Friday, December 13, 2013

Oh, What Fun?
What’s cooking? Strawberry Bavarian Cream

One of these holiday seasons, I’m going to figure out how to take it easy and enjoy myself. I was just complaining to my husband that I don’t know how I’m going to finish all the things I have to do before heading to New Jersey for the actual holiday. There’s the 12 dozen cookies I have to finish decorating for the neighborhood party, and the labels I have to pick up for the preserves I’m giving to my friends at a small holiday get-together next week – for which I still haven’t figured out what to serve. And the family Christmas cards... Yikes. My husband of course reminded me that these are all self-imposed crises. He’s so helpful.

So maybe the thrill of the season is just that – spreading joy to friends and family and neighbors, even if it just about kills me in the process.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Dear Santa...
Gift Ideas for Chefs, Wannabe Chefs, and Guys Looking to Get Lucky

If you’re not the sort of person who browses the Williams-Sonoma catalogue for fun, or reads recipe books in your spare time, you might not recognize a great present for a foodie. It’s understandable. I can’t tell you how many golf-related gifts I’ve given my golf-obsessed husband, only to discover them still in their original packaging a year later.

So if cooking is a passion or a hobby for someone on your gift list, here are a few ideas. And down in the cookbook section, you’ll find my favorite gift for men of any age – especially the kitchen-impaired, although it’s a great starter book for anyone.

Please note: The Kitchen Goddess has not received as much as a candy cane for these recommendations. She is a wonder of ethical virtue.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thank Goodness There’s a Salad
What’s cooking? French Caesar Salad and Grapefruit-Pomegranate Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette

A couple of reminders from the Kitchen Goddess on Thanksgiving prep: Here are the links to my coverage on a couple of topics you may find helpful.

1. Don't forget about the candles. See my post on Candles.

2. Need ideas on table setting or napkin folding? I covered both in a post on Napkin Folding and Other Obsessions.

And before I move on to today’s topic, I’d like to say how thankful I am for all of you who show up to laugh with me or cook with me – hopefully both. You inspire me. I wish you all a weekend of fun and good food!

* * *

Amid the piles of carbohydrates on the Thanksgiving table, it’s always a relief to find the occasional bit of green or fruit. And I don’t know about you, but I get really tired of the same old salads. So here to help you out are a couple of what I hope are fresh ideas. The only part of any of these that’s a bit tedious is the grapefruit sectioning, but you can do that the day ahead.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fancy That! Day 4 of the Veggie Marathon
What’s cooking? Asparagus Coins

This is it, folks. The end of the veggie marathon. Next week, I’ll have a couple of posts on salad possibilities, so come see me then.

Today, the Kitchen Goddess has outdone herself. Now, I will warn you ahead of time that this process will seem a bit precious – the idea of blending and straining to produce ½ cup of Parsley Water, for example. I get it – even the name, Parsley Water, sounds ridiculous and frou-frou. But you must trust me when I say how amazing this dish is, and on so many levels.

First, the look is just great, don’t you think? I mean, who would ever get the idea of slicing asparagus into those tiny circles? Thomas Keller, the chef-owner of The French Laundry in Napa Valley and Per Se in Manhattan, that’s who. They remind me of that great scene in the movie Big, when Tom Hanks gnaws away at the tiny baby corn cob. Ridiculous? Maybe, but also totally fun. And the color is a spectacular green.

Second, the taste is simply out of this world. Light and unbelievably fresh – the full asparagus flavor with a natural sweetness, and a hint of the herbs in the sauce. The texture is slightly crisp yet not at all raw. You will want to eat the entire dish yourself.

And finally, it doesn’t really take that much time. Certainly not on the day of the meal. You can make the Chive Oil and the Parsley Water a couple of days ahead, and you can slice the asparagus a couple of hours ahead and keep them in the fridge in an airtight container. Once you start the actual cooking, it’s no more than 6 minutes before you’re done.

Kitchen Goddess note: This recipe will take hours longer if you are not careful with the mandoline slicer and accidentally remove the tip of your little finger and have to call your son the almost-doctor to find out what to do. And then you will spend at least the next couple of days with your little finger wrapped in gauze and surgical tape. So take a lesson from the KG and watch what you’re doing with that slicer.

By the way, I should mention that I had a bumper crop of chives in my garden this year, so I doubled the recipe for the Chive Oil and put some in small jars for a few of my friends. It’s a bright emerald green (see photo below), with a light, clean flavor, and goes well drizzled on green vegetables or a sautéed fish fillet.

Asparagus Coins

Adapted from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home

1½ pounds asparagus (best is thickness of ¼-⅜ inch), tough ends removed
3 tablespoons Chive Oil (see below)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons Parsley Water (see  below)

Special equipment: Japanese mandoline slicer

Divide the asparagus into two bunches so that the tips are even, and wrap each bundle securely with a rubber band. Cut the spears to be all the same length. Holding a bundle upright, slice in ⅛-inch rounds on a mandoline. You’ll need to move the rubber bands closer to the tips once or twice as you go, and to rotate the bundles as you hold them, to keep the slices uniform. Stop when the remaining tips are 2-2½ inches long. Kitchen Goddess note: It’s possible – if you’re careful – to thinly slice the bundles even when the lengths aren’t exactly the same. Or you can use a chef’s knife to slice the asparagus into thin rounds.

Set a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the Chive Oil and the asparagus tips, season with salt and pepper, and sauté, stirring. You want to make sure the tips get well coated in the oil. Cook 1½-2 minutes until the tips are beginning to sizzle.

I love this shot with the steam coming off the pan, don't you? Very surreal.

Add the asparagus rounds and continue to sauté, stirring, until the rounds look cooked on the edges but not in the centers, about 2 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons of the Parsley Water and continue to cook, stirring, another 1½-2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the final tablespoon of Parsley Water, stirring to coat. Serve immediately.

