Friday, April 24, 2015

Flights of Fancy Food
What’s cooking? Artichoke Pesto and Salad Shirazi

The Kitchen Goddess is chagrined to note that it’s been more than two weeks since my last post. A shameful situation, to be sure, but we – my hubby and I – have done an obscene amount of travel this year (at least one trip per month), and it’s difficult if not impossible to collect my already scattered thoughts while on the road. But I will attempt to catch up today with not one but two easy recipes that celebrate spring.

In light of all this travel, it’s a vast understatement to say that I’ve had my fill of airport food lately. Of course, there’s no such thing as airline food anymore, unless you’re flying first class, where, believe me, the food they’re serving isn’t even up to what they used to serve in coach. So my habit of packing a few snacks has become something of an obsession. Part of it is driven by my desire not to throw away perfectly good food, yet it’s tough to imagine showing up at my neighbor’s doorstep with, “Hi, would you like some leftover risotto? Or this half of an apple? How about a cup of cucumber salad?”

The packing almost always takes place in the last few minutes before we leave. My prince checks his watch and paces while I stuff the food into baggies and wedge it carefully into my carry-on, adding one of those little cellophane packages of fork/spoon/salt/pepper and a couple of paper towels, because you can’t rely on airplane napkins to keep your hands clean. For our latest trip, I took a hard-boiled egg, an apple (which I sliced), and a pear (also sliced). I thought about adding some cheese, then decided against it to save my marriage.

The flight was just to Houston, only 35 minutes long, and he reminded me more than once that we’d have time to grab lunch in the Houston airport, so the food was really superfluous. Then a funny thing happened on the way to Houston. There was lots of turbulence, and as the plane neared the landing strip, the pilot made an abrupt adjustment and took us back up into the clouds. Whoa, what was that about?

“Sorry, folks,” said the pilot. He added something that sounded like, “Blah blah wind shear blah blah.” After which we spent an extra 20 minutes or so flying around for a new approach. A little unsettling, but we finally made it to the gate. Can you see where this is going?

“I hope we don’t miss our connection,” said my husband. “Looks like we won’t have time for lunch.”

I said nothing, but smiled triumphantly to myself as I thought about my stash. We made the connection (just barely), and as I unearthed my “lunch,” the look on his face reminded me of a golden retriever we once had who would follow me around the kitchen hoping for anything edible to fall on the floor. “Don’t worry,” I said. “We can share this.” But next time, I’m also packing that cheese.

* * *

All this travel has played havoc with my diet, so I’ve been concentrating lately on salads and other veggie-centric dishes. Today, I have two great finds for you: an hors d’oeuvre and a salad. Both would be great, by the way, as airplane lunches.

The hors d’oeuvre is Artichoke Pesto, another on my list of great pestos and a winner for anyone who likes artichokes. The Kitchen Goddess loves them. It was a find of my friend, Ellen, who says it began life as a Weight Watchers recipe. I’ve tweaked it a bit, increasing the garlic and adding lemon juice, but the master stroke was to use those marinated artichokes you find in the relish bars offered by most large grocers these days. You can trim back the calories by using canned artichoke hearts, but I think the oil- and herb-marinated hearts offer a huge improvement with very few added calories. If your grocer doesn’t have a relish bar, or it doesn’t stock artichoke hearts, go for the jars in the relish aisle. Just find a brand that incorporates some seasoning. And the marinated hearts don’t turn brown like the ones packed in brine.

This pesto is best if it’s the tiniest bit chunky, so I wouldn’t just turn on the food processor and walk away. Pulse it until the mixture reaches a consistency that’s spreadable, but not a purée. The Kitchen Goddess is so fond of this stuff that she’ll eat a large scoop of it over lettuce for lunch with crackers. Or over scrambled eggs with blue corn tortilla chips, like this, for breakfast.

Artichoke Pesto

Adapted from Weight Watchers, Inc.

Makes about 2 cups.

1¼ cups marinated artichoke hearts, drained with 1 tablespoon of the flavored oil reserved
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1¼ cups fresh basil leaves (packed)
¼ cup pine nuts
3-4 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
½ teaspoon (rounded) kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a small Teflon skillet over medium heat, toast the pine nuts until they turn a golden brown (about 5 minutes). Add the nuts and the rest of the ingredients (including the reserved oil) to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Transfer the pesto to a bowl, cover and refrigerate about an hour before serving, to allow the flavors to come together. Serve as a spread with crackers or chips or vegetable crudité.

* * *

My grocery store has this year been stocking bags of what I thought to be some variety of hothouse cucumbers. But in researching about this recipe, I discovered that they’re actually Persian cucumbers, a variety that’s been around for more than 3000 years! I wonder what took my grocer so long...

These cukes – also sold as Gourmet Baby Cucumbers – look more like the large English cucumbers than the darker, thicker-skinned ones we’re used to seeing. Persian cucumbers are about 6 inches long, with thin, textured skin that there’s no need to peel. They’re sweeter and crisper than common garden cucumbers, and have no developed seeds. They retain their water, so they stay cool tasting – one source I found said the interior can be as much as 20 degrees cooler than the skin. So they’re great in salads, and a terrific accompaniment to rich meats like lamb.

This particular salad is a traditional dish from Shiraz, a 4000-year old city and the sixth most populous in Iran. It’s light, fresh, crisp, and low-cal, and it takes almost no time to make.

Salad Shirazi

Adapted from Ellie on

Serves 4

For the dressing:
4 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon honey
salt and pepper to taste

For the salad:
5 Persian cucumbers
1 pint (11-12 ounces) sweet cherry tomatoes
2 scallions, white and light green parts only
½ cup mint, chopped
1 jalapeño, seeded and diced (or 1-2 tablespoons diced jalapeños from a jar. Yes, the KG is not too proud to get her jalapeños from a jar.)

