Mediterranean Kebabs

lilacs

The lilacs are finally in bloom! I could bury my nose in their wonderful scent all day long!

This week’s dish can’t even be defined as a recipe, it’s more like a set of instructions!

A few weeks ago I was going to book club and instead of a green salad, I wanted to do something that was a little bit out of the box, was delicious, and the most important thing, I had about 15 minutes to put it together! So I created these vegetable kebabs, which can be used as an appetizer or in place of salad for dinner. Veggies, a little bit of cheese, and the flavor of fresh basil, they even make for a wonderful for lunch! Once you have everything chopped and ready to go, it really is done in 15 minutes!

I made mine with chunks of European cucumber, a baby mozzarella ball, a piece of fresh basil, and grape tomato sliced in half. I topped with some salt and pepper and a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. I thought a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar could be a good addition, too. I kept the order the same and made two rounds on the skewer. The skewers I have are six-inches long, just the right size, since these aren’t going on the grill.

You can make these with pieces of meat (think salami, spicy ham), different veggies (red, yellow, and orange peppers would be great!), with or without cheese, even fruit. Think about what flavors will go with what vegetables. Basil is the perfect herb since it is flat. I can’t think of another herb that would work quite as well, can you?

I have a potluck dinner to attend later on this week and will be toting these along. I think the kebabs are going to be made a lot in the coming months—a no-cook meal, they are perfect for those evenings when it’s too hot to turn on the stove!

 

Photo-skewers

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week
As I sat down wondering what I would endorse this week, my mind wandered to my adventures this past weekend. It’s garage sale season, and you will never know what kind of cookbooks you will find!

photo-coookbookI found this cookbook by local food writer, Andrea Chesman. I have a couple of her books and the recipes are always great. The book was in perfect condition and I paid $1 for it! (The price was .50, but since it was for the historical society, I said they could keep the change, big spender that I am!) So now that it is warmer weather, get out and check out some book sales! You may never know what gems you will find!

 

Crab Cakes with Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

It's finally GREEN outside!

It’s finally GREEN outside!

No more talk about cold weather, it is finally spring! The crabapple trees are flowering, the lilacs are in bloom, I’ve been hiking, and the lawn has been mowed twice!

I made these crab cakes a couple of weeks ago, and I think they are restaurant quality–or at least guest quality! So, a story. I was excited to find a pound of crabmeat in the fish section of the supermarket for $10. And it wasn’t until I looked at the label, and noticed it was claw meat, not lump crabmeat. That container was another $10. I’d definitely splurge if serving guests, but if it’s just dinner for the family, the claw meat is a good, less expensive substitute. Perhaps not as flavorful, but it was still delicious.

So being springtime, before it gets too warm, make a batch of these and have an al fresco evening with crab cakes atop fresh lettuce and a crisp glass of white wine. You won’t be sorry!

clamcakes
Crab Cakes with Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
This recipe originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Cooking Light magazine.

Yield: Serves 4 (serving size: 2 crab cakes and 2 tablespoons dressing)

Crab cakes
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon canola mayonnaise
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2/3 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1 pound lump crabmeat, shell pieces removed
3 tablespoons canola oil, divided

Dressing
1/3 cup whole buttermilk
1 tablespoon canola mayonnaise
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 small garlic clove, grated
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley, divided
1 teaspoon minced fresh dill, divided
Bibb lettuce leaves

Preparation

1. To prepare crab cakes, combine first 6 ingredients (through egg) in a medium bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Stir in panko. Add crabmeat; stir gently to combine. Let mixture stand for 10 minutes.

2. Divide crab mixture into 8 equal portions; gently shape each portion into a 3/4-inch-thick patty. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add 4 patties to pan; cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until golden. Remove patties from pan; keep warm. Repeat procedure with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil and remaining 4 patties.

