Monthly Archives: April 2007

Chilaquiles for Cinco de Mayo

It’s hard to believe that the year has flown by so quickly that we are imminently upon another big food and drink holiday. Next week is already Cinco de Mayo (not actually Mexican independence day but the anniversary of a significant battle). Maybe it’s all the food from last week’s Chinatown excursion, but my taste buds have already shifted gears and I’m craving the tastes of the country south of the U.S. border.

About a couple of months ago, I caught the episode of “Tyler’s Ultimate” where Tyler Florence made Chicken Enchiladas with Roasted Tomatillo Chile Salsa. I think that it was one of the few cooking shows where I immediately just started to make a grocery list and went out that day to hunt down all the ingredients so that I could make it myself. I love enchiladas and with one batch, I have dinner leftovers for a week so it works out well to feed myself during those weeks, like the one coming up, where I know I’ll be pulling extra long hours.

Chilaquiles (tortillas fried, covered in tomatillo sauce and cheese – and sometimes with shredded chicken or pork – and then baked) are something else I’ve often enjoyed when I’ve gone out to eat Mexican. I’d never made them, but armed with the tomatillo sauce from the recipe I just mentioned, I did a little research and came up with my own version of this dish, just in time for the holiday.

I did cheat a little bit, I confess, in making this. Many recipes I found said to fry up a batch of tortillas oneself, but I just couldn’t do that. I bought tortilla chips instead from a local gourmet store, preferring not to have my apartment smell like a greasy diner (or chip shop, depending upon your frame of reference). If you also decide to go this route, you’ll have to be careful to cut back on adding salt, as the store-bought chips often have quite a bit on them.

If you like enchiladas, I recommend checking out the recipes from the Food Network episode I mentioned above. You can find it at,1977,FOOD_9936_35924,00.html (please be careful as the recipe has the ingredients listed twice). The rice and beans that Tyler Florence also put together with the main course make this a really great dinner or even a meal to entertain guests with next Saturday on the 5th.

Prep Time: 60 minutes, including making salsa
Serves: 4 adults

1/2 batch Tomatillo Salsa (see recipe link above and photos below)
1 cup cooked, shredded chicken breasts
1 cup monterey jack cheese, grated
1 1/2 cups tortilla chips
olive oil
Optional garnishes:
Tomatoes, chopped
Lettuce, shredded
Sour cream
Guacamole (see my recipe from this previous post)

Prepare Tomatillo Salsa and set aside. While the vegetables are cooking for the salsa, shred the chicken if using pre-bought or leftover meat. Grate the cheese.

If cooking chicken oneself, sprinkle salt and pepper on the chicken breasts and coat in olive oil. Cook for 2-3 minutes per side. Then, place in 350 degree Fahrenheit oven (180 degrees Centigrade, Gas Mark 4) to finish cooking for another 10-15 minutes until cooked through. When chicken has cooled, shred it into 1/2-inch pieces.

In 8-inch by 8-inch ovenproof dish, coat the bottom with 2 Tablespoons of the Tomatillo Salsa. Layer 1/3 of the tortilla chips, 1/3 the chicken, and ½ of the cheese. Sprinkle ¼ cup salsa on top of that. Repeat layering with the chips, chicken, and cheese. Sprinkle ¼ cup salsa on top of the second layer. Finish the top layer with the remaining tortilla chips and cheese.

Bake, uncovered, in 350 degree Fahrenheit (180 degrees Centigrade, Gas Mark 4) oven for 15-20 minutes until the cheese has melted completely. Serve immediately, garnished with extra salsa, lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole, and sour cream, if so desired.

Tomatillo Salsa

Here’s a look at how this dish starts and finishes:

Raw chopped veggies – I tossed them in a little bit of olive oil before putting them in the oven
Roasted veggies, straight from the oven

The finished product once it’s been puréed
(it makes about 2 cups of salsa)

Kitchen Witch Tip:

Tomatillos are distantly related to tomatoes, hence their similar-sounding name, and may be referred to as “husk tomatoes.” They are also considered to be part of the gooseberry family, and look very familiar to the same. The husks are generally very easy to remove. Running the tougher ones under water can help with this. Also, you should give them a quick rinse after taking off the husk, as they may be a bit sticky.

For hints on working with cilantro/fresh coriander, please see the link to the post about making Guacamole.

Buon appetito!