Put all ingredients for the dressing into a jar and shake it well.

Slice the cucumbers lengthwise into quarters, then slice across in ⅜-inch cuts. [KG note: If this sounds too precious, just know that I thought ¼-inch cuts were too thin and ½-inch cuts too thick. So there.] Put them into a medium-sized salad bowl.

Slice the tomatoes into quarters, and add them to the bowl.

Slice the scallions thinly on a diagonal, and add them to the bowl. Add the mint and jalapeño, and pour the dressing over all. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Toss well, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving. Now, wasn't that easy?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Dependable Dozen: 12 Dinnerworthy Staples for Avoiding a Trip to the Store
What’s cooking? Farfalle with Tuna, Artichoke Hearts, Spinach, and Capers

You arrive home after a long absence. You let yourself in the front door, kick off your shoes, and decide to unpack later, because the vibes coming from your body are calling “Feed me... feed me....”

It’s early in the evening, and, airplane food being, well... airplane food, you’ve had essentially nothing to eat since early afternoon when you turned a blind eye to your diet and ate the best you could find at the airport. But you really really don’t have the energy for a run to the grocery store, and as easy as it would be to order in pizza, that just seems like more fast food. You want something not too heavy, but with vegetables in it. Something you don’t have to work hard at creating, but something that’ll satisfy your need for real food.

You grab a glass of wine (you do have a chilled bottle available, don’t you?), sigh and stand in the door to your pantry, looking for inspiration. And maybe it’s the wine, but as you scan the shelves, some of those items start to look like the basis for... dinner.

That was the scene I faced recently on a trip to New Jersey. I hadn’t been in our condo since Christmas, so the fridge was pretty bare (jams, ketchup, pickles, and that bottle of wine). Thankfully, the Kitchen Goddess stocks the pantry – and the freezer – with any number of items that can be put to work for just the dinner I envisioned.

You, too, might find yourself yearning for real food and looking to your pantry for inspiration. You don’t even have to go on a long trip – it might just be a day when you haven’t the time or energy for a trip to the store. So here are a dozen of my tried and true fallback ingredients, followed by the lovely dish of pasta with tuna, artichoke hearts, spinach and capers that I concocted in my hour of need.

The Dependable Dozen – Staples You Can Count On to Become Dinner

This list assumes you have stuff like olive oil and a reasonable assortment of spices.

1. Tuna and/or Salmon – either the foil-packaged kind, which has less water, or oil-packed in cans, which has more flavor. Of course it’s not as good as fresh, but for fresh, you’d have to go to the store.

2. Cannellini beans – for making the classic pasta e fagioli soup or a nice, garlicky dip.

3. Diced tomatoes – for juicing up and flavoring a pasta dish.

4. Artichoke hearts – in a jar, please, where they are usually marinating in oil and spices. The canned ones taste tinny and soggy. Go for the best quality you can find. Artichokes dress up a multitude of dishes. Among other uses, they make a great dip with frozen spinach, a bit of mayo, and some Parmigiano-Reggiano, or add them to risotto.

5. Capers – those tiny things that look like soft seeds. They’re flower buds, salted and pickled, and they are great in seasoning or garnishing a dish, especially one with a Mediterranean flavor. An opened jar should be kept in the fridge.

6. Pasta – I try always to have on hand the long-cut kind (e.g., spaghetti, linguini, fettuccine) and the short-cut kind (farfalle or fusilli).

7. Marinara sauce – in a jar. My favorite is Rao’s, but Newman’s has a nice line, too.

8. Oil-cured olives – in the fridge. Oil-cured olives will keep several months, especially if steeped in oil.

9. Frozen spinach and/or frozen peas – great in soup, pasta, risotto, frittata, ... you name it.

10. Roasted garlic – you do make this stuff, don’t you? Next time, make some extra and freeze it.

11. Dried mushrooms – which will keep for years, as long as they’re kept dry and out of the light. Rehydrating is a snap, and you can rehydrate with water or broth or wine or sherry, just to keep things interesting.

12. Shallots and raw garlic – that’s right. The little buggers will stay reasonably fresh for a couple of months, as long as you keep them in a dark, cool, dry place that’s well-ventilated – but not in the fridge, where they’ll only last a couple of weeks.

So here’s the dish I put together from my pantry. Not only easy, but fast and delicious. All that I had hoped for in my travel-weary state.

Farfalle with Tuna, Artichoke Hearts, Spinach, and Capers

Serves 2 with leftovers.

8 ounces farfalle pasta (or other short-cut pasta like fusilli)
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup shallots, minced
1-2 large cloves garlic, minced
7-ounce foil pack albacore tuna
1 small jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
8 ounces frozen spinach, barely thawed
1 heaping tablespoon capers (no juice)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Cook pasta in a large pot of salted water. When the pasta is almost ready, scoop out 1 cup of the pasta water and reserve. When pasta is done to al dente state, drain and return to the pot. Cover and reserve.

While the pasta is cooking:
In a separate large skillet, set over medium-low heat, add the oil and allow it to warm. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes until soft. Add the garlic and stir 30 seconds. Add the tuna, the artichoke hearts, the spinach, and the capers, and stir to combine.

Pour in the reserved pasta water, cover and let cook long enough to heat all ingredients, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in the reserved pasta, and continue to cook until pasta is also well warmed. Season to taste with kosher salt and pepper.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Time to Celebrate!
What’s cooking? Persian-Spiced Lamb Shanks with Saffron Rice

Ok, here’s your trivia for the week. In most Latin- and Greek-based languages, the word for the holiday English speakers call Easter is some version of Pasch or Pesach, both Hebrew words for Passover. The Latin “Pascha” and the Greek “Paskha” evolved into Pascuas in Spanish, Pâques in French, Pasqua in Italian, and Páscoa in Portuguese.

