Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bread Salad (Panzanella)

Inspired by ... who else? Rachel Ray. 
Crusty bread - (I used walnut cranberry) cut in bite-sized pieces
Thinly sliced red onion
Cubed tomatoes
Grated garlic
Shaved Parmesan
Mozzarella - cut into small pieces
Thinly sliced salami
A whole lot of fresh basil, torn.

Drizzle with EVOO and a little red wine vinegar. Let sit for a while before serving. 

Real panzanella starts with stale bread, refreshed by soaking in water and wringing it dry. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

White House State Dinner Menu

I know most people won't notice. I know most people who DO notice, won't care. I know I am annoying about typos and grammar. I know I make plenty of mistakes myself.

But really. The White House State Dinner Menu? Chick Peas, not Chickpeas?

C'mon. At least the staff of the President and the First Lady of the United States should have an anal-retentive editor.

"The White House pulled out all the stops in preparation for President Obama’s first state dinner on Tuesday night, hiring a new florist, selecting a renowned guest chef and even inviting a number of high-profile musicians to perform.
But one person the White House apparently neglected to hire was a spell checker."

No Other Salt for Me

A couple years ago, my friend Elaine hiked to base camp on Mt. Everest. For my birthday this year, she gave me Himalania, Himalayan Pink Salt.

I watched the NatGeo special.

I know salt tastes different based on where it comes from ...

but OMG ... I had no idea salt could taste this sensuous.

Monday, November 23, 2009

My Immersion Blender

Creamy Chickpea Soup
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
6 (count 'em 6) garlic cloves, minced
1/4 t red pepper flakes
1/4 t saffron
1 t salt
1/2 t black pepper
4 (16 oz) cans chickpeas, drained
6 cups chicken broth
3 T minced basil
1 T lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped, roasted, red pepper

In Dutch oven, heat EVOO. Add veggies, red pepper flakes, saffron, salt & pepper. Cook for 5 min.

Stir in chickpeas and broth -- bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 min.

The directions say, " Puree half the soup ...". I say,"Have fun with the immersion blender. Leave a bit of it chunky."

Add lemon and basil. (The lemon really makes it.)

Serve with roasted red peppers sprinkled in the middle of each bowl.

Ramen in Chinatown

I chuckled when I saw "Ramen" on the menu at a restaurant near Chinatown in San Francisco. I mean, really?

Wow, was I surprised.

Monday, November 2, 2009

BBQ and Crazy No Cabbage Slaw-like Thing

I picked up some pre-cooked carnitas from Trader Joe's and needed to do something with it. I decided to make a BBQ sandwich by dressing the pork with a friend's special, award winning sauce (Russ & Frank's Sassy BBQ Sauce

I wanted a cool slaw to go with it but didn't have any cabbage. Having spent over an hour commuting home from work, I didn't want to go out again so I concocted a mock-slaw from the following:

Grated carrots, radishes, and granny smith apples, thinly sliced red onion and green pepper -- and a dressing made of mayo, mustard, rice vinegar, agave (to sweeten), salt & pepper, and a dash of Pete's Hot Sauce. I served it over a bed of fresh greens and topped with a few mini heirloom tomatoes. Whole wheat rolls because my doc says so. It was yummy but in my heart, slaw needs cole (cabbage) and I'll include that next time.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Flavor Bursts

I owe it all to Aida (Food Network "Ask Aida") for this simple recipe with complex flavors.

I don't measure, but I used all of her ingredients, except the cheese. This burger achieved the most highly rated response from family, "Write it Down." Spinach in the burger, and pickled onions on top ...


The Movie-Group-Turned-Theme-Dinner-Group had a get together last night. While "The Men who Stare at Goats" is not released until next week, the theme for our dinner last night was goat.

