing the ins and outs of each course. (There was only one minor bobble in the service – we had to ask for water.)

We also had a visit from the chef de cuisine, Matt Winterrowd (a former compatriot of both Jean-Robert de Cavel and David Cook of DaVeed’s), at one point. He gave us a unique experience. Have you ever been dreamily devouring a course at a restaurant and asked about the details of the preparation? Most chefs I’ve met are more protective of their recipes than mama wolves are of their pups. When the chef came to the table, we asked him about the preparation of this insanely good morel mushroom appetizer that three of the four of us ordered. Instead of being vague, he basically walked us through the entire progress – starting with the two stocks (mushroom and chicken) that he used as a base for the sauce and moving step-by-step through the prep. (Needless to say, there will be some replication attempts as soon as I find some good ‘shrooms.)

So, what did we have? Three of the four of us had an appetizer of morel mushrooms creamed in an Idiazabal cheese sauce with shallots and fresh oregano. Orgasmic, off the charts good. The SPinC was the outlier with a very solid choice – probably the best soft shell crab I’d tasted outside of Baltimore. It was presented with a salsa of black beans, lime juice, avocado, and chilis.

For entrees, Shelley and the SPinC had sockeye salmon topped with a parsley-based pesto in a roasted tomato sauce with roasted fennel and potato gnocchi. The SPinC greeted her meal with reverent silence for several bites, which is far from the norm for her while diving into good food.

Mike had handmade pappardelle pasta in a cream sauce with prosciutto, parmesan, and baby peas. As simple as the dish was – the freshness of the ingredients made the entrée memorable. Mike said it was “about best tasting pasta” he’d ever had. I hold Mike’s cooking skills in high esteem, so this is serious praise.

As for myself, I tried the “teres major,” which was a cut of beef I’d never heard of, much less tried. It’s sometimes called the “shoulder tenderloin,” and isn’t used often. It’s from the front of the cow rather than the rear. It looks like a very small filet and it’s sliced thin. Served up next to a cauliflower and porcini mushroom mash, grilled asparagus, and an absolutely scrumptious sauce that I embarrassingly cannot remember, I certainly enjoyed myself.

The four of us split a delicious artisanal cheese plate for dessert. There was a Tuscan Pecorino, a “Humboldt Fog” goat cheese, Mahon (another hard cheese) from California, and Maytag Blue – a delicious stinky number from Iowa.

Additionally, the SPinC and I split a “black and blue” – a blackberry/blueberry cobbler with browned butter topping some handmade ice cream. Mike and Shelley had angel food cake stuffed with strawberries and thyme with a buttermilk icing. By this point, we were beyond stuffed, but we were floating on a culinary cloud of goodness. And the cost? For the entire meal plus wine (they’ve got a very solid wine list, too), we got out of there for under $70 a person, including tax and tip.

This was one of the best dining values that I’ve experienced in Cincinnati – but there were less than a dozen tables occupied over the course of the evening that we saw. My guess is that the setting – finding one’s way through a college campus to get to the restaurant – discourages a number of people. It shouldn’t.

If you’re someone who needs five-star décor to go with your food, then the Summit isn’t for you. If you’re someone who appreciates good food and would enjoy a relaxed evening with friends where conversation and food can be the centerpiece, then you really owe it to yourself to give this place a try. Go. Quiz the servers, ask a bunch of questions, and enjoy. I can almost guarantee you a good experience.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

American Highway Cauliflower (Pasta with turkey & peppers in cauliflower sauce)

(Well, it's as close as I could come. "Ask the Dust" is nowhere to be found...)

Since I may have managed to properly queasify most of the members of the audience who don’t much care for the dismemberment of furry woodland creatures, here’s something that’s a little less farm-to-table, although I guess it wouldn’t have to be for the most part.

Cauliflower is one of those vegetables I had to develop a taste for – but now that I have, I use it (as you’ve seen) in all sorts of ways. Instead of a heavy cream sauce for pasta, using steamed cauliflower as a base makes for a much healthier sauce. This savory bit of yumminess is very quick and healthy. If you’re a WeightWatchers person, as I once was – it’s about 5 points for a serving. (Thanks, Rachel.)  Here’s what you’ll need:

  • head o' cauliflower, cut into florets (about 6-8 cups)
  • 1 onion (preferably Vidalia or something sweet) cut into thin wedges
  • 6 oz. roasted turkey from the deli, sliced thin
  • a bunch of dried tomatoes, sliced thin
  • 1 jar roasted red peppers, drained and sliced into 2 (or so) inch pieces
  • chives
  • 1/4 c. fresh basil, chopped
  • thyme (2 tsp. ground or a heaping teaspoon of leaves, fresh)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 c. skim milk
  • 1 c. chicken broth
  • 1/4 c. parmesan cheese
  • 1 lb. pasta -- penne works well.