But English-speakers take our cue from the Germans, who call it Ostern. The English and German words stem from Ēostre, an ancient goddess of spring, for whom a feast was celebrated at the spring equinox. (Don’t you just love this linguistic arcana? You can always rely on the Kitchen Goddess for tidbits of stuff you never really wanted to know. I can picture my sons rolling their eyes right now.) I’m not going to try to figure out why we use a non-religious root for “Easter,” but I do think it’s curious.

Regardless of what you call it and why, this is a great time of year for celebrating. Jews celebrate the Israelites’ escape from slavery in ancient Egypt, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ, and everyone else can celebrate the arrival of Spring. Hallelujah!

Whatever your reason for celebrating, the focus of the meal is traditionally lamb. It’s a symbol of spring, when lamb is most available; it’s symbolic to Christians of Christ as the Lamb of God; and it’s symbolic to Jews as the Passover sacrifice.

For me, it’s about the taste. Lamb is simultaneously bolder in flavor and more delicate than beef, and the meat responds well to seasonings.

One of the Kitchen Goddess’s new year’s resolutions for 2015 was to try new things – new foods, new spices, new processes. “Hah!” you are saying, “The Kitchen Goddess is always trying new things.” Not true. She’s as likely as the next person to keep churning out the same dishes over and over.

But my hubby and I are part of a gourmet group, and it was recently our turn to host. Which meant I had to come up with a theme and a dish. With all the current attention on the Middle East, that seemed like a good place to start. In fact, I hope one day to wander the spice bazaars of that region without worrying about getting blown up.

For the dinner, I considered lamb chops (too simple), shish kebab (too 70s), and leg of lamb (too traditional). Then I saw it. A recipe for Persian-spiced lamb shanks, from David Tanis in The New York Times. I’d never tried the cut before. Turns out, they’re easy to find at most grocery stores that have a butcher. Lamb shanks are not generally on display, but all you have to do is ask.

You will not be sorry. They require braising to really bring out their flavor – a long, slow, simmer in a broth so fragrant you will be tempted to climb into the oven with them. Oh, my – the meat literally falls off the bone. Talk about under-appreciated – lamb shanks (which are also a relative bargain) are easily the richest, most succulent cut of meat I’ve found, and this preparation produces such a delightful mix of flavors – both fruity and spicy – that it’ll cause the top of your head to lift off just slightly and twirl around as you dive in. And the sprinkling of herbs on top nicely balances the richness of the meat and broth. Be sure to cook the meat a day or two in advance – the flavors only get better with that overnight nap.

Kitchen Goddess note: Persian cuisine makes generous use of spices, but rarely includes hot pepper. So you can relax about that. The list of ingredients looks a bit daunting at first, but take heart. Tanis recommends “Middle Eastern grocery shops,” which makes me think, “Yes, well, maybe in Manhattan.” But in Austin, I found everything I needed at a local organic/natural food store. So look around.

The dish is best served over Basmati rice, either plain with butter, or colored bright yellow and lightly flavored from a few strands of saffron dissolved in hot water. Because it’s very rich, the Kitchen Goddess added a cucumber and tomato salad dressed with olive oil and lime juice on the side.

Persian-Spiced Lamb Shanks with Saffron Rice

Adapted from David Tanis in The New York Times

4 meaty lamb shanks (4½ -5 pounds total)
kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground dried rosebuds (optional)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
vegetable oil or canola oil
¼ teaspoon crumbled saffron, plus a few strands for the rice
juice of 2 limes (approximately 4 tablespoons)
3 teaspoons rosewater
1 large onion, cut in ½-inch dice
zest from 1 lime
zest from 1½ oranges (1 tablespoon of which to be saved for garnish)
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 fresh bay leaves or 4 dried bay leaves
6 cups hot chicken broth
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, for garnish
2 tablespoons chopped mint or dill, for garnish
Basmati rice

Trim excess fat from the lamb shanks, pat them dry with paper towels, and season them generously with kosher salt. Don't skimp on the salt, as it’s critical to the flavor of the meat.

In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, rosebuds (if using), black pepper and turmeric. (If, like me, you found dried rose petals – not yet ground – you’ll need to pulverize them with a mortar and pestle – or some similar weapon – before mixing with the other spices.) Rub the spice mixture evenly all over the shanks. Set the meat aside to rest at room temperature for at least an hour. (You may prefer to wrap and refrigerate the meat overnight. If you do that, be sure to let it come to room temperature before proceeding.)

In a Dutch oven or deep, heavy pot over medium-high heat, pour in oil to a depth of ½ inch. Once the oil is hot (i.e., a drop of water in it will sizzle), sear the lamb shanks two at a time for 2-3 minutes per side, until browned all over. For best results, do not disturb the meat except to turn it over once.

While the meat is browning, dissolve the saffron in a small bowl with the lime juice, 2 teaspoons of the rosewater and ½ cup warm water. Let the mixture steep for 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350º.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the oil from the pot. Add the chopped onion and cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, until softened and pale yellow. Sprinkle the onion with salt, and add the lime zest, orange zest, thyme sprigs, and bay leaves. Add the saffron liquid, and stir well to combine. Lay the lamb shanks on top of the onion/spice mixture and pour the warm broth over all. Raise the temperature to medium high until the broth reaches a boil, then cover the pot and transfer it to the oven.

Bake 1½ hours, covered, until meat is fork-tender and beginning to pull away from the bone.

If you are serving immediately, remove the shanks to a covered serving dish and keep them warm. If you’ll be serving in a day or two, move them to a covered container large enough to hold the shanks and the strained braising liquid.

