Tips for the Big Day + Week Night Dinner Series: Chicken (or Tofu) Stirfry with Spicy Peanut Sauce

imagesI can’t believe another year has passed and I’m talking about Thanksgiving again! Wasn’t it just a month or so ago I was making black-eyed peas for good luck for the coming year? (Which, by the way, has been pretty good, so I’m going to continue the tradition!).

We are coming upon the biggest cooking day of the year (and since the first day of Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving Day this year, this makes it doubly so!), and as has been my custom, I’m going to give you my tips for making it relatively stress-free and fun. Some of these tips may seem elementary, although to me they make the actual battle of getting everything ready all at once easier. Some of these tips are mine and some are other cook’s tips I’ve collected through the years that work for me. Whether you’re cooking Thanksgiving for ten or having a dinner party at another time of the year, I find these tips are good to have in your back pocket.

My Vermont Kitchen’s Thanksgiving Cooking Tips
• This goes without saying, but prepare some items the day before or even two or three days before. Make this weekend your friend; rolls can be made and frozen until Thursday morning. Squash can be made Monday or Tuesday, make and bake your pies late Wednesday evening, that way you’re not trying to jockey for space in the oven with your turkey the next day.

• Make sure your knives are sharp! I made this tip last year when my dad found my knives were less than sharp when he was carving the turkey. (He has since given me a hand-held knife sharpener.) If you don’t have one, find a kitchen shop that does sharpening and take them in this weekend. This will make carving the turkey all that much easier–and everything else for months to come!

• On Wednesday, take out all serving bowls and utensils and assign dishes to each one. This saves a lot on the “what bowl is the stuffing going into?” questions when you have some ravenous people hovering at your elbow in the kitchen. I put the assignments on scraps of paper and place them inside each bowl or plate, which I find helps my memory immensely the next day. Make sure all china, glasses, and linens also are cleaned and ready to go, so all I have to do Thursday morning is set the table. If necessary, do the wash this weekend so it’s not a last-minute chore during the week.

• For me, the most important piece of paper in the kitchen will be my timeline. I take my menu, figured out how long the turkey was going to cook and what I have to do when it comes out of the oven. So I have everything down to the time, “10 a.m., turkey in the oven; at 12:45 see if it’s almost done and start the potatoes” etc. This allows me to easily whisk around the kitchen and for everything to be done pretty much at the same time (fingers crossed!). This method also is good for any meal you’re cooking while entertaining, as I have a habit of forgetting things once the door opens and the guests arrive!

• Since almost all of us have one oven, prime real estate in the kitchen is small. Last year, at the suggestion of “America’s Test Kitchen,” I pulled out my crock pot for an additional burner! Set to low, it warmed my squash wonderfully and freed up an extra burner.

• A small, old-fashioned relish plate as an appetizer. So many times I’ve made a couple of appetizers, which fill up your guests before the meal. How about some carrots and celery sticks, a bowl of black olives, and cornchicons? Just a little something light to tide everyone over before dinner. Sliced fennel with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper is another tasty treat. Serve with toothpicks

• Instead of putting all the dishes on the table, finding room among the arms and elbows, I set up the kitchen table as a buffet, so people can fill their plates and return to an uncluttered table. While it doesn’t paint the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving feast, I find this to be a much nicer way to eat, so you aren’t surrounded by people plus dishes!

• If you want some additional quick recipes, check out Mark Bittman’s fantastic “101 Tips for the Big Day” from the New York Times. This is well worth reading and printing out; I always refer to it this time of year; Bittman is the king of quick tips and simplicity and is always so helpful.

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Week Night Dinner Series #5: Chicken (or Tofu) Stir Fry with Spicy Peanut Sauce
You can serve this over rice or another grain, but I like the simpleness of just veggies and meat.

I know I’ve mentioned before, but Monday dinners have to be pronto, with a capital P; I get home from the gym long after 7 p.m. and I’m famished. So dinner has to be made quickly or I may find myself stopping at the grocery store before I leave town for something unhealthy to eat. Stir fry is my go-to meal, but lately I’ve getting bored with my usual hoisen sauce mixture. This is my latest creation, a delicious spicy, peanutty sauce that makes you want to lick the plate and go back for seconds!

