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!

 

A Homemade Valentine’s Day Dinner

I thought I’d pop in early this week to pass along a Valentine’s Day dinner menu for you in case you were thinking of making a special meal on Friday night! I’m not one to really celebrate Valentine’s Day, but I never need an excuse to make a nice dinner. Restaurants always raise their prices and they’re usually packed, so I usually opt for making a special dinner at home. CookingVintageValentineSince Friday is a work night, the choices on this menu is special enough for the holiday, yet easy enough to put together after a long week at the office.

So let’s start with cocktails! Since it’s a special night, it calls for making a special cocktail! Care to go retro? Try my ManhattanIf you want to splurge on the juice, try a pomegranate martini. Or if your meal is on the spicy side, how about a margarita?  

You must have something to serve alongside your cocktails! The stuffed mushroom recipe I make is easy, and you can make these the night before and just pop them in the oven when you get home. If you have extra time, this recipe for gougères is to die for, and are best right out of the oven–just don’t burn your tongue! Or this recipe for Artichoke Dip is always a crowd favorite. If it’s just the two of you, you can refrigerate the leftovers and warm the next evening and it will still be delicious.

Soup or salad? I will always go for salad whenever given the choice. You could make a simple salad of  greens but include something special like avocado or my favorite, Hearts of Palms. These run about $3+ a can, so I buy them only on rare occasions. Maybe a few grape tomatoes, a quick vinaigrette, and you’re set!

I always think seafood makes a special meal. You could make this scallop recipe (and forego the aforementioned salad), or linguini with clam sauce, which is quick and easy. Or what about this salmon recipe? Just pop the fish in the oven and make the quick sauce on the stove. If you have a little extra time and money, this Brazilian Stew is fantastic! A bit of crusty bread and dinner is served!

Dessert anyone? If you want something chocolaty, you could make these brownies the night before and serve warmed with a little bit of vanilla ice cream. Or what about gingerbread? This cozy cake is another recipe you can make in advance. Of course, one of the most special recipes of all is Julia Child’s chocolate mousse. This must be made in advance, so that way it will be ready and you can focus on the rest of the meal.

Whatever you have or make for dinner on Friday, whether it’s an elaborate four course dinner or takeout pizza, I hope you can share it with someone you love. Happy Valentine’s Day!

A Potluck Savior

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Hello, September.

Even though I love to cook, that doesn’t mean time is always on my side. And just because we’re past Labor Day weekend doesn’t mean you won’t be invited to a potluck supper or tailgate football party in the near future. When I am invited to a gathering and asked to bring a dish but I don’t have time to delve into my cookbooks to find that special something, I fall back on my potluck savior, Deviled Eggs. Almost everyone likes them and I guarantee you will go home with just your plate!

I usually think of these eggs as a summer dish, but you honestly can make them year-round for any get together–and I have. And making these are easy and includes three main ingredients: eggs, mustard, and mayonnaise, with a dash of salt and pepper and some paprika on top. The most time-consuming part is the boiling of the eggs!

Helpful Kitchen Tip: If you want to be a bit more upscale with your eggs, add a couple dashes of curry powder or some snipped chives to the filling. And if you want them to look extra special, place the mixed yolks into the corner of a plastic bag, snip off the end so you have a make-shift piping bag (like one used for frosting), and add the yolks to the egg whites in a fancy rosette!

Instructions:

Step 1. Take a Dutch oven and fill it with water. Put in as many fresh eggs as you would like, I usually make a dozen, and make sure all the eggs are covered with water. Bring the pot to a boil and cook at a simmer for about 15 minutes. When done, drain the eggs in a colander, place them back in the pot, and continue to flush with fresh, cold water until the eggs are cooled. From here, you can either make the eggs or set them in a bowl in the fridge until you are ready for Step 2.

Step 2: Carefully peel the shell off of each egg and place them in a bowl. With a sharp paring knife, slice each egg in half vertically, placing the egg white on a platter and the egg yolk in a separate bowl.

