Sunday, September 28, 2008


In middle and high school this single word, shouted down the hallway, could cause fear in the heart of any adolescent. For most 30-something males this word brings back memories of bullies and tighty-whities. For my husband, however, this word "wedgie" has a whole new meaning. One that evokes salivating and anticipation.

The wedgie, otherwise known as the wedge salad, is a classic dish, as American as apple pie. It's indulgent, beautiful, rich and simple all in one bite. Think 80s-power-lunch: striped suits, stately rooms bathed in dark mahogany, searing hot steaks bathed in butter, creme brulees, and large goblets of red wine. And the wedge.

Leave it to my husband to turn this American institution into an underwear pun. Nonethless though, we are both big fans of the wedgie. We order it whenever we encounter it on a menu. We always marvel at how simple it is and wonder why we never replicate it at home. So I finally did it.

To construct this salad you can kind of take some poetic license. Our favorite toppings for a perfectly chilled wedge of iceberg lettuce are chopped scallions, chopped tomatoes, crumbled bleu cheese, crispy prosciutto and creamy gorgonzola dressing. Any combination of those toppings would work. The most important part however, is finding a good dressing recipe , like this one from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Cheese Lover's Cookbook & Guide.

8 oz gorgonzola cheese
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
juice of half a lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
3 large leaves of basil

Put half of the gorgonzola, along with the rest of the ingredients into a food processor and pulse process until smooth.
The recipe tells you to pulse in the last half of the gorgonzola. I however, just crumbled the rest of the gorgonzola and mixed it in with the dressing to make it chunky, creamy gorgonzola dressing.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Creamy Wild Mushroom Soup

Well, as stated below, I'm a little late with this recipe. Probably the main reason, cutting out all the BS, I just really wasn't in the mood for soup earlier this week. It was warm here in Maryland, up until about two days ago. Some hurricane blew through and the last two days were rainy and chilly. What a coincidence!! Perfect soup weather. So I whipped up this soup last night for myself, my mom and my husband.
It was ok. I didn't follow the recipe exactly. Some things I did differently:
1. I couldn't find fresh porcini mushrooms so I used dried. I reconstituted them in some warm water and used those two cups of porcini water to help flavor the mushroom stock.
2. I didn't use as much butter as she calls for. My husband would definitely claim this is why the soup wasn't great - he regards butter as the cure-all. Kind of like Paula Deen.
3. I didn't use as much cream as she calls for either. I only used a cup of half and half and left out the heavy cream, which probably explains why it was a bit thin. I was just afraid of getting something too heavy if I added all the cream she called for.
4. My mother didn't understand why I was throwing out perfectly good cooked vegetables (ie the ones used to make the stock) so she decided to add them to the soup. It was actually a very good decision - the added vegetables provided some flavor and substance to the soup. Especially the carrots!
Overall, it wasn't bad. Just a bit bland. I served it with homemade garlic bread - basically just spread some butter and minced garlic on some rosemary olive oil bread and topped it with a ton of romano cheese and baked it. The bread helped give the soup a lot of flavor. We also sprinkled some romano cheese in our soup bowls, which helped add flavor and thicken the soup a bit.
If I made this again I'd probably add all the cream she calls for, all the butter she calls for and I'd use chicken stock instead of water to make the mushroom stock. I also think it might of been a good idea to take a few cups of the soup and puree it up and then add it back in for natural thickness. So I'd try that next time too.

Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup
5 ounces fresh shitake mushrooms
5 ounces fresh portobello mushrooms
5 ounces fresh cremini (or porcini) mushrooms
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1/4 pound (1 stick) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, divided
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 carrot, chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme plus 1 teaspoon minced thyme leaves, divided
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (2 leeks)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
Clean the mushrooms by wiping them with a dry paper towel. Don't wash them! Separate the stems, trim off any bad parts, and coarsely chop the stems. Slice the mushroom caps 1/4-inch thick and, if there are big, cut them into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
To make the stock, heat the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large pot. Add the chopped mushroom stems, the onion, carrot, the sprig of thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until the vegetables are soft.
Add 6 cups water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Strain, reserving the liquid. You should have about 4 1/2 cups of stock. If not, add some water.
Meanwhile, in another large pot, heat the remaining 1/4 pound of butter and add the leeks.
Cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until the leeks begin to brown. Add the sliced mushroom caps and cook for 10 minutes, or until they are browned and tender.
Add the flour and cook for 1 minute. Add the white wine and stir for another minute, scraping the bottom of the pot.
Add the mushroom stock, minced thyme leaves, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the half-and-half, cream, and parsley, season with salt and pepper, to taste, and heat through but do not boil. Serve hot.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers Coming Soon...

