A new look at cooking and home decorating...with an attempt to add more greens to the plate, more vegetarian options & hopefully lots of new ideas to explore

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Cranberry and Pistachio Couscous Salad

The small Moroccan couscous often found in braised dishes is not what I have used here. Instead, I have opted for the larger (peppercorn size) couscous. This variety, made of semolina wheat often goes by the name Israeli or Middle Eastern couscous. Look for it under both names – it is often sold along side the bins of other grains at gourmet markets or ethnic stores. This dish is a perfect for a ladies lunch, picnic, or as part of a light dinner because it may me made in advance and served warm or at room temperature.

Cranberry and pistachio couscous salad

2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 cups of Israeli/ Middle Eastern couscous
3 cups chicken stock
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup raw pistachios (look for these in your local gourmet store as well- they are greenish in color)
1 tablespoon very good olive oil
(Additional salt, such as sea salt, and pepper to season after cooking)

Into a medium size non-stick saucepan I place my olive oil. Turn the heat to medium /medium high. Once the oil is warm, add in the Couscous. Toast the couscous stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until golden. Add in the stock and the kosher salt. Bring mixture to a boil then reduce heat to simmer and cover. Cook coved, for about 10-12 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for another 20-30 minutes covered. Remove cover, stir to fluff the couscous and then add in the cranberries, pistachios, and very good olive oil. Re-season with additional salt and pepper if you like. Toss and serve. This salad goes wonderfully with a nice baby arrugula salad.

Spa Time

When one of my little angles first entered school, a calendar was sent home, on which a special date was marked for eating dinner with your family. I laughed. We ate dinner together every night and most often with candlelight and music. Marking one day a year on the calendar to eat dinner with your family seemed silly. As children grow older there are an increasing number of meetings to attend, sports schedules to keep, after school events and business dinners. Dinner by candlelight becomes harder and harder to maintain daily and becomes a great treat.

Often we are so busy we even forget to eat a proper lunch. As we become more pressed for time it is increasingly important that we take time to nourish our bodies. Sometimes it’s as simple as a beautiful scent in the air. I like the woodsy aroma of Patchouli Sweet Orange Mist (whole foods). Or maybe there is an extra 20 minutes for a quick warm bath. Perhaps a quick trip to a farmers market. This week I have a great “ladies” lunch salad for you. It is so simple to make and can be left in the fridge for you to nourish yourself with whenever you are feeling in need of that “spa” moment during the day.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Baklava (chocolate with pistachio nuts)

2 sticks and 3-4 tablespoons melted butter (its always good to have at least 1 stick of extra butter around when working with filo dough – sometimes you will use a little more sometimes less depending on how dry the dough is)

20 sheets of filo (buy 1 box – you will have extra but that ok)

1 large pinch of sugar for every filo layer, so have at least 1 cup of sugar handy

1 cup raw pistachios
1cup walnuts
¼ cup sugar
1teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of kosher salt

Place all of the above in a mini food processor and pulse about 12 times, move mixture to a bowl and add in 1 cup mini chocolate chip morsels

Start by thawing the filo dough overnight in refrigerator. To begin creating the baklava have handy a 9x12”pan or baking dish. Have ready the filling and melted butter as well as a pastry brush and sugar.

Baklava is simple enough to make- brush the pan with melted butter- add 1 layer of filo, brush the liberally with butter then sprinkle a large pinch of sugar over the dough – repeat this until you have 5 layers of filo. Top the fifth sheet with butter then add on 1 scant cup of filling and spread evenly over the pan.

Repeat process starting again with filo then butter and sugar- do another four layers for a total of five- then top with the filling.

Repeat process until you come to your last batch of filling then top with a final layer of filo –

Please note- the filo will not fit exactly in the pan – you may either trim it down or leave it – trimming it to fit the pan looks a little nicer, but I rarely have the patience for doing that, and it still comes out fine…you may also use extra layers of filo as you go- 5 layers is a guideline but 6 will do no harm. – Do not stress if some sheets get torn, once its baked you will not be able to tell at all.

Preheat the oven to 350

Once you have finished the top layer you must cut the baklava (before cooking) into square or diamond shapes – a small-serrated knife works best for this.

Place the baklava in the oven to bake for 45-50 minutes

While the baklava is baking you can make the syrup.

½ cup water
½ cup sugar
Zest of 1 lemon

Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil- remove from heat and strain out the zest-
Once the baklava has finished cooking – remove from oven and let cool. After it is has cool for about 2 hour pour the syrup over the baklava. Let the syrup soak in for at least a few minutes before serving

Searching for Baklava

Searching through piles of books and magazines can be fun. Coming across old lost treasured recipes often remind us of the people with which we shared a meal. Though, not finding that old recipe can be quite frustrating. I spent hours this past week looking for a great recipe that I had for Baklava. Baklava is a delicious Greek dessert made with layers of filo dough, brushed with butter and filled with nuts and honey or sugar syrup. The best recipe that I had for it came from Cooks Illustrated.

