Old-Fashioned Cocoa Cake With Caramel Icing — The Weekender

by in Entertaining, Recipes, March 8th, 2013

Old-Fashioned Cocoa Cake With Caramel IcingI am the designated birthday dessert baker for my circle of close friends and dear family members. Every year, I make a dozen or more cakes, pies, tarts and meringue concoctions for parties, picnics and small family dinners.

It starts in January with my dad’s birthday. Tradition dictates that he gets a thing called Pinch Pie (though it’s neither pinched, nor is it a pie). It’s a meringue shell filled with ice cream, strawberries, whipped cream and toasted almonds. It’s a sugar bomb, but it’s beloved in my family.

In February, both my sister and my husband celebrate. When she was younger, Raina was into ice cream cakes, but these days she prefers something dense and chocolatey. Scott, on the other hand, hasn’t shifted his preferences since childhood. He likes to celebrate with a Funfetti cake made from a boxed mix. Though it violates my from-scratch sensibilities, that’s what he gets.

As we head into March, I start thinking about baking for my friend Shay’s big day. She doesn’t have a standard cake, instead preferring to try something new. Last time I did a carrot cake, and this year I’ve been planning something layered and featuring chocolate.

Before you start baking, read these tips

Crispy Zucchini and Potato Pancakes — The Weekender

by in Holidays, Recipes, March 1st, 2013

Crispy Zucchini and Potato Pancakes - The WeekenderWhen I was in high school, I went through a period where nothing I ate sat right with me. My parents took me to our family doctor, trying to figure out what was the matter. I was tested for celiac disease, IBS, Crohn’s and other illnesses that can sometimes cause digestive distress and they all came back negative. It wasn’t until a family friend who was also a naturopathic doctor suggested I take a break from eating wheat-based foods that things began to improve.

This was back in the mid-’90s, before everyone was eating wheat-free and gluten-free. The available rice pasta was terrible and the spelt bread sold at our local co-op was dry and crumbly. I ate a lot of my mom’s homemade granola and gave up a lot of the things I most liked to eat for a time.

Happily, I found that it was enough for me to take occasional breaks from wheat to keep my belly happy and so every couple months, I’d take a week or two off from bread, pasta, cookies and anything else with wheat in the ingredient list.

Over this past weekend, I realized that it was time for another such wheat-free period. I did a little meal planning and made a shopping list of things that would ease the shift (though it’s so much easier to do these days than it was nearly 20 years ago).

Before you start cooking, read these tips

Creamy Winter Vegetable Soup — The Weekender

by in Recipes, February 22nd, 2013

Creamy Winter Vegetable SoupWhenever I’m at a loss as to what I should make for dinner, I make a pot of soup. I appreciate the fact that you can make something warming and filling with just a few ingredients and I love the fact that a batch of soup nearly always yields enough for lunch the next day.

In fact, we eat so much soup around my house that in late January, my husband asked for a soup break. Looking back, I realized that we’d eaten a batch or two every week since November. Once I figured out just how much soup I’d been feeding him, I was fine with taking a little rest.

Nearly all my soups start out the same way: I saute onions, leeks or shallots in a bit of olive oil and then start adding whatever other vegetables are in my fridge that need to be used. Then there’s the liquid. I use stock if there’s some to be had, or water with a little bouillon concentrate or a splash of wine for flavor.

Finally, salt, pepper, herbs and a long, slow simmer. Unless I’m working with tough cuts of meat that need a lot of cooking, the last thing I add  is protein — like slivers of chicken breast, beans or little cubes of ham — to prevent it from overcooking or falling to bits.

Before you start cooking, read these tips

Roasted Leg o’ Lamb Sandwich — The Weekender

by in Entertaining, February 15th, 2013

Roasted Leg of Lamb Sandwich - The WeekenderWhen I was younger, I was a voracious reader. One of my favorite book series in those days was the one about Betsy and Tacy, two girls growing up in the Midwest at the turn of the last century.

