Saturday, March 31, 2012

Cooking the Cover, volume 2.

When the March issue of Bon Appetit arrived with a mouthwatering cover photo of homemade pizza, I was elated. "Make Pizza Like A Pro" the cover touted next to the delicious photo.  I gladly accepted the challenge. As you know, homemade pizza is a favorite dinner at my house.  We'd been doing just fine with our current dough recipe, but I was excited to read about new ideas and methods. Last night, we gave it a try.  I was also warmed by the idea of a community of homemade pizza lovers out there, if Bon Appetit was covering it.   

There was a no knead dough that only required a little planning ahead and a rise time of 20 or so hours. Ryan assembled it as I finished cleaning up Thursday night's dinner and then it sat and fermented and grew on the kitchen counter all night and all day Friday.

My husband loves working with dough. I think he did a pretty fine job! He was also happy to find a tutorial in the back of the magazine about how to shape the dough like a pro.

There was enough dough for an extra to be saved in the freezer for next time!

The magazine suggested drizzling the dough with olive oil before adding toppings such as simple crushed tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and not so simple ones too, such lamb meatballs.  We opted for the olive oil and crushed tomato suggestion, fresh and shredded mozzarella and red peppers.  We haven't had fresh mozzarella on our pizza for some time, using instead the cheaper, pre-shredded stuff that comes in a bag.  I don't know what were thinking.  Fresh mozzarella is far superior! Worth the extra two dollars or so.  Finished with a little salt and pepper after it came out of the oven, which was at a super hot 550!,  this was a killer pizza.  Just crunchy enough crust, with a little char in some places and delicious simple toppings.

The finished pizza.

Take the time and make this pizza.  Chop some veggies for a quick salad, mix up a couple of cocktails and make a night of it.  It was a welcome Friday night dinner after a long and crazy week of school and work. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dinner: Making it All Happen

Confession:  A lot of what I know about cooking came from watching chefs cook on TV.  There was a time when I didn't actually have cable, but for some reason I was able to get the Food Network and a couple other channels, so during that time I watched many, many hours of Food Network.  During that time, I really started to develop my love for cooking.  I loved watching people in the kitchen especially Alton, Giada, and Ina. I have watched hundreds of hours of competitive cooking shows like Iron Chef, Chopped, and the verbal abuse pageant that is Gordon Ramsey's Hell's Kitchen.  I know... it's SO bad, it's good.

These shows don't just teach recipes and sell celebrity chef products, they taught me how to put together a meal, time-wise.  Watching it happen over and over coupled with experience, I can now say that I have a pretty good handle on how to time things out when cooking.  Recipes don't always tell you that.  Especially when you are cobbling together a meal from various magazines and websites.  How many times did you finish one dish while there was still something with 20 minutes left to bake in the oven.  Oops. 

Here's how I put together tonight's dinner:

salmon with roasted brussels sprouts and an added bonus: mashed potatoes! (when cravings attack!)

This morning, I transferred a package of frozen salmon from the freezer to the fridge to thaw. 
Tonight, after work, I started by pre-heating the oven to 425 and putting a pot of water on the stove for the potatoes. 
Then came prep work:  washing and chopping the sprouts, as Ryan washed, peeled, and chopped the potatoes. I made a little sauce for the salmon.  (whisk together: 1 T lemon juice + 2 T olive oil + salt and pepper). Found the pans I needed to cook everything on and found a jar of capers (for the salmon) in the fridge.

By this time, the oven was beeping to let me know that it was at the desired temperature.  I know that the sprouts take a while longer (20 minutes give or take) than the salmon (10-15 minutes) so after I sprinkled them with olive oil, salt, and pepper I popped them in the oven.  Then, when the water was boiling I put the potatoes in. 