Step 3: Take a fork and mash the egg yolks until all are broken. Add a little bit of mayonnaise to the yolks, mix, then add a little bit of mustard (Dijon or yellow). I keep alternating these bit by bit until I have the right consistency as well as the right flavor. (I always use more mustard than mayonnaise.) Add salt and pepper to taste.

Step 4: With a teaspoon or with the plastic bag method noted above, fill each egg white with a bit of the yolk and continue until they are all equally divided. Sprinkle some paprika powder (I like the hot Hungarian for some heat) over the egg yolks and voilà! Your appetizer is ready for company!

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Spring Radishes with Chive Butter

The weather this past Saturday was spectacular, but was I in the flower garden doing the weeding I should have done last fall? Of course not! We took a quick jaunt to the lake for the first time this year to rest and read in the late afternoon. Nevermind the state parks aren’t open yet and it was a bit breezy, a quick walk was all I needed to warm up. But the walk got me thinking of summer, picnics, and what I was going to pack in that basket!

A few nights ago, my favorite local bakery (I’ve written about them here), mentioned they were serving French bread with radishes and chive butter. It sounded delicious, and since I had all four ingredients in the house, I decided to add it to the dinner I was making that night.

I love all alliums of all sorts, but I’m especially fond of chives. I love them snipped into some scrambled eggs with some creamy cheese added or with mashed potatoes. The chive bed is the first to pop up in the spring in my little herb garden and I’m always looking for ways to use them; I hate to think of those gorgeous green wisps being wasted on the wildlife that frequents the backyard!

So for this recipe, no measurement is needed. First off, take some fresh radishes and slice them paper-thin with a paring knife. Next, take a small bowl and add some softened  butter, unsalted or salted, whichever is handy and warm, and add some snipped chives, however much you want, a little or a lot. Spread the butter on a slice of warm French bread. Top with the sliced radishes. If you’re feeling ambitious, you could add some baby arugula or watercress and make a sandwich. And if you’re feeling extremely ambitious, I couldn’t help but think if you had a slice of homemade French bread right out of the oven that it would bring you one step closer to heaven!

This would be perfect to add to your picnic basket this summer as it doesn’t take up a lot of room, is relatively easy to pack, and you can eat it with your fingers. And like I do with my summer herbs and fresh garlic (see here), you can make a big serving, wrap tablespoon dollops in plastic wrap, and freeze for later use!
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That’s Amore!

CookingVintageValentineI have never been one to go out for a big high falootin dinner on Valentine’s Day evening. The restaurants are packed and the prices raised just for this one meal. Home cooking is always healthier, and less expensive, and in some (many?) cases, just better tasting.

If you are thinking of making dinner tomorrow night, I thought I would give you a dinner menu that is special enough for the holiday, but also easy enough so it can be put together on a work night.

Depending on how fancy the dinner is, how about starting with some appetizers? The stuffed mushroom recipe I make is easy, and you can make these the night before and just pop them in the oven when you get home. If you have extra time, this recipe for gougères is to die for, and are best right out of the oven–just don’t burn your tongue!

Soup or salad? I will always go for salad whenever given the choice. You could make a simple salad of  greens but include something special like my favorite, Hearts of Palms. These run about $3 a can, so I buy them only on rare occasions. Maybe a few grape tomatoes, a quick vinaigrette, and you’re set!

I always think seafood always makes for a special meal. You could make this scallop recipe (and forego the aforementioned salad), or linguini with clam sauce, which is quick and easy. Or what about this salmon recipe? Just pop the fish in the oven and make the quick sauce on the stove.

Dessert anyone? That is, if you haven’t given up sweets for Lent! If you want something chocolaty, you could make these brownies the night before and serve warmed with a little bit of vanilla ice cream. Or what about gingerbread? This is warm and cozy and another recipe you can make in advance. Of course, one of the most special recipes of all is chocolate mousse, and this must be made in advance, so you can focus on the rest of the meal.