One of the events that occurs regularly in these books is Betsy’s family’s tradition of sharing their Sunday lunch with friends and family. This meal happens in the late afternoon and stars a giant platter of sandwiches that are always prepared by Betsy’s father.

Some weeks his sandwiches would feature cold roast meat, while others they’d be simple constructions of fried egg or thinly sliced onion that’d been well-seasoned. Served with coffee and slices of cake to follow, this seemed, to my mind, to be the perfect way to spend a Sunday evening.

Last week, suddenly hit by a craving for a Betsy-Tacy-style sandwich party, I went in search of a little sandwich inspiration. What I found was Guy Fieri’s Roasted Leg o’ Lamb Sandwich. It’s a three-part recipe that has you marinate and roast off a piece of lamb, make a spicy from-scratch mayonnaise and then shred fennel, cabbage, onion and Brussels sprouts into a crunchy topping.

Before you start cooking, read these tips

Vanilla Dutch Baby — The Weekender

by in Recipes, February 8th, 2013

Vanilla Dutch Baby For the last month, my husband and I have been trying to clean up our eating habits (things got dire toward the end of December). We’ve increased our intake of fruits and vegetables and have eased way back on baked goods and dairy products (oh cheese, I have missed you!).

These efforts have had the biggest impact on our weekend mornings. Instead of making pancakes or waffles as a Saturday morning treat, there have been a goodly number of vegetable-filled omelets and piles of oven-crisped turkey bacon. Those options are delicious, but not particularly satisfying when you’re craving a sweet treat.

This last Sunday, as a way to reward us for a month of virtuous eating, I made an oven-baked puffed pancake. You warm a skillet in the oven with a bit of butter set inside to melt and then whip up a quick, egg-rich batter in the blender. Once the butter is foaming, you pour some of it off into the batter, reblend quickly and then pour the smooth batter into the hot skillet.

Before you start cooking, read these tips

Hot Corn Dip and Onion Dip From Scratch — The Weekender

by in Entertaining, Holidays, February 1st, 2013

Hot Corn Dip and Onion Dip From ScratchWhen it comes to sporting events, I’m really only in it for the food. As a kid, when I went to baseball games with my dad, my mind was on killing time until the seventh-inning stretch, when I’d be allowed to have ice cream. In high school, football games were all about the soft pretzels (and flirting, of course). And to my mind, Super Bowl Sunday is about snacks, dips and wacky commercials.

While there’s nothing wrong with classics like queso dip (made from only the very best processed cheeses) and blender salsas, I do get a kick out of making fancied-up versions of traditional dippy dishes. I’ve entertained a number in recent days and two that have bubbled to the top of my big game hit parade are Trisha Yearwood’s Hot Corn Dip and Alton Brown’s Onion Dip From Scratch.

The Hot Corn Dip is one of those addictive creations where you mix up a few ingredients, scrape the whole mess into an ovenproof bowl and bake it until bubbly (I’m drooling a little just thinking about it). It can be prepped ahead of time and baked off just before the game starts. Served with tortilla chips, it’s a good snacking time.

Before you start cooking, read these tips

Scrambled Eggs Chiliquiles With Roasted Tomatillo Sauce — The Weekender

by in Entertaining, Recipes, January 25th, 2013

Scrambled Eggs Chiliquiles With Roasted Tomatillo SauceWhen I was in my twenties, going out to brunch was one of my favorite weekend activities. I loved every part of the ritual, including waiting for a table, choosing between sweet or savory and dividing up the check with a happily full belly.

Though eating brunch on a Saturday or Sunday morning is still a beloved pastime, I’ve found that my preferred venue has changed. These days, I’m all about brunch at home. It’s cheaper, the temptations are fewer and it can be prepared and eaten while one is wearing pajamas.