If you chop your chicken the night before, one step is already done. I chop the veggies when I get home, everything tossed into a hot skillet, and the sauce whisked together while everything is cooking. In actuality, everything can be prepped ahead of time, making this an even quicker meal!

Veggies are whatever are in the vegetable bin, but my favorite combination these days are red peppers, zucchini, onions, broccoli (can this possibly be becoming a favorite vegetable?), and carrots. A small chicken breast or some tofu are what I use as protein. I don’t measure, but I’d say the ratio is 3:1, veggies to protein.

Instructions

1. Warm a couple of teaspoons of oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the vegetables and cook until barely done. Remove from heat and put the mixture in a large bowl.

2. Return the skillet to the stove, add a little bit more oil, and add your chicken or tofu and cook until done. While this is cooking, mix up the peanut sauce.

3. When the chicken or tofu is done cooking, mix in the vegetables. Add the peanut sauce, make sure everything is covered evenly, and serve!

Spicy Peanut Sauce
2 Tablespoons peanut butter
2-3 Tablespoons hot water
1 teaspoon soy sauce (or tamari)
1 generous teaspoon sambal oelek (or less if you like things less spicy)

In a small bowl, add the peanut butter and hot water. Whisk together until it make a thin paste (the amount of water you add will depend on the oilness of your peanut butter). Whisk in the soy sauce and sambal oelek. Taste test to make sure all the flavors meld well together and adjust accordingly.

Cook’s Note: Sambal oelek is a garlicky chili sauce you can find in the supermarket in the ethnic foods section. But if you can’t find it, you can substitute red chili pepper flakes; start with 1/2 teaspoon and work your way up to the desired heat.

Homemade Applesauce

DSCN0687How could I let the month of October go by without an apple recipe?

Growing up, every Sunday we would pile into the car and go about eight miles to Ellie’s to pick up our weekly apples. Ellie reminded me a lot of my Grandma Koli, and she had a wonderful farm stand and gift shop, which was a bit on the old-fashioned side with little china trinkets. (It was the first time I saw the sign, “you break it, you buy it” which always led me to wonder if I actually had enough money in my piggy bank, just in case!) Ellie always let my brother, sister, and myself pick out one apple to munch on the way home. The apples would be in wooden crates and I would always dig through to find the biggest, reddest apple. It is an autumn tradition I remember fondly.

Subconsciously–or not–I’ve continued this tradition every fall. The apple orchard in our little town used to be on my long Sunday walk, so I would walk, pick up my apples (and cider doughnuts), and then walk back, exercising off the just-eaten doughnuts. But a few years ago, they moved their “store” to their other orchard, a few miles away that is not on my regular walking route. I have walked it, but it’s on a main road and my backpack would be laden down with apples, cider, and sometimes maple syrup, so it’s just not fun. Since the move, I drive over every Sunday after 4 p.m., when the apple picking crowd is starting to thin, and select my apples and Concord grapes for the week.

Helpful Kitchen Tip: I use Cortland apples for both applesauce and pies, as their flavor is sweet, not too tart, and they have a bit of water which is good for baking. If you select a harder apple, like a McIntosh, they will be great, they’ll just take longer to cook and more sweetener, depending on your taste. Another tip, if you have a food mill, you don’t have to worry about paring the apples; just core, dice, and the food mill will eliminate the skins for you! Cooking with the skins on adds a bit of pink to the sauce!

Homemade applesauce is delicious and easy to make. All you have to do is peel and dice some apples, put it in a saucepan with a little bit of water, and leave it on the stove top to cook. Add some more water, if needed, sweetener, cinnamon and/or nutmeg, and you’re done! And this time of year is perfect; a roasted chicken, some roasted root veggies, a simple green salad, and you have a perfect autumn meal to warm you on a chilly evening!

