Sunday, May 24, 2009

I Just Can't Get Enough of my Grill Pan

What a fantastic invention. I would like to personally thank whoever is responsible for the indoor non-stick grill pan. The list of virtues is long and includes beautiful grill marks, quick cooking, extra flavor, and easy clean-up.

I'd spent about a week trying to decide what to do with the 2 zucchini and 1 summer squash lurking in our refrigerator, but it wasn't until a particularly hungover Saturday afternoon (oh, Razzy's ... you and your karaoke get me every time) that I was ready to take the plunge.

I rifled through my extensive collection of recipe clippings (organized by category in white envelopes ... what? I don't have a problem) and settled on "grilled zucchini salad with lemon and scallions" from Real Simple magazine. Because my life is one giant carbo-load, I decided to make it into a pasta salad. I also threw in some feta cheese because ... well, do I really need an excuse to add cheese?

This meal clearly needed some protein, so I took 2 chicken breasts out of the freezer and started the defrosting process. Again, I searched through my recipe clippings and found another Real Simple recipe for "sweet and spicy chicken." The recipe was actually intended for roasting a whole chicken, but I figured that the marinade would work just as well for grilling. Fortunately, I was right.

[One note about the brown sugar called for in this recipe: on Ask Aida earlier that morning (GOD I hate her sidekick), a viewer had sent in a question about the difference between light and brown sugar. While I don't remember the explanation regarding the difference, I did catch her saying that when a recipe simply calls for "brown sugar," use light and you can't go wrong.]

I do my best in these posts to link to the original sources of inspiration as much as possible. However, the Real Simple recipes are not available online, and since I don't have a scanner, my options are limited. Also, since I heavily modified each recipe (from a grilled zucchini salad to a pasta salad with zucchini and squash, and from a whole roasted chicken to individual grilled breasts), I figured it would be OK to post my versions as their own. Real Simple, if you're reading this, please don't sue me. I love you.


(original photo)


2 zucchini
1 summer / yellow squash
6 scallions
1 lemon
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 pkg. farfalle (bow tie) pasta
1 pkg. solid feta cheese
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Salt heavily. Preheat your grill pan over medium heat.
2. Slice the ends off the zucchini and squash and then halve lengthwise. Drizzle the cut side with olive oil and rub it in with your fingers (or a basting brush if you have one). Grind on some salt and pepper. Once the grill pan is hot, put in the veggies cut-side down.
3. Once the veggies have significant grill marks, drizzle the top sides with olive oil and add salt and pepper. Turn over and cook the other side.
4. Once the water has come to a rolling boil, add the pasta (you should always have significantly more water than pasta). Stir to prevent sticking. When the pasta is al dente (usually around 7 minutes - taste to check), drain and rinse under cold water.
5. When the veggies have grill marks on each side and feel tender but not soggy, remove from the heat and allow to cool.
6. Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into the bottom of a large bowl. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the bowl (you can either squeeze them with the cut side up or squeeze them over your hand to catch the seeds in your fingers). Slice the scallions on a bias and add to the mixture. Add the salt and the crushed red pepper flakes and stir.
7. Once the veggies have cooled, slice them into half-moons. Add the cool pasta and the veggies to the large bowl with the dressing. Toss to coat. Break up the feta with your fingers over the bowl. Toss to combine.

NB: This was a pretty mild dish. In the future, I might add a splash of red wine vinegar for tartness or a handful of fresh herbs (parsley, mint, basil, etc.) for brightness.


(original photo)


Olive oil
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. dried oregano
Salt and pepper
2 - 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

1. Preheat your grill pan over medium heat. Spray with non-stick cooking spray.
2. In a medium-large bowl, combine a few tablespoons of olive oil with the chili powder, brown sugar, and dried oregano. Add some freshly ground salt and black pepper.
3. Add the chicken breasts and coat well. (NB: I've found that when grilling chicken, it's easier to keep the pieces moist when they are thin. Since the breasts I used were super thick, I decided to butterfly them. This way, by the time you've gotten a nice sear on each side, they're cooked all the way through. When they're very thick, you have to turn the heat down to low and cover the pan with tented aluminum foil in order to cook them all the way through, risking drying out the meat.)
4. Once coated, shake off the excess marinade and add the breasts to the pan. Cook for approximately 5 - 6 minutes on each side until seared and crusty on the outside and just barely cooked through on the inside.
5. Let the chicken "rest" before serving and slicing. This allows the juices to redistribute rather than running out the second they're cut.