I'm running a bit behind this week. See I was going to make the cream of wild mushroom soup on Tuesday night but because I didn't finish the laundry I was supposed to do Sunday I had to do it Tuesday. By the time I finished ironing, folding and putting away everything it was 7 p.m. and I just didn't have the energy to make dinner. And I hadn't planned anything to go with the soup to which my husband said, "Just soup for dinner? I don't know if that will be enough." Huh? I could have been perfectly happy with just soup. But I was too tired to think of something else to serve with it let alone go back to the store, so we went out. And ordered soup. Well, plus some other things. But it was kind of ironic that we got soup.
Anyway, then we went out again last night so again no cooking. And tonight I'm going to a wine tasting event with a friend so again, no cooking. Sooooo....Barefoot Bloggers will be debuting on Saturday as I will be making it Friday night. So please stay tuned! And sorry for the delay.
I plan to serve it with a iceberg wedge salad with homemade blue cheese dressing, bacon crumbles, scallions and diced tomatoes. The hubby was pretty excited about that - which means I won't hear, "Just soup?"

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sundays with Sawyer

This segment of the blog is brought to you by my executive chef Sawyer (and inspired by The French Kitchen's Tuesdays with Reggie blogs. I love how she has found a way to integrate her pets with her blog on a regular basis! Sawyer thought it was pretty clever too.) It's also further proof that the only reason I married my husband is to avoid the title of "crazy cat lady". Because I'm basically on the verge of that (and no it's not Sunday, but this is what Sawyer actually did on Sunday but I"m a little late sharing it):
"Hello again! Last time we left off I was going over my duties in the kitchen. This time around I just wanted to share with you how a busy cat, such as myself, spends some long-sought after leisure time. See - on the weekends, it's hard for me to just get a little R&R. Why? Well, to be honest - the damn humans are always around! Normally, they are just here in the evenings since they go to "work" (like they know what that's all about?)during the week, but on the weekend they are just A-ROUND! Or at least the lady is. The man works weekends for now, but I've heard musings that that will soon be coming to an end and of course they are excited about it. NOT ME! On the weekend they sit on MY COUCH, they hang out all day in MY HOUSE! I am forced to sit in the kitty-cat beds. Has this woman seen the size of me? I have to squeeze myself into one of these beds. Then she sees me sleeping, half hanging out of the front of the bed, and thinks it's so cute. She's standing there saying, "Oh you're such a good boy. You love your bed don't you? What a good kitty!"
Sigh. What's a big-boned cat like myself to do?
This Sunday though wasn't too bad. At least on a nice day she opens all the windows and I get to finally keep an eye on the neighborhood.
And boy did I get an eyeful this weekend! In addition to the birds that pig out on the birdfeeder all morning - I swear sometimes their squawking and seed cracking gets on my last nerve - there was a sighting.
Do you see what I saw?
I knew something was milling around outside. I could smell the little rodent. Oh if I was an outdoor cat...I would chase him down! I'll just cut through this screen with my razor sharp talons! Then he's mine! Damn it why is she always clipping my nails! Oh well. Just you wait little chipmunk, just you wait..."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Greek Stuffed Chicken with Cranberry-Pecan Green Beans