Now that the items that take the longest to prepare were on their way, I turned my attention to the salmon.  I was surprised to find that they were still partially frozen.  Oops! Even the best laid plans can go wrong.  So I knew I needed to get the salmon in the oven ASAP.  I Quickly brushed them with the olive oil and lemon sauce, sprinkled on a few capers, and last but not least,  inserted the automatic thermometer/alarm set to 145 for fish.  Done.  Then I quickly check and stir the brussels sprouts and check the potatoes.  While everything is in the oven, I exited the kitchen and Ryan got the potatoes ready to be mashed at the very last minute. 

I roast brussels sprouts very often*, so by now I have some kind of intuition as to when they'll be finished.  The leaves that have fallen away from the sprouts are black and crispy, the tiny, mini-cabbages are slightly browned and wrinkled. 
*exhibit A
*exhibit B

*exhibit C
 In spite of my plans, the sprouts were done at what I feared would be way before the salmon was done.  Not wanting them to burn, I took the brussels sprouts out of the oven and commenced eating them off the pan with my fingers.  Appetizers!

Even though it looked like the fish had a long way to go...

126 is the actual temp, 145 is the target temp. This amazing device which has a cord that goes inside the oven attached to a thermometor that goes into the food, beeps when food reaches the target temp.

 luckily, it was only about five more minutes before the the thermometer/alarm started beeping.  Ryan pulled the fish out of the oven and quickly mashed the potatoes.  Whew!  So things worked out pretty close to my plan.  Dinner was on the table. 

Though Gordon Ramsay would probably smash the fish, yelling  into my face, "It's RAW!", I thought it was pretty tasty...  and all done pretty close to the same time, so no eating in shifts. 

Practice makes this work.  The more you cook, they more you'll develop your kitchen intuition.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Last week of March Weekly Menu

Here we are at the end of March!  Spring is here and warm weather and spring vegetables are just around the corner.

Last week I got to cook a lot.  Hooray!  Here's one photo of weeknight cooking.  The yogurt marinated chicken, lentils, and a Matar Parantha-- fried bread filled with a spicy pea mixture.  I didn't get a chance to photograph the fish tacos, but they were delicious. I urge you to try them soon.

On the menu for this week...

Peppercorn chicken with a red wine sauce and salad
The famously delicious sweet potato and black bean burrito
baked salmon with brussels sprouts
Homemade pizza with mozzarella, tomatoes, garlic and caramelized onions
Empanadas with fake sausage, parmesan, peppers and onions

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Orange Spice French Toast

I had the morning off from yoga teaching, so I slept a bit longer and then made some french toast for breakfast. (You know how much I love breakfast.) I had a 2-day old leftover baguette. It was almost stale so I quick sliced it up and soaked it in this egg batter I mixed up with orange zest and spices. This is one of my favorite easy homemade breakfast dishes.

Orange Spice French Toast Recipe:

1/2 to 1 full day-old baguette
2 eggs
1/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or any combination cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves)
zest of 1/2 a small orange
maple syrup

Slice the baguette into 3/4 inch slices. Whisk together eggs, milk, vanilla, spices and zest. Soak slices of bread in the egg mixture until all is absorbed. Season a skillet lightly with oil, and bring to a medium heat. Lay the bread out in the skillet and cook until the undersides start to brown. Flip the bread slices over and when the other side browns as well remove from heat. Serve with maple syrup. Enjoy!

I snapped this last photo of the french toast right before the cat knocked the whole plate off the windowsill! He was very proud of himself.

Allison, I hope you are enjoying your spring break. I hear its springy there in Iowa! It is here too. The daffodils are out and they are glorious.

Be well my friend,


Wednesday, March 21, 2012


My husband is really into gardening and I am really into cooking, so we are both really looking forward to our second year growing some of our own food. We have plans to can some of the produce and eat it as long as we can (tomato sauce, salsa!!)   Last spring, Ryan transferred our side yard into a beautiful garden. We had a successful run with green onions, tomatoes, peppers and zucchini. For some reason we could not keep a basil plant alive. We experimented with many different vegetables and fruits such as potatoes, beets, carrots, corn, and watermelon.  It was so much fun and I learned a lot about what fruit and vegetables actually go through before they reach the plate. For instance, I had no idea potatoes produced such a large plant above ground! Squash blossoms are so pretty!  What an amazing opportunity for education... for adults and children alike.  We were able to eat fresh out of the garden a lot last summer!   It was so satisfying to go pick something, wash it, prepare it, then eat it!