Serves 6.

Parsley Water

Makes ½ cup

6 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 tablespoon honey
3 cups flat-leaf parsley (leaves and tender stems), washed and patted dry

Put the water in a small bowl in the freezer until a thin film of ice forms on top.

Set a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Stir in the honey and allow it to caramelize lightly (about 5 seconds), then add the parsley and stir quickly to coat with the honey for about 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and scrape the contents into the ice water.

Put the parsley and liquid into a blender and blend until smooth. (I never actually reached the smooth stage – perhaps the difference between working with my Cuisinart blender and Keller’s commercial Vita-Mix blender – but by scraping down the inside and reblending a couple of times, got a very serviceable result.) Strain the contents through a fine-mesh strainer and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.

Parsley water keeps 2-3 days in the fridge or can be frozen for up to a month.

Chive Oil

Makes about ¾ cup.

1 cup chives, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 cup canola oil

Place the chives in mesh strainer and run under hot tap water for a minute, to soften and remove chlorophyll taste. Drain and blot as dry as possible.

Add half the chives to a blender with half the oil, and blend for 2 minutes. Add half the remaining chives and oil to cover, and blend another 2 minutes. Add the remaining chives and oil and blend a final 2 minutes. Store in a container in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Stretch a piece of cheesecloth across the top of a small bowl and secure tightly with a rubber band. Pour the chive oil mixture onto the cheesecloth and allow to drip through for 1-2 hours.

Carefully remove the cheesecloth so it doesn’t droop down into the bowl of oil, and discard the solids remaining on the cheesecloth. The oil can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, or in the freezer for a month.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fancy That! Day 3 of the Veggie Marathon
What’s cooking? Spinach and Sautéed Mushrooms

In an interview on NPR the other day, I heard my favorite poet, Billy Collins, describe poetry as “the spinach of literature.”

That’s how bad it’s gotten for poor spinach. Despite its position near – if not at – the top of the list of the world’s healthiest foods, spinach suffers disparaging remarks from all sorts of otherwise good people.

■ “I detest spinach because of its utterly amorphous character....the only good, noble and edible thing to be found in that sordid nourishment is the sand.” – Salvador Dali, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali

■ “I don’t like spinach, and I’m glad I don’t, because if I liked it I’d eat it, and I just hate it.” – Clarence Darrow

■ “On the subject of spinach: divide into little piles. Rearrange again into new piles. After five or six maneuvers, sit back and say you are full.” – Delia Ephron, How To Eat Like A Child

■ “It’s broccoli, dear.” “I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.” – cartoon caption for The New Yorker by E.B.White

But consider this:

1. One cup of cooked spinach provides 10 times your daily need for vitamin K, 3 times the daily need for vitamin A, and more than 25% of the daily need for vitamin C, manganese, folate, magnesium, and iron.

2. That folate I mentioned? It prevents spina bifida in developing fetuses, and has been shown to reduce the rate of age-related cognitive decline. (I’m sorry, what was I saying?...) Folate (folic acid, or vitamin B9) also reduces blood pressure.

3. A recent study of the impact of vegetable intake on the risk of prostate cancer found that only spinach delivered significant protection. Other diseases spinach helps to prevent: heart disease, osteoporosis, colon cancer, ovarian cancer, and arthritis.

So what can we as cooks do to help our precious families and friends beyond the standard dictum to “Eat your spinach, dear. It’s good for you.” (I actually heard my grandmother say that to my mother when my mother was in her late 50s. It’s hard to stop mothering.)

Well, first, we can cook it not so much. Fresh spinach salads are great, but the Kitchen Goddess is all about cooking vegetables this week. Just not cooking them too much. Cooking spinach will help get rid of the oxalic acid in the leaves, which not only helps you absorb the minerals better – it also makes the leaves taste sweeter.

The best way to cook spinach is to steam it. If you prefer to boil it, do so for only a minute, so you don’t lose all that good folate. And the Kitchen Goddess finds that if you pair your spinach with something really yummy, like sautéed mushrooms, it all gets eaten – even by people who might otherwise just push it around the plate.

Kitchen Goddess note: Spinach can’t be cooked in advance. On the other hand, you’re only cooking it for a minute. But you can cook the mushrooms an hour or two earlier and reheat them in a sauté pan before you cook the spinach. And you can wash the spinach ahead of time – just make sure to lightly rinse the leaves again right before you cook them so that there will be some water on the leaves.

Spinach and Sautéed Mushrooms

2-2½ pounds fresh spinach
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup finely chopped yellow onion
1-1½ pounds mushrooms (white button or crimini), cleaned and stems trimmed; mushrooms left whole if small, sliced thickly or quartered if large
freshly grated nutmeg

Garnish: lemon wedges

If you are using mature spinach, soak well to remove any sand, and discard the stems; if using baby spinach, remove as many of the long stems as you have the patience for and lightly rinse the leaves before cooking.

In a medium sauté pan over medium-low heat, melt the butter and oil. Add the onion and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 2 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high, and when the oil is very hot, add the mushrooms. Sauté the mushrooms, using a combination of techniques that include stirring and tossing the mushrooms and shaking the pan, for 4-5 minutes. At first, the mushrooms will absorb all the fat, then after 2-3 minutes, they’ll release some of that fat and begin to brown. Once they have browned lightly, remove from heat. Season to taste with salt and nutmeg, and cover to keep warm.

In a larger skillet – one with a cover – place the spinach (with just the water that clings to the leaves). Add 2-3 pinches of salt and some nutmeg. Cover and cook over medium-high heat, turning the leaves a couple of times, until just wilted, about a minute. Drain in a colander, pressing the leaves gently with the back of a wooden spoon to release excess liquid. Fluff up the leaves with your fingers.