Taste of Chinatown 2007

Not to ignore anything else that happened this week in the world, in fact, as the killings happened in my home state and as someone who was from my hometown died, it’s actually sort of hard to just pretend it didn’t take place. I’m not even going to try to avoid it. As much as anyone doesn’t want to hear it now, from my own personal, direct experience with the events of 5+ years ago, for me, it does get easier as the years go by, although you really never will forget what it was like – before and after.Like 09/11, where it would be nice to turn the clock back to 09/10 and return to more innocent times, would that we could all just stay on last Sunday, prior to the ugliness of Monday morning’s carnage. Time, however, has other ideas, and likes to continue moving forward, ever forward.

This is good for many reasons, not the least of which is that today was the annual Taste of Chinatown. Yippee!!! I’m not sure how I’ve managed not to go to this any year I’ve lived here, but this year, it was my mission to get there, nothing was going to get in my way. Fortunately, nothing did. Tastings from lots of restaurants, all with $1.00 and $2.00 plates. It was like a progressive dim sum outing (hmm… has anyone actually put one of those together yet?).

There was a little bit of everything available so I’m really glad that the brochure included a map with the restaurants indexed and numbered. This was serious foodie organization. I’d set myself a budget of $10.00. I didn’t even manage to spend all of it. The weather was really warm, the food, really fried, and after a bit – like with dim sum – I had to say, “No more.”Then, a few hours later, after I’d headed back uptown to avoid the second wave of folks coming to the festival, I started getting hungry and wondered what there was in the house for dinner.

[For more information about the food vendors, activities and events, please check out]


Egg rolls and fried wontons and stuffed fried buns, oh my

Fried mussels and steamed buns and shrimp buns as well

Tables full of jellies, noodles and sandwiches for me to try

And noodles or rice, they both look quite nice

Noodles in the park – what could be a more perfect day?
A sweetie perhaps

or maybe some tea?

Or how about bread with shrimps paste, fried and crispy?
(this was so delicious)

Or perhaps you fancy something a bit more meaty?

But don’t forget to save room for some Peking Duck
Yum! This was the longest line I had to wait on all day. It was, by far, the most popular stand.
And, if you are so inspired you can write your own fortune cookie and wish yourself luck.

Buon appetito!

Where to Eat During Jury Duty

Ah, jury duty. A civic responsibility and a necessary part of keeping our country and its legal system running the way that it does. I do believe in it, but dreaded when I was called to do it this past week.

Part of this is because the building where I had to report is in one of the most expensive neighborhoods for real estate, and, consequently for eating out, in Manhattan. (No, it was not the “Law & Order” building; I got a bit cheated that way.) Also, I’m not all that familiar with Tribeca, as it’s a part of town I don’t frequent much.

On the plus side, each day, we were given an hour or more for our lunch break. On the minus side, I had no idea where to go to get a reasonable bite to eat. The last time I had jury duty about five years ago, among the paperwork that we were given was a list of restaurants that were in the area. I wonder what happened to that because it wasn’t available this stint.

During our break, as I stumbled into the bright, cool sunshine of what is passing for spring this year, I felt a bit overwhelmed. I’d passed fast food places on my way walking from the subway, but that wasn’t what I’d really had in mind. My price limit was $20.00, which I thought should have been more than enough to get a tasty and somewhat healthy meal.

Fortunately, I wasn’t proved wrong in that. As I scanned West Broadway, I noticed a place that seemed familiar from the last time that I’d served. Petite Abeille ( looked like the perfect place to grab a bite. I wasn’t disappointed.

Sitting at the bar of this cozy Belgian bistro (all the tables were full), I treated myself to the moules marinières (steamed mussels in a broth of white wine, garlic, celery, and fennel). I felt very indulgent. A house green salad to follow made me feel a better about the mussels. All told, with my after lunch espresso, the bill came to $21.00 including tip. More than I spend at the company cafeteria, but reasonable for a meal out of the office during the middle of the day.

The next day (jury duty in Manhattan is a minimum of two days), I thought about re-visiting the place I’d gone to lunch the day before, but figured that I’m so rarely in this neighborhood so I should wander around a bit. Besides, I’d already marked down that restaurant as a place to which I’d return. I came across Kitchenette (on Chambers between West Broadway and Greenwich), a place I’d heard about before.

