Sauteed String Beans with Tomatoes and Almonds

This recipe for sauteed string beans with tomatoes and almonds is an easy and healthy side dish to serve with any meal. And quick too!  Blanching the string beans first allows them to keep their bright green color.

String Beans with Tomatoes and Almonds
1 lb green beans or haricot verts
1 Tbsp olive oil or butter
1 – 2 beefsteak tomatoes
1/2 cup of slivered almonds

1. Blanch the green beans – Bring a pot of water to a boil, and cook the green beans for 2 – 3 minutes or until they are bright green.  Immediately emerge them in an ice bath to stop the cooking process.  Meanwhile, cut tomatoes into wedges.

2.  Place a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the oil and swirl pan to coat.  Add green beans to skillet and cook for about 2 minutes.  *Note:  don’t cook too long or they will lose their bright green color.

3.  Arrange green beans on plate or platter and garnish with tomatoes and almonds.

Some Like It Hot: Dan Dan Noodles

No, I am not talking about the 1959 Some Like It Hot movie, where Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon dress in drag to protect themselves from gangsters, all the while each trying to snag Marilyn Monroe for themselves.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s a classic and highly recommended.

I am actually talking about Dan Dan Noodles, another classic, but of the Szechuan varietal.  The first time I had Dan Dan Noodles was at Han Dynasty, a tasty Chinese BYOB in Philadelphia.  They were so good, yet so spicy, that I was hurriedly shoving them in my mouth so I could try and savor the dish, without my mouth being on fire for too long.  The second time I had them, I knew better, ordered them milder, and they did not disappoint.

I came across a recipe for the dish on Food and Wine magazine’s web site, and decided to make them.  I made some tweaks of my own  by removing the jalapeno’s, using gluten-free spaghetti, and replacing peanut butter with almond butter.  The result?  A fantastic replacement for Sunday night take out.  I guess that is what makes these noodles a classic, you can eat (or watch) it over and over and enjoy it every time.

Dan Dan Noodles
Adapted from Joanne Chang via foodandwine.com

Ingredients

1 small jalapeno, minced (optional)
1 small garlic clove, halved
One 1/4-inch slice of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup peanut or almond butter
2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon Sriracha chile sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
Kosher salt
1 lb spaghetti, chow mein, or other ribbon pasta
Cucumber matchsticks, sliced scallions, chopped cilantro, sesame seeds and lime halves, for garnish

1. In  a food processor, add the jalapeno, garlic and ginger and process until minced. Add the peanut butter, soy sauce, water, rice vinegar, Sriracha, sugar and sesame oil and process until smooth. Season generously with salt.

2. In a pot of boiling salted water, cook the noodles until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water; pat dry. Toss the noodles with the dressing and mound in serving bowls; top with the garnishes and serve.

Spaghetti Squash with Pesto

Dave and I are avid shoppers of the Italian Market in South Philly, and when the weekend permits, we walk down and do our weekly produce shopping.  Lately, we have been enjoying the abundance of winter produce like turnips and butternut squash.  We recently stumbled upon spaghetti squash, and it is now our seasonal favorite.
It takes a while to cook, but once it is done, the contents get scrapped out and the flesh turns spaghetti-like.

However, I will warn you that it doesn’t taste or act like spaghetti.  When I say “act like”, I mean it isn’t easy to toss in sauce.  But it is pretty darn tasty and is a good alternative for those on a low-carb or gluten-free diet.  My favorite is with pesto and peas, seen here.
For the pesto, the recipe I am including uses basil, but you can really use any herbs or greens that you have on hand — like parsley, spinach or kale.  Traditionally made, pesto will call for pine nuts or walnuts.  I learned in culinary school that those who were poor in Italy used walnuts and rich Italian folks used pine nuts.  Tastes good to me either way!