Using a fine-mesh sieve, strain the braising liquid into a bowl, pressing on the solids with a wooden spoon to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids. Skim as much fat as you can from the surface, using a spoon or a gravy separator, if you have one. Taste the liquid, add the final teaspoon of rosewater, and salt if necessary. Bring the strained broth to a boil and simmer 5 minutes. Pour the broth over the lamb shanks.

If you’re cooking the meat ahead of time, refrigerate the shanks covered in the broth. To reheat, place the shanks and broth, covered, in a 350º oven for 30 minutes, or over low- to medium-low heat on the stovetop for the same amount of time.

Prepare the rice according to your package instructions, adding the remaining saffron to the water.

When you are ready to serve, toss together the parsley, mint, and reserved orange zest. [Kitchen Goddess note: This parsley/mint/zest combo is called gremolata, and it is way more than a foo-foo garnish. Particularly for a rich meat preparation, it can wake up your senses and take the dish from good to great. Trust the Kitchen Goddess.] Serve lamb shanks with a small amount of broth in wide, shallow soup plates, either on top of the rice or next to it. If you prefer, you can use a spoon to break the meat off the bone and serve it in large chunks. Sprinkle the gremolata on top of the meat.

A final Kitchen Goddess note: As a special touch to the meal, try adding a couple of drops (only a couple!) of rosewater to your guests’ water glasses. The difference in taste is small, but the scent will give your guests the sensation that they’re dining in an exotic garden.

For the winos among you, we served a 2009 Domaine Thunevin-Calvet "Les Dentelles" Cotes
du Roussillon Villages, a full-bodied red blend from southern France, made from carignan, grenache, and perhaps a bit of syrah grapes. The Kitchen Goddess’s professional assessment is that it was mmmm-good.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Traveling with Mr. Rogers
What’s cooking? Dominican Rice with Plantains and Bacon, and Grilled Fish Dominicano

I had my doubts from the beginning. You’d think the idea of a trip to the Dominican Republic – escaping an onslaught of wintry weather (even in Austin!) – would be one anyone would embrace. But it was billed as a golf trip, and I do not play. And while I’m happy to have those nice stretches of time on my own, it’s all the associated activity that drives me crazy. At least in my experience, the Golf Playing is invariably preceded by the Golf Talking (what they’ve heard about the course, who designed it, how the teams will form, carts vs caddies, blah blah...), and followed by the Golf Analysis (who played well/poorly, that crazy thing that happened on the 15th hole, the birdies, the bogies, blah blah...), and, at least in our house, there’s also the Golf Watching and the Golf Napping. So the idea of a week spent – regardless of venue – enveloped in Golf made my eyes roll back in my head.

Adding to my discomfort, did I mention that I barely knew any of the other 12 people on the trip?

We breezed through customs at the airport in Punta Cana, and headed for the car rental counter. Just as we got there, the lights in the airport dimmed, then went out. After a couple of minutes, they came back on, but that brief interruption was enough to fry the computer systems of our rental car company, and it was a full 2 hours before we could finalize a contract and make our way to the only van available on the island, which we needed for carrying... the Golf clubs.

The a/c in the van didn’t work really well, the odometer was closing in on 100,000 miles, and the hatch door wouldn’t stay open on its own, so that one of us literally had to hoist it up in order to get our suitcases in or out. This trip is doomed, I said to myself.

As we headed out of the airport, I realized I needed an attitude adjustment. It was a vacation, after all, to an island I’d never visited before, staying at a house that – if the photos were to be believed – was fabulous, and as for the people,... Well, at times like these, it’s helpful to remember Mr. Rogers (of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood), who I’m told always carried in his wallet a quote from a social worker he once met: “Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love, once you’ve heard their story.”

It turned out that the rental car was a complete aberration on the trip – the lone 0 in a field of 9s and 10s. Yes, there was lots of Golf, but the house was even better than the photos, the people were mostly lovable, and the island is beautiful. Best of all, though, the house staff included the delightful Guillermo, our chef. Guillermo spoke almost no English, and I was one of only two Spanish-speakers in our group, so the Kitchen Goddess was consulted on the menu for almost every meal, and Guillermo and I spent some part of every day discussing the local cuisine and the many wonderful ways to prepare it. What fun!

Our charming and gracious kitchen staff. Guillermo is the big guy on the right.

* * *

One of the Dominican foods Guillermo introduced me to was plantains, plátanos in Spanish.

On the outside, plantains look almost exactly like bananas. And, in fact, they are members of the same family. So were my grandmother and my great Aunt Irva. But my grandmother was sweet and soft – like a banana – while my Aunt Irva was more of a plantain – thick-skinned, starchy, with less sugar, and not really edible raw. Hmmm...

Well, anyway, it turns out that with the right treatment, plantains are delicious. So maybe, with the right treatment, Irva might have been a little easier to take. Or maybe if she hadn’t been named Irva. We’ll never know.

In any case, the first thing to know is that, as plantains ripen, their flavor changes dramatically. Green plantains are firm and starchy, tasting much like potatoes. You have to cook them – bake, boil, or fry – first, then mash them and combine them with other foods. One such treatment is a mofongo, a dish that originated in Puerto Rico but is ubiquitous in Dominican restaurants: green plantains that have been cooked and mashed with garlic paste and formed into cups that are then fried and filled. The ones pictured here – from one of Guillermo’s dinners – are filled with chopped shrimp and topped with guacamole. Mmmm...

The riper plantains – which look like beat-up bananas, as in the photo here – are relatively sweet, and when cooked, taste like a cross between butternut squash and sweet potatoes. When you fry them, you get a slightly crispy outside that’s actually sweet.