Steam the cauliflower until tender. (18-20 minutes in a steamer) Add to blender.


In a skillet over medium-low heat, add some olive oil and the onion. Cook until caramelized and tender -- 10-12 min. Add to blender.


Return pan (do not wipe out) to stove. Increase heat to medium. Add turkey and tomatoes. Saute until turkey begins to brown -- about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Add peppers, stir to mix, cover and keep warm.


Start pot of salted water boiling for pasta. After you add the pasta to the water, add milk, broth, lemon juice, and herbs to the blender. Puree until smooth. Pour into saucepan over medium-low heat. Add parmesan cheese. Stir and cover.


When pasta is finished, drain, return to pot, and add cauliflower sauce and turkey mixture. Salt and pepper to taste. Plate it up. Garnish with a few chives.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

…Feed Your Head (Rabbit Stew with Olives & Rosemary)

I’ll start this with a disclaimer. If you think that the following picture is absolutely the most adorable thing you’ve ever seen, skip this entry…


Seriously. Consider yourself warned. This is also not a quick recipe. But it’s too interesting not to share.

Anyway, I work with some very interesting folks. One of these people is Kelli. She and her husband decided somewhere along the way to raise rabbits for dining purposes. Because of an old bartering agreement, Kelli offered me one of the rabbits after they’d been “processed.” Feeling adventurous, I took her up on it.

Now, I’ve never done anything with rabbit. Never cooked it. Never eaten it. In fact, pretty much the only thing I knew about cooking rabbit was this:

I did some poking around, though, and I found the rabbit stew recipe. It sounded pretty tasty, so I ran with it. The ingredients:

  • 1 good sized rabbit, skinned and cut into pieces
  • 1 c. dry red wine
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 4 rosemary sprigs, tied into two bundles
  • 4 c. chicken stock
  • 1/2 lb. assorted olives

First up, the rabbit itself. I got my knife and a cutting board and unwrapped it, not having looked at it yet. Here’s what greeted me:


“It’s just like a whole chicken,” I thought. “Just like a whole chicken…not Thumper.” I took a deep breath and went to work:


After this process was finished, I coated the pieces liberally in salt and pepper, heated some olive oil in a pot, and browned the pieces in a couple of batches:


Once the pieces were browned, I set them aside in a pan. I deglazed the pot with the red wine, scraped up the bits from the bottom of the pot, and then poured the wine into a small bowl. I wiped out the pot, added another good portion of olive oil, and added the carrot, celery, and onion. This mixture is called battuto, a base of many Italian-style stews.


Cook this for about 8 minutes over medium heat, until the vegetables have softened. Then add the tomato paste and rosemary bundles. Cook, stirring, until the tomato paste starts to brown. Return the rabbit and any accumulated juice to the pot, along with the wine. Cook this, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add two cups of the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, partially cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Add a few grinds of pepper, but do not add salt.

After the 30 minutes are up, add the remaining 2 cups of broth and the olives. I also had a nice big sprig of Thai basil that I laid across the top. Simmer this for 20 more minutes:


When the 20 minutes are up, remove and discard the basil. Take the rabbit pieces out of the pot and put them aside to cool for a few minutes. Allow the stew to continue to simmer. Taste for salt at this point. (The olives will impart a lot of salt. I found out the hard way and had to make some adjustments on the fly.) If it gets too thick, add a little broth or red wine.

When the pieces are cool enough, remove the meat from the bones (it will be tender enough that it will basically fall off the bone), cut it into small pieces, and return it to the stew. Stir and let simmer for 2-3 minutes to warm the meat back up. Pour into bowls. Serve with crusty bread and a fruity Italian wine. In this case, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo filled the bill nicely.

If you can handle the prep (or find someone to do it for you), rabbit does make for a delicious meal, believe me.


Monday, July 5, 2010

Captain Hi-Tapas (Basic Yummy Tapas)


OK, folks – this is going to be easy and quick, because that’s what we needed here. Rapid, healthy, fiber-filled calories for our enjoyment. It’s the end of the holiday weekend and we’re feeling a little bit uninspired. But tapas popped to mind, since it’s one of our favorite things.