Spaghetti Squash with Pesto and Peas

To Make the Spaghetti Squash
Adapted from Foodnetwork.com, Emeril Lagasse

1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Using 1 small spaghetti squash, about 2 1/4 pounds, cut the squash with a sharp knife in half lengthwise and place, cut side down, in a baking dish. If it is too hard to cut, put the squash in the microwave for about 45 seconds, and it should soften a bit.

2) Add enough water to come 1/2-inch up the sides of the baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 45 minutes, until the squash is easily pierced with a paring knife. Turn squash over and cover with foil again and continue to cook another 15 minutes, until the squash is very tender.

3) Remove from the oven, uncover, and allow to cool slightly. Using a spoon, remove the seeds and discard. Using a fork, gently pull the strands of squash away from the peel and place the squash strands into a mixing bowl.

4) Add butter, oil or any seasonings of your preference to add some flavor.

To Make the Pesto

4 bunch basil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts, toasted
1/2 cup olive oil (add more if needed)
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, grated (omit this for a vegan version)
ground black pepper, to taste

1) Using a food processor, grind the basil, garlic, nuts and oil until a paste is formed.  Pulse in the grated cheese.  Season with salt and pepper.

Blood Oranges Three Ways

Not sure if you have noticed all the citrus in the grocery store and at produce stands, but Dave and I sure have.  We even schlepped back a bushel of citrus from our Florida road trip in December.  And ever since our juicer has been working overtime making fresh squeezed orange juice of different varietals. Let me tell you, there is nothing better than fresh squeezed orange juice!

Among my favorites this time of year is the Honeybell (aka tangelo) and most recently the blood orange.  I had obviously heard of this said blood orange (El Vez’s Blood Orange Margarita anyone?), but I had never brought one home to my own kitchen.  During one of our weekly trips to the Italian Market, Dave and I saw the oranges being sold at one of our favorite stands and picked them up.  I love the beautiful crimson color on the inside and the sweetness of its juice.

The first recipe we tried was this Blood Orange and Onion Salad.  So delightful and refreshing.

Of course, we had to test our own version of a Blood Orange Margarita.

And my sweet tooth couldn’t resist this Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake.

I even made blood orange mimosas for a recent Girls’ Dinner.  While they are in abundance, I would highly recommend picking up a few!  All three recipes are below:

Blood Orange and Red Onion Salad
Adapted from Food and Wine

1/4 small red onion thinly sliced
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
Maldon salt and fresh ground white pepper
4 blood oranges
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 T basil leaves chiffonade or torn

1. In a bowl, toss the red onion with the vinegar and season with Maldon salt and white pepper. Let stand at room temperature until softened, 15 minutes. Drain.

2. Meanwhile, using a sharp knife, peel the oranges, removing all of the bitter white pith. Thinly slice the oranges crosswise, removing any pits. Arrange the oranges on a platter and scatter the red onion on top. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with Maldon salt and white pepper. Garnish with the basil and serve.

Blood Orange Margaritas
Adapted from How Sweet It Is
makes a single serving

1 1/2 ounces tequila (silver or gold, based on your preference)
1 ounce aperol, grand mariner, or other orange-flavored liquor
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 1/2 ounces blood orange juice (about 1-2 oranges)
salt for the rim, lime/orange wedges for garnish

Rim the ridge of your glass with a lime wedge and dip in salt. Fill the glass with ice. In a cocktail shaker, combine tequila, aperol, blood orange and lime juice with ice, and shake for about 30 seconds. Pour over ice and squeeze in lemon and orange slices.

Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Butter for greasing pan
3 blood oranges
1 cup (200 grams or 7 ounces) sugar
Scant 1/2 cup (118 ml) buttermilk or plain yogurt*
3 large eggs
2/3 cup (156 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 3/4 cups (219 grams or 7 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Whipped cream, for serving (optional)

*I actually used soy yogurt and it worked well

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Grate zest from 2 oranges and place in a bowl with sugar. Using your fingers, rub ingredients together until orange zest is evenly distributed in sugar.