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Homemade Applesauce
I like my applesauce to have a little bit of texture, so I sometimes don’t cook the apples fully, so there are pieces of apple. Honey adds a different layer of flavor, but you can always use white or brown sugar.

4 Cortland apples, fairly large
1-2 Tablespoons honey or sugar
¼ cup of water, more if necessary
Cinnamon
Nutmeg

1. With a paring knife, peel and dice the apples. Place in a saucepan with ¼ cup of water.

2. On low heat, cook the apples, occasionally stirring them. Add more water, a quarter cup at a time, if you find they are getting too dry. When the sauce it at the consistency you like, add one tablespoon of honey or sugar, taste test, and add more to get the right sweetness.

3. Add cinnamon and nutmeg to taste. You can keep this in the refrigerator for at least four weeks.

Just in Time for Halloween!
In case you missed this recipe last year, I thought I’d bring it to you again. Surprisingly enough to me, it was my most popular recipe EVER! Sadly, it is not my own, but it was fun to make and you could whip up a batch this weekend for the little trick-or-treaters who will knock on the door next Thursday or give away to your co-workers like I did!

Candy Corn Cookies

The Bounty is Here!

After months of waiting, August is finally here, and the veggies are at their best! Gone are the early days of June, with just a few sad-looking root vegetables sitting in the bins the farmers’ market; now it’s bursting at the seams and overflowing with everything fresh and beautiful! So prepare yourself, it’s going to be a vegetarian month!

I adore cucumbers, they always taste fresh and have virtually no calories! (I presume there are no calories in a cucumber, but I didn’t want to give false advertising!). Nothing is better to me than a fresh cucumber, thinly sliced with  just a little bit of salt.

This side salad is a mish-mosh of a couple different dishes I make: a raita I make to accompany fish and a green bean salad that my grandmother makes. It’s so good, I’ve been known to eat a big bowl of it for lunch! It’s easy and was a nice cool complement to a dinner of chicken and some sautéed Swiss chard. If you want a little heat, add a dash (or two) of cayenne or crushed red pepper. And if you don’t eat dairy, you can leave out the sour cream;  it’s just as delicious.

Helpful Kitchen Tip: 
Placing the cucumbers in a colander in the sink and sprinkling with a little salt allows much of the water to drain. This is a great suggestion for any dish that calls for cucumbers. Do this about 30 minutes before you’re ready to make your dish. I don’t rinse off the salt since I only use only a little, but I tend not to salt the dish when it’s finished.

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Cucumber Dill Salad

Using fresh dill with this recipe is the best, but if you only have dried on hand (like I had), it is still terrific. 

• 2 cucumbers, peeled, sliced in half horizontally, seeded and sliced like half moons
• ¼ cup diced onion
• 2 Tablespoons cider vinegar (if you want a little more zing, add a couple of teaspoons more)
• ¼ cup sour cream or plain yogurt
• Dill weed, as much or as little as you’d like, or none at all
• Freshly ground pepper
• Salt to taste, if needed

1. Take the seeded and cut cucumbers and place them in a colander in the sink. Sprinkle with a little bit of salt and let them sit for about 30 minutes, or until you’re ready to make the salad. Don’t rinse.

2. In a mixing bowl, add the drained cucumbers, onion, and vinegar. Stir in the sour cream or yogurt and mix well. Add as much dill weed as you’d like, and some pepper. Serve.

Cilantro Pesto

I can hear the “boos and hisses” already! I know that some eaters absolutely despise cilantro, avoiding it at all costs, but bear with me! Admittedly, I didn’t like cilantro for many years, but through time it has become a favorite herb, although one that is used sparingly. It always seems when I buy a bunch, though, it always ends up forgotten in the bottom of the veggie bin until I discover it as a black, slimy mess. But this recipe solves this problem!