For those of you unfamiliar with tapas, it’s the Spanish’s greatest contribution of culinary common sense. Basically, it’s a bunch of small-plate type appetizers. Almost anything can be tapas. But fish and roasted stuff are usually on the menu somewhere.

Since we had a bottle of La Cana 2008 Albariño – we decided to run with it. We just got the makings for a few small plates and decided to call it dinner Tonight’s ingredients:

  • 1 link chorizo sausage
  • 1 box Kroger mussels in wine and garlic sauce
  • 1 bulb fennel
  • baby carrots
  • 4 new potatoes, sliced thinly
  • 1 red poblano (I don’t know the real name) pepper
  • roasting spices, olive oil, etc.
  • crusty bread

OK, first off – before you give me any grief for the Kroger mussels…I know that they’re not the high-end stuff. I realize that they're not perfectly authentic. But the things take under 10 minutes to get a bowlful of scrumptiousness and a sauce that’s perfect for dipping bread.

Preheat the oven to 425. Chop up the veggies. Set the pepper aside. Put the rest of the vegetables in a pan. Drizzle with some olive oil and spices (for this, it was ground thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper) and stir it all up. Put it in the oven.


We’re lucky enough to have a convection oven, so we took it out to stir about every 7-8 minutes. Regular ovens can go every 10. After 20-some minutes, add the peppers and a little more olive oil.

The mussels take about 10 minutes to cook. The chorizo link takes about that long to cook on the stovetop. The bread we used took about 5 minutes in the convection. You can time this up as you feel best.

When the veggies are tender and starting to brown, take it out. Plate it up. Chow down. Thank me later...


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Deli-meatin’ Workin’ Man Blues (Penne Salad w/Roast Beef & Capers)

“Man, it's hot. It's like Africa hot. Tarzan couldn't take this kind of hot.”

– Eugene Morris Jerome, Biloxi Blues

I don’t know about you, but the heat just takes it out of me. This weekend, heat indices were up around 100, and the last thing I felt like doing was spending a lot of time in the kitchen over a hot stuff, much less standing in front of my usual flaming implement of destruction to make dinner. I was in the mood for something light, but I wanted beef or something similarly meaty. Does that make any sense? In any case, we put out heads together and came up with this little gem. This recipe is something you can put together in less than 15 minutes, if you need something quick.

  • 1/2 lb rare deli roast beef, cut into thin strips
  • 1 lb. penne
  • 5 oz. spring salad mix
  • 3 tbsp. quality olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 c. capers, drained
  • Shredded parmesan

(Note: don’t skimp on the quality. Get the best roast beef your deli has. Use really good olive oil. Indulge yourself.)

Get the water going for the pasta. Take the beef and slice it into thin strips.

IMG_0821 When the pasta is done, drain it and rinse it with cold water. When it’s drained, put everything but the beef and cheese into a big bowl. Add some salt and pepper to taste. Toss everything together. Add the beef and toss it again.

IMG_0822Plate it up and top it with the Parmesan. That’s all there is to it. As for a wine pairing, put it with some Beaujolais, which is one of the few red wines that should always be chilled. Then hunker down in the a/c and move as little as possible until the cold front comes through…


Monday, June 21, 2010

I am the eggplant…I am the eggplant… (Grilled eggplant parmesan)

The Sweet Partner in Crime loves her some eggplant parmesan. I’m reasonably sure that it’s her favorite thing I make, especially on celebratory occasions. One such occasion – the SPinC’s birthday -- we celebrated last weekend. For dinner, my tried and true entrée took center stage. Now this one’s a little more involved than some of the other recipes – so you should probably keep this in your back pocket for times when you can commit to it. You can rush the perfect parmesan.

I make my parmesan a little differently than traditionalists do. The eggplant slices are usually deep fried, and there’s usually grease and processed cheese congealing all over the place when things are all said and done. I still have plenty of cheese in the recipe, but I grill the eggplant instead, giving it a fresher, smokier taste since I’m not using egg, butter, flour, Crisco, or whatever. Fewer calories and better flavor. How can you go wrong? Want to try it?

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 3 medium sized eggplants, skin on, sliced into ¼ to ½” slices.
  • Makings for your favorite red sauce – however you like it best.
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into small pieces.
  • Shredded parmesan cheese
  • Some shredded fresh herbs – oregano, basil, parsley – whatever turns you on

That’s it. No real proportions. You should plan to make a pretty good amount of sauce. You really can’t make too much. If it’s not tomato season and I can’t get a couple of pounds of fresh Romas, I’ll use a whole can of San Marzano style canned tomatoes and cut them up. I don’t drain them. I find that’s about the right amount.

