Summertime and the Cooking is Easy

morningWith all due respect to George Gershwin, Vermont this summer has seen waves of hot, hot, hot weather; so humid and sticky that all I want to do is sit in the river. On days like these, I find my appetite isn’t normal, so I try to make salads that are light, yet protein-filled enough so I don’t walk away hungry.

True Nicoise salad has tomatoes, olives, fava beans, and even anchovies. Mine is a bit different, adding some boiled potatoes, radishes that I had on hand, and a salmon salad I made which is just canned salmon, lemon juice, and some capers. I love salads that have a little bit of this and that, so you, too, can create your own riff on the salad, adding your own favorite vegetables and protein. If you’re a vegetarian, you can make a white bean salad in place of the salmon. The vinaigrette recipe will probably make more dressing than you need, but it will keep for at least a week if not longer in a cool spot in your kitchen or in the fridge.

misenplaceI created this salad to take on my annual trek to Lake George with friends a few weeks ago for a simple and delicious lunch. And it is one that is easy to tote if you’re going to the beach or for a picnic. See? >>>

Of course, soon after I wrote this recipe, the temperatures turned and I could finally turn on the oven again. So in the meantime, I’ll tuck this away for the next time we take a trip to the lake or the heat comes back–whichever comes first.

salad
MVK’s Nicoise Salad
2 red peppers, thinly sliced
1-2 cups green beans, steamed
4 small red potatoes, boiled and cubed
4 radishes, sliced into fourths
3 hard-boiled eggs

Salmon or tuna salad: tossed with fresh lemon juice and capers (optional)

Vegetarian option: One can of white beans, toss with a little bit of lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and chopped herbs.

Vinaigrette: 2/3 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup red wine vinegar (or a vinegar of your choice), 1-2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, ½ shallot (a couple teaspoons), finely chopped (optional). Whisk together.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week: Speaking of Summertime. . . 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less

The title sounds like an infomercial, but seven years ago, when Mark Bittman was still working for the Dining section of the New York Times, he produced this masterpiece; 101 super simple recipes for summer. This has been a savior ever since for those nights I’m not sure what to make, it’s too hot, or I need some creativity.

The recipes run the gamut: meat, vegetarian, gluten-free, vegan. And they are all so simple, that the 10 minutes is true. Cook up some bratwurst with apples and serve with coleslaw (#59) or saute shredded zucchini in olive oil, adding garlic and chopped herbs. Serve over pasta. (#45) Or Bittman’s own version of Nicoise Salad (#34) Lightly steam haricot verts, green beans, or asparagus. Arrange on a plate with chickpeas, good canned tuna, hard-cooked eggs, a green salad, sliced cucumber and tomato. Dress with oil and vinegar.

You can find the article here, 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less.

Peanutty Soba Noodles

rainbowI’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I always have a hard time bringing myself to buy some prepared foods if I know I can make it at home less expensively. If it’s the end of the week and the cupboards are bare, I sometimes go to a local supermarket to pick up something for lunch. This isn’t your usual IGA, it’s a high-end supermarket with a wonderful deli that carries lots of specialty cheeses, meats, and salads. And high-end equals high prices.

In the deli case, you can find small containers of egg, ham, and turkey salads, some with prices that range more than $7 a pound. They also make other specialty noodle salads: Thai, sesame, and peanut, with equally high prices. You get the idea, ridiculously expensive, since you can make a batch of egg salad or peanut noodles for a crowd for half the cost of one lunch.

This is my version of peanut noodles, one that is relatively inexpensive and which doesn’t require refrigeration immediately if you take it to a picnic. (Please note, this should be refrigerated at some point!) I made it for a picnic dinner a few weeks ago, and the Eater of the House took one bite and declared it delicious. This can be served as a meatless entrée or side dish, or add some tofu or grilled chicken to it to bulk it up. I wanted more veggies than noodles, but feel free to add more (or less) of either or both if you like. Experiment with other vegetables, maybe the crunch of kohlrabi? Or substitute another bean for the edamame. If you are eating gluten-free, look for gluten-free soba noodles (they are out there) or substitute rice noodles.

noodle saladPeanutty Soba Noodles

Baby carrots are perfect for making match-stick pieces! You can get shelled edamame in the freezer section; just put in a bowl and defrost for a little while. They thaw fairly quickly. 