Charles wins for the goat shank on the grill, but there were many worthy contenders:

Goat cheese topped with two chutneys over home baked bread
Baba Ghanoush made with goat yogurt
Mac 'n goat cheese
Wraps of veggies and goat cheese
Goat sausage
Goats do Roam wine

and super delicious ... sliced beets with goat cheese. These reminded me of Moon Pies - a slice of roasted beet topped with goat cheese and another slice of roasted beet drizzled with a marinade of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar (and more), then sprinkled with chopped fresh chives. Mmmmmm. Steve and Chris, you must post the complete recipe!

Sunday, October 25, 2009


We spent last week in Duck, NC.  Had to work all week, but working from the OBX is better than commuting to Arlington every day.

Vacation for me means cooking more, not less. One night I made a scallop pasta dish that turned out well. I started with a cream sauce -- basic -- butter, flour, milk, and nutmeg, then added some Parmesan. Crisped and crumbled some prosciutto but kept some out and sliced it thin. Seared the scallops with some of Tommy's Steak Seasoning.

Added the sauce to the drained pasta, sprinkled with more parm, and topped it with the scallops.

Not so good for my heart but it sure warmed my soul.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

B. Smith

Janine and I took mom to Union Station today to celebrate her 85th birthday (a couple days late). It was great to hear mom, and watch her face, as she recounted her trip from Wolsey, SD to Washington, DC oh, about 67 or 68 years ago. She arrived at Union Station, alone, straight from the farm, and marveled at the height of the ceilings and the number of people. Her sister wasn't there to meet her, so she shared a taxi with five other people (!) and paid the outrageous sum of $1.25 to get to her destination.

We shopped a bit and then had lunch at B. Smith. I've wanted to go there for quite some time. I'm a fan of fried green tomatoes and I'd heard theirs were very good. Unfortunately, they put goat cheese and a red pepper puree on top which overwhelmed the pure, tangy snap of the tomato. I've decided that fried green tomatoes are to be enjoyed without fru-fru (is that how it's spelled?).

Janine had a spinach salad - I had a bite and it was good but I wasn't impressed. I had the jambalaya because the server said it was spicier than the gumbo - though I still had to ask for hot sauce to perk it up. Having to add the sauce was disappointing but the hot sauce itself was GREAT! Must see if I can recall the name ...

Mom had a crab cake that she enjoyed but didn't seem ecstatic about. We all shared a side of mac and cheese that was out of this world delicious! Just the right combination of creamy and tangy.

Even though the overall experience wasn't wonderful, I want to go again. I think a leisurely evening meal of several courses is what is required to get the most out of B. Smith's.

And as important as the quality of the food, they passed my "Where is the restroom?" test. The server did not point dramatically across the restaurant and yell that I should go to the far wall, past the pillar, and it would be on my left. Instead, she said in a soft but clear voice, "Please follow me," and then led me to within about 8 feet of the door and nodded. That experience alone tells me that this is a restaurant I want to go back to!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

First CSA Box

I picked up my first Community Supported Agriculture harvest yesterday. I was pleased and disappointed -- pleased with the variety and freshness - disappointed with the head of cabbage the size of New York. I don't have the time or energy for sauerkraut and my other favorite cabbage recipes will account for 1/100 of this monster.

Help! Recipes gratefully accepted.

I hope there isn't another cabbage next week.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


I love grabbing an ingredient or two and creating a meal around them - a la "Chopped."

Last night I was inspired by chicken and a jar of peanut satay sauce. In addition to the chicken and peanut sauce, I used the following "on hand" ingredients:

Greek yogurt
Dried minced onions

Chicken breasts
Celery salt
Garlic powder
Chili powder
"Pride of Szeged" Chicken Rub
Chicken broth
"A Taste of Thai" Peanut Satay Sauce

Sliced green onions
Precooked, bagged brown rice

Add some dill, minced onion, and garlic powder to Greek yogurt. Let sit in refrigerator.

Heat a pan with EVOO. Add 2 chicken breasts that have been liberally coated with pepper, celery salt, garlic powder, chili powder, and some "Pride of Szeged" Chicken Rub.