I became familiar with cilantro pesto several years back from a colleague of mine. And while I was skeptical, I was a convert after that first bite. You make this just like its Italian counterpart, but to me, the flavor has a little zing to it. A squirt of lemon juice at the end was perfect. And I think a lot of the cilantro “flavor” is lost with the mixing of the nuts, garlic, and cheese. I added some green beans when I was cooking the pasta which added a nice crunch. I find taking the leaves off the stems a bit tedious, but you can take off just the woody end pieces, as the more delicate stems are edible. With the farmers market booming and overflowing with fresh garlic, veggies, and herbs, now is a perfect time to try this out!

Helpful Kitchen Hint: If you are gluten-intolerant, you can use this pesto on meat, fish, or even as a dip with veggies or chips!

Of course, the real test is with the eater of the house, a self-confessed cilantro hater. I put out two different kinds of pesto, cilantro and basil. When I went to clean up the kitchen, guess which one was gone? He will say it was because he was starving, but I think it’s because he liked it!

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Cilanto Pesto
2 medium garlic cloves
1 cup, lightly packed cilantro leaves
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon warm water
½ cup shredded parmesan or Asiago cheese
1 Tablespoon pine nuts (or walnuts or almonds), toasted if desired
1 squirt fresh lemon juice

This recipe is all in the blender. Add the garlic cloves down the chute with the blades set at chop. Add the cilantro, oil, water, and cheese, and pulse until it is a thin paste. Add the pine nuts and lemon juice. Pulse until it all comes together. Add a little more water or oil if it is too thick.

It’s Grilling Season!

This was the sky when I was making dinner Sunday night. Pretty incredible, yes?

This was the sky when I was making dinner Sunday night. Pretty incredible, yes?

I don’t know if you’ve been having the late spring heat wave like we had last week, but when it gets to be stifling humid weather, the last thing I want to do is be in front of a hot stove. Dishes get made or at least prepped in the early morning when it’s a little cooler or dinner is just a few simple cold salads. But of course, grilling outdoors is the best way to make dinner in the summer!

We finally got rid of the grill we had for years two summers ago and spent all last summer grill-less. But that’s not going to be the case this year; it won’t be long before we’ll be cooking in the outdoors again! In the meantime, this recipe, a rub plus a glaze for chicken, is terrific even if you cook your meat in the oven!

This recipe, originally from the July 2012 issue of Cooking Light, has you grill this over hickory chips. (You can see the original recipe here.) I’ve tweaked the recipe just a little, but the basic original recipe is still there. For me, this is a weekend dinner; it always seems to take a while to make it, but it’s definitely well worth the extra effort!

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Grilled Chicken Thighs with Ancho-Tequila Glaze
Inspired by the July 2012 Cooking Light recipe

The original recipe is for 12 bone-in skinless chicken thighs, and I’ve made this with both thighs and chicken legs and both ways it’s delicious. Also, if you don’t have a full bottle of tequila in your liquor cabinet, just buy a miniature bottle; that should  roughly be three tablespoons worth.

The Rub
1 tablespoons ancho chili powder (I use regular chili powder)
1 ½ teaspoons granulated sugar
2-3 finely minced garlic cloves
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
Lots of freshly ground black pepper (1 ½ teaspoons)
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
12 bone-in chicken thighs, skinned (about 2 1/2 pounds)
1 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

The Glaze
6 tablespoons amber agave syrup
3 tablespoons tequila
1 ½ tablespoons hot sauce
1 tablespoon butter
The juice of ½ lime
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper (less if you don’t want the heat)

1. In a large bowl, mix together the ingredients for the rub except the olive oil. Add the chicken, toss to coat, and add the oil, and mix again. From here, you can pop in the fridge if you’re doing other things, or set aside until the glaze is finished.

2. For the glaze, mix together the ingredients and bring it to a boil, stirring occasionally until it is reduced and thick.

3. Place the chicken either on a greased grill rack or a baking pan and brush some glaze to each piece of chicken. Continue to brush each piece of chicken with a bit of glaze every so often until the meat is completely cooked. If you have leftover glaze, you can add a little bit to each piece of chicken before serving.

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.

Happy 100th Birthday, Julia Child!