Ok I don't know if this can technically be called Greek Chicken. I mean, I'm not Greek so what do I know? I used some typically Greek ingredients to make it though, feta cheese, kalamata olives, oregano, lemon, tomatoes. So I figured calling it Greek Stuffed Chicken worked. Then I wasn't sure if the name sounded like I stuffed my chicken with an actual Greek. In essence, my adjective placement may be off - perhaps it should read Stuffed Greek-Style Chicken or Greek-Style Stuffed Chicken. Better? Yes? You don't care? Just give you the recipe I came up with? Ok. I can definitely handle that!
This was such a refreshingly light chicken dish. I had a ton of things to use up in my cabinet so I bought a few fresh ingredients, the green beans, a lemon and a tomato and then went to work with what I had.
I stuffed the chicken with a mixture of spinach, feta, romano cheese and olives. Then topped it with herb butter, sliced lemons and tomatoes, wrapped it in a foil packet and threw it on the grill. Enjoy! And I think I came up with an even better name - although it sounds kind of Rachael Rayish.

It's All Greek To Me Stuffed Chicken (har har)
4 chicken breasts
1 bag of baby spinach leaves, or a package of frozen chopped spinach
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup crumbled feta
1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives
1/4 cup romano cheese, grated (or you can use Parmesan)
8 sprigs of fresh oregano, chopped (I used a lot of oregano, you could tone it down if you wanted and just use half this amount)
a handful of chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
4 tablespoons butter, softened or melted
2 lemons, sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced
foil for making packets

Preheat your grill.
Now to begin you can either pound your chicken thinly and then roll the filling up, or you can do what I did and cut a pocket in each piece of chicken.
Meanwhile, put your garlic and olive oil in a saute pan. Add your bag of baby spinach and cook until your leaves have wilted. If using frozen, just cook the garlic to soften it and then add your drained, thawed spinach and stir to mix with the garlic and oil.
Remove from the pan and let cool. In a small bowl mix your feta, olives and romano cheese. Once your spinach has cooled you can mix that in as well.
Now I only had two chicken breasts so I overstuffed them since I had a lot of filling. But this easily makes enough filling for four chicken breasts. So anyway, lay your chicken on a large piece of foil and stuff the pocket you made with the spinach mixture.
Then fold your breast over to enclose the mixture as best as you can.
Meanwhile mix together your chopped herbs and butter to form a spread. If you use melted butter that's fine too - you'll just pour it over each breast. Take your butter mixture and spread or pour an even amount over each breast. Then top each breast with lemon and tomato slices.
Finally loosely wrap your little chicken packages up and throw your foil packets on the grill.
They'll cook for about 15 to 20 minutes, basically steaming inside the foil packets. Keep an eye on them and peek in the packets after about 10 minutes just to make sure your grill is hot enough and the juice of the tomatoes, spinach mixture and lemons are bubbling. Be careful not to overcook the chicken.
Remove and serve.
Discard the tomatoes and lemons before eating. But you probably already knew that :)

Cranberry-Pecan Green Beans
1 package of green beans or haricot verts
2 shallots, minced
1 tb butter
1 tb olive oil
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup whole pecans given a very rough chop

Steam your beans until slightly tender, but still bright green - don't overcook! They will cook a bit more in your saute pan. Meanwhile in a saute pan, cook your shallots in butter and olive oil until softened. Add your beans to the pan along with your chicken stock and cranberries. Let the chicken stock reduce by half, it will also help plump up your cranberries and finish off cooking your beans.
In a small saute pan toast your pecans over low heat for about 4 minutes. Remove your green beans from the pan and top with your crunchy pecans and serve.
Here is a horrible photo of the green beans all mixed up:
Whatever - you get the idea. I kind of just came up with these based on what was in my cupboards and I really liked the flavor combo of the cranberries and pecans. My husband however was not a fan. I think we discovered that either he doesn't like pecans or he doesn't like green beans unless they are overcooked and drowned in butter. The latter is probably the case. I thought they were successful though.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Chicken Marsala with Gorgonzola Polenta