This is a great and healthy way to enjoy chicken. The combination of spicy and sweet is a treat for the taste buds. Served with the cool pasta salad, this is a fantastic summer meal.

- M

Monday, May 18, 2009

Brunch with the Boy

With every Sunday morning comes a few standard questions, like "just how late can I sleep in?" and "how exactly am I going to procure my first cup of coffee?" Today those answers were "only 9:15 - really?!" and "by prodding Matt awake after 2 hours of attempting to entertain myself."

I cannot brew a good cup of coffee for the life of me, so if I'm on my own, it's off to Dunkin' Donuts. However, on lucky mornings like this one where with a few good swats of a pillow I had roused my roomie, there was a pot brewing in no time.

After sipping my hand-delivered coffee in bed, I was ready to tackle the issue of breakfast. All it took was cracking open the refrigerator door.

Boston Organics had delivered a bunch of asparagus the Friday prior. They were big, bright, and beautiful - just begging to be eaten - and the first mode of cooking that game to mind was grilling. I pictured those diagonal marks seared into each stalks and there was no turning back.

Paired with a simple breakfast sandwich - egg, tomato, English muffin, and cheese - this was a quick and easy breakfast that I will surely repeat. This was more than enough for Matt and I (we each had two sandwich halves and a large stack of asparagus), so depending on how hungry you and your company are, it could serve up to 4.


(original photo)


2 English muffins
4 eggs
4 slices of sharp cheddar cheese
1 medium tomato
Salt and pepper

1 bunch of asparagus spears
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Turn the oven broiler on low. Preheat your grill pan over medium heat.
2. Wash and dry the asparagus. Break off the woody bottoms by holding one end in each hand and bending the spear away from you. They will break in the appropriate place. (You can also just chop off the bottoms all at once if you'd like, but I've found snapping them to be the most accurate method in terms of separating the tender bit from the inedible ends.)
3. Place the asparagus on a plate and drizzle with olive oil. Add freshly ground salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Place the asparagus in the grill pan so that they sit perpendicularly to the ridges. Turn after about 7 minutes and finish cooking on the other side.

While the asparagus grills ...

4. Preheat a frying pan over medium-low heat. Melt a pat or two of butter into the pan.
5. While the butter is melting, separate the English muffins into halves and place onto an aluminum foil-lined sheet pan. Place under the boiler for only a minute or two until very lightly toasted.
6. Crack four eggs into the frying pan. Grind some salt and pepper over each egg.
7. While the eggs cook, wash and slice the tomato and butter the English muffins.
8. Once you've flipped the eggs and they've finished cooking, assemble your sandwiches on the sheet pan: buttered English muffin half, 1 slice of tomato (salted), 1 fried egg, 1 slice of cheese (I used sharp cheddar, but something like Monterey Jack or Swiss would be nice, too). Place under the broiler to melt the cheese. NB: DO NOT LEAVE THE SANDWICHES UNATTENDED. Broilers are something fierce. This should only take one or two minutes, tops.

E voila! Timing the asparagus and the sandwiches can be a bit difficult, but err on the side of the asparagus being done first. Better they wait for the sandwiches than the sandwiches wait for them.

- M

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Not Your Grandma's Potato Salad

I recently attended a Birthday BBQ Potluck - the perfect opportunity to use those fingerling potatoes I'd received in my last Boston Organics shipment. My goal was to find a tasty potato salad recipe that didn't require tons of ingredients I didn't already have hanging around my pantry and/or fridge.

One recipe in particular stood out to me: 28 Cooks' Potato Salad with Chili-Cumin Vinaigrette. It was just what I was looking for: a no-mayo potato salad with a kick, and all I needed from the store were dried thai chiles and fresh cilantro. (Times are tough, man. Wallets are tight.)

Matt kindly offered to do the shopping. He called me from the store: "They don't have dried Thai chiles," he said, and proceeded to list the names of the dried chiles they did have, one of which was "japones." I quickly Googled the name and found that they're frequently used in Thai cooking, so I figured that the match would be close enough. Visually they're very close as well:

Dried Japones Chiles

Dried Thai Chiles

The level of heat in the final product was perfect, so the gamble paid off.

I made a few more substitutions. Instead of using whole cumin seeds, toasting them, and then grinding them, I simply used cumin powder. Also, instead of using a food processor (I don't have one!), I minced everything by hand, added the vinegar, and then drizzled in the olive oil while mixing with a whisk. The dried chiles were tough to mince - the skins were unyielding and the seeds flew everywhere - but using my trusty chef's knife, I was able to get the job done.