3. To prepare dressing, combine buttermilk and next 4 ingredients (through garlic), stirring with a whisk. Stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons chives, 3/4 teaspoon parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon dill. Arrange lettuce leaves on a platter; top with crab cakes. Spoon dressing over crab cakes; sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons chives, remaining 3/4 teaspoon parsley, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon dill.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week
phototjs
I feel as if I’m the last person in the country who has never been to a Trader Joe’s grocery store—until last weekend! For months, I’ve been waiting with excitement for the first Trader Joe’s to open in Vermont. Crazy me, because my day plans had changed, I went up on Day Two at 1 p.m., prime lunch hour! And thought I would do a week’s worth of grocery shopping! It was incredibly busy, with people more window shopping than food shopping, but I made it through the aisles and wasn’t disappointed. Prices were extremely fair and I ended up getting most everything on my list! I also like that there isn’t a lot of variety; even though I love food and love to cook, sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the choices for just one product in the grocery store. The location is away from my regular route, but I have a feeling I’ll be taking the long way home and stopping by after work during the week to get groceries!

Week Night Dinner Series: Chicken Marsala (or Madeira) with Pasta

One thing I like to do to challenge myself as a cook is to recreate dishes I eat in restaurants. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but I always find the attempt fun. One afternoon, the Eater of the House and myself stopped for a late lunch after a morning of traveling. My meal was mediocre, but the dish he ordered was delicious. What I thought was going to be traditional Chicken Marsala turned out to be pieces of Chicken Marsala in a creamy sauce over pasta. I took only one bite, but I thought it would be easy to recreate for a work night dinner. And I was right! There was only one problem. And let this be a word to the wise to all cooks: make sure you know what is in your cupboard before you start cooking!

I could have sworn I had an old bottle of Marsala wine lingering in the far back of the liquor cabinet. But as I was making the sauce and reaching down beneath, I came up with two different kinds of sherrys and Madeira, but no Marsala! So in an effort to turn lemons into lemonade (by no means a reference to last week’s post!), I pulled out the Madeira, since it is the closest in taste to M­arsala and used that instead. I had bought it for making turkey gravy at Thanksgiving, and it has a rich, deep flavor that’s good for cooking. And it worked!

I made the sauce a little thinner than the one in the restaurant and served it over egg noodles topped with a little bit of cheese. For those going the gluten-free route or wanting more vegetables, I thought it would be great over sautéed zucchini or even rice or couscous.

This photo makes it look like my portion look gigantic! (I swear it really wasn't!)

This photo makes it look like my portion look gigantic! (I swear it really wasn’t!)

Chicken Marsala (or Madeira) with Pasta
When making the sauce, start with a 1/2 teaspoon of cornstarch and whisk; that may be all you need to get it a little thick. If it’s still thin, whisk in another 1/2 teaspoon of the cornstarch. The sauce isn’t thick like an Alfredo sauce, but a little thicker than a wine sauce. You’ll have less than a half cup of sauce; I found a little bit gives a lot of flavor to the chicken and mushrooms.  

8 ounces of mushrooms, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
4 teaspoons olive oil (separated)
1 ½ pounds chicken breast, thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon butter
3 Tablespoons shallots
½ cup Marsala or Madeira wine
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 Tablespoon of half and half or cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Cheese for topping

1. In a medium-sized skillet, warm 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cook until all the water has evaporated and they are brown. Put into a dish and set aside.

2. With the same skillet, warm the other 2 teaspoons of olive oil and when warm, add the chicken and cook until it is done and no longer pink. Remove from heat and add the chicken to the bowl of mushrooms.

3. In the same skillet, melt the butter gently. Add the shallots and cook a few minutes until they are soft. Add the wine, bring to a boil, and add the cornstarch, a 1/2 teaspoon at a time and whisk. When it starts getting a little thick, add the cream. Add the chicken and mushrooms to the pan and stir until everything is covered in sauce.

4. Serve by itself or over a small bed of egg noodles. Add salt and pepper to taste and top with a little bit of cheese.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week

deliciousIf you have looked on my website where I extol the genius of all of my favorite food writers, you’ll know that Ruth Reichl is at the top of the list. So when I was given the opportunity to receive an advanced readers copy of her newest book and first work of fiction, Delicious!, I jumped at the chance! (A big thank you to the absolutely fabulous Random House reps, Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman, of the podcast Books on the Nightstand and Booktopia fame!)