In a warmed serving dish, place the spinach around the edge and spoon the mushrooms into the center. Garnish with lemon wedges.

Serves 6-8.

Kitchen Goddess final note: If you have any of this left over, throw it all – mushrooms and spinach – into a skillet with a small can of diced tomatoes and a little tomato paste, heat it up, and stir in some pasta. Cover it all with finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and call it dinner.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fancy That! Day 2 of the Veggie Marathon
What’s cooking? Gem-cut Carrots

This is the second in a series of four posts to present veggies as the gorgeous foods that they are. On the theory that what looks good tastes better.

I’m not sure how husbands and wives ever work together, unless the wife just says “Okay, honey,” and follows his instructions. It doesn’t seem to work well at our house in the reverse – i.e., when the wife (that would be me) is giving the instructions. Maybe it’s my tone of voice. Or my tendency to assume the role of the Hollywood director. Maybe he’s just too sensitive for this job. In any case, you can’t even imagine how fraught with potholes was the process of getting these photos. (I know, I should have done a tiny video, but if this series took three takes, I don’t even want to imagine the process.)

The important thing I wanted to show you today is this really lovely way of cutting carrots so that they don’t look like something out of a can. I got this technique from one of my classes at the Culinary Institute, and while it takes a bit of practice, it’s much easier than it looks.

Step 1: Holding the knife at a 45º angle to the carrot, cut the tip of the carrot off to create a clean angled edge.

Step 2: Roll the carrot 180º, keeping the knife at the same 45º angle.

Step 3: Slice the carrot at the point of the cut edge nearest you, to produce a carrot piece with two angled edges.

Step 4: Roll the carrot back 180º – still keeping the knife at the same 45º angle – and make another cut as in Step 3.

Step 5: Keep rolling the carrot back and forth as you cut, always maintaining the knife at the same 45º angle to the carrot.

It’s called a gem cut, and when you’re finished, the darlings really do look like bright orange gems. The same cut works well for parsnips, too.

For cooking the carrots, I adapted a recipe from Thomas Keller’s wonderful book of family-style recipes, Ad Hoc at Home. And here’s a confession: I bought the non-organic carrots because I believe they’re sweeter than the organic ones.

Kitchen Goddess note: These carrots may be cooked a day ahead, stopping before you add the last 2 tablespoons of butter, and refrigerated in their liquid. Then when you are ready to serve, reheat them in a sauté pan, reducing the liquid just slightly, and swirl in the extra butter.

Gem-Cut Carrots

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, separated
2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut in gem shapes
kosher salt
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds (or 1 teaspoon ground coriander)
2 tablespoons dry sherry or Madeira
1 cup fresh carrot juice (alternatively, you can use fresh-squeezed orange juice)
large pinch of sweet curry powder

Garnish (optional): Quinoa Crispies

In a large sauté pan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the carrots, season lightly with salt, and cook, stirring frequently, for 7-8 minutes, lowering the heat if necessary to keep the carrots from browning.

In the meantime, put the caraway seeds and the coriander seeds into a sachet bag. Set the bag aside. (If you use ground coriander, stir it into the carrots when the carraway seeds go in. And if, like me, you don't mind the presence of carraway seeds in the dish, there's no need for a sachet bag at all. It’s just a bit more elegant without them.)

Add the sherry and continue to cook, stirring, for another 2 minutes. Add the carrot juice, the curry powder, and the sachet, and allow the carrots to just simmer another 4-6 minutes, swirling the pan occasionally, until the carrots are tender enough to your liking. (The timing will depend on the size of your carrot gems.)

Remove the sachet and turn the heat to medium high, to reduce the sauce slightly, and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, one tablespoon at a time. Season to taste with salt, and garnish with Quinoa Crispies. Serve immediately.

Serves 6.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fancy That! Putting Verve into Your Veggies
What's cooking? Haricots Verts

The Kitchen Goddess wanted badly to include in this post three veggie side dishes – all beautifully presented. But then she got a little wordy here, and the post was going to be so long that only the most die-hard fans would have read to the end. Therefore, as a special pre-Thanksgiving treat, Spoon & Ink will be presenting a different vegetable dish – appropriately gussied up – every day this week through Friday. So come on back again tomorrow, and happy cooking, y'all!

It’s pretty widely known that the sense of smell is critical to the sense of taste. In fact, taste is mainly smell, and what we think of as “taste” is more properly called “flavor” – a combination of taste, smell, texture (also known as “mouthfeel”) and other factors such as temperature.  But according to Nestlé scientist Dr. Julie Hudry, “The individual’s evaluation of food, before it is eaten, is a crucial stage, not only for making nutritional choices, but for impacting the entire eating experience.”

Get that? The way food looks helps us decide – before we take a bite – whether we’ll enjoy it. So if we want our families and friends to make more healthful choices, we need to make the broccoli look as yummy as the sausage dressing.

The Kitchen Goddess has long been an advocate of great presentation. Before now, though, I’ve figured that was just because I like anything to look good. Strong colors, nice shapes, thoughtful arrangement on a plate. But now I can be even more zealous, knowing it will encourage my family and friends to eat the turnips and cauliflower.

So, away with those limp green beans, those carrot coins reminiscent of school cafeteria lunches, and that olive-toned spinach. Let the Kitchen Goddess show you how to add zest to your zucchini, panache to your peas, and flair to your fava beans. (I’m not actually addressing those particular veggies, but it was fun thinking up the alliterations.)

Today – and for the rest of this week – the Kitchen Goddess brings you a little bit of presentation magic. Together, we will get some sparkle and vitamins into your meal.

Haricots Verts – Little Green Bundles of Joy

Our first makeover candidate is green beans – specifically haricots verts, those long, thin French beans that at least in my grocery store come packed in 1- or 2-pound bags. Soooo easy. (Of course, you can do this with American green beans, but the French beans are tenderer, crisper, and have a slightly sweeter taste.) Here’s how we make them lovely as well.