2. Cut off bottom and top of the oranges so fruit is exposed and orange can stand upright on a cutting board. Cut away peel and pith, following curve of fruit with your knife. Cut orange segments out of their connective membranes and let them fall into a bowl. Repeat with another orange. Break up segments with your fingers or cut to about 1/4-inch pieces with a knife.

3. Halve remaining orange and squeeze juice into a measuring cup; you’ll will have about 1/4 cup. Add buttermilk or yogurt to juice until you have 2/3 cup liquid altogether. Pour mixture into bowl with sugar and whisk well. Whisk in eggs and olive oil.

4. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Gently stir dry ingredients into wet ones. Fold in pieces of orange segments. Pour batter into prepared pan.

5. Bake cake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until it is golden and a knife inserted into center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then unmold and cool to room temperature right-side up. Serve with whipped cream.

Julia with a dash of Ina

Between Christmas and New Year’s, Dave and I took a road trip to South Florida and as we headed back north, stopped in Tampa to visit my close college friend Joy, her husband Ian, and their adorable 2 year-old son, Jack.  When I spoke with Joy a few days before our visit, she was so excited and planned an exquisite meal for us, with a deal that it would make this blog. And it turned out to be more than worthy of a post!  As Joy said to me, “I introduced you to Ina (Barefoot Contessa); I think you are ready for Julia.”

We started with store-bought Foie Gras mousse, accompanied by Barefoot Contessa’s apple and prune compote.

The main event was Julia Child’s Coq Au Vin with her garlic mashed potatoes and buttered peas from her Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I.

It was a lovely evening of good food, good friends, and good conversation.  Which is how I prefer it!  Take a cue from Joy and try this menu for your next dinner party.  Bon appétit!

Warm Apple and Prune Compote
Serves 6

3 large apples, peeled, cored and each cut into 12 wedges
2/3 cup sweet dessert wine, such as Sauternes
1 1/2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 Tbsp honey
14 large pitted prunes (3/4 cup)
2 springs fresh rosemary
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Stir the apples, wine, lemon juice and honey together in a bowl.  Pour the mixture into one or two baking dishes large enough to hold the apples snugly in a single layer with the apples cut sides down.  Scatter the prunes among the apples and tuck the rosemary sprigs into the fruit.  Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp of pepper.  Cover the baking dishes with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the foil from the baking dishes and raise the oven temperature to 375 degrees.  Continue baking for 10 – 15 minutes, until the liquid has become syrupy.  Set aside.  (You can refrigerate the compote for 24 hours and reheat when ready to serve.)

Julia Child’s Coq Au Vin
A 3- to 4-ounce chunk of lean bacon
A heavy, 10-inch, fireproof casserole or an electric skillet
2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 to 3 pounds cut-up frying chicken
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup cognac
3 cups young, full-bodied red wine, such as Burgundy, Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhône or Chianti
1 to 2 cups brown chicken stock, brown stock or canned beef bouillon
1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
12-24 brown-braised onions
1/2 pound sauteed mushrooms
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons softened butter
Sprigs of fresh parsley

Remove the rind of bacon and cut into lardons (rectangles 1/4 inch across and 1 inch long). Simmer for 10 minutes in 2 quarts of water. Rinse in cold water. Dry.

Sauté the bacon slowly in hot butter until it is very lightly browned (temperature 260 degrees for an electric skillet). Remove to a side dish.

Dry the chicken thoroughly. Brown it in the hot fat in the casserole (360 degrees for the electric skillet).

Season the chicken. Return the bacon to the casserole with the chicken. Cover and cook slowly (300 degrees) for 10 minutes, turning the chicken once.

Uncover and pour in the cognac. Averting your face, ignite the cognac with a lighted match. Shake the casserole back and forth for several seconds until the flames subside.