Dominican cuisine is highly flavored without being spicy.  Guillermo made a perfectly delightful rice dish for us, to accompany a marinated whitefish that was so good, some of our folks were heating the leftovers for breakfast the next day.

The Kitchen Goddess was eager to reproduce this masterpiece fish. Turns out, Guillermo cheats a bit and uses a flavoring packet (see photo) that the KG cannot find – nowhere, nohow – despite her best efforts, which, as you know, are pretty damn good. But Guillermo sent her off with a sample, and she has used that one sample to reproduce the mix of flavors for all of our benefit.  Lots of garlic and lime, with hints of sweetness from the paprika and parsley. The Kitchen Goddess is not to be deterred.

The KG's marinade spices -- I think it would be good next time to add fresh parsley to the marinade.

Step 1: Remove the ends
Kitchen Goddess notes: (1) Guillermo cooks his rice in chicken broth – “Es más rico,” (it’s richer) he says. And I agree. But if you don’t have any chicken broth handy, or just prefer a lighter flavor, use plain water instead. (2) I found plantains in one local grocery store. Correction – I found one plantain. But a store that caters to a more Latino population will likely have a larger supply. If you buy a green plantain, you may have to wait a week for it to achieve that beat-up look. Have patience. (3) Plantains -- even the ripe ones, are tough to peel. Best is to cut them into pieces a couple of inches long, and slice the skin lengthwise before attempting to remove it.

Step 2: Cut into chunks.
Step 3: Slice skin lengthwise, then remove peel.

Dominican Rice with Plantains and Bacon

Serves 6.

1 cup rice
Chicken broth in whatever quantity directed by your rice package
1 tablespoon butter
½ teaspoon salt, plus more for plantain bits
2-3 slices bacon
6 tablespoons grapeseed (or canola) oil
1 ripe (yellow and blackened) plantain
1 spring onion, white and green parts

In a large saucepan, cook the rice according to package instructions, substituting chicken broth for all or part of the water. Add the tablespoon of butter and the ½ teaspoon of salt to the liquid.

While the rice is cooking, peel and dice the plantain (see photo).

In a medium-sized frying pan, cook the bacon until crisp, and remove it to paper towels to drain. Discard the bacon fat and wipe the skillet clean.

Add the grapeseed oil to the skillet and heat at medium setting until the oil is hot. Add the plantain dice and cook, stirring and turning the pieces as they brown, for 6-7 minutes, until all pieces are golden. Remove them to paper towels to drain.

When ready to serve, crumble the bacon and stir most of it into the rice, along with most of the plantain dice. Reserve some of both the bacon and the plantain to use as garnish on top of the rice. Slice the spring onion very thinly on the diagonal, and sprinkle on top.

Grilled Fish a la Dominicano

1 pound whitefish fillet (I used cod, about 1 inch thick)
¼ cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
2 cloves garlic, minced
Marinade seasoning:
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon paprika (smoked is best)
¾ teaspoon garlic powder
¾ teaspoon parsley flakes
¼ teaspoon white pepper
⅛ teaspoon ground cumin

Using paper towels, pat the fish dry and place in a shallow baking dish. In a small bowl or jar, combine the olive oil, lime juice, and garlic. In a separate small bowl, combine the spices and parsley flakes, and use a mortar and pestle to grind the blend together until the parsley flakes have turned to powder. (Alternatively, pile the combination between two sheets of waxed paper or baker’s parchment and use a rolling pin or the side of a jar to crush the parsley flakes to a powder with the other ingredients. Then at some point, get yourself a small mortar and pestle –  it’s a useful kitchen tool.)

The only photo I have of the fish. Mysteriously, the cooked fillet disappeared before I could get the camera out.

Add the marinade seasoning to the oil/lime juice/garlic and mix well. Pour all over the fish and marinate 30 minutes. Grill the fish on medium-low for 9 minutes per side. Or bake at 450º for 20-30 minutes, turning once.

Monday, March 9, 2015

When You Just Have to Have It Now
What’s cooking? Twice-Baked Potatoes with Carrots, Onion, and Goat Cheese

A Note from the Kitchen Goddess: The KG has been away on a Caribbean island for a week, and now is working on a nice post about some island flavors. But it’s taking a while. So in the meantime,...

You know how sometimes you just get a craving for a particular food, and nothing will do until you satisfy that craving? Most of the time, for me, it’s a chocolate thing. This time, though, it was twice-baked potatoes.

I’ve mentioned my delightful book group before, and the format of potluck dinners. At our last meeting, my friend Ellen prepared twice-baked potatoes made with carrots mixed into the potato filling. Oh my, they were fluffy and carroty, and I’m pretty sure they had some cheese in them. Ellen said they were really easy – low cal, too! – and she promised to give me the recipe.

Then a couple of days later, as I noted above, my hubby and I left for a vacation in the Dominican Republic. After a week of chowing down on the most wonderful seafood and lots of drinks with little umbrellas in them, I was in desperate need of food that would put me back on track with my eternal diet. I couldn’t really picture myself switching from broiled lobster and rum punch to chicken broth and celery sticks, so I thought about those twice-baked potatoes, and the more I thought about them, the more obsessed I became. I had to have them. Now.

I called Ellen, and she wasn’t home. I left a desperate, pleading message, but as the minutes ticked on (I’m really not the most patient person when it comes to culinary needs), I decided I’d just make up my own damn recipe. Truly not patient.

It’s amazing what you can do when you have the drive. You picture a dish, you think about the flavors and textures involved, and you look in the fridge and your pantry for a little inspiration. And you prepare yourself for pizza if it doesn’t work out. More often than not, you can come up with something that’s at least edible, and maybe you’ll make some notes as to what was missing, or what you had too much of, and the next time you make it, you’ll get closer to that ideal.