Beans don’t take long to cook, so get ready:

■ A large pot of heavily salted boiling water – as in one cup of salt per gallon of water. This amount of salt accomplishes two important objectives: it keeps the color of the vegetables from leaching out into the water, and it seasons the food in a nice, all-around way. And use lots of water in the boiling because you want the water not to lose its boil when you drop the cold vegetables into it. Any time the temperature drops below the boiling point, the vegetables release enzymes that dull the color, and we want bright, vibrant color. (You’ll be truly amazed at the color you get.)

■ An ice-water bath for the cooked beans.

■ A drying rack set over a baking sheet and covered with paper towels.

Trim just the stem end of the beans and let them soak in a bowl of water until you’re ready to cook. Don’t try to cook too many pieces at a time. (In a gallon of water, I’ll cook the beans in batches of 15-20.)

Drop the beans into the boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes. Test one at the 2-minute mark, and see how you like it. When they’re done to your liking, remove them quickly and put them into the ice bath just until they’re cold (30-45 seconds). Drain the cooled beans on the paper towel-lined rack.

For the presentation, I took long chive leaves and tied them around bundles of 15 beans each. Fast and easy. You can store them on a covered tray in the fridge this way for a day.

Also on the day before serving, sauté 1 cup of Panko crumbs in 2 tablespoons of butter on medium-high for 3-3½ minutes. Add a little salt and store overnight in an airtight container.

Let the beans come to room temperature for at least an hour before serving. When you’re ready to serve, drizzle either a teaspoon of melted butter or a teaspoon of vinaigrette on each bundle, and sprinkle them with toasted Panko crumbs. Serve them individually on small plates, as I did here, or set up a platter with all the bundles arranged on it. You can also add sliced almonds if you like.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Red, Red Wine (with apologies to Bob Marley and UB40)
What’s cooking? Brasato al Barolo on Creamy Polenta

If you want to have even more fun and sing along as you read this post, click here.

As much as I love to cook, I’m not all that fond of red wine. And in the grand irony that shows up in many marriages, red wine is what my husband loves most to drink. So he’s always happy when he hears me say that I’ve bought a nice piece of beef to cook for dinner.

“So, my love, how will we be cooking that steak?” he asks.

“Well, I found this very interesting marinade,” I say. “It’s got soy sauce, and sesame oil, and...”

Then I stop because I notice his facial muscles have achieved a pained look, and he’s holding his head in his hands, making those motions that suggest he’s about to start pulling his hair out. He wants it simply done, so he can pull out one of his big Italian reds. That’s just not the way I think.

But this spring, we joined a small group that wants to do gourmet dinners in which everyone prepares a course. Our turn to do the main course was in October, so I promised to plan around the wine, instead of the other way.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Together Again
What’s cooking? Roasted Asparagus with Quinoa Crispies

I’ve recently come back from a reunion with a group of women who were my pledge class sorority sisters. It’s been a long time since our college days, but this is now our third get-together in the last six years, and the enthusiasm for them doesn’t seem to be waning. Each time, some 15-20 of the original 25 show up.

Oddly enough, this year also witnessed a reuniting of my husband’s college friends, who as a group (22, including spouses) have been committed to gathering every other year for the past seven years. So what is it that has us now compulsively revisiting those who knew us when?

Part of it, of course, is that we finally have the time. The kids are grown, we’re at least semi-retired from work, and if we manage the venue well enough, it’s a pretty cheap getaway. Yet it’s the deeper desire –  to revisit who we were when we were still raw and unformed, to recognize and reflect on the distances we’ve traveled, to recast ourselves in the light of maturity – that I think exerts the real pull.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ghosts and Goblins and...Orange Cauliflower?
What’s cooking? Grilled Cauliflower Steaks with Pesto and Cheese Sauce

Ya-ha-hah... Ladies and gents, give a cheer for Halloween! Possibly the most purely fun celebration of the year. No religious rites, no patriotic ceremonies, no special dinners to cook. Only costumes and candy and maybe a carved pumpkin or two – how could you not love it? And in spite of the Christmas trees now sprouting up like the weeds in my garden after a rain, I would like to mention that we have TWO holiday seasons (THREE if you add the early arrival of Hanukkah this year) to work our way through before any wise men should start packing their bags.

I love Halloween – possibly more as an adult than I did as a kid. I love opening my door to a handful of tiny fairies and dragons and pirates and princesses, all jockeying for position to get their trick-or-treat bags near the bowl of candy. I love the costumes, on old and young alike. (See my New York Times essay on the subject here.) And as a confirmed firebug, I relish the excuse to put candles in pumpkins – or anywhere else for that matter.

Halloween also brings the time of year when, at church on All Saints Day, they sing “For All the Saints.” One of my favorite hymns, it reminds me of my grandmother who, while not precisely saintly, got pretty damned close. And Halloween or not, she always had a bowl of candy near her front door for neighborhood kids who’d stop by. Not a bad model to emulate.

As I was walking through the New Jersey farmers’ market last week, taking in all the fall-ish offerings like butternut squash and mum plants and pumpkin scones from the bakery, I spotted something that made me absolutely stop in my tracks. Orange cauliflower. Yessiree, you heard it here. Such a gorgeous color, and the farmstand people said it would taste like the standard white variety, so I bought one. And packed it in my suitcase.

With a little research, I learned that orange cauliflower, also known as Cheddar cauliflower and Orange Bouquet cauliflower, is the result of a genetic mutation that allows it to hold more Vitamin A (beta carotene) than white cauliflower. Other than the color and the vitamin A thing, it’s pretty much the same as its lilywhite cousin in terms of texture and flavor. There is, however, one final difference: it’s way more fun as part of a Halloween celebration.