Sear both sides of the chicken then add a chicken broth and several spoonfuls of the peanut satay sauce. Cover and let simmer until chicken is almost done.

Heat precooked bagged brown rice in microwave.

Add sliced green onion to the chicken for the last minute or two of cooking.

Serve chicken with sauce over rice and put some of the yogurt mixture on the side.

Enjoyed some really good food while the window replacement salesman measured all our windows. Even he couldn't resist and ended up eating a plateful.

This is a keeper.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

No Excuses

I've let my priorities get out of whack and have not posted in a while. Work just cuts right into the middle of my day!

I trusted Trader Steve's tonight on a rack of lamb and he failed me. At least the cous cous was good.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Avocado Dip

My niece, Laura, married Andrew a week or so ago. It was a beautiful ceremony and a wonderful reception. Janine and I made up veggie trays and dips. I concocted an avocado dip that was very light -- not dense like a guacamole.

Toss into a blender and whirl up:

Sour cream
Salt & Pepper


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Wrapping up the Summer Chill-Out Dinner

I also made the beet salad that I posted a while back, baba ghanoush, and gazpacho. The gazpacho recipe follows. Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of it but cold, red soup is cold, red soup.

Green and red pepper
Green onion
Salt & pepper
Bottle of V8
Dice veggies and herbs; toss them all in a bowl. Put about a third of the ingredients in a blender and puree. Add back to bowl with other ingredients. Stir in a bottle of V8. Add salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste. Let sit at least a couple hours; overnight is better.
I learned recently that most recipes for gazpacho include EVOO. I’ve never used it and think it would weigh down the light, fresh veggies.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Kitchen Sink Salad

This is one of those dishes where I am embarrassed by one of the ingredients but I love it and everyone who's tasted it, agrees.

I call it Kitchen Sink Salad because I throw in whatever I've got around. The constants are the sauce, green onions, cabbage, carrots, and almonds. Then it's time to clean out the 'frige and throw in everything but the kitchen sink. Make this salad well enough in advance for the noodles to soften.

Kitchen Sink Salad

Break up two packages of ramen noodles in a bowl. Save one flavor packet; discard the other. (This is the embarrassing part -- I mean really, RAMEN?)

In a saucepan, bring to a boil:

o Equal parts rice vinegar and cider vinegar to total a little more than ½ cup

o Equal parts sesame oil and olive oil (or whatever’s on hand) to total a little more than ½ cup

o Tablespoon brown sugar

o One Ramen flavor packet

o A few shakes of soy sauce

o Garlic powder and anything else that strikes you. I used cayenne, black pepper, ginger, and hot sauce

Pour boiling sauce over noodles; stir occasionally and let cool. Noodles will soften but will not be completely cooked and some may even be a little hard.

Here’s where the ‘kitchen sink’ comes in. Add veggies, dried fruit, nuts, etc. to the salad. I always use:

o Green onions

o Green and red cabbage

o Slivered almonds – toasted

o Grated carrots

This time I also added:

o Dried cranberries

o Celery

o Sugar snap peas

o Cucumber

Other times, I’ve substituted pine nuts or sesame seeds for the almonds, added granny smith apples, green and red peppers, tomatoes, … you get the idea.

Wish I had a Cute Name for this Salad

The primary ingredients are orzo, spinach, and grilled salmon. There's also radicchio, pine nuts, and sun dried tomatoes (and S&P of course). I topped it with a lemon/garlic vinaigrette and shaved Parmesan cheese.

A few ingredients I thought adding but didn't:
  • capers
  • black olives
  • tomatoes
This took more effort than I expected but I think I may have gone overboard when I trimmed the stem from every leaf of spinach before tearing it into the salad.

I think this might be good with grilled tuna or chicken, too.