This particular dish wasn’t that much of a challenge – after all, there are lots of recipes out there for twice-baked potatoes, and what you’re adding is mostly carrots. In the end, I included a few items – like the onion and the garlic and the cream – that I’m pretty sure weren’t in Ellen’s dish, but this version turned out so well that I had to practically slap my husband’s hands to hang onto enough of the filled spuds for a decent photograph the next day. And now I can share the recipe with you.

Kitchen Goddess note: I’m pretty sure Ellen used cheddar cheese in her recipe. I’ll bet that would be good, too. But herbed chèvre is what I had in my fridge, so herbed chèvre is what I used. You can try both and let me know what you liked. I did think the herbs added nice flavor.

Twice-Baked Potatoes with Carrots, Onion, and Goat Cheese

Makes 8 servings.

4 medium-sized (6-8 ounces each) russet potatoes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, cut in ½-inch dice (about 1 cup)
2 cups carrots, cut in ½-inch dice
2 large cloves garlic, minced
½ cup chicken broth
2 ounces goat cheese (herbed or plain)
¼ cup cream (heavy or light)
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
Garnish: chopped chives

Special equipment: potato masher or ricer or food mill, for mashing the potatoes.

Preheat the oven to 425º (400º if using a convection setting). Scrub the potatoes under cold running water and pat dry. With a fork, poke holes in 3-4 places around the potatoes, to let moisture escape during baking. Place potatoes directly on a rack in center of the oven, and bake 50-60 minutes or until a fork or a metal skewer easily goes into the potato. (The Kitchen goddess prefers a skewer because she can poke it the length of the spud, making sure it’s soft all the way through.)

While the potatoes are baking, heat the butter in a medium skillet and add the onion. Cook the onion over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, until it’s soft, then add the carrots and garlic. Continue to sauté the vegetables for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken broth, bring the mixture to a simmer, then lower the heat and cook the vegetables, covered, for 10 minutes or until the carrots are tender. Check occasionally to make sure the liquid stays at a simmer.

Transfer the skillet mixture – including any broth – to the bowl of a food processor. Add the goat cheese and process until smooth. Set aside until the potatoes are done.

When the potatoes are done, let them cool enough to handle, then cut them in half lengthwise and use a spoon to gently scoop out the potato flesh, leaving enough potato in the shell that it stays intact. Put the potato flesh into a large bowl and, using your tool of choice, mash until the texture is as lumpy or smooth as you prefer. Food processors are not recommended for this part, as they turn potatoes gummy.

Add the processed carrot mixture to the mashed potatoes, along with the cream, the salt, and 10-12 grinds of black pepper. Stir well. Fill the potato shells with the mixture and arrange the filled shells on a baking sheet.

If you’ll be serving the potatoes soon, put the filled shells into the oven at 400º for 20 minutes. If you prefer to make them ahead of time, the filled shells can rest in the refrigerator, covered tightly with cellophane wrap, overnight, then reheated at 400º for 30-40 minutes, until warm. The filled shells can also be frozen on a cookie sheet, to maintain their shape, then stored in the freezer in zip-lock bags. Reheat as noted above.

When ready to serve, garnish with chopped chives, if desired.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Not Just Because It’s Lent...
What’s cooking? No-Fuss Crabby Cakes with Tartar Sauce

It’s Lent. And despite the solemn nature of the season, the Kitchen Goddess confesses that she is better at denial than self-denial.

I am not now nor have I ever been a Catholic. But I was buoyed recently by learning that Pope Francis has sort of redefined the self-denial bit for anyone who wants to participate in Lent. He says we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others, then he quotes Saint John Chrysostom, who said, “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”

Now let me say here that the Kitchen Goddess has no intention of sleeping on the floor or eating ashes. (The sighing part is familiar.) But I like the idea of putting in a little extra spiritual time during Lent by doing good for others in ways that connect to food. That Father Frank is my kind of guy.

If you are similarly inclined in this season before Easter, and want to think of Lent more in terms of sharing than despairing, here are some ideas that might inspire you. A quick Google search under “food bank” or “food pantry” followed by the name of your state or city will lead you to a wealth of more specific opportunities.

❶ Volunteer:
– to deliver for Meals On Wheels
– to help serve or cook at a soup kitchen
– to work checking in food/repackaging at a local food bank
– to pick up food donations from restaurants or grocery stores going to homeless shelters or food            banks.
❷ If you’re in the Newark/New York City area, make bag lunches for any of the several programs that feed the homeless.
❸ Donate food to animal rescue programs (checking first to see what they accept/need).
❹ Participate with organizations like Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey or DriveASenior ( in Austin, operations that help seniors or otherwise homebound folks with grocery shopping.
❺ Make dinner for a sick or housebound friend.

* * *

Even if you’re into self-denial, you have to eat sometime. And many people like at least to observe meat-free Fridays during the Lenten season. The Kitchen Goddess likes to do her part with a handful of recipes for non-meat dishes.

Today’s dish is so easy you’ll wish you could afford to eat crab every week. I adapted this version from one on the very excellent blog, SPOON FORK BACON. I particularly like it because the cakes are light and crabby, without that dense, bready/mayonnaise-y texture you often find. One reason is that the recipe calls for lump crabmeat, which, yes, is more expensive than backfin crabmeat, which consists of broken lumps and flakes of white body meat. It’s a question of texture. And use of the measuring cup to form the cakes means more uniformity but less mess on the hands – both factors high on the Kitchen Goddess’s list. The tartar sauce I’ve listed here is from a previous Spoon & Ink post and is courtesy of my friend Joy.

No-Fuss Crabby Cakes

Adapted from the food blog, SPOON FORK BACON.