Having gotten it as far as Texas, I decided we had to do something different with it. A bit more research led me to slicing it into slabs and grilling it like steaks. I know, it sounds a bit weird, and the grillmaster at my house was darkly skeptical, but I persevered. One source suggested brushing the steaks with olive oil; another recommended pesto, which sounded so exotic, I had to try it. And, as luck would have it, I had basil pesto in the freezer. (Pesto being one of the Kitchen Goddess’s favorite ingredients. You could also use arugula pesto.) I’d recommend adding enough olive oil to the pesto to make it runny, so you can brush a thin layer onto the cauliflower.

I couldn’t really imagine cauliflower without cheese sauce, so I made some of that, too. I didn’t want to bury the flavor of the pesto, so the cheese sauce here is fairly simple. But oh, my. All we needed was a salad and a slab of Naan bread to make a completely delicious – and fun-colored – meal. And a great start to the Halloween season.

Grilled Cauliflower Steaks with Pesto and Cheese Sauce

1 head cauliflower, sliced in slabs ½-¾ inch thick**
¼ cup pesto (basil pesto or arugula pesto, thinned with a bit of olive oil) or just plain olive oil
salt and pepper

For the cheese sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
pinch of salt
1 cup milk (I used skim, but it should work as well with whole or low-fat)
Optional seasonings: pinch of dry mustard, pinch of cayenne pepper
5 ounces aged cheddar or other sharp cheese, grated

Lay the cauliflower steaks out on a rimmed baking sheet and brush liberally on both sides with the pesto. Salt and pepper both sides as well. Grill over medium heat until the steaks can be pierced easily with a knife, up to 10 minutes per side. The edges of the steaks should begin to char.

While the cauliflower is on the grill, make the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a small, heavy saucepan over low heat. Stir in the flour and continue to stir until the mixture takes on a slightly golden hue, 5-10 minutes. (If you want more color to your sauce, just keep stirring.) Once the roux achieves the desired hue, add the salt and gradually pour in the milk, whisking constantly. Continue to whisk the sauce until it thickens. Once the sauce is thickened, remove it from the heat and stir in the cheese. Cover until ready to serve.

To serve, drizzle the cheese sauce over the cauliflower.

And yes, I have no photo of the cheese sauce. By the time we got to that point in the meal, my husband was ready to eat (if you get my drift), and I forgot to take another photo.

** Kitchen Goddess note: Once you slice it, you’ll be left with the sides of the cauliflower that don’t seem to lend themselves to steak-like preparation. I grilled some of that anyhow, and saved some for grilling another time soon.

Trick or Treat, everyone!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Doing the Veggie Shuttle
What’s cooking? Fall Harvest Frittata

So I hope you all didn’t think I’d fallen off the roof or something. I had an unexpected trip back to New Jersey last week, and it completely threw me off course. The good news is that I took advantage of the occasion to make one final visit to the farmers’ market there, and loaded up completely.

A couple of weeks before that in Texas, I met a woman – another foodie – who used to live in Brooklyn. We got to chatting about the wonderfulness (and yes, I know that’s not a word) of the New Jersey/New York farmers’ markets. She told me she always takes an empty suitcase on return trips so she can stock up on her favorite foods. What a great idea. And while I didn’t take an extra suitcase, I did pack as efficiently as I could to allow room for a few items to help me extend the season.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Back to the Grill
What’s Cooking? Grilled Broccoli with Chipotle-Lime Butter and Queso Fresco

The great North-South migration is now in full swing. We have friends heading to Texas from Nantucket, the Jersey shore, Wisconsin, and Colorado; others fleeing Alaska and New Jersey for  Arizona; quite a few ditching New York and New Jersey for Florida; and a final few escaping Maine for the Carolinas or even just as far south as Connecticut. Makes you wonder who’s left to shovel the snow when it arrives.

As usual, arriving home after three months is more than a little disconcerting. Where are the knives in this kitchen? I thought I had more olive oil than this, and do I not have any garlic? And, for some reason, the internet service is down. It turns out that if you go away for long enough, there’s bound to be an electrical storm in your absence that causes various outdoor plugs to spasm or your router to have an epileptic seizure. The ice machine doesn’t work either, so we spend the first few days calling repair services.

Then there’s the chicken in the fridge. Friends, a word of advice: do not leave a partially eaten roast chicken in your refrigerator for a month. I’ll confess that I was the one who left it there during a brief mid-term visit. On my return, I didn’t even open the paper bag it was in – I just removed it carefully to the garbage can before it could explode.

On the other hand – and thankfully, there always is another hand – the weather is at last temperate enough to eat on the porch, and we are at last back in digs that offer grilling. Fall veggies present wonderful opportunities for that method of cooking, and I have one for you here, today.

A Couple of Short Digressions – on Broccoli and Chipotle

In the years when I was actively mothering, broccoli was my go-to green vegetable. (“Hah!” my full-grown sons would say, “You are still actively mothering.” Now, does that sound like gratitude?) Although I knew many attractive ways to serve it, their palates were still in the “Just plain, please” mode, and I was still a working mom with more to do than figure out fancy presentations of a vegetable.

By the time they left the nest, I’d grown tired of broccoli, so it was a while before I’d even bother to look at it in the produce aisles. Then I discovered grilled broccoli – specifically this grilled broccoli with chipotle-lime butter and queso fresco – and became so crazed with the taste that I made my husband grill it twice in the first week.

The grilling process brings out the slight sweetness – yes, sweetness – of the broccoli; the little bit of char adds a flavor note that’s almost caramel. Those tastes are perfectly balanced by the salty tang of the lime and queso fresco, with a hint of smokiness from the Chipotle Tabasco. And the butter just pulls it all together.