Layer the eggplant in a colander. Top each layer with a generous sprinkle of salt. Repeat this  process until you’ve got all of the slices salted. This “de-bitters” the eggplant. Leave this in  the sink for about 45 minutes.

During this time, make your sauce. I’m sorry, but I steadfastly refuse to reveal the trade secrets of Michael’s Marinara Magnifico. It wouldn’t fly in Naples, but we adore it in Newport – that’s all I’ll say.

While your sauce is simmering, fire up the grill. Rinse off the eggplant slices and brush them in olive oil. (I sometimes put them in batches in a Ziploc with a little olive oil. Goes quicker.) Around the time the grill is ready, preheat the oven to 350. Toss the eggplant on the grill in a single layer. You may need to do a couple of batches, depending on the size of your grill. IMG_0800

Grill the pieces over medium-high heat until they become tender and get some grill marks. The skins will also blacken and shrivel a bit.

IMG_0807When you’ve got the slices grilled, bring them inside. Spray the bottom of a good sized baking pan with nonstick spray, then spread a little bit of sauce across the bottom of the pan.

Put down a layer of the eggplant slices. Top the slices with your sauce. Follow it with most of the fresh herbs (save a few for garnish), the mozzarella pieces, and a generous sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Repeat the layering process. Top with the rest of the sauce and add another generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil and bake for about 40 minutes. It’ll be good and bubbly.


Remove the foil and bake for 5-10 more minutes until the cheese on top begins to brown.  

Remove from the oven and let stand for about 20-30 minutes. Be warned: the temptation will be maddening to just dive in. Trust me on this. Give it a few minutes to rest. Sprinkle with the rest of the herbs and then dive in.

We dug into the wine cellar and pulled out a Tenimenti Fontanafredda “La Villa” 2000 Barolo to go with this meal. Yep…we went all out for this meal. A Barolo is a big, powerful, tannic wine (which I’ve written about before…) – but eggplant is a great tannin smoother. It would work with young cabernets as well.

See, practically nothing to it. It ends up a little different each time, but that’s the fun of it, right?

As my grandmother Gerta (better known as “Oma”) used to say, “Enjoy! Enjoy!”


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Pump It Up (Broccoli with Orecchiette)

Carbs are your friend.

They’re especially friendly when you’re doing a new fitness routine. After a conversation with a colleague of hers, the Sweet Partner in Crime decided that she wanted to try doing P90X – a home workout routine that many of you have probably have heard of at some point. Of course, I couldn’t let her go through that alone…

So we’ve started in on this fairly torturous workout set. Honestly, it’s a pretty solid set of exercises. We’re finding that we can at least handle it, and it seems to actually give some results as we “bring it.” There are, however, two drawbacks:

1) The workouts are all around 75 minutes (the power yoga is 90), and we usually can only do them after work.

2) These workouts leave us hungry, but also give us even less time to cook than usual. Even so, we’ve got plenty of recipes up our sleeve to replenish the ol’ glycogen stores. Here’s a quick, scrumptious pasta recipe that’ll quiet the cries of your aching muscles:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 5 (or more) cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 (10 oz) packages of chopped, frozen broccoli
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 c. water
  • 1/2 c. white wine
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano (or 3/4 tbsp. dried)
  • 1/4 c. shredded pecorino or parmesan cheese
  • 1 lb. orecchiette pasta
  • salt & pepper

IMG_0792Fill a pot with water. Add some salt and a dash of olive oil. Get it boiling. Get another pot, add the remaining olive oil and put over medium high heat. When oil is hot, add the garlic. (Mmmmm….garlic…) Cook the garlic, stirring a time or two, until it turns golden and gets fragrant – about a minute. Add the broccoli, red pepper flakes, oregano, water, wine, and some salt & pepper. Stir it together. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. This usually takes about 15 minutes.

(Now, some of you may want to give me a hard time for using froIMG_0793zen broccoli. Use fresh if you want to. Frozen is easier to make quickly – and if you’re looking for nutrition, then frozen veggies aren’t a bad option. They’re usually prepared when they’re in season and ready to harvest. Some fresh vegetables may sit around awhile and lose some nutritional value.)

Meanwhile, when the other pot comes to a boil, add the orecchiette. Give it a stir and get it cooking until it’s al dente – about 10-12 minutes.