Delicious! is custom-written for people like me, someone who loves food and loves to read about it. Delicious! is a longtime food magazine in the vein of Gourmet, and we meet our protagonist, Billie Breslin, just as she is hired as the assistant to the editor. When the magazine suddenly seizes publication, Billie is kept on to answer the Delicious! guarantee to readers; if readers have a problem with a recipe, the magazine will return their money for the ingredients. It’s here that Billie enters the magazine’s library, where she comes upon letters written by a girl from Akron named Lulu to James Beard during World War II.

This book has it all: food, food, and more food, a touch of mystery, intrigue, and romance, plus Reichl’s trademark beautiful descriptions of food, clothing, architecture. I know I love a book when it is hard to put down and even harder to do anything else but read! I let a lot of things go in the book; Lulu’s letters didn’t sound like they were written by a 12-year-old, the requisite ugly duckling turning into a swan, and just enjoyed the ride. And I love that there was a nod to Bonnie Slotnick of Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, a bookstore in New York City that is only cookbooks. And I have a feeling I’m going to be making a soufflé and a pan of gingerbread very soon! (You also may find me foraging for milkweed in the fall; I really want to know if it tastes like cheese!)

I’m Back! With Stories and a Recipe

Good Wednesday morning! I hope everyone’s April was warm and lovely! We had about four days of warmth, and those four days were spent with my fabulous friends at a wonderful book event we go to every year! Seven of us women are a force to be reckoned with; we live all over the world, and I swear, between us all, we could rule the world! Four days of laughing, talking, walking, eating, drinking, books, authors, it was heaven! Coincidentally, this event also happened right before my birthday, which made the actual day doubly special to me.

Dinner with my Fabbies.

Dinner with my Fabbies.

 

photo (3)As I mentioned last time, I was a moderator at the Newburyport Literary Festival at the end of the month. My author whose session I moderated, Abigail Carroll, wrote the fascinating book, Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal. My friend, Jennifer, (pictured on the bottom right of the dinner photo) is a co-director of this lovely one-day book festival, and she asked me last fall if I wanted to moderate a food discussion. This was so much fun and I had a great time!

photo (4)It was SRO (Standing Room Only) in the art gallery where our talk was held (and I knew only four people in the audience!), the questions were insightful, and the hour whizzed by as we discussed the history behind our breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

If you ever get the opportunity to be in Newburyport, Massachusetts, in April, check this festival out. This year, 70 authors spoke in ten different locales around the town; it’s a book lover’s dream!

* * * *

So now that my busy month is over, it’s back to eating and cooking at home.

The Eater of the House came home the other day with a bag of lemons. Now, I usually buy a lemon or two each week at the supermarket for fish and sometimes my martini, but this was three pounds of lemons! There is only so much lemon water and lemon chicken I can stand! I think regret set in when he realized just how many lemons we had, so the request was made to “find a recipe!” It’s still too cold for lemonade and I really don’t like lemon meringue pie, but I do like lemon muffins!

Since it is Mother’s Day this weekend, I thought this would be a perfect recipe to bring to you, because brunches are popular for our moms, and these are light and tasty for a late morning/early afternoon meal. I used frozen blueberries, since the fresh berries this time of year have no flavor; just put them in a bowl to thaw for 30 minutes or so.

While it didn’t use as much lemon as I would have liked, I have enough to make a second batch!

muffns

Lemon-Blueberry Muffins
This recipe originally appeared in the April 2003 issue of Cooking Light.
Yield: 1 dozen (serving size: 1 muffin)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup butter
1 1/4 cups low-fat buttermilk
1 large egg
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
1 cup blueberries
Cooking spray
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Preparation
1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (flour through nutmeg) in a medium bowl; cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal.

3. Combine buttermilk, egg, and rind; stir well with a whisk. Add to flour mixture; stir just until moist. Gently fold in blueberries.

4. Spoon batter into 12 muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until the muffins spring back when lightly touched. Remove muffins from pans immediately, and place on a wire rack to cool.

5. Combine lemon juice and powdered sugar in a small bowl. Drizzle glaze evenly over cooled muffins.

Note: You can make these muffins up to 2 days ahead and glaze them the morning of the brunch.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week
Hopefully, you aren’t too tired of me spouting the brilliance of food writer, Mark Bittman of the New York Times. I found this April 29th editorial he wrote in the paper and just loved it; comfort food, childhood memories, with a side of food politics. And of course, bagels and lox. My favorite.

Bagels, Lox and Me