Pour the wine into the casserole. Add just enough stock or bouillon to cover the chicken. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic and herbs. Bring to the simmer. Cover and simmer slowly for 25 to 30 minutes or until the chicken is tender and its juices run a clear yellow when the meat is pricked with a fork. Remove the chicken to a side dish.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms (see below).

Simmer the chicken cooking liquid in the casserole for a minute or two, skimming off the fat. Then raise the heat and boil rapidly, reducing the liquid to about 2 1/4 cups. Correct seasoning. Remove from heat, discard bay leaf.

Blend the butter and flour together into a smooth paste (beurre manié). Beat the paste into the hot liquid with a wire whip. Bring to the simmer, stirring, and simmer for a minute or two. The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.

Arrange the chicken in the casserole, place the mushrooms and onions around it and baste with the sauce. Serve from the casserole, or arrange on a hot platter. Decorate with sprigs of parsley.

Brown-Braised Onions:
12 to 24 small white onions, peeled (or double the amount if you want
to use tiny frozen peeled raw onions)*
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste

* If neither frozen nor fresh pearl onions are available, substitute one large onion cut into 1/2-inch pieces. (Do not use jarred pearl onions, which will turn mushy and disintegrate into the sauce.)

While chicken is cooking, drop onions into boiling water, bring water back to the boil, and let boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and drain. Cool onions in ice water. Shave off the two ends (root and stem ends) of each onion, peel carefully, and pierce a deep cross in the root end with a small knife (to keep onions whole during cooking).

In a large frying pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil, add parboiled onions, and toss for several minutes until lightly browned (this will be a patchy brown). Add water to halfway up onions and add 1/4 to1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover pan and simmer slowly for 25 to 30 minutes or until onions are tender when pierce with a knife.

Mushrooms:
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, washed, well dried, left whole if small,
sliced or quartered if large
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 tablespoon olive oil

Prepare mushrooms. In a large frying pan over medium heat, heat butter and olive oil; when bubbling hot, toss in mushrooms and saute over high heat for 4 to 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from heat.  Don’t crowd the mushrooms!

Garlic Mashed Potatoes
¼ cup roasted garlic cloves
½ cup milk {reduced fat is fine, but not skim}
½ cup heavy cream or crème fraîche
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt
2 pounds potatoes, preferably Idaho or Yukon Gold, peeled and quartered

Purée the garlic, milk and cream in a blender or food processor until smooth. Transfer to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in butter; cover and keep warm.

Meanwhile, bring a large a 3-quart or larger pan of water to a boil. Add 2 teaspoons salt and the potatoes.

Cook until tender, about 15 minutes; drain.

Arrange a potato ricer over a large heat-proof bowl and press the potatoes through it. If you don’t have a potato ricer {you should, it makes super-smooth potatoes!} just mash the potatoes in the bowl using a potato masher.

Dribble in the hot milk mixture beat until the potatoes are creamy. Taste and add more salt if you think they need it. I find that they almost always need some – start with ½ teaspoon kosher salt or ¼ teaspoon table salt and go from there.
Serve warm, sprinkled with some freshly chopped parsley or chives.

Buttered Peas with shallots
10 oz fresh or frozen peas
2 – 3 tsp butter
1 small shallot diced
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the peas in a boiling pot of water for 1½ – 2 minutes (if using frozen peas, less time is needed). Remove from the water and drain.

Heat the butter over medium heat then add the shallots and cook stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes. Add the peas to the butter and shallots, mixing well to evenly coat the peas in butter. Season with salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste.



Latke Off: Traditional vs. Sweet Potato

It’s Chanukah, which means chocolate gelt, jelly doughnuts and of course, the traditional potato latke.  Dave and I recently attended a Latkepalooza, where local Philadelphia restaurants created their own version of the holiday potato pancake.  At the event, we were debating about what a latke should taste and look like.  Dave enjoyed his mother’s potato latkes growing up and I remember being served the Manischewitz latke mix from a box (that hardly hold a candle to homemade ones).  Of the more traditional latkes served, there wasn’t one that hit the mark of what a latke is SUPPOSED to be.  From this conversation our Latke-Off was born.