Very kid-friendly and colorful, quite a few folks looked as though they’d slipped away to try to enjoy some time away from work. The plates were generous-sized, but I could have skipped the drinks being in Mason jars, although that is part of their theme. This is a place I’d visit again to have an afternoon coffee and slice of their gorgeous cakes. Too bad I don’t work in this area anymore, as it would be a wonderful place to have one of those “afternoon meetings.”

A few steps away was Ceci-Cela ( a branch of one of my favorite places in Soho to grab a sweet treat. Here on Chambers Street between West Broadway and Greenwich, they have a bigger space, but the same inviting food. I hovered over the pastry case, but I couldn’t decide which gorgeous concoction to pick.

On my way back to court, I decided to check out Bouley Bakery (, which I’d also spotted across the street. Again, I couldn’t decide which lovely dessert to choose, so I left the store empty handed. It would be wonderful if he decided to open one of his locations closer to my office. Everyone who braved eating outside at the café tables really seemed to be enjoying his wares.

Alas, I didn’t get to explore the area much more than that. There’s so many other places that I’d like to have tried, but there are only so many mealtimes in a day, and my jury duty ended after only two days.

Buon appetito!

Lemon-glazed Lemon Scones

Isn’t it amazing that you can have known someone almost your whole entire life and not realized that he/she has a strong food dislike? While traveling with my brother a few weeks ago, I discovered that he doesn’t particularly like lemon, which is one of my favorite tastes.

What’s even more interesting, at least to me, is that I found out about a year ago that my father also doesn’t like lemon. I guess that explains why my mother never made Lemon Meringue Pie when I was growing up. This wasn’t something that I pondered over, but it sort of explained those missing lemon-oriented things, like Lemon Bars, that we never had around the house.

It’s even odder then, that this is one of my favorite flavors. Maybe that comes from a [ahem] “game” my other brother and I used to play as kids when we all went out to eat. [Mom, maybe you should turn away now.]

I come from a large family, well, at least large enough that when we would go out to eat at mid-level restaurants in the 70’s that we’d have to split into two groups. Now, being the two oldest, my other brother and I and at least one other sibling would be seated together, at a table separate from our parents – bad move on their part. Don’t ask me why, but there almost always seemed to be a dish of sliced lemons at the table along with those brown plastic glasses of ice water.

Please don’t ask me which one of us came up with this idea, but I blame it for my being able to handle an extreme level of tartness even today. The “game” was to take a lemon slice and suck out all the juice. The first person to succumb to the acidity and pucker was the loser. I can’t even remember who won or lost more; it was just something that we did to kill time before our food arrived.

The beauty of this game was that it was one of those that was so quietly and stealthily carried out that we never got busted for it and no one ended up bleeding at the end – a rarity as those of you who grew up in large families will appreciate. Hmmm….wonder if we can still manage to carry that off.

For those of you who do like lemon, these are a nice, refreshing teatime treat. From the photos, you can see that I made large and small versions, both of which would be great with a nice “cuppa.” (Oh, and the guys across the hall gave them the thumb’s up as well.)

Lemon-Glazed Lemon Scones

Prep Time: 30 minutes, with baking
Serves: makes about 20 3-inch scones

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
grated zest of one lemon
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup lemon juice

5 Tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
3 teaspoons lemon juice

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C, Gas Mark 6). For easier clean-up, line a baking sheet with parchment paper or removable sheet such as a Silpat®.

Combine the dry ingredients first in a large bowl (flours, baking powder, salt). Add lemon zest and lightly toss to incorporate. [If desired, you can make this with white flour only, but I think that the whole wheat gives it a bit more texture.]

Mix wet & dry ingredients separately & then put them together 

Add butter cubes and cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles lentils or BBs and all the butter is covered in flour. A pastry cutter like that shown below does the job very well, as does a fork.

The consistency of the dried ingredients when blended 

In a small bowl, beat the egg with the lemon juice and milk. Pour wet ingredients into the dry and lightly mix together with a wooden spoon until the batter just holds together. Be careful not to over-mix.

This is a batter to be handled with a light touch. I usually stop using a spoon to pull everything together just at the point where it seems sticky, and then I roll up my sleeves and start to knead the dough lightly while it is still in the bowl to pick up the last of the dry ingredients.

Then, turn out the mixture onto a floured work surface and kneed about 10 more times. Roll out the dough into a 1/4-inch thick circle to cut the scones. In the photo, you’ll see that I made large and small scones. Not having a biscuit cutter handy, I used a wineglass (sorry, Riedel) which worked fine as well. Flour the cutter before each use to keep it from sticking to the dough.