IMG_0794If you’re not familiar with this kind of pasta – it’s shaped like little flat shells or thumbprints. Since it’s flat, the individual pasta pieces tend to stick to both to the bottom of the pot and to each other. Give it a few good stirs while it’s cooking. Just before it’s done, reserve about a cup and a half of the cooking water.

When the broccoli mixture is ready, turn the heat down to low. Add the cheese and about half the cooking water. Stir until the cheese is melted and well incorporated. Cover and keep over low heat until the pasta is done.IMG_0795

When the pasta is done and you’ve reserved the cooking water, drain it and toss it with the broccoli mixture. If it starts to clump up, add some of the cooking water. After that, plate it up. I sprinkled it with a little paprika for color:





For a wine pairing, find yourself a white on the lighter side of things, but still with a little weight and fruit. We had a Torrontes with this. (Thanks, Joyce!)

Enjoy your carbo-loading…and bring it!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Get It While You Can (Mahi [or other fish] with Roasted Corn & Peppers)

Here…something very quick and impossibly tasty. Corn’s coming into season, so the fresh stuff is easy to lay your hands on. Also, this recipe is fish-related, and you might as well enjoy the critters while it’s possible. Thanks, BP & Haliburton…


  • 2 bell peppers of different colors, diced
  • 2 cups corn kernels (cut off about 4 ears fresh)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme or several sprigs fresh
  • 1 lb or so of grouper, mahi, or similar meaty fish filets
  • salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 450F. Toss the bell peppers and corn kernels with salt and pepper (maybe 1 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp pepper or so), 1 tbsp. olive oil, and about half the thyme. Put mixture in a baking pan and roast in the oven, stirring a couple of times, until things start to brown – about 12 minutes.

Rub the rest of the oil into the filets (we used mahi here). Remove the pan from the oven and push the corn and peppers aside to make room for the fish. Put the fish in the center of the pan (skin side down if there’s skin). Sprinkle the fish with more salt, pepper, and the remaining thyme. It’ll look something like this:


Return the pan to the oven and cook until the fish is just done. A 1” filet will take about 15 minutes, give or take.

Plate everything up. We added a side of sliced avocado sprinkled with lemon juice and served it with a light Sauvignon Blanc-ish white from Languedoc, but any light white will go nicely.

Enjoy. Total prep – under five minutes.


Monday, May 31, 2010

Egg[plant] Man (Roasted Eggplant with Tomatoes)

I love me some eggplant.

I have a hard time pinpointing exactly when I fell in love with those tasty purple critters, but I’ll use just about any excuse to cook with them now. One my the recipes that the Sweet Partner in Crime requests for special occasions is my Eggplant Parmesan, which I make from scratch. Yummy.

Today, though, we’ve got a more Middle Eastern take. This recipe takes a little time to put together, but a good chunk of the cooking time is hands-off, so you can find other things to do while you’re putting it together. This is my take on a recipe from a recent issue of Food & Wine. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 2 small eggplants (1 3/4 pounds)
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 tablespoon sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro leaves
  • juice from 1 lemonIMG_0766

    Get a good, heavy pot. Prick the eggplants on all sides with a fork. Put the pot over medium-low heat, add the eggplant, cover and cook. (Yes, you read that right. Nothing in the pot but the eggplant.) Cook for about 40 minutes, turning a couple of times, until the outside is charred and the inside is soft.

    When cooked, transfer the eggplants to a colander. Cut a lengthwise slit in each and allow them to drain for 10-15 minutes, or IMG_0767until the eggplants are cool enough to handle. Cut the eggplants in half and scoop the flesh into a bowl. Take a mashing utensil (potato masher, bottom of a glass, phone book) and pulverize the eggplant.

    Put the pot back on the stove and heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil over medium heat. Add the eggplant mush, garlic, and spices. Cook until most of the water has evaporated and the tomatoes start to break down – 10-15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

    Add the herbs and lemon juice. Turn the heat down to low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes or so. While this is simmering, make the couscous. PlateIMG_0769 it up and chow down.

    If you’re looking for a wine pairing with this, a red from the Rhone region of France is a good bet. I opened a nice Chateauneuf-de-Pape with it, but a good Cotes du Rhone would do nicely.






    Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    Dig (barbecue-glazed grilled salmon)

    Cleaning out the pantry -- an iffy prospect.

    I never know what I’ll stumble across while I reach for the back wall. It can be sort of exciting in a way. It’s a culinary archeological dig.