Our garden, mid-July!
green onions, tiny beets and arugula

one bowl of the many many tomatoes we harvested last year.  fresh tomatoes are one of the best foods in the world. fresh tomato, basil, mozzarella, and olive oil on good toasted bread may be my "desert island food".

This year, we've been planning a lot more vegetables and some new experiments.

We bought our seeds over the weekend.  We got as many organics as possible and many of them were from the  Seed Savers Exchange!  We didn't get everything on our list yesterday, but made a large dent in it. We still need tomato plants, though we are going to experiment with growing from seed too, a jalapeno plant, and brussel sprouts. I'm so excited!!

The garden is ready for Spring!

Our seed haul includes... garlic, shallots and onion starters. flowers to encourage pollination. peas: shell and snap.  green beans. fennel. carrots. zucchini. mixed lettuce. butternut squash! broccoli.  rhubarb.  herbs (including catnip for Jack!)

If you want some inspiration for growing your own food I recommend reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

DIY salad dressing

Something about warm weather (we are having a record breaking March in Iowa, it's been 70-80 degrees out for days!)  makes me crave crunchy salad.  That and cleaning out the fridge made me realize I had an abundance of veggies to use.  The other night I made a salad to go with our homemade pizza.

spinach, broccoli, green onions, red peppers and feta!

The giant aisle of salad dressings at the grocery store kind of scares me.  Have you seen it?  There are hundreds of bottles of dressing.  How overwhelming.... so, I make just my own salad dressing as needed.  It's very simple, if you make the initial investment in the ingredients, which will be extremely more cost effective and you will use the ingredients over and over for other things... so don't let that initial investment deter you!

You can find many DIY salad dressing recipes online, and food magazines regularly do articles on salad dressings. In fact, it was even mentioned on The Splendid Table this week. So once you get the hang of it and know what you like (spicy, sweet, acidic, etc.) you can put anything in it.  Here's what I made the other night.  This a pretty standard salad dressing at our house.

2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar (you can use any kind of vinegar balsamic, apple cider, etc.)
1/2-1 teaspoon honey
1/2-1 teaspoon spicy mustard
1 Tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk vinegar, honey and mustard in a  small jar or bowl.
Slowly whisk in the olive oil, drop by drop if possible until mixture thickens.
Make this right before you serve the salad.  If you make it ahead, just whisk again right before serving.  The oil and vinegar will separate.

This amount serves two.  When I make one serving to take with me for lunch, I reduce the Tablespoons to teaspoons and just add a tiny dollop of mustard and honey.  However, I should let you know, that I don't like a lot of dressing on my salad so this may not be enough for you. If you like more, or want to make some to use the next day, just increase the amount, using the same basic ratio.  You will find differing opinions on the vinegar to oil ratios for other recipes online.  This is  what I like... find what you like and go for it!  

this is the tiny jar of dressing I made to  pack with my lunch

Monday, March 19, 2012

Springy Lemon Cake

I've had this recipe for Simple Lemon Cake saved in my little recipe box for almost a year. I saved it from Everyday Food's Easter issue last year, and I finally made it this weekend. It was a super simple and easy cake recipe, and I loved the citrusy smell of the lemons as they boiled on the stovetop. The clipping I had saved from the magazine varied a bit from this online recipe. Instead of mixing butter, eggs and sugar separately, I added it to the food processor with the lemons. This worked well, and cut out an extra step.

simple lemon cake with raspberries - a springy treat!

