Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Take 5 Tuesday

After our field trip yesterday, I decided to make Italian sausage with peppers for our Take 5 today. There are lots of variations on this theme (turkey sausage, chicken,shrimp) so feel free to try the one that suits you and your family.  I made sandwiches with Sharp Provolone and served the sandwiches with a fruit salad to balance the spicy main course. 
If Onions make you cry; invest in some onion goggles, yes, mine are PINK!

Mona Lisa Regular Sausage

Precook the sausage before adding it to the peppers

OK, there is some slicing involved

Saute the peppers and onions until the onions are translucent

Add some good Balsamic Vinegar for a sweet note

A bit of tomato, salt, pepper and herbs of your choice (think oregano, basil, marjoram)

Add the sausage and saute another 5 minutes

Sausage and Pepper Sandwich, perfect for watching the Padres or Chargers

And now the recipe, I'll highlight our "5" in the recipe.  Take a look at the variations, there are lots of good choices here.

Italian Sausage and Peppers, Take 5 Tuesday Style
Serves 4

1 pound Mona Lisa regular sausage, or your favorite Italian sausage
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
One large red onion
5 medium bell peppers, seeded and cored, sliced 1/2-inch thick
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes (or one tomato peeled, seeded and chopped)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian herbs (oregano, basil, Italian parsley or marjoram)
  1. In a large skillet, heat the wine with the sausage, and cook the sausage until the wine evaporates and the sausage is browned on all sides.  Set aside while preparing the peppers.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat, add the onion, and peppers, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onion is translucent and the peppers are softened. 
  3. Add the vinegar, and cook another 2 minutes, stirring to release any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. 
  4. Add the tomato and cook another 5 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed. 
  5. Add the sausage to the pan and heat through. Season with salt and pepper, and add fresh chopped oregano, basil, or parsley if desired.  Serve the sausage and peppers tucked into rolls, or serve over polenta or pasta. 
  • Substitute 3 chicken breasts, skin and bones removed, cut into 1-inch pieces for the sausage.  Saute the chicken breasts in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until browned on all sides, and add to the peppers after you add to the tomatoes.  Cook for 10 minutes.  
  • Substitute 1 pound medium peeled and deveined shrimp for the sausage.  Add to the peppers after the tomato, and saute another 10 minutes until the shrimp turns pink.  This is delicious over pasta.
  • Substitute 1 pound halibut for the sausage.  Add the halibut to the peppers after tomatoes, and cook, covered for 10 minutes, until the halibut is cooked through. 
I hope you'll try this dish and the variations. Since I've been spending my days editing, this kind of meal is quite appealing, 5 ingredients, and a great flavorful dinner. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Field Trip!!

This morning I took a ride downtown to two of my favorite purveyors.  First stop, Specialty Produce, a culinary Disneyland for someone like me.  Cold rooms filled with fresh produce, no limp or brown lettuce, just fresh picked from the field produce.  My plan was to get a bit of inspiration from the Farmer's Market room, and then build our Take 5 this week around the fresh produce.  Here's what I found!
I didn't retouch these tomatoes -- they are this stunning!
Gorgeous Sweet Peppers
Beautiful Eggplant
Red Pears already?? Yes, indeed, watch for the salad I make with these
Eight ball zucchini---stuff these babies!
Tomatillos, just waiting to be roasted or smoked
Zucchini--I'll post a recipe for a great cake to make with these

My next stop was Little Italy and my favorite store, Mona Lisa.

 Don't forget the stickball tournament here over Labor Day Weekend.  

 Dr. C. says I could find my way here blindfolded--I think he's right!

There are lots of little stores in Little Italy, but for high quality imported Italian products none compare to Mona.  The men/women who work here are the best!  I arrived at lunch time, it was so crowded and I couldn't get any good shots of the interior, but this is what I brought home.
 Left to right:  Salami di Parma, whole milk mozzarella, Prosciutto di Parma, Italian pine nuts (don't buy the Chinese imports ---read that as Costco---they are awful!) imported Mortadella, fresh Pecorino,Mona Lisa regular sausage--second row, Caffe Calabria Italian Roast (mmm, delish) Cento San Marzano tomatoes, Italian tuna packed in olive oil and a loaf of Bread and Cie French Bread.
I've got our Take 5 ingredients somewhere in this post, and will have the recipe and photos here tomorrow.  Until then, enjoy your day!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

You Put the Lime in the Coconut.....

Remember the old Harry Belafonte song about the witch doctor who recommended that you "put the lime in the coconut and drink them both up?" These limes had been languishing on the counter for about a week, and it was time to transform them. Since I love limey desserts, I decided to make lime bars with coconut macadamia nut crust. These squares are lovely with a cup of tea, or coffee.


Key limes are small and expensive; these Persian or Tahiti limes are more readily available year round


Crust ingredients:  Confectioners' sugar, all-purpose flour (King Arthur, please), macadamia nuts, and angel flake coconut.