Please don’t be put off by the Tabasco. Chipotles are jalapeños that have been aged and smoked. Farmers allow some percentage of the green jalapeño crop to remain on the vine until the end of the season, when they turn bright red and lose much of their moisture. The growers then pick these peppers and smoke them for several days until they resemble dried fruit. According to Wikipedia, it takes 10 pounds of jalapeños to make one pound of chipotles. They’re then sold as pods, powders, or preserved in seasoned adobo sauce (a paprika-based marinade). This recipe uses a variety of Tabasco sauce that delivers – in addition to a bit of heat – a nice, smoky flavor. The Tabasco is only half as hot as a green jalapeño, and if you’re nervous, you can reduce the amount.

Kitchen Goddess note: (1) The chipotle-lime butter can be made well ahead – I’ve kept it for a couple of weeks. (2) And the queso fresco is a crumbly, unaged white cheese that, according Wikipedia, is traditionally made from cow’s milk or a combination of cow’s and goat’s milk. It’s a pressed cheese with a salty-sour flavor, lighter but not too unlike either feta or farmer cheese. I get it at most grocery stores in Texas, and with the enlightened nature of major grocers these days, you probably can, too. I had a few brands to choose from, so I lingered at the dairy case until a Latina woman showed up and I asked her which brand. She said she preferred  La Vaquita. It’s also very nice crumbled on a salad or in scrambled eggs.

Grilled Broccoli with Chipotle-Lime Butter and Queso Fresco

Adapted from Food & Wine Magazine, June 2012

Serves 6-8.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Zest of 1 lime, finely grated
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon Tabasco Chipotle Sauce
1 teaspoon honey
1 garlic clove, finely grated
4 heads of broccoli, stems peeled, florets cut into large segments
Olive oil
1 cup crumbled queso fresco

Whisk together the first six ingredients. Season lightly to taste with salt. Allow the mixture to sit for at least half an hour, to let the flavors meld. (If you make it ahead, take it out of the refrigerator for at least half an hour, to bring it to room temperature.)

Drizzle the broccoli – florets and stems – with olive oil and season with salt. Toss lightly to get coverage with the oil.

Grill the broccoli over high heat, turning occasionally, for 10 minutes or until lightly charred and crisp-tender.

Transfer the broccoli to a large bowl or platter, and toss with the chipotle-lime butter. Scatter the queso fresco over the broccoli and serve.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Foodie at the Farmers’ Market
What’s cooking? Ground Cherry Shazam

Every once in a while, a new fruit or vegetable shows up at my farmers’ market, issuing a siren call of sorts to people like me who are intrigued with the unusual taste or texture, to see what can be made of these foods. The latest to appear in our New Jersey market was ground cherries. Not ground-up cherries, mind you, but ground cherries, which are closely related to tomatillos. In fact, in their paper-lantern shells, ground cherries look like miniature versions of tomatillos.

The taste, however, is nothing like tomatillos. They’re sweet-tart, with a flavor many think reminds them of pineapple. Not me. To me, it’s a more mysterious flavor – think tomato crossed with melon. The berries, known also as Cape gooseberries, reach about a half-inch in diameter, and are yellow to bright orange, with numerous seeds like tomatoes.

They’re wonderful in fruit salads, pies, tarts, and jam. I first had them in Portugal, where they were served as a garnish with dessert, husks pulled back like leaves and berries dipped in a micro-thin candy coating. They’re also delicious pulled straight from their husks.

I was aiming for jam when I started this project, but it never set (gelled). I asked a friend who’s a pro at jams and jellies if she thought I should re-boil it. “No,” she said. “I’d just call it syrup.” But it’s thicker than syrup, yet thinner than jam. I call it Shazam. When you taste it, you’ll know it’s the perfect name.

Ground Cherry Shazam on yogurt.

What can you do with Shazam?

■ Spoon it over fresh goat cheese as an appetizer with crackers;
■ Stir it into Greek yogurt for breakfast or dessert;
■ Spread it on toast; or
■ Drizzle it as a glaze over chicken or pork before baking.

Use your imagination. I’m saving some jars of it to give as Christmas gifts if I don’t eat it all first. And if you don’t want to make so much – or shell so many ground cherries – this recipe is easily halved.

Ground Cherry Shazam on crostini with hummus.

Ground Cherry Shazam

Makes 5 half-pint jars.

36 ounces husked ground cherries (from 6 pint baskets)
4½ tablespoons lemon juice (about 2 lemons), plus 2 long, inch-wide strips of lemon zest
3 cups sugar
2 large sprigs thyme
2 tablespoons Domaine De Canton French Ginger Liqueur (optional)

In a large, heavy-bottomed stainless steel pan or an enameled cast iron pot (I use a 5.5-quart Le Creuset French oven), combine the ground cherries, the lemon juice, and the sugar. Heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Place a round of parchment paper on top of the mixture to keep a skin from forming, cover the pot, and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

The next day, remove the parchment paper, place the pan over medium high heat, and bring the mixture to a rapid boil. Continue to boil the mixture for 15-20 minutes.

In the meantime, place a small plate in the freezer. After 10 minutes, test for the preserves to set by dribbling a spoonful onto the frozen plate and let it sit back in the freezer 2 minutes. If it turns into a soft get that moves only slightly when you tip the plate, the jam is set. Remove the mixture from the heat. If after 20 minutes, the jam still doesn’t appear to be setting, remove it from the heat anyhow. (Now you, too, have shazam!)

Stir the thyme and lemon rind into the mix and cover the pot. Let the preserves steep for 5-10 minutes, then remove the thyme and the lemon zest and stir in the liqueur if using. I take a potato masher at this point and smash about half the fruit – I like the look of the tiny seeds and the variations in texture.