Summer Chill-Out Dinner

My friend, Suz, trusted me enough to prepare food for a dinner she was hosting for about 12 other women. Nervous as I was, I think it all turned out pretty well. Here are a few of the dishes ...

Caprese on a Stick. The presentation could have been a little more interesting, but I like the idea of the skewer. Nothing simpler and fresher than tomato, basil, and mozzarella drizzled with EVOO.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Grill Marks

Yesterday, my daughter Maya told me she promised a young man that she would make a home-cooked meal for him the night before. Instead, she went to a place that sells prepared food, brought it back to her apartment and put it all in pots and pans to look like she had made it herself.

All was going well until the young man asked her how she got the grill marks on the chicken!

Here's a tip: Don't try to pass off prepared food as home-cooked if you couldn't have made it at home! :)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I'm feeling good about joining a CSA and supporting local farmers. Also looking forward to preparing some dishes for my friend Friday night.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Saw Julie & Julia

I cry a lot in general. I always have and don't expect that to change any time soon. There are movies at which I start crying during the opening credits - "Akeelah and the Bee" comes to mind. I went to the AFI Silver theater today to see Julie & Julie. I started crying BEFORE the opening credits and proceeded to laugh and cry heartily throughout the movie. I'm glad I was alone; I didn't have to worry about embarrassing myself in front of people I know!

I heard it in the trailers but it escaped me until watching the film that it is based on BOTH "The Julie/Julia Project" AND "My Life in France". Meryl Streep captured the Julia Child I remember and Amy Adams was the Julie I imagined when I read her book. Nora Ephron blended both women and their stories like [insert some cute cooking term].

If you've read "The Julie/Julia Project" and "My Life in France" you will not be disappointed by this movie. Each book contains much more than what is included in the film, yet the film captures the best of both. All three are wonderful.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Greek Chicken Burgers

Day three of electricians and I’ve got power back! I’m told that the bedroom and two bathrooms are all on one circuit (?) because 40 years ago builders didn’t think about a single room with a TV, cable box, clock radio, and a computer, not to mention halogen lamps, and bathrooms with blow dryers, electric toothbrushes … you get the idea.

Busy day, too. Emergency run to the Motor Vehicle Administration with my birth certificate to prove a connection between my daughter and my mother. Mom’s giving up her car and we had to prove the family relationship. With three different last names, it’s not easy, but it’s done.

Matt‘s coming for dinner, and in between trying to get some work done from home, I made two trips to the grocery store for ingredients but still had to ask Matt to pick up a cucumber. I remember scanning one at the store but it escaped between there and home.

Dinner: Greek chicken burgers, corn on the cob, and grilled baby zucchini and asparagus.

For burger:
Ground chicken
Diced red and green peppers
Minced onion
Chopped kalamata olives
Feta cheese
Grill seasoning

Top with:
Fresh spinach
Red onion

Whole wheat bun

Yogurt sauce to spread on bun:
Seeded diced cucumber
Shake of dill

It's best if you make the yogurt spread in advance so the flavors have time to come together. Due to late arrival of the cuke, mine was a little blah but not bad.

I find that buns these days are just too big. I cut the bun in thirds, using the top and bottom for the burger and save the middle for fresh breadcrumbs.

Propane ran out on the grill, so I used a cast iron skillet for the burgers and veggies. Would have preferred the grill but the skillet came in a strong second place.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Embarrassing but True - I Love Bacon

It arrived in an inauspicious USPS Priority Mail cardboard box -- socialized bacon -- bacon for the masses. Bring them your tired, your poor, your vegans! They boast a zero calorie, zero fat, vegetarian, and kosher seasoning that makes everything taste like bacon.

And yes; I even ordered the bacon lip balm. Mmmmmm.

Life is good.

Here are some links for the fearless:

Here's a tip: If you hate bacon grease splattered all over your cooktop: Lay strips of bacon on a cookie sheet and cook it in the oven. Perfectly cooked and no mess.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Friends are Inspiration and Support

I've been feeling down about my day job (my pay job). I love preparing nourishing meals for people I love but it doesn't pay the bills like the CEO job does!