I knew that a traditional latke should have a hint of onion and use flour and egg to bind it together.  Dave wanted to strive to reproduce his mom’s recipe, which apparently was only grated potatoes fried in oil.  So that is what he did, but substituted in sweet potatoes.  I found a recipe from Food and Wine Magazine’s blog that advertised the perfect potato pancake, and that is exactly what they were.

While Dave and I were both standing by the stove frying our pancakes, mine stayed perfectly together, while Dave’s first mound disintegrated into match stick fries.  He immediately added flour and egg to his potato mixture, which helped some, but not enough.  (We later realized that sweet potatoes have a different starch and water content than white potatoes, and that is why they didn’t stay together.)

Here is the final product of both our latkes and recipes to follow.  The sweet potato latke recipe I made a few years ago, and I promise they won’t fall apart on you.  The pictures are of our results from the Latke-Off; your results may vary.

Renee Simmons Latkes Recipe
Adapted from Food and Wine Magazine
Makes 8 medium-sized and one Super latke

INGREDIENTS
3 1/2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and halved
1 large yellow onion, cut into 8 wedges
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
canola oil, for frying
applesauce and sour cream for serving

1. Set a large strainer over a bowl. In a food processor fitted with the shredding disk, shred the potatoes and onion in batches. Add each batch to the strainer and let stand for 5 minutes, then squeeze dry. Pour off all of the liquid in the bowl and add the shredded potatoes. Stir in the flour, eggs, salt and baking powder. Scrape the mixture back into the strainer and set it over a bowl; let stand for 5 minutes.

2. In a very large skillet, heat 1/4 inch of canola oil until shimmering. Using a slotted spoon, spoon the potato mixture into the canola oil for each latke, pressing slightly to flatten. Fry over moderate heat, turning once, until the latkes are golden and crisp on both sides, about 7 minutes. Drain the latkes on a paper towel–lined baking sheet. Serve the latkes hot with applesauce and sour cream.

Sweet Potato Latkes
From the Sun Sentinal Newspaper

INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled
1 medium onion
2 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
vegetable oil, for frying

1. Grate sweet potatoes and onion, using grating disc of a food processor or large holes of a grater.  Transfer to a large bowl.  Beat eggs with salt and pepper and add to potato mixture.  Add flour and mix well.

2.  Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a heavy 10- to 12-inch skillet, preferably nonstick.  Fill a 1/4 cup measuring cup with potato mixture, pressing to compact it, and turn it out in a mound into skillet.  Quickly form 3 more mounds in skillet.  Flatten each with a back of a spoon so each cake is about 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter, pressing to flatten.

3.  Fry over medium heat 3 minutes.  Turn carefully with 2 slotted spatulas and fry second side about 2 1/2 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp.

4.  Drain on paper towels.  Stir potato mixture before frying each new batch and add a little more oil to pan.  Serve pancakes hot.  Makes about 4 servings.

I’ll have a side of turkey with my Oyster Stuffing

If I had to create a guest list for Thanksgiving dinner, the turkey would not be invited.  My attendance list would consist completely of sides (with a few dessert and alcohol invitees too!) Every year I am happy to mingle with candied yams, brussels sprouts, broccoli casserole, pumpkin pie and coconut cake.  The turkey is only invited to my plate annually because of it’s protein value.  Only Reason!

Stuffing is a plated guest every year as well, and sometimes it’s the life of the party and other times it is a Debbie Downer.  The Debbie Downers are usually of the boxed varietal.  My Bubbie (yiddish for Grandmother) used to make a stuffing with Rice Krispies when I was growing up.  My mom and I have tried to duplicate it multiple times and everytime the flavors are full of nostalgia, but the texture doesn’t always come out right.  And to be honest, with my new found food snobbery, I was disappointed that the recipe doesn’t call for more fresh ingredients.  I guess that is a post for another time.