8 oz. soba noodles, cooked and drained
1 TBS canola oil
1 c. shelled edamame
2 c. cucumber, peeled, halved, and seeded, sliced into half-moons
1 c. carrots, sliced into match sticks
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
Chopped scallions, a couple tablespoons

Peanut Sauce
¼ c. peanut butter (preferably chunky)
2 TBS rice wine vinegar
2+ TBS hot water
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. soy sauce or tamari
Sriracha sauce, to taste (optional)

1. Cook the soba noodles according to the directions. Rinse, add to a large mixing bowl, and toss with the canola oil.

2. Add the edamame, cucumber, carrots, and red pepper and toss.

3. In a small bowl, add all the ingredients for the peanut sauce and whisk. You want this fairly thin, add more hot water until you get the consistency you like.

4. Add half of the sauce to the noodles and veggies. Toss together and top with the scallions.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week: David Sedaris

sedarisOne of my favorite writers is David Sedaris. While he normally doesn’t write about food and dining, he was recently interviewed on the NPR show, “The Splendid Table,” by host Lynne Rossetto Kasper. The interview was great fun and I appreciated the conversation about dining, family dinners, what his dinner table is like now, and his obsession with his Fitbit. You can read the transcript or listen to the interview by going here.

Marinated Grilled Chicken Legs

My apologies for no food photo for this week, but I made the chicken to enjoy at our week of evening outdoor music! I think Mother Nature put on a better show this evening than the actual act!

My apologies for no food photo for this week, but I made the chicken recipe to enjoy at a week of evening outdoor music! I think Mother Nature put on a better show this evening than the actual act!

When I find a recipe I love, I tend to hold on to it and bring it into my cooking repertoire without looking back. This recipe is one of the best marinades out there, and you know I love it because I’ve been making it at least once every summer since it first appeared in Cooking Light in 2005!

Chicken legs are inexpensive and take well to marinades. Most everything on the ingredient list I have in the cupboard, so it’s just a matter of getting out the measuring spoons and pouring everything into a plastic bag. I’ve never used basil oil, just canola or vegetable oil, and I’ve also omitted the onion powder. It works well if you’re grilling or even roasting the chicken. The directions say to marinate for two hours, but I’ve marinated for a day and they’re still delicious.

I like to cook the chicken the night before, so there is cold chicken ready for a picnic the next day!

Marinated Grilled Chicken Legs
This recipe first appeared in the June 2005 issue of Cooking Light magazine.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 2 drumsticks)

1 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 1/2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons basil oil
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
8 chicken drumsticks (about 2 1/4 pounds), skinned
Cooking spray
Green onion strips (optional)

1. Combine the first 11 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add chicken to bag; seal. Marinate in refrigerator 2 hours, turning bag occasionally.

2. Prepare grill.

3. Remove chicken from bag, reserving marinade. Place reserved marinade in a small saucepan; cook over medium heat 3 minutes. Place chicken on grill coated with cooking spray; grill 30 minutes or until chicken is done, turning and basting occasionally with reserved marinade. Garnish with green onion strips, if desired.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week

gluten-freeGluten-free foods seem to be popping up everywhere; there is a gluten-free crust pizza at our pizza shop in our little town, you see it on labels from everything to crackers to meat (yes!), and the aisle that used to be reserved for “international foods” in the grocery store is now all gluten-free. I know restaurants have been hit hard by this food trend, and I read this article with interest last month in the New York Times about how the city’s high-end Italian restaurants are dealing with this. You can read the article here.

 

 

Forget No Gluten, No Dairy, and Your Diet: It’s Strawberry Shortcake Time!

berries
The strawberry season in Vermont consists of, if we’re lucky, two and a half weeks. With all due respect to California and Florida, you don’t know strawberries until you’ve had a Vermont one in July. Red, ripe, and juicy, set aside the sugar; they are sweet just on their own. I’m lucky there is a farm about three miles away and I can either pick my own or buzz up and get a couple of quarts to tide me over for the next couple of days, and to freeze, so I can have a little bit of summer in the colder months.

When I was growing up, there was always one night that we would have strawberry shortcake for dinner. That’s right, nothing but strawberry shortcake. And despite everything I know nutrition-wise, I have continued this tradition. I just can’t let a July evening go by without making biscuits and homemade whipped cream with fresh strawberries.

This is the way I grew up eating it, a bit biscuit-like “cake,” split it in the middle, fill the middle with whipped cream and lots of berries, and then top with more whipped cream and berries. While the Egg Biscuit Cake is from The New England Cookbook, by Brooke Dojny, the assembling instructions and whipped cream recipe are my own.