Makes 11-12 cakes. Serves 4 as a main course, or 11-12 as an appetizer along with a salad of mâche or microgreens.

1 pound lump crabmeat
1 ear sweet corn
1 medium red bell pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
⅓ cup panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper (or 3 teaspoons sweet paprika plus ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper)
1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon (or 1 rounded teaspoon dried tarragon)
2 teaspoons fresh chives, chopped
½ lemon, zested and juiced
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (start with ½ teaspoon salt and 8-10 grinds pepper, then taste and adjust)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

Using a sharp knife, cut the kernels off the corn cob and discard the cob. Cut the bell pepper into ¼-inch dice. In a large mixing bowl, combine all crab cake ingredients except the butter and gently stir together until evenly mixed. Take care not to overmix, so that the crab lumps maintain their structure as much as possible.

Preheat the broiler.

In a large, ovenproof skillet (like cast iron or Le Creuset), melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Using a ⅓-cup measuring cup as a mold, make a (gently packed) mound of crab mixture and unmold it into the hot butter. Repeat five more times to get six of the mounds into the skillet, at least an inch apart.

Let the crab cakes cook in the skillet without disturbing them for 4-5 minutes, or until you can see a brown crust forming on the bottoms of the cakes. Transfer the skillet to the broiler and broil 3-4 inches from the heat for 3-4 minutes or until the tops of the cakes get lightly browned.

Yes, I know there's one less in the skillet. We liked them so much I made them twice and added the bell pepper.

Remove the cakes to a plate lined with paper towels and place an aluminum foil tent over the first batch while the second batch cooks.

Wipe the skillet out with a paper towel and repeat with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the rest of the crab mixture.

Serve the crab cakes accompanied by lemon wedges and/or tartar sauce.

Kitchen Goddess notes on the tartar sauce: (1) Make the tartar sauce at least an hour before you serve it, so that the flavors can bloom. (2) For the herbs, I don’t think there’s any comparison between the flavor of fresh parsley and dried, so treat yourself to a bunch of parsley. Rinse it off, spin it dry, roll it in paper towels, and stuff it into a zip-lock bag, and it’ll last at least a week. FYI, the Kitchen Goddess always has fresh parsley in the crisper. Tarragon is another thing altogether, so if you have some growing in your garden or you bought some for another reason, by all means use fresh. But I wouldn’t buy any just to get a single tablespoon of the stuff, in which case dried tarragon is fine. (3) The sauce will keep for at least a week in the fridge, so you may want to double it to have available for next Friday’s fish.

Joy’s Tartar Sauce

Makes about 1½ cups.

1 cup mayonnaise, light or regular
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped (or a rounded teaspoon of dried tarragon)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons heavy cream (or half-and-half)
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1-2 tablespoons minced scallion
1 tablespoon capers, drained, plus ½ teaspoon of the juice
2-3 tablespoons dill pickle relish
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Mix thoroughly, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Soup Swap
What’s cooking? Provençal Soupe au Pistou

The Kitchen Goddess is well aware that all the world is focusing on Valentine's Day. And she has already sent off her cookie tins filled with love and sprinkles. This post is about sharing a different sort of love.

When a friend and neighbor was recently diagnosed with cancer, several friends in the area wanted to help. As usual, our first thought was of food – that unintrusive but universal offering that says, “We care.” Soup is a particularly good choice, being both a comforting food and one that requires very little in the way of accompanying dishes to complete the meal.

I figured that if I was going to cook enough for the couple in question, I might as well cook enough for my husband and me. One thought led to another, and – you can see where this is going, can’t you? – eventually, the words “Soup Swap” popped into my mind. Okay, maybe “Soup Swap” isn’t the most logical conclusion, but that’s how the Kitchen Goddess’s mind works.

About a year ago, I participated in a Food Swap that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was much more elaborate than the Soup Swap idea – involving lots of people bartering a wide variety of foodstuffs – but the basic concept remained: a trade of my cooking for your cooking. In the Soup Swap, each person contributes a container of one soup to each of the other cooks, and emerges with containers of as many different soups as there are participants in the swap. For this particular swap, we would tack on an additional container for the sick friend and his wife.

It turns out that not all of my friends are enthusiastic about cooking large amounts of soup, regardless of the bounty they’d receive in return. But I did get three other friends in on the act. Frankly, that was probably just the right number – once you’ve made a quart of soup for four friends plus yourself (16 cups – yikes!), you can start feeling sort of souped out.

The soup I chose to make is a vegetable soup from Provence with a totally marvelous pistou, the Provençal cousin to pesto, but made without pine nuts.

I think what I like most about this soup is that it covers almost the full spectrum of vegetables:

• legumes/podded vegetables (green beans, lima beans, cannellini beans)
• bulb and stem vegetables (onion, garlic, fennel)
• leafy vegetables (cabbage, spinach)
• fruits (squash, zucchini)
• root and tuberous vegetables (carrot, potato, turnip).

Yes, all that and more. You feel healthier with the first bite. The limas and cannellini beans give this soup a thickness that makes it feel more substantial than most vegetable soups – more like a stew, less brothy. It’s got great color, and really works for any season.

Kitchen Goddess note: There are two absolute musts for this soup to succeed. (1) Do NOT decide to forego the Parmigiano-Reggiano rind. The Kitchen Goddess, who wouldn’t be caught dead without Parmigiano-Reggiano in the fridge, saves the rinds of leftover parm in a plastic bag in her freezer. But these days, quite a few grocery stores sell parm rind in little plastic containers, so even if you threw your rind away (and shame on you if you did), you can easily get more. Or just buy a wedge of the cheese and cut the rind off. Parmigiano-Reggiano rind (the real thing) works a kind of magic in soups, especially vegetable soups, where it adds flavor and body. So you WILL SAVE IT from now on. (2) Even with the rind, nothing you can do will take the place of the pistou. It completely changes the dish, from good vegetable soup to, “Ahhhhh....”