I substituted shallots for onion to add a little sweetness, and though I didn't realize it until just now when looking over the original recipe, apparently I forgot the red onion completely. I love myself some red onion so I might include it next time, but honestly? I didn't miss it.

I also decided to add in some hard boiled eggs. I had seen them listed as an ingredient in other potato salads and couldn't deny the craving. I've made hard boiled eggs before, but nonetheless decided to Google a quick how-to. The eHow directions below really did the trick, though I still found peeling them to be a little difficult even while running them under cold water.

One final note: the recipe calls for "seasoned rice vinegar," and since I assumed there wasn't a difference at the time, I used rice wine vinegar instead. Upon further investigation today, I've discovered that "seasoned rice vinegar" is in fact rice wine vinegar with sugar and salt added (see Cook's Thesaurus: Vinegars for a more detailed explanation). My salad tasted great with plain old rice wine vinegar, and since the recipe calls for salt and sugar to be added anyway, I doubt there would have been a drastic difference had I used the seasoned rice wine vinegar instead.

So here they are: instructions on how to make hard boiled eggs and the recipe for Potato Salad with Chile-Cumin Vinaigrette. I highly recommend you include this salad in your next BBQ. Your kitchen may smell like sulfur for the rest of the day, but it's worth it, my friend. It is so, so worth it.

HOW TO MAKE HARD BOILED EGGS (unmodified recipe)

(photo from our recipe garden

Find a pot or saucepan that is big enough to hold the amount of eggs that you want hard-boiled. Depending on the size of your pot or saucepan, you can cook as little or as many eggs as you desire. Just make sure that you leave room for enough water to cover the eggs completely.

Place your eggs into the pot or saucepan. Use caution when doing this step. Eggshells are designed to be strong containers, but they don't stand up well to knocking or dropping. Gently setting the eggs by hand into your pot or saucepan is going to be your best bet.

Cover the eggs with at least one inch of cold water. Place a lid on the pot or saucepan.

Set your burner to a high heat. Allow the water to come to a rolling boil. This usually takes about 10 to 12 minutes.

Remove your pot or saucepan from the heat. Let the eggs sit in the hot water for an additional 10 to 12 minutes. Now run cool water over the eggs until they are cool enough to handle. After letting the cool water run onto the eggs, you should let them sit in it for a few minutes. This will allow the eggs to fully cool before you handle them.

Crack your eggs by rolling them on a hard surface. Then peel and enjoy!


(photo from 28 Cooks)

potatoes (fingerling, yellow, red)

4 hardboiled eggs, chopped

2 green onions / scallions, sliced on a bias
1 tsp cumin powder
4 dried japones chiles, minced
1/2 c fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 jalapeno (some seeds removed), minced
1 tsp minced shallot
1 clove garlic, minced
6 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/4 c olive oil
1/2 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the potatoes into 1/2" - 1" cubes, place into a large pot, and cover with 1" of cold water. Season the water with a fair amount of salt. Bring the water to a boil and cook for roughly 25 minutes. The potatoes are done when they are knife tender. Drain and allow the potatoes to cool in the colander.

In a small bowl, combine the chiles, cilantro, jalapeno, shallot, garlic, scallions, cumin, sugar, and rice wine vinegar. Slowly add olive oil while whisking until the dressing is emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Combine the cool potato and egg pieces in a large bowl and pour the vinaigrette over the top. Toss to coat. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

- M

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I consider myself to be "Jew-ish," a reflection of the fact that though an atheist, I was raised Jewish and still identify culturally as a Jew. The food, the names, the traditions - it's all a part of me, in spite of being a hybrid by blood.

A year or so ago I started cooking for family gatherings. It began with an innocent offer to provide a side course for Rosh Hashana. I roasted up some root vegetables and expected little-to-no fanfare. The result, however, was quite the opposite. "Delicious!" "I can't believe how good this is!" "Can I have the recipe?" I was shocked ... and hooked.

After the root vegetables were such a hit, my attempt at dessert met with a much lesser degree of success. (Who knew that macaroons - which require a grand total of 4 ingredients - could be so finicky?!) Kugel, however - an entree/dessert hybrid - has always been good to me. The recipe I use is by Kraft (yes, Kraft). It turns out beautifully every time, albeit using less vanilla than listed.

And finally, the
pièce de résistance, the Holy Grail of Jewish cuisine: beef brisket.

