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.

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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.

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!

Fish in Coconut Curry

I tend to be a creature of habit (and those who know me well won’t be surprised by this admission). Almost every Saturday, I go to my spin class, buzz home for breakfast and a shower, go to the post office and library, and then out to lunch and grocery shopping. And since I tend to have more time on Saturday nights to cook dinner, I like to buy something special. This usually tends to be fish since it is fresh and follows my rule of buying and cooking fish on the same day. So I am always looking for new and delicious fish recipes.

And this recipe doesn’t disappoint! Originally appearing in the April 2014 issue of Cooking Light (it also appears in the cookbook Global Kitchen), this warm fish dish is flavorful and relatively easy to make even for the less advanced cook. Just a little bit of chopping, toss everything together, and dinner is ready! I love Asian, Indian, and Thai foods, so with the curry powder and coconut milk, it was a perfect combination of all three. I served it with coconut rice; for my version I cook brown rice and add a little bit of coconut milk to the water and shredded coconut if I have it on hand. Grated ginger is also a good addition.

A few of my changes; since halibut wasn’t available, I used cod in replacement. Instead of light coconut milk, I used ½ cup whole and ¼ cup of water. I forgot the cilantro, but I think it would be a great addition. For vegetarians, I think you could substitute chickpeas or tofu for the fish. My only quibble was no zing! I love all things spicy, so I added some crushed red pepper to my serving, but next time I’ll add some jalapeno with the red pepper to spice it up!

fishstewpic

Fish in Coconut Curry (Mtuzi wa Samaki)
This recipe originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Cooking Light magazine.  

Tanzania sits at a crossroads in the spice trade routes from India. That’s why Indian spices ended up in so many Tanzanian dishes like this fish curry. The dish originated in Zanzibar but is now enjoyed all over the eastern coast of Africa. Coconut milk enriches the curry and gives it a tropical flavor. Serve over boiled yuca, potatoes, or rice.

Yield: Serves 4 (serving size: 1/2 cup sauce, 5 ounces fish, and 1 lemon wedge)
Hands-on: 20 Minutes
Total: 47 Minutes

Ingredients
1 (1 1/4-pound) skinless halibut or other firm white fish fillet
1 1/2 teaspoons Madras curry powder, divided
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 3/4 cups chopped tomato (2 large)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup light coconut milk
4 lemon wedges
Chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

1. Sprinkle fish with 3/4 teaspoon curry powder, 3/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper.

2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add fish; cook 4 minutes or until deeply browned on bottom but undercooked on top (fish will finish cooking later in sauce). Remove fish from pan.

3. Add onion and bell pepper to pan; sauté 4 minutes or until tender. Add ginger and garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add remaining 3/4 teaspoon curry powder, remaining 3/8 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, tomato, and lemon juice. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook 10 minutes or until tomato breaks down, stirring occasionally. Mash tomato with a wooden spoon.

4. Stir in coconut milk. Return fish along with accumulated juices to pan, browned side up. Reduce heat to low; cover and cook 8 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Cut fish into 4 equal portions. Spoon sauce into individual, shallow bowls; top each with a piece of fish. Serve with lemon wedges and chopped fresh cilantro, if desired.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week
416guNJMdHLI thought I was the only one in the world obsessed with Laurie Colwin and her food writing, but it turns out there is a whole new generation that is discovering her. A former essayist for Gourmet magazine, Colwin died at the young age of 48 of a heart attack. Her two books, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking sit on my writing desk as inspiration more than anything; reading her writing is like sitting down with a friend, it’s effortless. Last week’s Dining section of the New York Times included a wonderful story on Colwin and her new young followers. Here is a link to the article, I hope you enjoy!

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!

Coconut Curried Mussels with Cauliflower

Winter is here; the remaining fruit on the crabapple tree.

Winter is here; the remaining fruit on the crabapple tree.