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I should also note that this is one of my darling husband’s favorite soups.

Provençal Soupe au Pistou

Adapted from Gourmet magazine, May 2001.

Makes about 16 cups.

For the soup:
1 small fennel bulb
¼ pound sliced pancetta, chopped
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium turnip, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
¼ small cabbage, cored and chopped (2 cups)
1 (2-inch) piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
1 small yellow summer squash, cut into ½-inch dice
1 small zucchini, cut into ½-inch dice
1 medium boiling potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf (not California)
1½  teaspoons salt
9 cups water
1 (10-ounce) package frozen baby lima beans
½ pound haricots verts or other thin green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 (15- to 19-ounce) can cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed
5 ounces (about 5 cups) baby spinach

For the pistou:
3 large garlic cloves
½  teaspoon kosher salt
1½ cups fresh basil leaves
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 ounce grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (⅓ cup)

Mis en place, friends. This soup is infinitely easier if you do all the chopping first.

Make the soup:
Cut the fennel stalks flush with the bulb, and discard them (or stick them into a plastic bag with the other veggie scraps you’re saving to make veggie broth one day). Trim off any tough outer layers from the fennel bulb, and cut it in half lengthwise. Chop each half into ½-inch dice.

In a 5-6-quart heavy pot (I use a Le Creuset 5.5-quart French oven), heat the olive oil and add the pancetta. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 7 minutes, until the meaty edges start to curl/brown.

Add the fennel, onion, turnip, carrots, and cabbage and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage wilts, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the cheese rind, squash, potato, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, salt, and water and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low (whatever heat allows you to maintain a simmer), and cook uncovered, for 10 minutes.

Stir in the lima beans, green beans, and cannellini, and return the soup to a simmer. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Discard the cheese rind, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf. Stir in the spinach and season with salt and pepper.

While the soup is simmering, make the pistou:

Chop the garlic fine, then using a fork, mash it to a paste with the salt. Combine the basil and garlic paste in a food processor until the basil is finely chopped. It will have a vaguely mealy look. With the processor running, slowly add the oil. Add the cheese and process the mix to a purée.

Serve each bowl of soup with a healthy dollop of the pistou. The pistou should be stirred into the soup before eating.

And a Happy Valentine's Day to you all!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Any Day Is a Party Day
What’s cooking? Corn and Black Bean Relish

Ok, so I missed giving you a recipe for SuperBowl snacks. But that won’t be the last time you gather a group of friends together, will it? Even just in February, there’s President’s Day (February 16), Mardi Gras (February 17), Chinese New Year (February 19), and Oscar Night (February 22).

Then we have the lesser lights, the geeks of the holiday list, that you and your friends might just use as an excuse to lighten the mood on one of these grim, wintry days. Like Hoodie-Hoo Day. Seriously, folks. It’s February 20, and the idea is that everyone goes outside at noon, waves their hands in the air and shouts “Hoodie-hoo!” to chase away the winter and encourage spring to show up. It makes as much sense as Groundhog Day, and sounds more fun. Or celebrate Umbrella Day (February 10) or Random Acts of Kindness Day (February 17) or World Thinking Day (February 22), started by the Girl Scouts, of all people.

At least for the purposes of this post, I want to focus on February 24, which is... [drum roll, please]... Tortilla Chip Day. Now, how cool is that? Gather some friends to watch one of the old Oscar winners (Annie Hall, Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, The Sting,...), line up a bunch of dips, and pass the chips around. As a party format, nothing could be easier.

So if you decide to celebrate Tortilla Chip Day – or any of the others, or maybe just TGIF, the Kitchen Goddess has been saving just the recipe for you. She got it from a friend in San Antonio, so it naturally has a bit of a Tex-Mex or Southwest flavor. This “dip” isn’t really a dip – more like a relish – but it goes really well with chips of any kind. And it looks healthy. In fact, it actually is healthy, having no sugar or other sweetener and being very low in fat. And it’s gluten-free for those of you who care. Regardless, it’s delicious. Sweet and crunchy from the corn, tart from the lime juice, and then there’s that smoky flavor you get from black beans.

This is one of those great recipes where you just pile everything into a bowl and stir. It takes almost no time to assemble. The Kitchen Goddess has one friend who often makes a batch of this stuff up and just eats some with a salad for lunch.

Kitchen Goddess notes: (1) The Kitchen Goddess is a big fan of cilantro, so she often doubles the amount she puts into this relish. Cilantro is a critical ingredient in this dish, so if you don’t like cilantro, you should find something else to make. (2) On the other hand, the Kitchen Goddess doesn’t like raw onion, and the amounts in this recipe can easily be reduced to accommodate that preference without damaging the flavor profile. Soaking the chopped raw onion in water for 5 minutes, then draining it before adding it to the relish, will go a long way toward removing its pungency. (3) This recipe is a fabulous way to use field-ripened tomatoes in the summer. In winter, the Kitchen Goddess prefers to use grape tomatoes or the bite-sized sweet tomatoes that many stores now carry.

Lisa’s Corn Relish

1 16-ounce package frozen corn, thawed
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup (or more) chopped fresh cilantro (stems and leaves)
¼ cup (or less) thinly sliced spring onion
¼ cup (or less) chopped red onion
½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cumin (or more if you like cumin, which I do)
salt/pepper to taste

1 cup diced fresh tomatoes (in winter, grape tomatoes work nicely here)

Stir together the first nine ingredients (all but the tomatoes) and refrigerate 2-3 hours, to allow the flavors to meld. Just before serving, stir in the tomatoes. Serve with chips.