My college roommate, who was great by the way, bought me a fabulous cookbook one year for Christmas. Knowing I was Italian, she gave me Italian Immigrant Cooking with Elodia Rigante . No Elodia Rigante is not a famous celebrity chef. But damn she should be! First of all, this is a beautiful cookbook full of some of the most appetizing looking Italian comfort foods I've ever seen. On the cover is darling little Elodia, your quintessential Italian grandmother - stout, smiling, wearing an apron and looming over a table full of enough food to feed an army.
That should have been an indication to me! One night I set out to make her potato and tomato pie. The recipe said, like all in her book do, that it serves 4. It made two gigantic pies! Serves 4 what? Elephants? 4 households? 4 countries? I mean come on Elodia!! That was the last time I followed her "Italian" measurements. From then on I've halved everything, unless I'm cooking for a crowd.
Anyway, that said, there are so many delicious recipes in the book and her Anchovy Sauce with Marsala is no exception.
It's not a typical Marsala sauce because she adds the salty bite of anchovies, along with capers and mustard. I really love the flavor combination here. The anchovy does not taste fishy - it adds a richness to the sauce that is hard to explain. If you don't like anchovies, I think you'll still like this sauce.
She gives you the recipe for the sauce and says you can put it over chicken, pasta, grilled meat or fish or serve with rice. I usually serve this with chicken and plain old pasta or garlic mashed potatoes. This time however, I served it with gorgonzola and caramelized onion polenta. It was a great complement to the chicken. A very hearty, tasty meal. So here you go! Oh and by the way excuse my "final dish" photo. I was so freakin' hungry by the time we sat down to eat I had no patience for setting up photos. So I took a few quick snapshots of the food that I very unartistically slopped on my plate, knew they all sucked but said, "Screw it! I'm eating."
You may find yourself saying the same thing when this delectable meal is staring you in the face from your plate :) Enjoy!

Chicken with Anchovy Marsala Sauce
4 chicken breasts, pounded thin
flour for dredging chicken breasts (about 1 cup)
4 tb olive oil
2 cups mushrooms
1/2 onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup chopped anchovies (I had this measurement wrong at first - however, if I'm making this recipe I usually do 8-10 filets chopped up, 3/4 cup is A LOT, it's the whole can)
2 tb chopped fresh rosemary (my addition!)
2 tb butter
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup dry Marsala wine
1 tb dijon mustard
1/4 cup capers (optional - I don't really like capers so I usually leave them out)

Once you've pounded your chicken breasts to about a 1/2 inch thick, season them with salt and pepper and then dredge them in flour to coat. Put two tablespoons of your olive oil in a saute pan on medium heat. Once the oil is warm, add your chicken breasts, two at a time.
Let each breast cook about 5 minutes per side, until it gets golden brown and crispy. Once you've cooked all your chicken breasts, remove them from the pan and set aside. Tent with foil to keep warm.
In the same skillet, add your remaining two tablespoons of olive oil, along with your butter. Throw in your mushrooms, garlic, onion, rosemary and anchovies.
Stir to coat with the oil and butter and cook until slightly softened. Next add your chicken broth, mustard and the marsala wine.
Stir to combine and let simmer until the sauce thickens up a bit. If it's not thickening you can whisk in a little flour or some cornstarch if you'd like.
At this point I also like to sprinkle in about a teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes to give it a little zing. If you're using capers, you could add those now too.
Once your sauce is at it's desire consistency, add your chicken back to the pan to warm through and then serve each piece of chicken with a generous coating of sauce.

Gorgonzola Polenta with Caramelized Onions
The Cheese Lover's Cookbook and Guide by Pamela Lambert
(This makes A LOT of polenta, so please half or quarter the recipe if you only have 4 people. This recipe would easily serve 8 or more as a side dish.)
6 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups polenta
2 cups milk
8 oz gorgonzola crumbled
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary for garnish
2 onions
3 tb balsamic vinegar
2 tb olive oil

Bring your water and salt to a boil in a large pot and then add your polenta. Once the polenta begins to thicken add your milk and stir. Finally add your gorgonzola crumbles. Stir in some chopped fresh rosemary and salt and pepper to taste and serve topped with caramelized onions.

For the onions:
Slice up your onions thinly and place in a saute pan with your vinegar salt and olive oil. Cook over low heat to avoid burning. Stir occasionally and cook about 20 to 30 minutes until onions are completely softened and their sugars have caramelized. Remove from heat and spoon over your polenta.


Friday, September 19, 2008

And a birthday present...

