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

Pasta with Shrimp, Garlic, and Asparagus

Photo8J4Z47TN
When cell phones came out, I was the last one on the block to finally get one. And 11 years later, I finally got my own smart phone–the last one on the block again. Since March, I’ve been checking out these sites I’ve only heard about, Instagram being one of them. With Instagram, I can follow friends and celebrities by the photos of their lives. One of the people I follow is Amanda Hesser, former New York Times food writer who, with Merrill Stubbs, is the cofounder and CEO of Food52. A few weeks ago, she posted a photo of her first al fresco dinner, pasta with shrimp, lemon, garlic, and asparagus, with rose wine on ice. I had to make this! It looked delicious and what better way to welcome the warmer weather!

This recipe can almost fit into my Week Night Dinner Series and in fact, I did make it on a weeknight! Fresh shrimp sautéed with garlic and lemon, crunchy asparagus, a topping of freshly grated cheese, it was heaven in a bowl, and I had to resist taking a second helping. (The Eater of the House, on the other hand, obviously loved it. He finished it off—no leftovers for lunch!)

A delicious dinner was had that evening, alas indoors. This time of year, pop up rain showers and storms come along and can cancel all outdoor plans you may have for the evening. But no matter, it was still delicious and that’s what really counts. There is nary a raindrop on the forecast for tonight, so maybe I’ll make it again!

pasta pic
Pasta with Shrimp, Garlic, and Asparagus

For those gluten-intolerant, substitute white beans for the pasta. For those with shellfish allergies or vegetarians who don’t eat seafood, substitute white beans for the shrimp!

A couple teaspoons of olive oil and butter
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 shallot, chopped
¾ pound shrimp, fresh or frozen fresh (I used jumbo)
A couple splashes of dry white wine or vermouth (optional)
Crushed red pepper for heat (if desired)
3+ cups asparagus, chopped into about 2 inch pieces
½ pound (half a box) gemelli or penne pasta (you can really use whatever type of pasta you like)
The juice of one-half lemon
Slivered fresh basil
Grated cheese

1. In a medium-sized skillet, heat a couple teaspoons of olive oil and butter and melt gently. Add the garlic and shallot and cook just a minute or two, until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add the shrimp and cook until just pink. Add a little bit of wine and crushed red pepper, if using.

2. Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta. Set the timer and cook for about eight minutes. When there are two minutes left, add the asparagus and cook for the remaining two minutes. Drain well.

3. Add the pasta and asparagus to a serving dish, add the shrimp and toss gently. Add the juice of a half lemon and top with freshly grated cheese.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week

provenceProvence 1970 by Luke Barr
Ah, to spend just a few hours in the company of M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, Simone Beck, and Richard Olney in Provence, cooking and talking about food. And Luke Barr takes us there.

It’s not all bread and roses for these four stalwarts of the cooking world, as each were at their own personal turning point in their lives. Child and Beck are at odds, coming to a point in their professional relationship that they must sever the ties, while neither one wants to make the first move. Beard is nearby at a health spa, trying desperately to lose the weight that is impeding his health. And M.F.K. Fisher is at crossroads in her life; live in France or return to her beloved California.

It took me a while to get into this. I found in the beginning Barr’s voice was too loud, a somewhat pretentious writer (this probably has everything to do with the fact I listened to an interview with him a while back). But soon, I got lost in the story of these writers and cooks and enjoyed being at the dinner table, as well as enjoying the occasional visits from Judith Jones and Elizabeth David: Beard and Child’s renowned cookbook editor and the grande dame of English cooking. When the dining editor of the New York Times left, it was interesting to see all the speculation of who would take over the position. Talk about a who’s who of gossip!

To read books like this, with a deep look at the past with a nod to the future, always fascinates me. Child was just beginning her cooking show, and was at the start of her immense popularity. Beard, while ill for many years due to his health, lived for at least 15 more, continued to write cookbooks, many of them quite famous. Fisher continued to write and publish memoirs and cookbooks, as did Olney. But looking back on December, 1970, in Provence, the world was still open and free, with endless possibilities.