Ladle the shazam (or jam) into clean Ball jars. Store in the fridge or process as for preserves.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Celebrating the Goldilocks Season
What’s cooking? Sunny Plumcot Sorbet and Lemon-Basil Butter Cookies

The Kitchen Goddess has been in Texas for a week, grappling with AT&T for a new modem because the house is too far away from the signal source to get U-verse. No internet, no blog. Grrr... I’m making up for that absence with TWO fine recipes that go together like, well,... cookies and fruit.

Now is the sweet spot of summer, when it’s not too hot and not too cold. So before we begin the great kitchen migration to soups and stews, lentils and lasagna, let us pause a moment for a final summer sorbet. And perhaps some cookies.

Not long ago, one of the stalls at my farmers’ market showed up with the loveliest little plums. Shiro plums, they said. Small, pale yellow orbs that turned out to be as juicy and delicious as they were beautiful. I bought a couple of boxes and made sorbet. It was so good, I wouldn’t let anyone else have it. Well, almost anyone else.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

And the winner is...
What’s cooking? Italian Plum Ketchup

I couldn’t get any of the national accounting firms to come over for the drawing, so in the interest of ethical independence, my friend, Gusty Scattergood – who is also the author of the award-winning YA novel, Glory Be – came over yesterday to pull a name out of the bowl. The winner of the drawing for the Hamilton Beach Breakfast Sandwich Maker is... (drum roll, please):

I wish I had enough of those Breakfast Sandwich Makers to give one to each of you, but alas... You can, however, get one online or in many stores. For a start, I found them at Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and

So for everyone else, today’s prize will have to be a different kind of treat – one that will also last quite a while, just not as long as an appliance.

One of the great late summer arrivals at the farmers’ market is a crop of Italian prune plums. Most of the plums you get at the grocery store are fat and round; these are more egg-shaped, and wear a beautiful powdery blue-purple skin – the color of royalty, which may explain why they’re also known as Empress plums. They have a wonderful sweet-tart taste, though the juice won’t dribble down your chin the way it does with the fat, round varieties.

Friday, August 30, 2013

A Drawing??!! With a Prize??!!! How Cool Is That!
What’s cooking? Breakfast sandwiches and more

Yes, it’s Spoon & Ink’s first ever drawing, with a really nifty prize. We – that would be me and my friends at Hamilton Beach – are giving away a Breakfast Sandwich Maker as part of their promotional efforts for the Back to School season. It’s not a contest – all you have to do is leave me a comment (be sure to sign it!) here or on my new Spoon & Ink Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win. I’ll be drawing the name of the winner on Wednesday, September 4.

The Kitchen Goddess has never been one of those cooks who feels the need for all the latest appliances to work her magic. I’ve never owned a crock pot or a toaster oven, and I long ago tossed out my electric skillet. Most recently, I traded in my coffee maker for a French press.

But I attended a food blogger conference this summer, and at one of the display booths, the Hamilton Beach folks were making breakfast sandwiches with this nifty little gizmo. I watched them make one after another for the conference attendees, adding ham or sausage or cheese or tomato slices, and I was hooked before I bit into mine. You don’t even have to include an egg – or you can use egg whites if you’re watching your cholesterol. Check this out...

The Hamilton Beach people developed the Breakfast Sandwich Maker as an aid to those school mornings when everyone is racing around like their hair is on fire, trying to get out the door in time for the bus or the carpool. I remember those days. Especially the ones when my older son was on the hockey team and practice ran 6-7 a.m. On my way to pick him up, I’d stop at the local diner for an egg sandwich that he would inhale on the way home so that he could shower and change in time for school. What I would have given for a Breakfast Sandwich Maker then.

I think he could use one even now, as his morning routine includes breakfast with his 20-month-old daughter. And my younger son – the med student – surely would be happy with one as he scrambles to get to the hospital for early rounds. So if you don’t want the prize for yourself, I’ll bet it would make a neat gift for someone you know.

They sent me one to play with, so I’ve been experimenting with various ingredients, from the traditional egg sandwich to my favorite breakfast sandwich: peanut butter and bacon. You have to cook the bacon before you assemble the sandwich, but a minute in the microwave will handle that, and the peanut butter comes out wonderfully gooey. What really amazes me is that the sandwiches remain hot for a long time. Wrap one of those suckers up in foil, and it’ll be good and warm until the last bite.

The chefs at Hamilton Beach have come up with a nice long list of ideas to use with the BSM, from a cheddar, apple, bacon and egg croissant to a pancake and sausage sandwich to a pepperoni and veggie mini-pizza. Use your imagination. In a bit of a wild moment last night, I made... (drum roll, please) S’mores. A little messy, and I’m still working on the technique, but with the non-stick surfaces on the machine, clean-up is easy – the ring assembly even lifts out and can go in the dishwasher.

So leave a comment here – and sign it! – or go to the Spoon & Ink Facebook page (which I must admit is still in the tweaking stage), and you’ll be included in the drawing on Wednesday.

And have a great Labor Day weekend!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Still Trying to Cool Off
What’s cooking? White Sangria

I’ve mentioned before the delightful group of food bloggers I’ve become acquainted with since moving to Austin. They’ve been open and generous with me in response to my questions about technology or social media or food photography, or just offering their friendship. So when one of them requested guest posts for her blog, I decided to give back. Her name is Lauren, and the blog is Gourmet Veggie Mama, which I think pretty completely describes her theme. I’m not vegetarian, but many of the recipes look very tasty, so I encourage you to check it out.

My guest post was back in June, but I figure summer is still upon us, and as pears are just starting to show up at the farmers’ market, this seemed like a good time to re-post what I gave her.

In the heat of the summer, nothing is quite so refreshing as sangria. But as much as I enjoy the traditional stuff, it can sometimes feel a little heavy for daytime drinking. (We all enjoy a little daytime drinking, don’t we?) So this recipe for white sangria is the perfect solution: cool, crisp, and light.