When I found a recipe for Oyster Stuffing on Food & Wine’s web site, I thought I have to try this because 1) Dave and I love oysters and 2) I am still on the hunt for a good stuffing recipe.

*Side Note:  The recipe author is New Orlean’s own John Besh.  We’ll be in NOLA this weekend and we’ll be dining at one of his restaurants!

We halved the recipe, since we weren’t planning on feeding 6 to 8 people on a Sunday night.  Maybe 3 if you include my golden retriever, Beresford (aka Bere, pronounced Bear), although he rarely gets people food, except if he snatches it!  In addition, the recipe called for a slab of bacon which apparently is just that, a slab; it hasn’t been cut into strips yet.  But that wasn’t an option at Whole Foods, so we used the traditional strips.  The bacon and vegetables were cooked in a cast iron skillet and the kitchen was filled with an alluring aroma. When all the ingredients were combined and put in the oven, this was produced:

You’ll see that there are dark pieces scattered throughout the stuffing.  This is the bacon and green pepper, although they weren’t burnt when the dish went into the oven.

Dave and I think this is because we cooked those ingredients the same amount of time as called for in the original recipe, which you recall is double of what we actually made.  However, this did not affect the taste of the stuffing at all.  The flavor combo had our taste buds singing!

If you love oysters and stuffing separately, then you’ll love them together!  Give it a whirl, let me know how it turns out!

Oyster Dressing
(Adapted from foodandwine.com, contributed by John Besh)

Ingredients
2 ounces slab bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 stick unsalted butter
1 celery rib, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 small onion, finely diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 large baguettes (about 1 pound), cut into 1/2-inch dice (12 cups)
4 dozen shucked oysters plus 1 cup oyster liquor, oysters halved (2 cups)
2 scallions, minced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter a 10-by-14-inch shallow baking dish. In a large skillet, cook the bacon over moderate heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the butter and let melt, then add the celery, green pepper, onion and minced garlic and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the paprika, garlic powder and cayenne and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Put the diced baguettes in a large bowl. Spoon the bacon mixture on top. Add the oysters and their liquor along with the scallions and parsley.

3. In a small bowl, beat the eggs with the hot sauce and salt. Pour the eggs into the bowl and mix everything together. Scrape the dressing into the prepared baking dish and bake in the upper third of the oven for about 45 minutes, until heated through and crisp on top. Serve hot.

Make Ahead: The baked oyster dressing can be refrigerated overnight. Reheat before serving.

The Communal Table: A Virtual Thanksgiving

This year I’ll be attending more than one Thanksgiving meal.  Food Network along with a variety of other food-centric web sites has invited food bloggers to a virtual Thanksgiving and I am planning on being at the communal table.  The bloggers that are participating have to bring one dish “to the table.”  The dish I am bringing is Mashed Sweet Potatoes.

A simple, yet delicious recipe that doesn’t require much effort, while adding your own flavor preferences.  I make mine with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger to taste, so it’s sweet with a bit of a kick.  Here’s the recipe adapted from the Joy of Cooking:

Ingredients
2 pounds sweet potatoes or yams, scrubbed (and peeled only if desired)
4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) butter, softened
Salt to taste

Directions
Boil potatoes until thoroughly tender.  Drain and pour potatoes back into potMash and add butter.  Mix or beat potatoes til smooth or to desired texture.  Add cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger or additional flavors such as:

chopped pecans or walnuts
diced crystallized ginger
honey
brown Sugar
bourbon or dry sherry
grated orange or lemon zest

My Internet dining companions brought:

Cocktails, Appetizers, Soups and Salads:
Eat Be Mary: She’s Mulling It Over Wine
Cookistry: Bread With Ancient Grains
Celebrity Chefs and Their Gardens: The American Hotel Peconic Clam Chowder
Picky Eater Blog: Butternut Squash Soup With Thyme and Parmesan
Good Food Good Friends: Mushroom Soup