The makes a very moist, dense cake. Slightly tart, a little sweetness. Serve with raspberries and whip your own cream! I couldn't help eating this slice of cake for breakfast after I photographed it this morning. :)

weekly menu: spring break

This week I don't have many school obligations but will be working a lot.  Museums are busy when public school is on break so it's going to be a long, but fun week.  I'll need some good food to get me through! 

large shell pasta with vegetarian "sausage" and mushrooms (based on this Food Network Magazine recipe) 

delicious Food Network magazine favorite recipe Fish Tacos

yogurt marinated chicken and  sweet and sour lentils from From Mom With Love

quinoa with roasted cauliflower (I never used that cauliflower recipe with tomatoes and feta I had posted for 2 weeks... so i'm determined to get it done this week!)

Dinner with friends on Thursday night... I'm bringing salad and bread. :) 

Sunday, March 18, 2012


I realized that I post frittata on the weekly menu quite often, but I haven't yet written about how I make it. Today I made one for breakfast.  Here's how I did it.


6 eggs
1-2 Tablespoons (a good splash) of milk
salt and pepper
spices if you like
butter or olive oil
1 leek, mostly white part,  halved lengthwise and chopped into half moon pieces
1 potatoe, cubed
a handful of spinach, chopped
(I would usually add fresh rosemary to this mix-- it is so magical with eggs! but today I had none.)

put whatever you like into your frittata such as:
   tomatoes, basil, mozzarella cheese
   bacon, onions, potatoes, peppers
   tomatoes, zucchini, goat cheese, green onions
   broccoli, zucchini, red peppers
   any veggies you have in the fridge and need to use up!
   etc. etc. etc.

Preheat the oven to 425.
First, prep and chop the ingredients.
Next, whisk the eggs and the milk and season with S&P.
Using a sautee pan that can go in the oven (if you do not have this, use any sautee pan for this first step of cooking and have a greased pie plate at the ready), heat about 1 Tbsp. butter and add the potatoes. I like to do this to crisp them on the outside and to ensure that they get cooked through (about 5 minutes). 
Remove potatoes from the pan, set aside.
Add extra olive oil or butter to the pan to coat the sides. Return pan to stove and turn heat up to high.
Add eggs to heated pan, and allow to cook for a couple minutes to let the bottom "set". 
Then, add potatoes, leeks, spinach.
Transfer to oven for 20-25 minutes.  Remove when eggs are set and begin to brown on top. 
Allow to cool for 1-2 minutes, then carefully remove from pan (I transfer it to a cutting board) and serve.

Top with crumbled goat cheese for an extra treat! 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Simple Surprises and Inspiration

This was a nice surprise for me when I got home from a long day.  
Dinner (Bombay Sloppy Joes and homemade oven fries!) and 2 food magazines.  
Food Network Magazine and Martha Stewart's Everyday Food April issues.

What's better was that Mark Bittman was smiling from the pages of Everyday Food.  This is a great quote...

"Knowing the fundamentals of cooking is infinitely more important than following recipes or using 'chef-y' techniques.  Not everyone wants to dedicate themselves to cooking all day, but we should all be comfortable putting together a simple meal.  That's how I cook, and that's how I like to eat-- I think the basics are where it's at.  What's better than roasting a chicken or side of salmon for dinner?" 

I wholeheartedly agree with this.  The food I make on a regular basis isn't super-fancy and I don't use difficult techniques (remember those delicious pork chops I wrote about last week?).  I know how to do a few things well, I understand what I like and what tastes good.  Learning to cook has been one, if not the most, empowering thing I have yet accomplished.  It lets me be creative.  When I cook I am intentional about what kind of food I put into my body.  I take pride in my cooking.

The fact that I enjoy being in the kitchen helps too.

The article goes on with a little Q&A:
Q "How does cooking better help you eat well?"

A "When you cook for yourself, you have more control over what goes into your body; few things are more important.  Home cooks are far more conscious of the quality of the food they eat than people who get take-out most of the time" 

On eating well, home cooks can even go a step further and really pay attention to the quality of the food and ingredients.  For instance by replacing quick mixes and making food from scratch you are aware of exactly what is in your food (and you'll probably be able to pronounce the names of the ingredients).  It's not difficult.. it just takes time, effort, and believing in yourself. 