Pork Tenderloin and Cannellini Beans

tues mornThe weather this spring has been fickle; some days are so gorgeous I swear there has never been a more perfect day. Others are a bit on the cool side with wind, rain, and darkness. Mother Nature is having a hard time making up her mind what she wants the weather to be for us. My hope is with the turning over of the month, she’s decided she will continue to give us gorgeous days after her cold shoulder this past winter!

On these cool evenings, I still turn on the oven for a warm meal. And when I saw this recipe, I could already smell the rosemary, sage, and garlic. We have pork just a couple of times a month, since the Eater of the House doesn’t really like it, but I noticed he went back for seconds when I made this dish. I had forgotten how much I loved long-simmered beans with garlic and herbs. They were so delicious and leftovers for lunch the next day were even better!

This recipe is fairly easy and inexpensive to make. Once you brown the meat, just toss the beans, tomatoes, and garlic together, and pop it in the oven. I forgot to buy fresh sage, so I used a dash or two of dried to substitute and didn’t worry about topping with parsley, although the fresh herbs would be fantastic. This meal was delicious and I know I’ll be making it again when it starts to get really cold!

This ain't your mama's pork and beans!

This ain’t your mama’s pork and beans!


Pork Tenderloin and Cannellini Beans
This recipe originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Cooking Light magazine.

Yield: Serves 4 (serving size: about 3 ounces pork and 1/2 cup bean mixture)

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly crushed
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 (1-pound) pork tenderloin, trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 cup chopped tomato
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
1 cup unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 (15-ounce) can unsalted cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preparation
1. Preheat oven to 425°.
2. Combine rosemary, fennel seeds, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl. Rub spice mixture evenly over pork.
3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add pork; cook 9 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove pork from pan. Add onion and garlic; sauté 2 minutes. Add tomato and sage; cook 1 minute, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, chicken stock, red pepper, and cannellini beans, and bring to a boil. Return pork to pan, and place pan in oven. Bake at 425° for 12 minutes or until a thermometer registers 140°.
4. Place pork on a cutting board; let stand 5 minutes. Heat pan over medium heat; cook bean mixture 2 minutes or until slightly thickened. Sprinkle with parsley. Thinly slice pork; serve with bean mixture.

mayaMVK’s Endorsement of the Week
I was saddened to hear about the death of Maya Angelou last week. I blazed through her six-book memoir right out of college; at a directionless period in my life, I found her books inspirational to say the least. I feel fortunate to have been able to see her speak about 20 years ago. While approaching the stage, she recited her poem, “Phenomenal Woman” as she made her way to the podium. For those who know that poem, you know what a powerful moment she created.

A couple of years ago, I was listening to NPR’s Food podcast (it was December, so she kept me company on a snowy drive to work) and I enjoyed an interview with her about her newest cookbook. (Who knew she also was a food writer? Certainly not me!) There was something she said during that interview that struck me and has stayed with me for those three years. A young woman was in her home and they were eating sandwiches for lunch. The young woman insisted on standing at the counter instead of sitting at the kitchen table to eat. “To not sit at the table is to lose something that’s essential to community,” she said.

I have remembered her words ever since hearing that interview, especially in the morning, when I am running around making my lunch and breakfast, trying to get ready for work at the same time, and standing at the counter munching my piece of toast in between washing plates. But I stop myself and sit down, by myself, with my breakfast for at least a few minutes. Until the rush of the day begins again.

Because of the wonders of the Internet, I was able to find the interview for you! Maya Angelou’s Cooking Advice: Ignore the Rules. I like how she said she likes pepper, not too spicy, but enough to say “hello” to your taste buds.

When I finished writing this piece yesterday morning, this article on Maya and cooking appeared in the New York Times. I thought I would share this as well.