This photo of “Les Trois Gourmandes” hangs in my kitchen. I like to think of them as my kitchen guardian angels.

I owe all of my interest in cooking and food to Julia Child. In the 1970s, her show would be on in the late afternoon on PBS and I watched in awe as she cooked something exotic and delicious-looking; I always wonder if that’s why to this day I have an urge to step into the kitchen and start cooking in the late afternoons on the weekends. Wanting to emulate her, my first step in cooking was whisking scrambled eggs with flour (my brother still reminds me to this day of my first “recipe.” And yes, it tasted like eggs and flour and went to the compost pile.) I was an early riser even when I was young, and one morning decided to make hors d’ouevres for my parents before 8 a.m (Ritz crackers topped with cheese and an olive. They were kind enough to eat them in their half-awake state.) When I got a little older, I used to borrow her cookbooks from the library, poring through the pages and dreaming of menus I’d cook for my future guests when I was an adult. I have nine of her cookbooks on my shelf, the most of any other cook. To this day, if I’ve had a bad day, I know her cooking show with Jacques Pépin is on at 7 p.m. and just watching it relaxes me and puts me in a better mood.

So I’ve watched cooks around the country join me on the Julia Child bandwagon for a celebration of what would be her 100th birthday today, August 15. Since I’m out of town today, Saturday night’s dinner was going to be in tribute to Julia and would completely be from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This also gave me time to spend in the kitchen, cooking in homage of this master cook.

How does the phrase go about the best laid plans? I wondered when I went to bed that day if someone was testing me to look outside the box. I awoke to a dreadfully humid day. This summer has been the three H’s, hazy, hot, and humid, and Saturday was no different. I took my usual long walk a little after 6 and by 6:15 I was drenched in sweat. But no matter, I had cooking to do this day!

We ran errands and did all our grocery shopping and were home around 2:30. I put everything away, washed the breakfast dishes, and had the house to myself–I was going to prepare the chocolate mousse! I read the recipe carefully, dividing the eggs by their yolks and whites, and started preparing. I had exactly ¼ cup of Triple Sec left, perfect. I started whisking and whipping over the double boiler as instructed. About 10 minutes into this, I realized I was whisking the whites not the yolks.

Now, this is where living in the country is a pain in the neck. I was furious with myself over this error and I had two options, put everything away for another day or travel to town and pick up more Triple Sec. After much consideration, I chose the latter, and also picked up some super fine sugar, as I also didn’t have enough at home. A short visit with a friend, and we were home a little after six. Still plenty of time to make dinner!

The “proper” chocolate mousse!

With the chocolate mousse properly made, I moved on to the tomatoes.

The tomatoes waiting for the oven.

The two recipes took a little bit under an hour. I was still on track time-wise. I sat down to watch a little bit of the Olympics with a small glass of wine when the electricity fluttered. It looked like it was going to rain, but not a storm that would take out the electricity. I breathed a sigh of relief, my mind going to the fridge, with the scallops, fish, and cooling chocolate mousse. I returned to the kitchen, turned on my computer to listen to music, and the lights went out. This time, for good.

After the rain, a faint rainbow bowed over the mountains and was lovely. The sun came out, but the electricity was still off. It started to get dark. Since we have a gas stove, I could use the stove top, but I needed the oven. Then I thought, I’m going to just cook everything on the stove and forget about the oven; I’d cook the tomatoes in the morning.


Cooking by candlelight isn’t as romantic as it may look and certainly isn’t the most ideal situation, but I was able to make the scallops and its sauce. I was thrilled, there really was no reason to pop them in the oven at all! I plated the food, brought the candles to the living room and just as I brought in the wine and was about to sit down, the lights came on. This time, for good.

So at 9 p.m., I started to make the fish, cook the tomatoes, I gave up on making the hollandaise, and washed the batches and batches of dishes that had accumulated. The scallops were rich, a little too rich for me; the fish overcooked a little bit, I thought; the tomatoes were delicious and a hit; and the chocolate mousse? Taking that trip to town was well worth it too, when I saw my number one eater dig into his dish, and silently return to the kitchen for seconds; I was tired and set mine aside for the next day. And after giving a serving on to a chocolate-loving friend, the request has been made to bring another batch along for this week’s annual trip to Lake George.