One bite of that delicious baklava sent me straight back to the Greek fairs of my childhood. My parent’s friends, who were Greek, would often make and donate the baklava for the local Greek Church fair.

A little love of mine had developed the same fondness for baklava just recently, after a visit to a local Greek restaurant. I keep all of my magazines from Cooks Illustrated magazines neatly stacked in a certain spot but the baklava recipe was nowhere to be found- so I decided to go it on my own.
I bought and defrosted a package of filo dough, then, melted what seemed like a pound or so of butter. I remember the Cooks version called for clarified butter so that the filo would become more golden rather than brown. I went with the regular melted butter instead. In place of some of the nuts I also decided to add an element of chocolate. Mini morsels seem to work out the best. Everything worked out quite well. I hope you will enjoy my new recipe for baklava. The main thing to remember is not to get worry about the filo dough. People seem to get all worried about weather or not it will tear. Just try to work quickly and have plenty of extra butter handy in case you need to melt more.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Grilled fresh figs with Gorgonzola and honey

1 package fresh figs stems removed and sliced in half (about 8-10 figs)
1 package of Gorgonzola cheese

This is another appetizer that is so simple and delicious when fresh figs appear at the market (about September near me) – on high heat simply grill both sides of the figs for just a minute or two. Place the figs on serving plate and place a slice (or small chunk) of Gorgonzola on top of each fig and drizzle with a drop or two of honey. This cam be made for a large crow or plated individually- leftovers are great with crusty French bread.

Place a decorative toothpick through the figs to hold them together for easy serving

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Al Fresco

Autumn is in the air. This week is a bit cooler than last, and there is a soft gentle chill at the top of the morning and again at dusk. As the weather changes so do my culinary needs. I was at a friend’s house for lunch and I fell in love with her flatware. That may sound a bit weird to some people, but its how my mind works. If ever they need someone at Martha Stewart who can hunt down unusual items for photo shoots, I would be well qualified for the job. Having only glanced at the flatware, I knew I needed to find the source. The lovely shades of brown in the handles would be just perfect for a fall table setting. Like I said, I know its odd, but after waking up at 6AM and spending several hours on the computer searching, I finally found what I was looking for.

Last night we had friends over for dinner al fresco. As per my husband request I tried to reduce my work level in the kitchen by buying pre-marinated steak. It was actually a great help because it allowed me to fuss a bit more over the appetizers and table setting. Before the evening started I threw together a grilled fig with Gorgonzola plate, a Bruschetta, a goat cheese and arugula quesada and a cheese plate. It all worked out well. So relaxing it was to sit and sip wine under the stars on a cool crisp evening.
Our guests brought a wonderful bottle of “Super Tuscan” wine. So, this morning I feel left with the challenge of cooking something to go well with the Le Serre Nuove 2004. I found an old recipe for Chicken with Pomegranates that I might try….

Monday, September 10, 2007

Jumbo Shrimp with Harissa or Citrus marinade, grilled

Serves 2

1 total pound of jumbo shrimp, shelled and de veined

Hot and spicy shrimp-
I marinate ½ of the shrimp in
2 Teaspoons of Harissa sauce- (you may buy store bought or make your own, Harissa is a sauce from the area of Morocco/Turkey. I often make my own but I have bought jars of it as well. You can find it at both sur la table and on amazon)

Citrus Marinade
I marinate the other ½ of the shrimp in

1 teaspoon olive oil
Zest of 1 orange plus 2 teaspoons of the orange juice
1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground pepper
1 clove of garlic minced
1 teaspoon of fresh basil, torn to small pieces or lightly chopped

Heat grill to med or med high heat. Grill both shrimps for 2-3 minutes per side.

Back to school pie

This past weekend was probably the last blast of summer heat. We took advantage of the warm weather to grill outside. On Sunday night we had a very easy grilled shrimp dinner with salad. The cooking time for jumbo shrimp on a hot grill should be just a few minutes. We however, waited almost 20 minutes for the shrimp to cook because the grill ran out of gas. I’m just glad it did not happen with guests over.

I have to share with you another wonderful cooking experience that I had this past week.
I rang the doorbell of a friend’s house and when the door opened the entire house smelled of William Sonoma on the day before Thanksgiving. Sweet cinnamon aromas filled the air. With one whiff I was transported back to my Grandmas thanksgiving dinner table. My little love proceeded inside for a play date and I ran to the local store. I rummaged through the candle section scratching, smelling and whiffing my way through every candle there. What had made her home smell so lovely? I left the store empty handed because every scent I had tried had come up a bit short of duplicating exactly that wonderful smell.