Mix the crust ingredients in the food processor: if you don't have a food processor, shame on you!  A pastry blender will work well if you aren't plugged in.

Spread the crust evenly in the pan; lay a piece of plastic down, and roll the crust with this cute little roller

Voila!  Gorgeous with a flutter of toasted coconut over the top!

Cut the bars while they are warm.  When the filling cools, it will be harder to cut.

Dr. C. has already had 3 of these, and I'm warming up the espresso machine, to enjoy one while I continue to edit my 900+ page manuscript that is due by Wednesday.  Yes, my hair is on fire, but I'll get it done!
Tomorrow, I'm going to visit my friends at Specialty Produce to get some ideas for our Take 5 this week. I hope you all had a wonderful weekend. 

Lime in the Coconut Bars


Makes about 24 two inch bars


2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter

1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  • To make the crust, combine the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles small peas. Evenly press into the bottom of the prepared pan.
  • Bake until browned, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.



 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

4 large eggs

1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

  • To make the filling, combine the sugar, lime juice, flour, baking powder, and eggs in the food processor and process until smooth. Pour over the baked crust and sprinkle with the remaining coconut. Bake until the filling is set, another 20 minutes, then cut into 24 two-inch squares.
  • Let cool completely, dust with confectioners’ sugar. 
  • Do-Ahead: At this point, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 2 months. 
  • Cooks’Note: You can make a double batch in a 15 x 12-inch jelly roll pan; the baking time will be the same.


Friday, August 27, 2010

One Smart Chick

I'm not a big fan of chicken; serve me turkey,duck,or goose,and I'm a happy girl, but I find chicken tasteless and  dry to the point of being jerky: that is, until I met the Smart Chicken.  Now this is the place where you start saying, "well, where did it go to school, Harvard or Yale?"  Actually, these air chilled chickens don't have salt water pumped into them, it's just a chicken, air chilled, and sent to your supermarket. So, what do you do with a smart chicken? No, it won't do Junior's homework for him, but tonight I made a lemon oregano chicken in the oven, and it was succulent, juicy and nibble at the bone delicious.  I'm sold!  You will pay more for this chicken, but it's worth it to get something that tastes this good.  
I needed some lemon, so I walked out to the lemon tree (yes, this monster is a DWARF MEYER LEMON) and picked a few.  I'll tell you the story of the lemon tree another time, it's a great story of resurrection.  

 Good extra virgin olive oil, lemons, garlic, salt, and oregano.

 Here's the chicken:  there was none of that gooey mess in the bottom of the container, it was almost dry.  I cut up the chicken into pieces, and then poured a mixture of 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup lemon juice, 1 teaspoon sea salt, 6 cloves garlic, minced, and 2 teaspoons dried oregano over the chicken in an ovenproof pan.  Broil the chicken until it is golden brown on all sides, then heat the oven to 350 degrees, and cook another 20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through (165 degrees on an instant read meat thermometer)  Remove from the oven, and squeeze a bit more lemon juice over the chicken, and garnish with finely chopped oregano.  Voila, Smart Chicken!

 I couldn't resist some Chino farm corn to serve alongside! 

Happy Weekend everyone; enjoy these last days of summer.  I'll be back on Monday with more. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Take Five

During the week, it's difficult to come up with quick, simple, and delicious meals that everyone will enjoy.  Each week in this space, I will post a recipe for a simple main course that requires 5 ingredients.  It may be a slow cooker stew, it may be a quick saute, delicious soup, or a pasta bake, but each dish will be fresh, simple, and a new addition to your weeknight repertoire. To get you started, the ground rules are that I'm assuming you have a pantry that is stocked; not only a dry pantry with flour, sugar, dried herbs and chocolate, but a cold pantry with butter, milk, cheeses, ice cream and frozen vegetables.  The "five" will be the fresh protein and vegetables. And some weeks, like this week, it will be a pantry meal, using some of the ingredients from your pantry to make the dinner. 

Sadly not everyone has this kind of space

This is what's in my dry pantry:

Canned Tuna (oil pack)
Canned San Marzano Tomatoes
Canned Beans (garbanzo, kidney,pinto,black and small white beans)
Dry Pasta (your favorite shapes)
Rice (Arborio, long grain and brown)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Vinegars (Balsamic, red wine, rice, cider)
sea salt
Pepper (in a grinder please)
Dried herbs and spices
Sun dried tomatoes
Marinated artichokes
Dried legumes (split peas, lentils, beans)
Olives (Kalamata and green)
Peanut Butter
Coconut Milk
Chicken, Beef or Vegetable broth
Condiments:  Mayo, mustard (Dijon and ball park), Ketchup, Worcestershire
Soy Sauce
Sesame oil
Store your spices in a cupboard or drawer away from heat and direct sunlight