So I'm sitting in my room getting ready for bed and I clap my hands to kill yet another MFing fruit fly. At that moment, the electricity in my room goes out. This wouldn't be so bad except that it tops off four days of pleading with the toilet in my bathroom to flush -- just one more time -- PLEASE.

No, flipping circuit breakers doesn't work.

I'm pissed and feeling like the world is pissing on me so I decide to move my laptop and bedding out to the porch.

No sooner do I power back up when this appears in my inbox. (I had recently asked family and friends to describe my cooking style.) Thank you, Jean. I needed this:


I've never seen anyone cook like my friend MP. She cooks with ease, grace and style. She is clearly at home and happy in the kitchen, preparing meals with joy.

I think the most remarkable thing about MP's cooking style is that she is an incredibly intuitive cook. I'm not talking about improvising - anyone can do that. It's like she has this magical ability - akin to those brainiacs who solve complicated algebraic equations in their heads - she just knows what to do, how to do it, which ingredients to use that happen to be on hand, and voila, a little of this and some of that, and what results is a perfect dish or all-out meal that simply astounds me. And I can see that this makes her profoundly happy from deep inside . . . which in turn makes the food taste even better!

I'm a good cook. But I'm not necessarily a happy one. I fret about it, I can't stay calm.

After spending a week observing MP in the kitchen, I was truly inspired. I came home. I cooked straight from ingredients on hand and tried things I wouldn't normally try. I'm not the best at improvising and I have none of that intuitive power that I mentioned before. Man, you should have seen me go! I had a ball in the kitchen! I cooked with joy. I stayed calm and happy. I just kept seeing MP, that look of love on her face, the towel over her shoulder, her face a bit flushed, a women so totally in her element.

I often find myself asking "WWMPD?" (What would MP do?) when I come across a cooking dilemma. The answer usually involves another sip of wine and look at my spice rack. She taught me a lot about spices. Luckily, MP is at home in anyone's kitchen, so she will come to my house and cook when I need a refresher or a shot of inspiration. I've thought many times how wonderful it would be if she had the opportunity to share her joy and knowledge and style with a wider audience.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Saving Money on Lunch

I was in the kitchen for most of the afternoon. I realized that I'm spending too much money on lunch food at work, so I decided to come up with some interesting, portable lunches. I made a delicious baba ghanoush and this very tasty beet salad.

To a food processor add roasted beets, lemon juice, garlic, a little onion, some cumin, salt & pepper. Pulse several times. Add chick peas and tahini. Pulse a few more times. Chop parsley and walnuts to top the beets. Eat with some warm pita.
Here's a tip: Out of tahini? Add a little peanut butter and a drop or two of sesame oil.
In the past when I've decided to take lunch, I get to mealtime and decide that whatever it is that I brought in ISN'T what I want to eat. I'm hoping that if I bring in several different dishes, I'll have enough variety to keep me out of the restaurants.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Okay. I can't wait until tomorrow.

Here are some other responses I received:

Cooking style – relaxed and comfortable in the kitchen – pulls together unexpected and diverse ingredients to make savory dishes.

A recipe is just an outline (or proposal, or suggestion). Easy-breezy in the kitchen but not run of the mill.

All of these describe me.

Naming My Cooking Style

Naming and defining my cooking style turned out to be more difficult than I thought it would be. So following my modus operandi in other areas, I asked for help. I put the call out to my family and friends, and their responses surprised and humbled me.

As you see from the name of my blog, I settled on Exotic Meets Comfort Food. Thank you to my wonderful niece, Kim, who described my cooking as drawing influences from different countries and cultures, yet always ends up feeling like the comfort food mom made.

(All my relatives are wonderful, by the way.)

I'll post some of the other takes on my style tomorrow.