When picking up my little love, my friend Carol invited me inside. As we walked through her kitchen I saw two beautiful pumpkin pies sitting atop her countertop. “Carol”, I pressed, “what are you doing, your have about five kids over here, and you are also baking pumpkin pies?” “Yes” she replied, “ It’s a tradition, on the first day of school I always bake pumpkin pies”.

Carols and I and sat and chatted about the stress of the first week back to school. But all the stress diminished, for parents and children, by the soothing aromas of spices, which filled the air. I plan to make Carols tradition part of the Pardo family traditions next year.

Thank you Carol.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Guest Cook Karen Cardillo

Chicken with mushrooms and artichokes from Karen Cardillo

My friend Karen lost her mom to breast cancer when she was only three years old. Her dad, and her Italian Grandmother raised Karen and she learned to cook at her grandmother’s side. This is one of the Cardillo family’s favorite dinners. I am posting the recipe as it was given to me, however, when I made the dish I needed to make a few simple substitutions such as the grape tomatoes for plum tomatoes. I will note these substitutions along side the original ingredient called that was called for.

1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 package of chicken breast tenders (about 1 to 1 ½ pounds) cut into 1” pieces and seasoned with salt and pepper
5 Italian plum tomatoes, diced (I used 1 pint grape tomatoes whole)
4 oz of sliced mushrooms, cut into smaller pieces (I used 12 oz baby Bella mushrooms quartered)
2 (6oz) jars of marinated artichokes, reserve the liquid from one of the jars
1 (8oz) can of Delmonte tomato sauce
1 cup chicken broth
¼ cup of white drinking wine
1 teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon garlic powder (I couldn’t find garlic powder in my mystery spice cabinet so I did substitute 4 medium cloves minced fresh garlic)

In a large skillet over medium heat sauté the onion in the olive oil. Once onions become translucent (after a few minutes) add chicken and garlic powder or fresh garlic. Cook chicken for just a few minutes on the first side until the chicken is just a little golden in color then turn the chicken over and cook on the second side for a few minutes. Add in the tomatoes and mushrooms. Sautee for 1 minute then add in the chicken broth, wine, tomato sauce and oregano. Simmer for about 5-7 minutes then add in the marinated artichokes and their reserved liquid. Cover and simmer for about 5-10 minutes longer or until the chicken is cooked through. Karen suggests serving this with rice.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Cahallah “French” toast

About ½ to 1 whole loaf of Cahallah bread sliced about ¾” thick – if you can not find Cahallah use Brioche bread

7 eggs
1/8 Teaspoon Kosher salt
¼ cup heavy cream
1 Teaspoon Peach Schnapps, optional
1 Tablespoon sugar
Butter to fry in (about 1 tablespoon per batch- with a large skillet I made 2 – 3 batches)
Confectioners sugar to garnish

In a large shallow bowl or gratin dish, scramble the eggs then add the salt, cream, Schnapps, and the sugar. Mix all of the ingredients together with a fork or whisk. Dip each slice of bread in the mixture to coat the bread, then set each piece aside on one plate or platter. After you have coated all of the bread slices, drizzle any remaining eggy batter over the bread. Let sit for a few minutes, now would bee a good time to prepare a sauce or warm up pure maple syrup.
After the bread has rested for 5 minutes or so warm up a large skillet or griddle. I like to use a non-stick 14” skillet. Add 1 tablespoon of butter to the skillet and place on Medium high heat. Once the butter has melted, add in a few bread pieces without overcrowding the pan. Cook about 2 minutes per side or until golden. Repeat with remaining bread adding more butter to fry in if necessary. Top with syrup- I like blueberry.

Blueberry syrup

1 Pint fresh blueberries
½ cup sugar
2 Tablespoons water

Place the blueberries in a saucepan with sugar and water. Turn heat to high and simmer on high heat for 4 minutes. Serve over Pancakes, waffles or French toast.

Family Time

This morning I am a bit sleepy. I spent the past week visiting my parent’s house. As always, we had lots of wonderful wines. Admittedly, I had grown a bit weary from a very long summer of playing mom, teacher, camp counselor and short order cook. I was looking forward to a quiet week in the country, then to the start of school.

Today’s blog was supposed to be a back to school (thank god) snack. Instead, what happened was, on our way to my parents my husband got a phone call. A woman he used to work with (who had several small children) was in the hospital dying from stomach cancer. What can I say… I met her only once, but of course the situation hung over our entire vacation. Every day we would receive reports of her declining health. This in turn, caused me to stop and think about the value of time with family. We take an awful lot for granted when everyone is well.

Today I plan to post a simple French toast for a family breakfast. The French toast is made with a Cahallah bread. If you cant find Cahallah, any eggy bread such as Brioche will do. What makes this “French” toast fit for an extra special breakfast is the topping of homemade blueberry syrup. I do have in hand a recipe from a guest cook, my friend, Karen that I will make this week and hopefully post later in the week.