If you want to learn more about Mark Bittman, here is a link to his website. I will not be shy to recommend, yet again, his wonderful reference style cooking book:  How to Cook Everything. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Kale & Walnut Pesto

I do love eating foods that are in season to my area, New England has such wonderful fresh produce spring, summer and fall. But by this time of year I've just about had it with root vegetables, squashes and oatmeal. I want something fresh-picked, tasty and local! It doesn't help that only a few weeks ago I was in India munching on ripe papayas and fresh tomatoes. Allison, do you remember last year when we started called this month 'Blaaarch' because we were feeling Blah? The birds are chirping, the clocks have changed, yesterday I went out without a jacket, but still, spring is teasing us! Because I know its still well over a month away, and I won't be springing around the kitchen with fresh asparagus and baby lettuce any time soon.

In the meantime, I'm craving something green. I read somewhere an idea for kale pesto bruschetta. Kale is a cool-season crop, an excellent cooking green and I always keep a bunch on hand in the crisper drawer for adding to winter soups and stews, or whipping up in a green juice.

Let's talk about Kale!

Over the weekend, I thought I'd try mixing up my own version of kale pesto using walnuts (pesto traditionally calls for pine nuts, but I rarely ever keep these in my pantry.) I served the kale pesto with fusilli pasta and freshly grated parmesan cheese over top and it was wonderful. The pesto had a really nice, earthy flavor and kept well in the fridge for several days after. Here's the recipe I came up with:

Kale and Walnut Pesto

1 bunch kale, thick stems removed, leaves roughly chopped
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice

In a food processor, pulse kale, walnuts and garlic until finely chopped. With motor running, drizzle in olive oil and lemon juice. 

Serve with:

Whole wheat Fusilli style pasta (the pesto sticks well to this corkscrew shape, but any pasta will do in a pinch.)

Freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Salt and freshly ground pepper.

An extra drizzle of olive oil if you like!

Kale and Walnut Pesto

Monday, March 12, 2012

Weekly Menu

I'm late getting this posted... I was gone away this weekend in Kansas City sampling some new restaurants and concert-going.

This week's menu features more old favorites and that cauliflower dish I didn't get to last week. We'll see how thing go with midterm exams and the push to Spring Break!!

cauliflower gratin with tomatoes and feta from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

Bombay Sloppy Joes with oven fries
Read about that here or here.

Raviloi with apples, walnuts and parsley.  A nice, delicious, takes 10 minutes stand-by.

homemade pizza!!!!

What's for dinner at your place this week?? 

Yours Truly,

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ginger Lemon Everything Day!

Last week at the grocery store, I went through the check out line with the biggest, most beautiful hunk of ginger root I could find in the bin. The cashier rang it up, then asked me, "what do you do with ginger?"

What's not to do with ginger! Its so magical. I'm remembering so many South Indian dishes I enjoyed over the past month in India, so many spiced with fresh ginger. Today for lunch I made one of my favorites from the trip, Lemon Rice, spiced with mustard seeds, turmeric and ginger. Its so quick and easy, and great for using up leftover rice. And its delicious. I used this recipe from the blog Zesty Palette. I omitted the chana and urad dal, and I didn't have any dried chilli peppers on hand. But still, so good!

This afternoon I used some ginger again to make Ginger Lemon Honey tea. This was another delicious treat for me while in India, and I've been enjoying making it at home.

the honey did not want to stay on the spoon!

Ginger Lemon Honey Tea
serves 2

2 1/2 cups water
2 inches fresh ginger root, sliced
half of a lemon
honey to taste

Boil the water with the sliced ginger for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add the juice from the lemon. Strain into mugs and add honey to taste (be generous with the honey!)

So nice.

I missed you KTF.

xo Cara

Easy Weeknight Dinner...