So open up a bottle of your favorite wine, turn on Dean Martin, and just relax and cook for the ones you love.

New Year Cheer!

In the last week, the ground was green and we've had a wind storm, a rain storm, and now a snow storm that has brought us more than a foot of snow! It will be a white New Year's!

In the last week, we’ve had a wind storm, a rain storm, and now a snow storm that has brought us more than a foot of snow! It will be a white New Year’s!

I always find the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day a perfect time to invite friends and family over for some cheer and small snacks. Cocktail parties are perfect any time; simple drinks and some nibblies to munch on make for an enjoyable evening (for the cook!) that isn’t focused on a large meal.

I have been making this stuffed mushroom recipe for years and always around the holidays. Relatively easy to put together, they always are a hit, and are easy travelers; you can assemble and bake when you arrive. They are, of course,  best right out of the oven, nice and hot.

The pomegranate martini is a based on one I saw Rachael Ray make on an episode of Oprah years ago. I wrote down the measurements, but through the years I’ve developed my own recipe.

However you celebrate the new year, I hope 2013 will be even better for you than 2012!

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Stuffed Mushrooms
From Prevention’s The Healthy Cook, p. 550.

16 large mushrooms, cleaned
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3 Tablespoons dry sherry or nonalcoholic white wine
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tablespoon unseasoned dry bread crumbs
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 9” x 13” no-stick baking dish with no-stick spray and set aside.

Remove and finely chop the mushroom stems; set aside.

In a cup, combine the oil and sherry or wine. Pour 2 tablespoons of the mixture into a medium no-stick skillet, reserving 2 tablespoons. Warm the skillet over medium-low heat. Add the chopped stems and sauté for 6 minutes, or until the mixture is dry.

Add the parsley, Parmesan, bread crumbs, garlic, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of the remaining sherry mixture until moistened.

Spoon the mushroom mixture into the caps. Place in a single layer on the prepared dish. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the caps are tender and heated through. Halfway through the cooking time, brush the caps with the remaining 1 tablespoon sherry mixture. Serve hot.

Pomegranate Martini
Serves 1, can be easily doubled, tripled, etc.

2 parts vodka
1 part orange flavored liquor
A splash of 100 percent pomegranate juice
Juice of a lime quarter

Cook’s Notes
• While I love Cointreau, the cost is prohibitive most of the time. Triple Sec is a good substitute that is a lot less expensive.
• For the juice, use only 100 percent pomegranate juice, no additional fruit flavors. Trust me, I’ve tried other mixtures, but the Pom Wonderful juice is the best.

Gougères (or Fancy Cheese Puffs)

Many a Sunday morning in the cooler months, you can find me hunkered over my computer writing in one of the best bakeries I’ve ever visited. The Vergennes Laundry (written up in the New York Times here) is a small authentic French bakery with incredible pastries and delicious, dark coffee. If I’m there in the morning, it’s a croissant, and late morning to early afternoon, they start bringing in more goodies for something more substantial. (My latest favorite is gilfeather (turnip) rosemary tarte flambée, which is dough topped with cheese, sweet turnips, rosemary, and sea salt.) Lots of delicious little bits and pieces here and there, and sometimes I’ll bring home a tiny truffle for later. Writing, eating, and reading the Sunday The New York Times, I’m in heaven; it’s a great way to wile away the cold days with a cozy spot at the table and the wood fire ovens warming the room.

One of their treats are gougères, which I would describe as a cross between a cheese puff and a small popover. And like everything, they are delicious. Warm cheese mixed with herbs in a puffy roll. So I decided I wanted to make these at home. And boy, did I find a recipe!

David Lebovitz is the author of the book, The Sweet Life in Paris. A former pastry chef at Alice Water’s famous Oakland restaurant, Chez Panisse, Lebovitz decided following a couple of life changes to pack it up and move to Paris. If you want a food memoir that makes you laugh and drool, this is a great book. He gives stories of being an American living in France and ends each chapter with a recipe. So when I was looking for a gougère recipe online and I found his, I didn’t need to look any farther. His recipe is clear, easy to follow, and the results incredible.