Mains:
Examiner.com: Grilled Quail with a Warm Beet, Frisée, and Pistachio Salad
She Wears Many Hats: Mayonnaise Roasted Turkey

Sides:
Living Mostly Meatless: Vegan-Friendly Corn Casserole
Healthy Green Kitchen: Red Kuri Squash Pie
The Naptime Chef: Crispy Rosemary Fingerling Potatoes
Gluten-Free Blondie: Apple and Cranberry Studded Stuffing
Eat Drink Man Woman Dogs Cat: Blue Cheese and Rosemary Celebration Potatoes
Burnt Lumpia: Turkey, Sweet Potato and Cranberry Empanadas
Panfusine: Pan Fried Polenta Seasoned With Cumin, Ginger & Black Pepper
Homemade Cravings: Warm Brussels Sprouts and Cranberry Slaw
Bakeaholic Mama: Maple Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Crispy Prosciutto
Show Food Chef: Beer-Braised Brussels Sprouts
T’s Tasty Bits: Sweet Empanadas with Pumpkin and Lupini Beans Filling
The Amused Bouche Blog: Braised Kale
The Little Kitchen: How to Make the Perfect Mashed Potatoes

Desserts:
The Macaron Queen: Macaron Tower
Poet In The Pantry: Amaretto Apple Crisp
Farm Girl Gourmet: Pumpkin Coconut Panna Cotta
That’s Forking Good: Cinnamon Chip Pumpkin Blondies
Out of the Box Food: Out of the Box Food Maple Pumpkin Pie
Cake Baker 35: Orange Spiced Pumpkin Pie
Lisa Michele: Pumpkin, Pecan, Cheesecake Pie
Food For My Family: Buttermilk Custard Pear Pie
Simple Bites: Black-Bottom Maple Pumpkin Pie
A Cooks Nook: Swedish Apple Pie
Yakima Herald: Pretzel Jell-O Salad
How Does She: Three of Our Favorite Desserts
Dollhouse Bake Shoppe: Thanksgiving Candy Bar Name Plates
Sweet Fry: Pumpkin Latte
Tasty Trials: Spiced Apple Panna Cotta With Caramelized Apples and Caramel Sauce
An Uneducated Palate: Puff Pastry Apple Tart
Frugal Front Porch: Mini Cheaty Cheesecakes

Kitchen Courses: Thanksgiving for Six People Under $60

Brussels Sprout Off: Aunt Kathy’s vs. Cook’s Illustrated

I am proud to say that since Dave and I have been dating, his palate has become more sophisticated.  He is pretty adventurous when it comes to food, (he even tried pig tail once!), but until recently held on to some childhood food aversions.  Like asparagus (too mushy), cole slaw (too creamy) and Brussels sprouts (again, too mushy).  I feel like it is a common stereotype that all kids hate Brussels sprouts.  But I would hope as they mature, so do their taste buds, and they come to appreciate all a Brussels sprout has to offer.  I asked Dave to consider trying them again after 20 years, and surprisingly, I didn’t have to twist his arm too much.  Now he is a Brussels sprout lover!  Look at that!

So I was excited when I saw a Brussels sprout recipe in the latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated magazine.  Let me clarify, I am a huge fan of America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated.  I have an online subscription and a magazine subscription. I am even a “Friend of Cook’s Illustrated”, testing recipes currently under development. I don’t think it gets more zealous than that.

Dave’s Aunt Kathy, who is a chef and owns her own cooking school, In The Kitchen, in Haddonfield, NJ, first showed Dave how to roast broccoli with just olive oil, salt and pepper.  This method consistently produces perfectly roasted vegetables, including Brussels sprouts.