Many of my students ask how to tell if their spices are still viable; really, if you have to ask, they are probably way past their prime.  A good habit to cultivate is to label them with the date (month/year) they were bought, but the best way is the sniff test---if they have no aroma whatsoever it's time to replace them with new. I usually do a purge on New Years' day--toss anything I know is old, and replace it with new--that way each year I know when I've bought most of the herbs in the cabinet.  With regard to herbs and spices, I use a 30 minute rule, if an herb or spice will be simmered for longer than 30 minutes, you will need to use a dried herb (generally the conversion is 1/3 the amount of fresh herb called for) If you have fresh herbs, add them at the end of the cooking time to refresh the flavor of the dish.  The exceptions to the 30 minute rule are sprigs of thyme that will simmer in stock, and fresh rosemary, which can be quite strong, and holds up well during a long cooking time. 
Our first Take 5 is a Pantry Meal; you should have all the ingredients in your pantry which is a great bonus if you are exhausted and out of ideas; it can be a vegetarian main course, or you can add leftover cooked chicken or seafood to it.

Farfalle with Creamy Sun Dried Tomato  Sauce

Serves 6

One pound farfalle pasta, cooked 3 minutes short of al dente, drained and kept warm
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained, and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups half and half
1/4 cup finely chopped basil
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a large skillet, melt the butter, and add the garlic, and tomatoes, sauteing for 3 minutes, until the butter is infused with the garlic.  Add the half and half, and bring to a boil.  Add the cooked pasta, and basil, and turn in the sauce to coat the pasta.  Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, add 1/4 cup of the cheese and the pepper, and toss to blend.  Serve the pasta in shallow bowls, garnished with additional Parmigiano Reggiano. 
If you would like to add leftover cooked chicken, or seafood, (about 2 cups is good) add it with the garlic and tomatoes, so it will absorb some of the flavors before you add it to the pasta. 

And one more thing, I never promised a non-fat blog; so please no snarky comments about using butter, or half and half. I'm committed to fresh, but I will be committed if I have to deal with low fat/soy/non-fat issues.  If you are that concerned about a dish, don't make it, it's that simple.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Give a Little Love

You may wonder what all that fabric is in the neatly wrapped package; It's an IBOL--web-speak for Iraqi Bundle of Love.  The brain child of Major Art La Flamme (US Army) who served in Iraq last year, and came up with an idea to collect fabric, yarn and sewing supplies for Iraqi citizens who use any scrap of fabric for clothing, or other uses.  The supplies will go to Iraqi sewing coops who have received grants (small loans) to purchase sewing machines---Art's genius is that he is asking people to raid their stash of unfinished projects, their scraps and the good stuff they probably will never get to.  Yes, he's speaking to me!  He's not asking for anyone to donate money, or to buy anything new, just send what you can, and wrap it up in a bundle and send it off in a flat rate shipping box.  All the information is on his blog.  I sent 4 boxes last year, and it was cathartic--I think only serial sewers and knitters can understand that, and that Eat, Pray, Love woman wouldn't get it at all.  Here's a look at what happened when one person wanted to make a difference:

Boxes in a warehouse somewhere in Iraq

The man himself----that smile says it all


I know I said this blog would be about food, and travel, but sometimes it feels so much better to talk about people who are making a difference, and in turn, help them in the process. I'll be back with a recipe tomorrow, but for today, do something for someone else to start your week.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Train Runs Through It

Dr. C. and I are just returning from a long weekend in Brooklyn spent celebrating special birthdays.  For accommodations, we booked an apartment through http://www.homeaway.com/ around the corner from our kids, and it was the perfect set up--enough room for us, with a kitchen,and room to spread out.  The apartment filled every need we had, except we weren't prepared for the midnight run of the subway trains BENEATH the apartment!  At first, being the Southern Californian that I've become I was sure it was an earthquake, but these rumbles were definitely on schedule, and not aftershocks!  Coming from a place, where there are no basements, and there is only the occasional rumble of an earthquake, or thunder, it was pretty disconcerting!  Like anything else, you probably get used to it.
There are lots of things to love about New York City, and here are a few of my favorites in no particular order:

Grimaldi's pizza or any NY pizza---I won't order a pizza in California, they don't know how to make a good pizza

Bagels--it's got to be the water, the cream cheese, and the attitude!

Cheesecake: no plasticized cheese here, just creamy, amazing goodness and don't pour some gloppy goo over it for no reason at all. 

Baked by Melissa:  This girl has cupcakes nailed, they are fresh, and creative, and delicious, and TINY, so you can eat a lot of them!

The food choices in New York are endless; some better than others, but if you want Chinese, Japanese, Italian, French, seafood, you name it there are a zillion restaurants to choose from.  This is a city that doesn't sleep, it's noisy, and crowded, and feels like it fights you every step of the way, but those who live here wouldn't live anywhere else.  I'm happy to visit and enjoy what it has to offer, but next time STOP THE TRAIN!