Growing up, the brisket was always provided by my late Great Aunt Zelda. I'm not even sure I was aware of what I was eating at such a young age, but it didn't matter. What I knew was that it was delicious, and unlike anything else I had ever eaten. The smell is beyond comforting - it's right up there with the cookouts on her screened-in back porch: boiled corn and hamburger patties with onion bits mixed in to keep them moist. After eating, we'd stroll down to the Barrington beach at the bottom of the hill to collect shells and sea glass, making sure not to let the cat out the front door. I miss those days.

When I offered to make brisket for Passover this year, I don't know what I was thinking. I had done a test run of Ina Garten's recipe a few months prior when preparing a Jewish meal for Matt's very Protestant family over Christmas break. Even though they had never had anything like it, they loved it, which I figured was either a really good sign or a terrible indication of its authenticity. Despite my doubts, I decided to go for it ... and it turned out great.



In a 9" X 13" oven safe baking dish, arrange similarly-sized chunks of your favorite root vegetables in a single layer. I like to use carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, turnips, and onions, and beets. I've used whole cloves of garlic as well, though it's just as effective to sprinkle some garlic powder over the top.

Drizzle with olive oil and dust with your favorite spices and/or dried herbs. You can use whatever you'd like: paprika, cumin, rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley, etc. Season liberally with salt and pepper, then give everything a good toss and place in a pre-heated 400 degree oven.

The key here is to ride that very fine line between caramelization and burning. Cook time is generally around one hour, but after the first half hour has passed, make sure to check on them every 10ish minutes to toss the vegetables and prevent sticking. When ready, they should be crispy and fork tender.

NOODLE KUGEL (modified)

(photo from

1 container (16 oz.) low fat cottage cheese
1 container (16 oz.) sour cream
1 cup sugar
5 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
1 tsp (NOT Tbsp) vanilla extract
1 large package (16 oz.) broad egg noodles (Kosher for Passover), cooked in salted water, drained, and tossed back into the pot and stirred with a pat or two of butter just for good measure
1 Tbsp cinnamon sugar (simply combine cinnamon and sugar in small bowl - should be a very light brown color when combined)

1 cup golden raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix cottage cheese, sour cream, sugar, eggs, butter, vanilla, raisins (if you'd like), and cooked noodles in a 9" X 13" greased baking dish.

Sprinkle the top with cinnamon sugar.

Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until center is set. Cool at least 10 minutes before cutting to serve.



6 to 7 pounds beef brisket
2 Tbsp kosher salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp minced garlic (4 cloves)
2 tsp dried oregano leaves
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
8 stalks celery, cut into 2-inch chunks
6 yellow onions, peeled and sliced
6 fresh or dried bay leaves
1 (46-oz.) can tomato juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the brisket in a heavy roasting pan. In a small bowl, combine the salt, pepper, garlic, and oregano. Rub the mixture on the brisket. Pile the carrots, celery, onions, and bay leaves on the brisket and pour in enough tomato juice to come about 3/4 of the way up the meat and vegetables. Cover the top of the pan with 2 sheets of parchment paper, then with aluminum foil. (The tomato juice will react unpleasantly with the aluminum foil if they touch.)

Bake for 3 1/2 hours, or until the meat is tender (NOTE: you could cook this forever ...). Remove the meat from the pan and keep it warm. Place the pan on 2 burners and boil the vegetables and sauce over medium heat for another 30 minutes, or until the sauce is thickened.

To serve, slice the meat across the grain. Serve with the vegetables.

- M

Oh, stuff. I love you.

As with clothing and shoes, there are loads of kitchen items I covet:

KitchenAid 12-Cup Food Processor

KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer

Weber Grill

All-Clad Roasting Pan

Le Creuset Round Dutch Oven

... the list goes on.

However, what I DO have and could not go without is (hold your tongue, haters) my Rachael Ray knives by Furi:

This apartment-warming gift from my Dad was a set of two (7-inch and 5-inch, I believe) in a custom bamboo case. They've held up quite well, though they dulled a bit after a year or so. Matt bought me the special sharpener and it does a pretty good job (though I remain convinced I'm using it incorrectly ... the thing is crazy).

I love these knives and use them every day. Paired with a plastic cutting board, there's no stopping them. Just remember: the safest knife is a sharp knife.

- M

¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Matt and I attended a Cinco de Mayo dinner party last night for which I offered to provide salsa, guacamole, and tortilla chips (Matt contributed two growlers of beer, which apparently wasn't enough for 5 twenty-somethings). A brief Google search brought me to Simply Recipes: Perfect Guacamole and Mango Salsa.