    I’ll run into spices that I bought not realizing that I still had a supply (“What? Another bottle of fennel seed? More red curry paste?”), food-related gifts (“Dehydrated bean soup? Who gave me this?”), zippies with half a cup of unused orzo pasta and the like.

    This time around, I came up with a bottle of old barbecue sauce. No idea where it came from, but I feel fairly confident that it’s shelf stable. What to do? What to do?

    Keep it simple. Pour some of the sauce into a ziploc bag. Thin it a bit with cider vinegar. Put in a piece of salmon filet. Zip it up, slather it around, and throw it in the fridge for a couple of hours.

    After that, fire up the grill. When hot, grill the salmon for 3-4 minutes on a side over medium-high heat. When it flakes, it’s done.

    For a side, cut the kernels off a couple of ears of corn. Chop up some tomatoes and a green pepper. Heat some olive oil in a skillet. Throw in the veggies with salt, pepper, and a teaspoon of ground cumin. Sauté for just a couple of minutes -- until the pepper just starts to get tender. Plate it up. Pour yourself a glass of pinot noir. Enjoy.


    Afterwards, rinse out the bottle of barbecue sauce, recycle it, and try to forget that it was ever there…

    Sunday, May 16, 2010

    Where Is My Mind? (Roast Chicken with Tomatoes & Marjoram)

    Ever tried to make dinner when you’re…shall we say…not completely there? I mean, who’d be silly enough to work around in the kitchen after that third happy hour martini or after a Lazy Sunday Afternoon with no mind to worry.* Certainly not me, of course. For the sake of argument, though, let’s imagine that we’re faced with this situation. Pop quiz, hotshot…what do you do?

    The best way to deal with this little hypothetical would be to have a recipe or three in one’s back pocket that can be thrown together with a minimum of effort and time. Picking up an item or two at the store might be necessary, but I’ll assume your hypothetical shopping was done with a little more foresight than your pre-cooking revelry.

    You really can’t go wrong with roasting chicken and tomatoes. It’s practically foolproof. Marjoram has a really fascinating flavor – it’s halfway between cilantro and sage. Besides, if you can still pronounce “marjoram” correctly, you’re probably in good shape to make this. A bottle of Spanish rose makes a great accompaniment.

    Disclaimer: If the cook’s mental and physical state is such that a few simple slicing tasks pose a significant risk of permanent disfigurement -- plop down on the couch, put on some Allman Brothers, and call your local pizza place or Chinese delivery. Bodily humors make a poor seasoning for this dish. 

    • 3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    • 2-3 tbsp chopped fresh marjoram (or 3/4-1 tbsp. dried if you must)
    • 5-6 minced garlic cloves
    • 1-2 tsp. red pepper flakes
    • 3-4 tomatoes, cut into thin wedges and seeded
    • 1 c. couscous

    Preheat oven to 450. Pat chicken dry. Mix all but 1 tbsp of the marjoram (or 1/2 tbsp. if using dried), the garlic, and the red pepper with about 1/4 c. olive oil in a large bowl.

    Add the tomatoes and chicken to the mixture and toss. Spray a roasting pan with cooking spray and pour everything in. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer around the chicken. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

    Roast for about 30 minutes. Check the pan at this point. The tomatoes should be breaking down and making a sauce and if you cut into the chicken (which should be browning), the juices should run clear. If it needs a little more time, put it back in for 5 more minutes.

    Meanwhile, make the couscous however you prefer to make couscous. I keep it simple…water, salt, and a little bit of olive oil.

    When everything’s done, put down a bed of couscous, top with the chicken, pour the tomatoes and collected juices over everything, and sprinkle the reserved marjoram over the top. What you’ll end up with this is this scrumptious one-plate meal, an easy cleanup, and plenty of time to either crash or recover, depending on your plans. IMG_0749

    * Check out “Ogden's Nut Gone Flake” if you’re curious. (h/t to The Wizard of Covington)

    Monday, May 10, 2010

    Love & Hap-pea-ness (Pasta with Peas)

    If there's a particular recipe site you like, get on the mailing list. Seriously – do it. Make a folder and route the mail there so you can go over it at your leisure. Chances are, you’ll delete about 95% of what you get – but every once in awhile, something comes over the transom that’s worth keeping.

    I’ve made no secret of my admiration for Giuliano Hazan. I think his cookbooks are great, his recipes can be lifesavers, and I’ve very rarely had an issue with anything I’ve read from him.