Luckily for myself and the eater of the house, the heat and humidity finally broke, so much so I needed to turn on the oven to warm up the kitchen! My suggestion would be if you have a small family to either make this for a dinner party or instead of making a cake, divide into drop biscuits. It really doesn’t last past a day. But then, there is always breakfast!

strawHomemade Strawberry Shortcake
1+ quart of strawberries, hulled and sliced (set aside eight perfect berries)

Egg Biscuit Cake
This cake recipe is published in The New England Cookbook by Brooke Dojny, 1999.

2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into about 10 pieces
1 egg
½ cup milk

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Generously grease an 8-inch cake pan.

2. Pulse the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a food processor. Distribute the butter over the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture looks crumbly. Whisk the egg with the milk in a glass measuring cup. With the motor running, pour the milk mixture through the feed tube and process just until the dough begins to clump together. (To make the dough by hand, whisk the dry ingredients together in a bowl, work in the cold butter with your fingertips, add the egg and milk and stir with a large fork to make a soft dough.) Scrape out onto a lightly floured board, knead lightly a few times, and roll or pat into an 8-inch round. (The dough can be prepared several hours ahead and refrigerated at this point.)

3. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan, patting it gently to the edges. Place in the oven and immediately reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Bake for 22 to 26 minutes until the shortcake is pale golden brown on top. Cool in the pan on a rack for about 10 minutes.

Homemade Whipped Cream
1 pint of heavy or whipping cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2-3 teaspoons vanilla extract

Pour the cream into a large bowl. Add the sugar and vanilla. With a hand mixer set on high, beat the cream until stiff peaks form—about 6 minutes or so. Set aside.

To assemble
Take the shortcake out of the pan and carefully slice it in half horizontally and divide. With the bottom of the shortcake, add some whipped cream and berries. Add the top of the shortcake, add more berries, whipped cream, and dot with the reserved whole berries.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week

Look at this gorgeous kale patch!

Look at this gorgeous kale patch!

Before I went home to a ton of strawberries, the Eater of the House and myself were lucky enough to be invited for a front-row seat to watch our local Fourth of July parade at our friends, Jo and Emmett’s house. Both eaters, readers, cooks, and artists, Emmett took me on a tour of his flower and vegetable gardens as I looked with envy. Living here on Bunny Hill, vegetables had a way of not making it to the dinner table, so I gave up vegetable gardening a long time ago.

Jo pointed out the kale and said she already had made my kale chips once this season, which reminded me I needed to make a batch myself!

So this week’s endorsement is make some kale chips! They are healthy, delicious, and low in calories–a terrific snack to counter-balance the shortcake!

Light, Quick, and Delicious: Zucchini and Red Pepper Frittata

This time of year, it’s great to have a quick yet light dish in your back pocket for those evenings when either you’re running late or you’re just not that hungry. Frittatas are a wonderful way to get your protein and vegetables; think a quiche without the crust, making it edible for those who are gluten-intolerant. Saute some veggies together, mix up some eggs, milk, and cheese, pour into a pan, and pop it into the oven. Dinner is ready in about 20 minutes!

I made this one lazy Tuesday night and served it with some steamed baby beet greens with butter and vinegar (my favorite way to have them) . It was the perfect meal; I wasn’t that hungry, but needed to eat something. I realized the red pepper was supposed to be roasted when I started. I already was running late, so I skipped that step, and sautéed them with the zucchini. I’m sure a roasted red pepper would be delicious, but if you need to save time, sauteing it was just fine.

With the basic egg and milk mixture, I thought of different vegetable combinations that could be delicious: chard, yellow squash, spinach, asparagus, mushrooms, young onions, maybe goat cheese instead of cheddar. Basically, a trip to the farmer’s market!

frittata

Zucchini and Red Pepper Frittata
This recipe originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of Cooking Light magazine.