I found myself home alone with a hunk of Vermont cheddar cheese in the fridge on election night. I had time while I was waiting for the polls to close and knew what I was going to make. Don’t be intimidated by the long recipe; it’s just eight ingredients, but read the recipe over carefully, as his instructions are really helpful. These made for a perfect dinner with a salad and a glass of wine. But I also thought they would be great for a cocktail party, pop them in the oven, and pull them out when your guests walk in the door. I would recommend eating soon after they come out of the oven; no, I didn’t eat the whole batch (although I came close!), but they definitely lost something the next day.

I don’t have a pastry bag, so I used a heavy plastic bag and snipped off the end. I found this a bit messy and difficult; I’ve never done this before and lost a lot of batter trying to get it in the bag. (My batch only made 20, not 30.) Next time I think I’ll just use a spoon–or find someone to hold it open!

Gougères
From davidlebovitz.com

About thirty bite-sized puffs

Two things to keep in mind when making these. One is that you should have all the ingredients ready to go before you start. Don’t let the water and butter boil away while you grate the cheese. Otherwise you’ll lose too much of the water. Second is to let the batter cool for a few minutes before adding the eggs so you don’t ‘cook’ them. Make sure when you stir in the eggs that you do it vigorously, and without stopping. I’m not a fan of extra dishes to wash, but the intrepid can put the dough in a food processor or use an electric mixer to add and mix the eggs in quickly.

If you don’t have a pastry bag with a plain tip, you can put the dough into a freezer bag, snip off a corner, and use that. Or simply use two spoons to portion and drop the dough onto the baking sheet. This recipe can easily be doubled.

1/2 cup (125ml) water
3 tablespoons (40g) butter, salted or unsalted, cut into cubes
1/4 teaspoon salt
big pinch of chile powder, or a few turns of freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 cup (70g) flour
2 large eggs
12 chives, finely-minced (or 1 to 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme)
3/4 cup (about 3 ounces, 90g) grated cheese (See above for ideas)

1. Preheat the oven to 425F (220C.) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat.
2. Heat the water, butter, salt, and chile or pepper in a saucepan until the butter is melted.
3. Dump in the flour all at once and stir vigorously until the mixture pulls away from the sides into a smooth ball. Remove from heat and let rest two minutes.
4. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring quickly to make sure the eggs don’t ‘cook.’ The batter will first appear lumpy, but after a minute or so, it will smooth out. (You can transfer the mixture to a bowl before adding to eggs to cool the dough, or do this step in a food processor or electric mixer, if you wish.)
5. Add about 3/4s of the grated cheese and the chives, and stir until well-mixed.
6. Scrape the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a wide plain tip and pipe the dough into mounds, evenly-spaced apart, making each about the size of a small cherry tomato.
7. Top each puff with a bit of the remaining cheese, the pop the baking sheet in the oven.
8. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375F (190C) and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, until they’re completely golden brown.

For extra-crispy puffs, five minutes before they’re done, poke the side of each puff with a sharp knife to release the steam, and return to the oven to finish baking.

Serving: The puffs are best served warm, and if making them in advance, you can simply pipe the gougères on baking sheets and cook right before your guests arrive, or reheat the baked cheese puffs in a low oven for 5-10 minutes before serving. Some folks like to fill them, or split them and sandwich a slice or dry-aged ham in there, although I prefer them just as they are.

A bit of troubleshooting: The most common problem folks have with pâte à choux, or cream puff dough, is deflated puffs. The usual causes are too much liquid (eggs), or underbaking. Make sure to use large eggs, not extra-large or jumbo, and use a dry, aged cheese, if possible. And bake the puffs until they’re completely browned up the sides so they don’t sink when cooling. If yours do deflate, that’s fine. I’ve seen plenty of those in France, and I actually think the funky-looking ones have a lot of charm—and you’re welcome to quote me on that.