So why not test Aunt Kathy’s way vs. the Cook’s Illustrated method?  The recipes were slightly different and I wanted to see if the results would be the same.  Cook’s Illustrated basically steamed the sprouts in the oven for 10 minutes by covering the baking sheet with aluminum foil.  The foil was then removed before roasting for another 10 minutes. I was so disappointed by the outcome. My all-knowing ATK turned out a mushier version (what they described as “tender”) of Aunt Kathy’s.ATK’s is on the left, Aunt Kathy’s on the right.  Can you see the difference?

Conclusion:  Even the most knowledgeable of people, aren’t always right.

Winner:  Aunt Kathy’s Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts, ends cut off, whole or halved
Olive Oil
Pepper
Sea Salt

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.  Slather and toss Brussels sprouts in olive oil, til every inch is glistening, in either a bowl or on a baking sheet.  Transfer to baking sheet, if not already using one.  Season with black pepper.

2. Roast in oven for 12 minutes, shaking the pan half way through cook time.

3. Brussels sprouts should be bright green, bottoms caramelized, with some burnt leaves.  Season with sea salt to taste, and serve.

A Curious Palate

If you know me, you know that I love food. And wine. And a good dirty martini.  But I would like to clarify that because I love food, does not mean I love to EAT.  I believe these are two different things.  I love to TASTE (with the exception of chocolate, I do love to EAT that.)  And if you know me, you know I am an unabashed food snob.  I admittedly hate chain restaurants and prefer dishes made from scratch with fresh ingredients.

And one more thing……I have a huge crush on Ina Garten.  I have all 7 of her cookbooks that I reference more than once a week. The first Barefoot Contessa cookbook I received was Barefoot in Paris for my bridal shower, but I didn’t use it til 3 years later.  And since then, I’ve been hooked. Special thanks to my friends who gave me that formative gift and to my mom and sister-in-law for helping me complete the collection!

Since I am often asked for recipe and restaurant recommendations, I thought I would share my passion for the art and science of good eating and drinking.  This includes recipe testing, restaurant reviews, wine tasting, and any other interesting culinary related items that strike my fancy.  I have to give a big shout out to my wonderful boyfriend, Dave, who is also a talented photographer.  The pictures will be mostly his, so I can’t take any credit for them. I hope you follow me and my curious palate on our adventures in food and wine – the good bad and the ugly!

Speaking of ugly and Ina Garten, the first recipe I am sharing is Banana Crunch Muffins from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.  I made these for a book club brunch and decreased the scale by 25%; I didn’t need to make 18 muffins, I needed to make 12.  I filled them to the top of the muffin cup, like the directions said.  This is what came out of the oven and onto the cooling rack:

There was no picture to reference in the cookbook, so I am not sure what they are actually supposed to look like. I know some prefer a “muffin top” on muffins; there was a whole Seinfeld episode about it! As long as it is not of the unfashionable type, we’re good.  There was a runt of the litter that came out looking like one would think is a normal muffin.  I compared the two – you tell me which one you think looks more appetizing.

Overall, they were very moist and had a great banana flavor.  I excluded the coconut, as for some reason I tend to surround myself with people who do not like coconut, and the walnuts since I am not a huge fan of nuts in my bread.

Banana Crunch Muffins
The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Makes 18 Large Muffins

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 extra-large eggs
¾ cup whole milk
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2 bananas)
1 cup medium-diced ripe bananas
1 cup small-diced walnuts
1 cup granola
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
Dried banana chips, granola, or shredded coconut (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line 18 large muffin cups with paper liners. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  Add the melted butter and blend.  Combine the eggs, milk, vanilla, and mashed bananas, and add them to the flour-and-butter mixture.  Scrape the bowl and blend well.  Don’t overmix.

Fold the diced bananas, walnuts, granola, and coconut into the batter.  Spoon the batter into the paper liners, filling each one to the top.  Top each muffin with dried banana chips, granola, or coconut, if desired.  Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until the tops are brown and a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool slightly, remove from the pan, and serve.