My first blog award! Thanks to Something Sweet by Karen . Karen's a fellow Barefoot Blogger who graciously passed on the following blog award to me:

Here are the lovely bloggers I'm passing this on to as well. I check these blogs almost daily and have been very inspired by them! If you've already gotten this award before don't feel pressured to send it out again unless you want to. Just know that your blog is enjoyed :)

Macaroni and Cheesecake
Fresh From Cate's Kitchen
Home With Mandy
Taste of Home
My Italian Grandmother
Made With Love
A Cookie A Day
Proceed with Caution
Food Alla Puttanesca
From the French Kitchen

A little FYI to the deserving recipients, this award comes with a few rules attached to it:
Please find at least 10 more blogs of any kind which you deem to be excellent; but hey if you only come up with 3 or 5, I don’t mind. Quality over quantity folks!
Post about the blogs you picked, linking back to me and to them.
Once you’ve posted, return here to let me know your post is up, and of course let your 10 award winners know too.

Congrats! Happy blogging!

My 30th Birthday Reflections

Yes folks, that's right. I turned 30 today! It's so hard to believe in some ways and in other ways it feels just right. I never really thought it would be tough turning 30. I never considered 30 old. I just considered 30 a real "adult" age, meaning I should and expected myself to totally have all my shit, excuse me, together by the time I got there. Dream job, dream home, married, maybe a kid, solid hobbies, accomplishments to write home about, comfortable with my body and just an overall feeling of total well-being. I think that was my major misconception about 30. That somehow I would have figured things out by now. I didn't realize that I totally haven't given myself enough time. In reality, I've figured nothing out. Job-wise, I'm not completely happy. I've got a masters degree but am not using it - and that's truly no one else's fault but my own. I'm just getting comfortable in my current position but I'm not challenged. The thought of job hunting though is a harrowing one. It has to happen now though because, well, I'm 30 and if not now, when?
Home-wise, I don't technically own. My husband and I rent - from my dad who owns the house. So at least the money is staying "in the family", so to speak. And we're kind of on a rent to own status. But it feels like forever before we'll have enough saved to really feel secure in getting to the ownership point.
Married - CHECK!! Phew. Got one. And it's a good one. I am married to a wonderful man - we are truly in love and feel like two old souls who've found each other. We have so much in common but at the same time we're completely different. We challenge one another, encourage one another, love one another and annoy the crap out of another all at the same time. It's true love people. Believe me. And that I'm very happy and grateful for.
Kids - not yet. When? I really have no idea. So stop asking. Yes dad, I'm talking to you. No but seriously. We want kids but we also love our freedom. And I love that I don't have to balance my checkbook every week to make sure I can feed, cloth and shelter someone. Call me selfish, but it's a tough thing to let go. Not that I'm jetting off to Paris every weekend or attending lavish crazy parties till the crack of dawn, but even just giving up sleeping late is a big consideration. We will do it though - but probably not for at least another year...or two.
Comfortable with my body? Do I really need to even address this one? Ok here's the short version. When I was in my early 20's I used to walk for exercise. I never had a huge problem with weight gain until around 28. I noticed I put on weight much easier than in my youthful days. Then walking just wasn't cutting it anymore - I had to step it up. To lose weight for my wedding I started running. Running is the only thing that keeps my weight down - and when I say down, I'm no skinny minny. I'm Italian - which means I have an ass, and all the other curves that go along with it. My parents always called me "big-boned." They thought that was putting it nicely. Do I hate my body? No. Well, some days I hate my thighs, although I'm grateful they are there. Just why do they have to look SOOO BIG! I will say this, I'm definitely more comfortable with my curves now than ever before. I'm also more aware of how quickly my slowing metabolism can turn those curves against me.
I hope this rant doesn't make me sound like an unhappy person. Because truly, I'm quite happy. I have a very nice life and have enjoyed some exceptional things over the years. I've truly been very blessed in the "short" time I've been alive. I still feel very young at heart, and I guess I just realize that 30 really is the new 20! I'm glad I haven't accomplished all my goals like I thought I would have by this age. How boring would that make the rest of the years? I think I've done it right. I got to 30 and I still have a lot to do in this life, and... still plenty of time to do it in.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Banana Apple Bread