    The Sweet Partner in Crime and I were exhausted after a weekend that included our joint birthday/wedding celebration and hosting a Mother’s Day brunch. We needed something that would require a minimum of effort this evening and I’d been emailed a recipe that sounded promising. I took it and modified it a bit thanks to a couple of other ingredients we had around, and it turned into an ultra quick, very healthy vegetarian springtime pasta that was absolutely yummy. Alas, no pictures of this one…but you’ll be glad you threw this one together!

    • 1 medium onion, chopped
    • 2 tbsp. olive oil
    • 12 oz. package frozen peas
    • 10-12 mint leaves
    • 1/2 c. white wine
    • 1 lb. pasta
    Get a pot of salted water going for the pasta. Chop the onion and put it in a skillet with the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the onion until it’s golden. Add the peas and 1/2 c. water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the peas are tender (about 6-8 minutes). When the water’s boiling, add the pasta.

    When the peas are ready, drop the heat to low. Put half the peas, the mint, and the white wine in a food processor and puree. Return the puree to the whole peas. Add 3/4 c. of the cooking water (more if necessary) to the peas and stir well to make a sauce. Season liberally with salt and pepper.

    When done, drain the pasta and toss it well with the sauce. Top with a little parmesan and serve with a nice pinot grigio. It almost seems too simple, but trust me – try it.

    Monday, May 3, 2010

    One Slip (Chicken & Chickpea Curry)

    I mention “victories and defeats” in the Man Who Cooks intro. I should have probably used a weaker word than “defeat,” since when something starts to go awry, I need to be able to call an audible.

    I was planning to do a “cobble together stuff from around the pantry” sort of entry. I’d had a curry jones for a little while, and I thought tonight I’d get my fix.

    This is a curry I put together with some staples in my cupboard. Your staples may differ – but it’s my cupboard, dammit! Anyway…the ingredients are nothing fancy.

    • 1 lb boneless chicken breast or thigh, trimmed of fat and cut into bite-sized chunks
    • 1 small onion, minced
    • 2 tsp. olive oil.
    • 1/4 c. flour
    • 3 c. or so chicken broth
    • 1+ tbsp. curry powder
    • 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
    • 1 can diced tomatoes, drained – or 2-3 med ones, chopped
    • 1/4 c. well-chopped parsley
    • garlic, ginger, salt, pepper depending on your seasoning desires
    • cooked rice

    Things started off innocuously enough. Cut everything up. Toss the chicken in the flour until coated. Heat the oil over medium-low heat. Easy.

    Add the onions. I like to cook onions slowly. Cooking them too fast makes them bitter. I like to use lower heat and let the sugars start to caramelize (which is  what happens when onions start to turn golden). Better flavor. So, sauté that onion until it just starts to brown in a few places (usually 7-8 minutes).

    Add the curry powder. 1 tbsp. gives you a medium-level curry flavor.IMG_0728 I used about 1 2/3 or so. Stir this in with the onions and stir this up for a couple of minutes. If the curry really starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, throw in a splash of white wine that you  have in your glass on the counter to deglaze. All’s well. And then…it happened.

    This is the inevitable result of spending time in the kitchen. You’ll have a recipe in your head, and you’re following along…you get a little bit distracted…and suddenly you’re faced with an “Oh, sh*t!” moment.

    This was where I was supposed to tell you to add the chicken and cook it until it was just brown all over. Instead, yours truly brainlocked and threw in the chicken broth by mistake…

    Suddenly, I’m faced with a pot of curry flavored broth with some onions floating around in it. Quick! Think! What can I do here? IMG_0729

    First off, I grabbed the biggest bowl in reach. I poured the liquid off into that. I splashed a little more olive oil in the bottom of the pot, raised the heat to medium and then added the chicken. IMG_0731

    Once the chicken was about halfway browned, I added a generous amount of ginger (jarred) and garlic (minced). Probably a tbsp. of the first and 5-6 cloves of the second.

    I sautéed this for about 3 minutes, until the chicken was more or less browned, then I added the liquid. Stir well, and scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen any cooked flour. Bring almost to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally and scrape the bottom of the pot.

    While you’re in Simmersville, get your rice ready. Different types of rice take   different amounts of time, so you can judge this as well as you can. In our case, we use a rice steamer. Best $15 you can spend. If you don’t have one, go get one. I’ll wait…IMG_0733

    …I set ours up, went to the pantry, and [insert spit-take here] I realized to my horror that we were out of rice. White? None. Basmati? Nope. Not even some risotto rice. Thankfully, the SPinC had run the Flying Pig Marathon relay over the weekend (YEAH, SWEETIE!) and in her “gift bag,” she’d been given a little thing of brown rice. It ended up as our rice for the evening. 