Due to only semi-ripe mangos (see "How to Select and Store Mangos" for tips I could've used yesterday) and a sub par dicing job on my part, the salsa was merely "good." The guacamole, however ... it was up there with the best I've ever had.

I used haban
ero chilis (no, not "habañero") and decided to include the seeds and the ribs. (NOTE: I'm not 100% sure they were habaneros since the grocery bin was unmarked, but judging by the pictures I've found, it seems to be the closest match.) Aside from the occasional blast, the overall heat factor was excellent.

When I purchased the avocados on Sunday, they were not yet fully ripe. However, time was of the essence and all the other stores were closed, so I figured I'd give the old "ripen in a brown paper bag" trick a try. Much to my excitement, it worked! By the next night, they were ready for scooping. (Vicki and Dumbo were more than happy to lick the spoon when I was done.) The recipe calls for mashing with a fork, but because I was doubling the recipe, a potato masher was much more appropriate.

My final note regarding these two recipes: if you don't have one already, invest in a hand juicer. We use a very simple plastic juicer like this (I honestly don't even know where it came from), though I would imagine the wooden variety would work well too - just make sure to watch for seeds if juicing a non-seedless fruit.

PERFECT GUACAMOLE (adjustments made)

(photo from SimplyRecipes)

5 ripe avocados
1/2 red onion, minced
2 habanero chiles, minced
1 ripe tomato, seeds and pulp removed, chopped
4 Tbsp cilantro leaves, finely chopped
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Coarsely ground salt (to taste)
A dash of freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

1. Cut avocados in half. Remove seed. Scoop out of the skin, put in a mixing bowl. Add the lime juice at this stage to prevent oxidation.
2. Using a potato masher, mash the avocado. Add the chopped onion, cilantro, peppers, tomato, salt and pepper, and mix. (Exercise caution when cooking with hot peppers; wash your hands thoroughly after handling.)
3. Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface of the guacamole to further prevent oxidation. Refrigerate until ready.

(adjustments made)

(photo from SimplyRecipes)

2 ripe mangos, peeled, pitted, and diced
1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 habanero chile, minced
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced (NOTE: scrape out the seeds with a spoon if desired)
3 Tbsp fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and season to taste.

- M

Test Kitchen; Test Blog?

I have no expectations regarding this blog ... other than expecting it to go pretty poorly. I mean, really - who blogs? Why would anyone want to read about my relatively mundane adventures in the kitchen? I have no answer to that question; however, I miss writing. I miss "creating."

Since leaving academia, my artistic outlets have all but disappeared. Up through high school, I rode horses, played cello, and sang. In college, I sang (way, WAY too much) and even made a brief foray into tap dancing. Now that I'm 25, working 9-to-5, and nesting out of wedlock, I've found my expressive outlets to be relatively limited.

One of the ways in which I've channeled this excess energy ("energy" being a relative term) is through fashion. I find great pleasure in pairing colors, shapes, and textures ... and digging myself into even greater credit card debt. I receive InStyle and Lucky Magazine, and am - like an idiot - a subscriber to various online sale outlets (e.g. Shop It To Me).

The other creative activity I've adopted is cooking. I've always loved eating ("She's a binger - but don't worry, she doesn't purge," said my Mom to my college roommate's aghast mother), but it wasn't until I moved into my own apartment that I really started exploring the art of cooking. I subscribed to Real Simple and Cooking Light and signed up for Boston Organics, a bi-weekly local organic fruit and vegetable delivery service. This in and of itself has had a major influence on my culinary inclinations. Would I have ever bought collard greens or swiss chard at the grocery store? No. Do I now know a half a dozen ways to prepare each? Yes.

Don't get me wrong - I have my limitations: Is the list of ingredients more than a dozen items long? Not happening. Is the prep time in excess of 1 hour? Not so much. Does the recipe even remotely resemble an episode of Good Eats? Oh HELL no. I keep it simple and I keep it honest, but I also try my best to keep it interesting. I could eat pasta or Chinese food takeout every single night of the week, but who knows how long I'd last before dying of scurvy, boredom, or morbid obesity.

My cooking so far has been met with mostly positive results. My boyfriend Matt is a willing - albeit disgruntled - guinea pig; he's convinced it's my life's mission to make him fat. My extended family has been pretty impressed by my contributions to holiday meals; however, you could put almost anything on a table in a room full of Jews and you bet your ever-expanding ass it'll be gone in under 30 minutes.

And so, here I am. Your everyday girl trying to find the pleasure and fun in everyday life. Bear with me, folks; I promise it's nothing you haven't read before.

- M