Last weekend I had two of my best friends from college come in from Minnesota and one up from Northern Virginia to go to the Eastern Shore with me for the weekend. It's become a tradition. My dad has this great townhouse in Bethany Beach that he generously lets me use and so every summer I set aside two to three weekends for "girls weekends". Every year the crowd of friends grows bigger, my friends invite one of their friends, or I meet someone new who comes along (which at my age always amazes me! Not that I'm old, but it's hard to meet new people when you're not in school anymore). Anyway, it's become such a fun summer tradition and all my friends look forward to it. In April they start asking if I've chosen the "girls weekend" dates yet so they can make sure to set that time aside. You truly realize how important it is to keep in touch with your girlfriends. As much as we all love our husbands or SO's if we got 'em, there's nothing like good girl time to really set your spirits right.
We usually make it a pretty comprehensive weekend too - full of relaxation, some partying and tons of beach time. It's a blast!
Anyway, these two friends of mine couldn't make the other weekends, so we planned a later summer weekend just for the three of us. I wanted to bring down a breakfast bread that the we could enjoy in the mornings before heading off to enjoy the beach for the day. I found this on the Dinner and Dessert blog and it looked like a delicious twist on traditional banana bread. It turned out great and the girls really liked it. It was moist, flavorful and I really loved the addition of the apples. I baked it in a fall-themed loaf pan I received as a gift as well, adding to the fall feel. I hope you can enjoy it with your friends and loved ones too!

Banana Apple Bread (Source: The Sweet Melissa Baking Book)
For the apples:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon teaspoon pure vanilla extract
(I also added a splash of Captain Morgan spiced rum to the apples and then let the alcohol cook off for some extra flavor - because we all have to have a little Captain in us! hee)

For the banana bread:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
¼ cup fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups very ripe mashed bananas (2 to 3)

Before you start:
Position a rack in the center of your oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter and flour a 1 1/2-quart loaf pan.

To make the apples:
Preheat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter and brown sugar and heat until bubbling. Add the apples and cinnamon and sauté until golden and tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the vanilla. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

To make the banana bread:
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

In a small bowl, combine the orange juice and vanilla.

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three batches, alternating with the orange juice mixture, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each flour addition. Stir in the mashed bananas until combined. Then stir in the reserved apples.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes before unmolding onto the rack to cool further.
*Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. The banana bread keeps well wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days. For longer storage, freeze well wrapped in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil for up to 3 weeks. Defrost (still wrapped) at room temperature.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Firecracker Shrimp and Fiesta Peppers

I found this recipe in the Whole Foods Market Cookbook . I love Whole Foods but there are a few problems. There aren't any close enough to my house that I would do my daily shopping there, and they are sort of pricey for everyday goods. I do love perusing through one when I come across it though. They have so many yummy looking prepared foods and their produce is seriously fresh.
The good part about the Whole Foods cookbook is that you don't necessarily have to shop at Whole Foods to make the food of course. So I was looking for a new and inspiring shrimp dish the other day and came across Firecracker Shrimp .
The description says the shrimp is flavored with a "fiery" almond pesto. I followed the ingredients and didn't end up with a fiery pesto. It was delicious, but there was no heat what so ever. The jalapenos were supposed to lend all the heat I think and honestly to me, jalapenos aren't that hot. So if you're looking for something truly fiery you may want to add some other hot peppers to this pesto. Otherwise, it's actually pretty mild.
I grilled the shrimp, rather than sauteing them and it turned out great. This was quick, easy and tasty - and quite different from a traditional shrimp dish. Enjoy! I submitted this to Joelen's Culinary Adventure's blog Mexican recipe contest.