So WWJD? “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude,” she is quoted as saying.

To good food and good eating!

The Menu

Coquilles St. Jacques à la Parisienne
(Scallops and Mushrooms in White Wine Sauce)
Recipe can be found here.
(Cook’s note: Since sea scallops are incredibly expensive, I substituted bay scallops. Also, she has you simmer the scallops and mushrooms for five minutes; I think this is way too long, maybe more like three minutes.)  

Filets de Poisson Pochés au Vin Blanc
(Fish Filets Poached in White Wine)
Recipe can be found here, Filets de Poisson Pochés au Vin Blanc
(Cook’s note: My supermarket had neither sole nor flounder, so I used cod. It was a good substitute. You can also use haddock.)

Tomates à la Provençale
(Tomatoes Stuffed with Bread Crumbs, Herbs, and Garlic)
Recipe can be found here.

Choux Broccoli avec Sauce Hollandaise
(Broccoli with Hollandaise Sauce)
The recipe served with asparagus can be found here.

Mousseline au Chocolat
(Chocolate Mousse)
Recipe can be found here.

Tis the Season…

For barbecues, cookouts, and potluck suppers, which means grilled meat and veggies! I love store-bought barbecue sauce, but it seems like these days so many have added ingredients, like high fructose corn syrup and other preservatives. So through the years, I’ve created my own barbecue sauce which I just love on top of both chicken and pork. The other day in the supermarket I saw some boneless pork ribs and knew just how I was going to fix them. My mouth started to water when I thought about cooking them just right with the tangy sauce on top!

Giving credit where credit is due, I made the Barbecue Glaze recipe out of local cookbook author Andrea Chesman’s The Vegetarian Grill several years ago. While the flavor was decent, it wasn’t what I was looking for. I wanted something more complex, deep, rich. So I turned it upside down and started adding things until it’s become my own. It’s easy to put together, and I love making it in the winter to give plain old chicken breasts a little extra something!


Barbecue Sauce
2 cloves of garlic, minced
¼-½ cup white onion, finely diced
¼ cup ketchup (preferably made with no high fructose corn syrup)
2 Tablespoons maple syrup (or brown sugar)
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar, more to taste if needed
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon cumin, or a combination of cumin and coriander

In a small saucepan, warm a little bit of olive oil. Add the garlic and onion, and cook at medium to low heat until they are soft. Add the remaining ingredients and stir. Bring to a slight boil, then turn the heat to low. Cook for a few minutes longer and it’s done. If you boil or cook it too long, it will become thick.

Greens, Eggs, and Ham

With the warmer and longer days, I’m finding myself gravitating toward lighter dinners. With the shedding of sweaters, long sleeves, and long pants, one might discover a little bit of weight added during the cold, winter months. Or at least I always do. Taking a walk or working in the garden after work, I’m finding dinners of late need to be easy to prepare, yet light, so it won’t add to the ever-expanding mid-section.


I came up with this recipe one night when it was dinner for one, although this can easily be a dinner for two. I don’t know if you could even call it a recipe; it’s a salad with eggs and ham, or in my case, bacon. A toss of a little homemade vinaigrette, and dinner is ready. Veggies and protein in one bowl!

Normally when I buy bacon, unless it’s purchased for a recipe, I will divide into two slices, wrap it in plastic wrap, and stick it in a bag and pop it in the freezer. That way, I have just two slices for recipes like this. Two slices of bacon thaws quickly, so while it’s still a little frozen, I chop it into dice-sized pieces to fry up. I always find if I chop a beloved food smaller, a little bit can go a long way flavor-wise. (Note, if you don’t eat meat, you can easily make this vegetarian by substituting beans for the bacon. Garbanzo or any sort of white bean would be tasty.)