I tend to do my grocery shopping on Saturdays and I frequently plan to try  a somewhat fussy recipe since I have more time to cook that night than during the week. So when I saw this recipe, I couldn’t resist it despite the long ingredient list. Mussels, coconut, curry, and cauliflower? What’s not to love? And with the heavy food laden season that is upon us, this was a perfect dinner with some crusty, warm bread and a side salad.

I recently discovered that mussels are best in months that have an “r” in them. Did you know that? Which explains why I see them on sale a lot in the late fall and early winter. I always find myself frustrated in the summer when I go to buy clams, because they are expensive and the amount you get doesn’t correlate with the pounds because they are weighed in their shell. But mussels usually are less expensive and frequently are bagged in one-pound nets.

My local Asian market is miles away, so when making this I substituted grated lime for the kaffir and left out the shrimp paste, and it was still delicious. And instead of Thai basil, I used just the usual Italian sweet basil and didn’t bother using the fresh dill weed.

DSCN0761Coconut Curried Mussels with Cauliflower
This recipe originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of Cooking Light magazine. I used yellow cauliflower, which added to the dish’s golden hue. 

Curry paste
2 tablespoons thinly sliced peeled fresh lemongrass
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon shrimp paste
1/2 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 kaffir lime leaf

Mussels
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cups small cauliflower florets
1 cup unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
1 cup light coconut milk
48 mussels (about 2 pounds), scrubbed and debearded
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons thinly sliced Thai basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Preparation
1. To prepare curry paste, combine first 11 ingredients in a mortar or bowl; grind with a pestle until mixture forms a smooth paste.

2. To prepare mussels, heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add cauliflower; sauté 3 minutes or until lightly browned. Stir in curry paste, stock, and milk; bring to a boil. Add mussels; cover, and simmer 5 minutes or until mussels open. Discard any unopened shells. Stir in lime juice and herbs. Spoon into shallow bowls; serve immediately.

Week Night Dinner Series: Shrimp and Bean Salad

DSCN0419This is one of those delicious dinners that doesn’t take a lot of time to make and is what my nutritionist would call a “balanced” meal: a good protein, good fat, and good carbs.

I had been thinking for some time of creating a salad including the shrimp I had in the freezer and a can of beans I had in the cupboard. So one lazy Friday night when I didn’t feel like cooking, this came together nicely and actually fits into the “Speedy Gonzales” category of last week’s blog and the Work Night Dinner series I began in the spring!

Don’t worry if you have frozen shrimp; when I got home from work, I pulled some out and put them in a bowl of cold water and went about doing stuff around the house. When it was time to make dinner, they were defrosted. Of course, you can buy fresh or frozen cooked shrimp, and that would make it even easier and quicker! This recipe is a cut, chop, throw everything into a bowl, and stir. Dishes like these are the best because they’re so easy!

Helpful Kitchen Tip: I always buy my frozen shrimp raw, because I think the frozen, cooked shrimp can sometimes be tough, even though for convenience sake they’re great. But if you have raw shrimp, they are super simple to cook. Warm a little bit of olive oil in a skillet, add the shrimp, and any seasonings you’d like (wine, garlic, onion) or nothing at all, and let it simmer for about three minutes. When they turn pink, they are done!

This is a perfect summertime dish to share with friends, so make it soon before the coolness of fall is upon us!

Shrimp and Bean Salad
A lot of this recipe is based on how you would like the dish; if you want more beans, more shrimp, more lime juice, let your own creative dishes flow with this! My recipe is just a baseline, go crazy and add other veggies or spices to this!

2-3 cups cooked shrimp
1 can Great Northern or cannellini beans (or another white bean), drained and rinsed
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
About one cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
About ½ avocado, diced
Some scallions, to taste
½ jalapeno pepper chopped, if desired
A little bit of cilantro, if desired
The juice of about ½ lime, or to taste

In a large mixing bowl, add the shrimp, beans, cucumber, tomatoes, avocado, scallions, pepper and cilantro, if using, and stir gently. Add the lime juice. Serve!