Because I can far too easily default to the same three brunch dishes (scrambled eggs with turkey bacon, whole-grain pancakes or leftover stuffed omelets), I do try to seek out brunch recipes that are outside my norm. Some weeks (and much to my husband’s delight), I bake a coffeecake. Others I bake up a frittata in my trusty cast-iron skillet (though some claim that I am too heavy-handed with the kale).

Before you start cooking, read these tips

Pork Goulash With Apple and Onion — The Weekender

by in Entertaining, January 18th, 2013

Pork Goulash With Apple and OnionOne of my long-held theories about life is that most people fall into one of two entertaining camps. You are either dinner party people or potluck people. If you’re a dinner party person, the nights when you have friends over are well-orchestrated. You make the entire meal or if you delegate parts of it, you give specific recipe assignments. Wine and beer is planned, purchased in advance and appropriately chilled. Tables are set sometime in the afternoon and there’s always a carefully arranged cheeseboard.

Potluck people are less concerned with the details. They issue an invitation to gather without carefully balancing the numbers of couples and singles. They don’t make the whole meal but instead announce the main dish they’ll be providing and then ask guests to fill in the blanks as they see them. If asked to comment on whether a dish might go well with the planned menu, the answer is always a happy-go-lucky “Sure!”

I have long been a potluck person. I love eating with friends, but rarely can I be bothered with the worry of formal guest lists or long hours of prep time. I am married to someone, however, who is more comfortable when the details are firmly nailed down and so I found myself throwing a very uncharacteristic dinner party last Saturday night.

Before you start cooking, read these tips

Farfalle With Chicken, Porcini Mushroom and Swiss Chard — The Weekender

by in Recipes, January 11th, 2013

Farfalle With Chicken, Porcini Mushrooms and Swiss ChardMy most vivid memories of childhood are those ones in which my family is seated around our dining room table. I remember discussing potential Halloween costumes over stuffed green peppers and soldiering through those first cold nights of winter over big bowls of chicken and rice soup.

Different eras of my childhood are so deeply linked to the meals we ate frequently during those years that I still can’t eat those dishes without recalling long-past moments. Avocados and plums taste like my earliest days in Southern California. Fried eggs served on steamed white rice with a side of pickled ginger take me back to the months after my parents returned from a trip to Hawaii.

There’s one meal that we ate a lot during my high school and college years and even a single bite of it transports me. It was chicken breast (quickly cooked with garlic) and sauteed zucchini and baby spinach (often straight from the backyard garden) heaped on top of angel hair pasta (highly valued by my mother because it cooked quickly) and topped with a shower of grated Parmesan cheese.

Before you start boiling your pasta, read these tips:

Irish Lamb Stew — The Weekender

by in Recipes, January 4th, 2013

Irish Lamb Stew - The WeekenderIt’s January and that means it’s time for clean slates, new goals and a general reshuffling of priorities. I’ve long since learned that I don’t do well with large-scale resolutions, so I try to keep my hopes for the new year manageable instead of massive.

So this month, instead of trying to drastically revamp my diet or throw my gym routine into overdrive, I’m focusing on cooking at home more. It seems simple, but I’ve found that there’s no easier way to eat better than to make it myself.

For me, this means large batches of soups, whole roast chickens, kale salads (they keep so much better than lettuce-based ones), egg bakes with lots of vegetables and house-warming stews. Best of all, these are all dishes that yield enough for three or four meals.

In my mind, there’s no tool more supportive to my eat-home-cooking goal than a couple of tasty leftovers in the fridge. I know lots of folks shy away from day (or two) old food, but truly, there are so many things that get better after a little time to mingle and marry.

On New Year’s Day, I made a batch of Paula Deen’s Irish Lamb Stew. Hunks of lamb are browned and then left to braise with a mountain of onions, leeks, celery, cabbage and tomatoes. While it was good that first day, it made a phenomenal dinner on day 2. On day 3, my husband took the remains to work for lunch. Hooray for home cooking!

Before you start browning your meat, read these tips