My go-to vinaigrette isn’t really a recipe, I just make it. In a bowl, add some extra virgin olive oil. Add a couple of dashes of vinegar (my favorite is sherry vinegar, but a white or red wine would go really good with this, too). Whisk. Add some salt and pepper. One garlic clove, either minced or through the garlic press. And a dash of Dijon mustard. Whisk and taste to make sure all the flavors blend. Sometimes I’ll add a dash of white wine if I’m feeling like it.

So in a salad bowl, add any sort of green you like. That night I had green leaf lettuce, but a mesclun mix would be great, too. Take one hard-boiled egg and slice in half, length-wise. Add a few sprinkles of bacon. I like to add my dressing once the salad is made, but of course, you can always dress the greens before you add the egg and bacon. Either way, with a small glass of white wine or water, it was a satisfying meal that won’t add (too much) to the waistline!

* * * * *

Also with the burgeoning spring, comes the call for rhubarb. I always buy extra to freeze, so I can have spring all year round! I’ve made cakes and pies, but my favorite way to fix it is by making a sauce. It’s really quick and very simple, no recipe required!


Cut up whatever amount of rhubarb you have into cube, about an inch long. Place in a saucepan with a little bit of water. You don’t want to cover it with water, eyeball it. Bring it to a boil, add more water if you need, and let it simmer. The rhubarb will break itself down, just stir on occasion. When it’s a thin sauce, add sugar. I’ve used honey in the past too, which lends a more complex flavor. I add the sugar by the tablespoon, stir, then taste. I like it sweet-tart, some people like it with more sugar. If you’re interested, you can add a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, or orange zest. But I love it just in its unadorned glory, with just a little bit of sugar to offset its sourness. I made a big batch last week and have been enjoying a little bit for for lunch each day. It makes the rain outside seem not so bad!

Linguine With Clam Sauce

Good morning, fellow cooks! After 14 months (or 80 posts!) of writing about my culinary adventures at least once a week with nary a break, I’ve decided to take a vacation from writing for a week or two. Through holidays, vacations, and  surgery, I’ve been cooking and writing, and frankly, I’m a little burned out and am finding my creative juices waning. But that’s not to say I won’t still be cooking; have no fear, springtime has sprung here and even though I’ll be taking some R& R, I’ll still be creating and keeping track of the dishes to bring to you Wednesday mornings from my Vermont kitchen. So stay tuned!

This week’s recipe I developed one night when I had 1. A craving for pasta; and 2. A craving for seafood. I had a can of chopped cans in the cupboard, fresh parsley in the vegetable bin, and it came easily together. Of course, if you have fresh clams, that’s even better. I decided to use chopped clams as opposed to minced because I really wanted the flavor of the clams. I prefer linguine to any other string pasta, but of course you can substitute your own favorite. I thought if I had a plum tomato, chopped and added to the sauce would be a welcome addition.

This is relatively light, easy to cook, and inexpensive, my three benchmarks for a great recipe!

Linguine with Clam Sauce

Cook’s Note: How you like your sauce (watery or not watery) will depend on how much you reduce the wine and juice while cooking.
• The butter adds just a little bit more richness to the sauce, but by all means, use all olive oil if you prefer.
• If you’re like me and like a little bit of heat to your pasta, add some crushed red pepper. How much depends on your own palate. 

• 2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil
• 2 teaspoons butter
• 3 cloves of garlic, minced
• 1-2 Tablespoons minced shallots or red onion
• 1 can chopped clams, reserve juice
• A splash or two of white wine
• A dash of crushed red pepper, optional
• ½ cup or less of chopped fresh parsley
• Pasta servings for two, cooked according to directions

In a medium-sized skillet, warm the butter and olive oil. When shimmery, add the garlic and shallots and cook at medium heat until soft. Add in the clams, setting aside the reserved juice from the can. Turn up the heat and stir. Add the splashes of wine and cook until the sauce has reduced. (If it reduces too much, add some of the reserved juice.) Turn to low, and stir in the parsley and hot peppers, if using. Place pasta on a dish, top with the sauce. Serve with a simple side salad.