Firecracker Shrimp
1/3 cup sliced or whole almonds
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and halved
1 bunch of cilantro, stems removed
6 scallions, cut into 2-in lengths
3 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons cumin
1/8 cup olive oil
1/4 cup water
juice of one lime
2 lbs shrimp (medium to large), peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

To prepare the pesto, place the almonds, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, scallions, garlic, cumin, olive oil, lime juice and water in a food processor and blend into a smooth paste. Season your shrimp with salt and pepper and then toss it with your pesto in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge to marinate for about 30 minutes.
If you're grilling them, preheat your grill and spray a grill pan or grilling skillet with cooking spray. Once hot, place your shrimp in a single layer on the grill pan. Let them cook about 3 to 5 minutes each side, depending on their size and thickness. The pesto will start to form a caramelized crust on the shrimp.
Remove from the grill and serve. If you're sauting the shrimp in a pan, heat the tablespoon of olive oil over moderate heat. Saute the shrimp in a single layer in the pan until pink and opaque. Deglaze the pan with a bit of lime juice and serve.

Fiesta Peppers
I have made several versions of these over the years. I call these ones fiesta peppers because of their bright colors. They were a great compliment to the shrimp. Originally when I was making this, I put in a splash of white wine when my mother said, "You should have put in a splash of tequila instead since it's kind of Mexican." If you know my mother, it's not surprising that she thought of this! She loves herself some tequila. Not in a bad way or anything - I'm not outing her as an alcoholic here! She just loves margaritas and has been known to take on the occassional tequila shot. Anyway, enough about my mom's drinking habits. I thought that the suggestion was a great idea so I'm writing the recipe with the tequila instead of the wine. Much more fitting for a fiesta pepper.

2 red peppers, cut in half, stems and seeds removed
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 jalapeno peppers chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
juice of a lime
splash of tequila
1 can black beans, drained
1 mango, chopped
1 avocado, chopped
1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese

Set your peppers aside for now. Meanwhile, heat your olive oil in a large skillet and throw in your onions, garlic and peppers. Let these saute for about 8 minutes until softened and then add your spices and the juice of a lime. Once your spices have been incorporated, remove the pan from the heat and a generous splash of tequila. Put your pan back on the heat and bring it up to a simmer.
Once the alcohol smell has cooked off, add your black beans. Toss your beans to warm them through and soften them up.
After about 4 minutes, remove the mixture from the heat and add your chopped mango and avocado. Stir to combine.
Now preheat your grill and place your peppers, skin side down. Check them after about five minutes, they will have softened and you can flip them once and cook them for another 3 to 5 minutes. Once they are slightly softened and charred, remove them from the heat.
Fill each pepper half with your filling mixture and top with a 1/4 cup of the shredded cheddar.
Place the peppers back on grill or under a broiler (or even in the microwave) to simply melt the cheese.
Serve with guacamole or sour cream and enjoy!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Prosciutto-Wrapped Halibut (aka The Mummy Returns)

A few weekends ago we celebrated all the August and early September birthdays in our family with a big dinner at my mom's house. My mom, my brother-in-law and my brother's girlfriend all celebrate their birthday within the last week of August, first week of September. So we gathered at the maternal homestead for a feast.
In my family, when we celebrate something special it usually means we're having fish or red meat (unless it's Thanksgiving when we have turkey). Otherwise, it's fish or red meat. On this particular occasion it was fish. And fancy fish at that. Prosciutto-wrapped halibut in a mushroom tomato marinara sauce. My choice after searching through various culinary novels in awe.
I found this delectable recipe in The Newlywed's Cookbook . This, by the way, is a beautiful cookbook that I received as, you guessed it, a wedding gift. I hope the title didn't give away my surprise ending? Damn!
Anyway, this was a very attractive meal, besides the fact that it represented a favorite Halloween costume, a mummy. See you wrap your fleshy halibut - or monkfish if you prefer - filet in sheets of papery thin Prosciutto (or you can use bacon if you can't find Prosciutto). When your fish body is all wrapped up it resembles a well-wrapped sarcophagus! I just can't help but make the comparison.
Anyway, this was quite the tasty fish dish, however I did overcook it a bit. I followed the directions in the recipe but I'm afraid that they require way too much time in the oven for Mr. Halibut. He does not need to sweat for that long before bringing his fine self to the table. So I'm using my judgement to adjust the timing on this recipe because next time I make this I won't cook it nearly as long. Otherwise, a very flavorful and quite impressive looking "special occasion" meal. We served it with gorgonzola polenta, roasted broccoli with garlic and Caesar salad. What's that? You want to come to my family's next dinner party? Well sure! We'd love to have you. Usually 7 p.m. on Sundays. Enjoy :)