Yield: Serves 6|

1 large red bell pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large zucchini, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
3/4 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces white cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
4 large eggs, lightly beaten

1. Preheat broiler to high.
2. Cut bell pepper in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet; flatten with hand. Broil 8 minutes or until blackened. Wrap ­pepper in foil; let stand 15 minutes. Peel and slice.
3. Preheat oven to 350°.
4. Heat a 9-inch nonstick, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add zucchini; cook 6 minutes. Stir in bell pepper; reduce heat to medium.
5. Combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Add to zucchini mixture; cook 2 minutes or until edges are set. Bake at 350° for 16 minutes or until center is set. Let stand 15 minutes. Cut into 6 wedges.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week: Try a Solo Lunch!
amuseIt has been years since I took myself out to lunch, but that’s what happened last week when I was in town for a seminar. I went to the bookstore to buy a novel I’ve been wanting to read and then walked around looking for a spot where I could have an al fresco lunch since the day was picture perfect: not too hot, a cool breeze, and low humidity. Being noon and a Friday, my first destination didn’t have outside tables available and I was pressed for time, but decided to continue my search. On a side street, away from the hustle and bustle and foot traffic, I found a lovely café with plenty of outdoor seating. The menu was small, but I decided on a favorite, Asparagus Risotto.

Either they give this to every diner, it was slow and the chef was experimenting, or they felt sorry for me because I was by myself, but I was treated first to an amuse-bouche. A crostini with caramelized onions and thyme, a slice of brie, a Granny Smith apple, and topped with a drizzle of maple syrup. (I wrote this down, so I can make it at home some day!). It was delicious and was just the right amount to tide me over until my entree.

risotto2The risotto was a dish of heaven. Creamy, with wild mushrooms and asparagus, lemon zest, and what I think was spicy paprika, since it was red and had a bit heat to it. It was just the right portion, total comfort food, and was absolutely delicious!

I checked in with my friends in London and Seattle, started my book, and thoroughly enjoyed having someone wait on me and do the cooking! If you ever find yourself in this situation, don’t be afraid to ask for a table for one; enjoy and meditate on the quietness and delicious food all by yourself. It put me in a good mood for the rest of the day!

It’s Mocktail Time!

One of my favorite things to do this time of year is sit outside in the sun with a book in my hand and a small glass of wine and some snacks on the table next to me. I will sit, getting warm and sun-drunk (note sun, not otherwise) for an hour or two until it’s time to go indoors and start making dinner. In the dead of winter I think about these days (often) and can’t wait for them to come back, where the attire is a t-shirt, shorts and no shoes, instead of many layers of fleece.

I decided to join a friend who was taking a week off from drinking alcohol for health reasons, all in the name of research. It was the perfect opportunity for me to create some mocktails for my special evening ritual! All three of these drinks are cool and refreshing, and virtually free of calories! Lots of times you’ll find people aren’t drinking alcohol for a variety of reasons and I find when I have guests it’s nice to offer something other than a glass of water. Next time you’re at the market, pick up some seltzer, limes, and mint and you will be able to sip to your heart’s desire with the knowledge your waistline will thank you and you can have as many as you want—with no after effects!

moctktail

MVK Mojito
As a former bartender, I always cut my limes is length-wise, then into six to eight wedges, so you get lots of juice. This mocktail takes just one wedge.

3-4 mint leaves
1 wedge of lime
Plain or lime-flavored seltzer water

Place the mint leaves and squeeze the lime juice into a rocks glass. (Set aside the lime wedge.) With the end of a wooden spoon, “muddle” the juice and mint together, pounding the leaves to get them soft. When finished, add an ice cube, the lime wedge, and seltzer water to the top.

Pomegranate Mocktini
This is the same recipe I use to make my Pomegranate Martinis in the winter, it’s just omitting the alcohol!

1 wedge of lime
Orange flavored seltzer water
Pomegranate juice

In a martini glass, squeeze the lime and leave in the glass. Add seltzer water to fill the glass, then top with a splash of pomegranate juice.

Strawberry Bellini
It’s strawberry season and this is the perfect mocktail to ring it in!

About 1 tablespoon of pureed fresh strawberries
Sparkling apple cider

Spoon the strawberries in a champagne flute and add the sparkling cider to the top of the glass. Top with a mint leave, if desired.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week
I read with interest the story last week of “Dr. Oz Goes to Washington.” The cardiothoracic surgeon was on Capitol Hill testifying before a Senate committee about false and deceptive advertising for weight-loss products. He has been known to promote weight-loss pills that have little to no proof that they work. I remember a couple of years ago, those “spam” ads you see on websites would have Dr. Oz touting how green coffee beans will make you lose weight. Although he was taken to task by the senators for using his show as a way of promoting these pills, he defended his promotion of these products, saying he has intensely studied them.

If I thought I could take a pill and could eat and drink what I want and not worry about gaining weight, I would have done this years ago. But what bothers me the most about this story is Dr. Oz has a following and many people believe what he says because he’s a medical doctor. Please don’t!