    Anytime I make rice for something Indian-ish, I always stir in about 1/2 tsp. of cardamom and 1/2 tsp. salt to the water. Gives it a nice flavor. (A container of cardamom will last you just this side of forever.)

    IMG_0734After the 45 minutes are done, add the tomatoes, chickpeas, and parsley. Stir it in. Raise the heat slightly and bring it back to a simmer. Simmer for 25 minutes.

    Fluff up the rice, put it in bowls. Ladle this yummy stuff over it. Garnish with a few chives. Chow down.





    Wednesday, April 28, 2010

    Rocket Quinoa (Quinoa salad with black beans & peppers)

    We hadn’t had a hamburger in awhile.
    We knew we had one of those evenings where we needed to get down to the whole eating business pretty quickly. We happened to have some lean ground beef frozen. We decided to make burgers.
    Only problem – we didn’t have a side to go with the burgers. We had some of the makings for a quinoa salad recipe that I saw in Food & Wine. If you’re not familiar, quinoa is a high-protein grain that can be cooked up like rice or couscous. We didn’t have all the ingredients, so, I improvised a bit:

    • 3/4 c. quinoa
    • 1 1/2 c. water
    • green pepper, chopped
    • roasted red peppers, a few, chopped
    • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
    • 3 oz. jar cocktail onions, drained and chopped
    • 1/2 c. cilantro, chopped
    • 3 tbsp. fresh lime juice
    • 1/2 tbsp. ground cumin
    • salt, pepper, olive oil
    Put the quinoa in a saucepan with the water and some salt. Bring to a boil. Stir, cover, and cook over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring once. When cooked, spread on a baking sheet or in a baking pan and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
    Combine the green pepper, roasted red peppers, beans, onions, and cilantro in a bowl. Stir to combine.
    Whisk together cilantro, lime juice, and cumin. When quinoa has cooled, add it to the mixture with the dressing. Mix well. Put back in the fridge until you’re ready to eat. (You can refrigerate overnight if you wish.)
    For the burgers, the SPinC made patties that included diced onion, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, and dill. We decided on mushroom & swiss burgers topped with a little mayo. The final result looked like this:
    While we used the quinoa salad as a side, it would make a really tasty main dish if you’re looking for a simple meatless meal.

    Thursday, April 22, 2010

    Me and the [Roasted] Bean – Curried Cauliflower & Beans in Lemon Yogurt Sauce

    Some of you may know that the Sweet Partner in Crime and I were out for my birthday dinner last night. We did the “tasting menu” at Hugo, which was an absolutely divine experience to kick off my year #40. The next morning, we remained stuffed (8 courses was a challenge -- but what a divine challenge!). We decided it’d be a good idea to have something relatively light the next day.

    I saw a recipe in a Food & Wine that looked good, but with my level of energy and motivation that evening, there were a couple of steps too many. I didn't need to make my own croutons or cook down a bunch of spices. I tried to make the recipe as foolproof as possible. What I ended up with was a pretty scrumptious vegetarian meal. Lots of fiber here, my friends…

    • 1 good sized head cauliflower, cut into small florets
    • 1/2 a red onion, cut into thin strips
    • 1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed and cut into 2” pieces
    • 1 tbsp curry powder
    • 1 c. plain yogurt (I used Dannon, but the original recipe calls for Greek)
    • 1 clove garlic, minced
    • juice of 1/2 lemon
    • 1/3 c. minced fresh cilantro or 1 tbsp. dried
    • croutons
    Preheat the oven to 425. Put the cauliflower and onion strips together in a bowl. Add about 3 tbsp. olive oil, the curry powder, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Put into a baking pan, sprayed with nonstick spray.IMG_0719
    Put the beans in the same bowl. Add another tsp. of oil. Mix well. Put in a smaller baking pan, also sprayed.
    Put both pans in the oven and roast, stirring a couple of times, until the vegetables are tender and slightly browned (about 15 min for the beans, 25 for the cauliflower mixture).
    Meanwhile, whisk together the yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, cilantro, and salt and pepper.

    When the veggies are roasted tender, put into bowl and stir to combine. Add a handful of croutons and stir again.
    Plate up the veggies. Drizzle with the sauce. Chow down.