Prosciutto-Wrapped Halibut
12 thin slices of Prosciutto or bacon, enough to cover the fish
1 filet of Halibut, enough to fee 7-8 people
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1.5 cups sliced mushrooms
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup dry white wine
1 20 oz. can of chopped plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons of cream
a handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
sea salt

Rinse and dry your fish filet with a paper towel. Take your Prosciutto slices and law them on a work surface with the slices slightly overlapping each other. Put your fish filet on top, belly up (skin removed). Wrap the Prosciutto slices around the fish and secure. Turn over and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt and cook until browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic.
Add the wine and cook over high heat for one minute. Stir in the tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes.
Pour the tomato sauce into a baking dish just large enough to hold the fish. Set the fish on top of the sauce and roast in a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes.
Then turn the heat down and roast at 400 degrees for another 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir in the basil and cream into the sauce. Transfer to a platter, set the fish filet on top and serve.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Move over Nes-lay Toll-oose!

There's a new perfect chocolate chip cookie in town.
I'm sure everyone's seen that Friends episode where Phoebe lost her grandmother's famous cookie recipe in a fire. It was passed down from Phoebe's alleged great-great-grandmother, Nesele Tollouse. Monica eventually set Phoebe straight, revealing that her so-called family recipe was actually an internationally beloved recipe from the back of the Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip bag.

This recipe has been the go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe in my family for years. No, my mother never tried to claim it as her secret recipe - but people were always shocked to learn that those delicious cookies were the Nestle Tollhouse version. Why this came as such a blow to people I'll never know, but it always was met with dropped jaws and a big, "NO WAY!". No way? Why? I mean who better than a chocolate chip maker to create a tried and true recipe that uses their product? It makes perfect sense to me. So no matter what anyone says and despite cookie snobbery, it is one of the best no-fail cookie recipes in town. That said, it takes a lot to convince this true believer to try another recipe.

However, I found this chocolate chip cookie recipe on Annie's Eats blog. It has been on many other blogs as well so I wanted to see what all the hype was about. I discovered this cookie recipe truly deserves all the praise it receives. And dare I say it, but it rivals Nestle's good old standby. They are very similar actually, but there is a subtle difference I haven't been able to identify yet.

I had one problem though that I ALWAYS have with cookies. I don't know if it's me or the cookie sheets (I prefer to blame the sheets), but I never get chewy cookies. Sure they are chewy when they first come out of the oven but once they cool they crisp up. Don't get me wrong, they're still delicious but does anyone know how to keep that chewy texture after they cool down? When I was a kid and we used to buy Mrs. Fields cookies at the mall for a special treat, they would tel you to keep a piece of bread in with the cookies to keep them soft. Does this work for fresh baked homemade cookies? I'm thinking it's preservatives that keep the store-bought variety soft. But if you know otherwise I'd love to hear about it. Meanwhile, here's the recipe. You will not be disappointed. They are perfection in cookie form.

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies


2 cups plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

12 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled until warm

1 cup brown sugar, packed

½ cup granulated sugar

1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips


Adjust oven racks to upper and lower-middle positions. Preheat oven 325°. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk dry ingredients together in a medium bowl; set aside. With electric mixer, or by hand, mix butter and sugars until thoroughly combined. Beat in egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined. Add dry ingredients and beat at low-speed just until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

Roll a scant half-cup of dough into a ball. Holding dough ball in fingertips of both hands, pull apart into two equal halves. Rotate halves 90 degrees and, with jagged surfaces facing up, place formed dough onto cookie sheet, leaving ample room between each ball. Bake, reversing position of cookie sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are light golden brown and outer edges start to harden yet centers are still soft and puffy (approximately 11-14 minutes). Do not overbake.

Cool cookies on sheets until able to lift without breaking. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.


Cooks Note: I used Crisco butter sticks instead of butter because it's all I had in the house. They turned out beautifully though - picture perfect in fact if I do say so myself.