You can read more about the story here.

 

Flank Steak With Tarragon Green Beans

I love all the different colors of radishes this time of year.

I love all the different colors of radishes this time of year.

For seven years, I lived my life as a vegetarian. That said, it wasn’t until I grew old enough to listen to my body after a life-threatening illness that I realized that I really need to eat meat. (So apologies in advance to my vegetarian and vegan readers.) While I still have a mostly vegetarian diet, there are a couple of nights a week that meat is the main dish. Like the other evening.

When I was creating my grocery list and week’s menu of what I was going to make, I handed the June 2014 issue of Cooking Light to the Eater of the House and said, “Here, pick out your dinner.” I noticed he stopped at a couple of pages of “me” recipes, a bean dish, a farro salad, roasted halibut, and then he found it. “This,” he said, pointing to the picture of flank steak. “That’s what I want.”

I normally don’t cook beef that much outside of the occasional meatloaf and pot roast, and since we don’t have a grill at the moment, it would have to be broiled in the oven. No matter, the recipe looked delicious and I crossed my fingers for a successful meal.

This meal was beyond successful! Sometimes things in the kitchen just seem to come together like magic. After a long day, I made an easy rub for the meat and popped it under the broiler, trimmed the green beans and tossed them into boiling water, and made a nice salad with the above radishes and avocado. This definitely could be a Week Night Dinner, as there is very little prep and cooking involved and what takes the longest is waiting for the steak to finish cooking.

A few notes, the original recipe also had tomato bruschetta served alongside, which I included if you want to make. For the beans, hopefully your market carries the small containers of herbs, so you can buy a little amount, since you need a teaspoon or so. Also, I omitted the celery seed, I really don’t like that flavor. I couldn’t find Creole seasoning, so I used Cajun, which added a little kick. I thought since both were Louisiana-bred, wouldn’t it be the same?

The Eater of the House can be given full credit for this amazing dinner. In fact, I think he was patting himself on the back when he went back for thirds! He has declared it the best steak he’s EVER eaten! What cook could complain after a compliment like that?

steak2
Flank Steak with Tomato Bruschetta
This recipe originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Cooking Light magazine.

Yield: Serves 4 (serving size: 3 ounces steak and 1 bruschetta)

2 teaspoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/4 teaspoon Creole seasoning
1 (1-pound) flank steak, trimmed
Cooking spray
2 cups cherry tomatoes
4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 small shallot, chopped
4 (1-ounce) slices whole-wheat French bread baguette
1 garlic clove, halved

Preparation
1. Preheat grill to medium-high heat.

2. Combine canola oil, paprika, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and Creole seasoning in a small bowl. Rub spice mixture evenly over steak. Place steak on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 4 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Place steak on a cutting board; let stand 5 minutes. Cut across the grain into thin slices. Thread tomatoes evenly onto 4 skewers; grill 5 minutes, turning once after 3 minutes. Remove tomatoes from grill.

3. Remove tomatoes from skewers; coarsely chop. Place tomatoes, 2 teaspoons olive oil, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper, basil, and shallot in a small bowl, stirring to combine.

4. Drizzle bread slices evenly with remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil. Grill 30 seconds on each side or until toasted. Rub cut sides of garlic over one side of bread slices; top evenly with tomato mixture.

Tarragon Green Beans
1 pound trimmed green beans
2 quarts boiling water
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon finely chopped tarragon
1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preparation
Add green beans to boiling water; cook 4 minutes. Drain. Stir in butter, tarragon, vinegar, celery seeds, kosher salt, and pepper.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week

world cupIt’s World Cup time, when country after country compete for the top prize in soccer. I am the farthest thing from a sports junkie; I pay attention to whether the Yankees are beating the Red Sox, I watch college basketball in the winter when I’m knitting, and I watch the Super Bowl for the half-time show and that’s about it. I even had to ask my friends how often the World Cup comes around? (One year? Two years? The answer is every four.) So when it comes to sports, I’m all about the food. I love being invite to or hosting a Super Bowl or Final Four party because that means lots of delicious snacks and food! And look what I found to celebrate the World Cup, a bracket of food per country!

Will Switzerland’s fondue beat out Ecuador’s Chulpichochos? Will England’s Yorkshire Pudding smoke out Italy’s Pasta Pomodoro? You’ll have to check in to find out!

The World Cup of Food