As an Iowan, I grew up eating pork chops.  Pork is one of the meat products I still eat.  It can be made very easily on a weeknight with minimal ingredients.  There are so  many gimmicky food products out there being advertised as quick and easy meals for busy families (so often I just want to throw something at the TV when I see them) that just don't look or sound like real food.  I'm really busy, but I still manage to cook real food with names I can pronounce.  Here's what I did with just a few ingredients and minimal prep... I didn't time myself, but dinner was on the table in about 30-40 minutes.

Pork Chop Ingredients:
pork chops (we had 4)
1 small shallot
fresh rosemary
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon olive oil

First, I chopped 1 sprig rosemary, 2 cloves garlic and 1 small shallot, then combined them in a small bowl with about a teaspoon of olive oil.
Then I dusted each side of the pork chops with salt and pepper and seared them lightly on each side, then placed them on a baking sheet and sprinkled the rosemary, garlic and shallot mixture on and popped them into a 425 oven.  I let them stay there until the meat thermometer beeped.  We have one that you can set an alarm to beep when your food reaches the desired temperature.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts Ingredients:
1/2 pound brussel sprouts, washed and cut in half, if desired (TIP! call your partner on the way home and have him or her cut and wash them for you to save time!)
olive oil
salt and pepper

Roast, shaking/turning occasionally at 425 degrees for about 20-25 minutes.  How do you know when they are done?  When they are tender enough for your liking.  There will be some delightful little crispy pieces that fall off the round sprout. Be sure to eat them up, ASAP! 

I put the sprouts in the oven about 10 minutes ahead of the meat. So  when the meat was securely placed in the oven, I checked the brussel sprouts, and  gave them a quick shake. When the meat thermometer beeped about 10 minutes later, I took everything out of the oven and let it rest for a few minutes.  Then, dinner.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Homemade Popcorn Trifecta

We love popcorn at my house. It's one of our favorite snacks.  Ryan has this amazing popcorn popper, that I found out, everyone in his family gets as some right of passage when they move out on their own. Ok, so it's probably not that dramatic, but that was the reaction I had and the story I concocted when I discovered that his sister had the same exact popcorn popper. 

Ryan was having some friends over for cards and decided to make poprocn.  THREE FLAVORS of popcorn!!!  We do it right here, friends... and sometimes we go over the top.  He quickly whipped up some cheesy popcorn, spicy popcorn and caramel popcorn.  Remember those giant crazy tins of popcorn that would show up around Christmas time and last until Easter?  This is the homeade version of the popcorn trifecta....

Which would you rather eat?

or this?
secret family recipe caramel corn

spicy popcorn

Parmesan cheese popcorn

Monday, March 5, 2012

Weekly Menu March 4-10

Hello Kitchen Table Friends!

This weekly menu is all about ease.  And beans, it seems.  Even so, I am sampling two new recipes from another food magazine called  Taste of Home. It's a magazine that collects recipe submissions. 

You'll also see a repeat of a recipe from a few weeks back, a nice tortilla soup that contains hearty spinach.  I didn't cook the tortilla chips in the soup like the recipe calls for (does that negate it's title as tortilla soup?) I like them to stay crunchy.  Do try it, the link is below.  It's delicious and easy. 

chunky tortilla soup with black beans 

chicken and black bean stacked enchilada 
I made this last night, and while it didn't make me jump for joy at how interesting it was, it was definitely easy to make and tasted good.  Sometimes that's just what I need.  A recipe that gets food on the table without a lot of fuss or prep time. 

veggie wraps also from Taste of Home

cauliflower gratin with tomatoes and feta from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison
For when I want a little more fuss and prep time. Many other bloggers have been kind enough to type this recipe out and it can be found here.

pork chops with brussel sprouts
I will roast both of these in the oven one evening this week after work. We picked up several pork chops from the locker near Ryan's parents' house over Christmas... I think these will be the last ones.  That is if I remember to remove them from the freezer...