I love serving this to a brunch or a ladies’ lunch. It adds just the right touch of sophistication. And we recently served up gallons of it at a neighborhood cocktail party, where it was a huge hit. Kitchen Goddess note: If you’re serving a large crowd, it’s sometimes easier to make batches of the wine and fruit – which you can do a day ahead – then add ¼ cup (2 ounces) of sparkling water directly to each glass. That way, the carbonation doesn’t disappear before you serve it.

As for the wine to use, I prefer either a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Grigio, both of which have nice fruity notes that go well with the pears, kiwis, and grapes.

White Sangria

Adapted from The Silver Palate

1 bottle dry white wine
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 tablespoons Calvados
3 tablespoons Cointreau or other orange-based liqueur (Triple Sec, Grand Marnier or my new favorite, Paula’s Texas Orange Liqueur)
2 kiwis, peeled and sliced thin
1 large pear, preferably green D’Anjou or Bartlett, sliced thin
1 cup seedless green grapes, halved

12 ounces sparkling water (not club soda)
sprigs of mint for garnish

In a large glass pitcher, combine the wine, sugar, Calvados and Cointreau. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the fruit, and allow to macerate in the refrigerator (covered) 4-5 hours or overnight.

To serve, stir well, then add the sparkling water and pour over ice in either a tall highball or Collins glass or a globe wine glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Serves 6.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Most Fun You Can Have with a Chicken
What’s cooking? Beer-Butt Chicken

The thing I miss most about spending the summer in New Jersey is outdoor cooking. Condo/apartment living means no grilling. And since I usually hand off that job to my husband, it also means I do all the cooking. Not so terrible, really, but I do miss that grilled flavor. So periodically, I persuade my son and daughter-in-law to let us come out and grill at their house.

The last time I did that, I’d had a hankering for beer-butt chicken. If you don’t already know about beer-butt chicken, LISTEN UP. Because it’s the best way I know of to get a moist, flavorful grilled chicken with almost no work. You hear that, folks? Almost no work. The vertical roasting position gives you an even covering of crispy skin, while the beer bastes the meat from the inside to infuse the entire bird with flavor. And the Kitchen Goddess has outdone herself on the spice rub.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

It’s a Cherry Jubilee
What’s cooking? Sour Cherry Frozen Yogurt and Cherry Sorbet

No, no, not Cherries Jubilee – that’s the hot dessert. This is about cold dessert – two of them – and both with cherries.

As you may have guessed based on recent posts, I’m pretty obsessed with frozen desserts this summer. First came the Minted Honeydew Sorbet in June, then the Peach Frozen Yogurt and the Apricot Sorbet in July. Now it’s August, and cherries are everywhere.

Frankly, there’s nothing more fun to do with fresh, juicy fruit before it disappears from the market. I know, you can preserve it – and I will – but sorbets and frozen yogurts and ice creams present the fruit with much less sugar and offer a taste that’s much closer to the fruit itself. Whether or not you are entertaining, these are great, light desserts. But if you are entertaining, they have a number of excellent points in their favor:

■ They can be made ahead of time.

■ They add great color to the table.

■ With the addition of nuts or chocolates or cookies or brownies to the plate, you have a dessert that appears complex – multiple textures and flavors – with little effort.

■ On a relative basis with other desserts, they’re low fat and low cal.

In addition to the frozen dessert thing, I’ve been struck this season with a mania for cherries. I’ve discovered sour cherries at the farmers’ market, and Bing cherries and Ranier cherries at most grocery stores right now. I had to make two batches of the Sour Cherry Frozen Yogurt, as my husband inhaled the first batch before I remembered to get a photo of it. And, by the way, you can make the frozen yogurt with Bing cherries if you can’t find the sour ones.

Kitchen Goddess note: For either of these recipes, you will want a cherry pitter. Even with this little instrument, pitting cherries is a bit tedious. But if you catch your husband (or a friend or son/daughter) in a weak moment, with the promise of a delicious frozen treat to come, you may be able to avoid the pitting yourself. It turns out that pitting cherries is an activity that can be done while watching golf on television.

Sour Cherry Frozen Yogurt

Makes about 3 cups.

1 pound fresh sour cherries, pitted (measured unpitted)
¾ cup sugar
1 piece fresh ginger, peeled, about 2 inches long
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (your choice: fat-free, 2%, or whole milk)

In a non-reactive saucepan, stir together the pitted cherries, the sugar, and the ginger. Cover and bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to encourage the juices to flow. Remove from heat and let the cherries cool to room temperature.

Once the mixture has cooled, throw away the ginger. Purée the cherries and juices in a blender until smooth (2-3 minutes). Chill the purée well, then process according to your ice cream machine instructions.

Kitchen Goddess note: Sour cherries have a refreshingly tart taste that balances well with creamy yogurt. I’ve made it with 2% yogurt and with fat-free yogurt; the tastes and textures are the same, but the fat-free yogurt gets frozen a bit more solidly, and so can be difficult to scoop. However, if you simply leave it out for 10-12 minutes, it will soften enough to serve.

* * *

I’ve not tried this sorbet with Ranier cherries, which are slightly sweeter and have a more delicate flavor than the Bings. But the color is so luscious with the Bing cherries, I may not bother with trying.

Cherry Sorbet

Makes about 1 quart.

2 pounds Bing cherries
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice (fresh!)
1 large strip lemon zest (½ inch by 2 inches)
1 tablespoon Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur (other options: 1 tablespoon kirsch or ⅛ teaspoon almond extract)

Place pitted cherries, water, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest into a non-reactive saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Cook at low simmer 10-15 minutes, until the cherries are very soft. Remove from heat and let the cherries cool to room temperature.

Once the mixture has cooled, throw away the zest strip and add the ginger liqueur (or whatever other flavoring you want). Purée the cherries and juices in a blender until smooth (2-3 minutes). Chill the purée well, then process according to your ice cream machine instructions.