I prefer round scones to triangular ones 

If you prefer to make one large scone to cut into triangles, roll out the dough into a 1/2-inch thick circle and lightly score triangles into the dough. After baking the scone, you will cut through the scoring to separate the individual sections.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. While the scones are baking, whisk together the additional lemon juice and confectioner’s sugar to make a glaze.

Remove scones from oven and place on wire rack. While they are still warm (so that they will absorb the topping), brush the top of each scone with 1-2 coats of the lemon-and-sugar glaze.

Serve with butter and/or clotted cream and jam.

I think it’s time to eat!

Buon appetito!

Shish Kebab, An Easter Treat

My mom called me the other day to see if I would be traveling to Virginia next weekend for Easter. When I said I wouldn’t be able to make it, I think it started something in my brain about holidays past because I started to crave lamb.  Easter at my parents’ house when I was growing up involved a few fixed things.

Baskets of candy where my brother held hostage his red and orange jellybeans when I tried to swap my yicky black ones with him. My dad trying to get us to drink a glass of milk before we loaded up on the sugar. (I’m not sure if that was really an effective counter-balance.)  Then, there was the vinegar smell from those Paas Easter Egg Kits. Just one glance at the cover of the box even today and that odor comes flooding back at my nose. Despite all the instructions and making them year after year, I still ended up with grey-green eggshells.

Another memory is that of our Easter meal. When it came time to pick the main dish, I would always push for my mother’s shish kebab. I really like lamb, and this was one of the few times in the year that we would have it. Lest you think that I always got my way, one of my sisters would usually push for a baked ham. I think I lost the battle at least 50% of the time, maybe more until I confessed to my mother that I really don’t like baked ham at all.

I picked up a butterflied leg of lamb a few weeks back and then shoved it in the freezer for another day. Having succumbed enough to my pre-Easter craving for this meat to break down and locate the recipe for the shish kebab marinade among my recipe cards, I decided to make it this weekend. The result, with a few of my own additions, is a colorful and flavorful meal that would make a great Easter lunch or dinner, with, of course, some non-black jellybeans for dessert.

Lamb Shish Kebab with Lots of Vegetables

Prep Time: 30-40 minutes, minus marinade time
Serves: 4 adults, 2 skewers each

1 lb. lean lamb, cubed and trimmed of most of the fat
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons fresh marjoram, minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced
2 teaspoons, fresh oregano, minced
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup white onion, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, minced

Vegetables (use any or all to taste):
1 red onion, sliced in half and quartered
1 small red pepper, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 small yellow pepper, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 yellow squash, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 zucchini, cut into 1-inch cubes

Mix together all the ingredients except for the lamb and the vegetables. Pour marinade into resealable one-gallon-sized plastic bag. Add lamb cubes. Seal bag and toss lamb so that marinade coats the cubes. Place in the refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours.

If using wooden skewers, soak for at least 30 minutes before threading. Remove lamb from the refrigerator to bring to room temperature. In the meantime, cut the vegetables and drizzle them with olive oil, a dash of salt and a pinch of black pepper.

Ready to marinate

If using an outdoor grill or griddle (my apartment isn’t ventilated enough to use the latter and it’s illegal to have the former in most NYC places), start heating them up. Alternatively, you can cook the skewers in the broiler of an oven pre-heated to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C, Gas Mark 8). [I use this method, placing them in disposable aluminum trays.]

Thread the skewers alternating meat and vegetables (note to parents – this might help you get more veggies into your kids, it fooled me for years). These don’t have to be neat, but the meat, etc. does have to stay on the skewer. Using a resealable bag makes clean-up much easier.

Place threaded skewers on grill or griddle, or in roasting pan if using oven. Cook for 10-15 minutes depending up on how well-done you would like your meat. Serve, allowing 2 skewers per person for adults.

All skewered – how pretty they look.
Yes, that all-meat skewer is just for you, Mar.

Orzo with Feta & Black Olives

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4 adults

1 cup uncooked orzo
1/2 cup black olives, chopped
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
ground black pepper

Cook orzo according to instructions on the packet. Transfer to a bowl to cool for a few minutes while making dressing. Set aside.

Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice and black pepper. Add to orzo and coat pasta thoroughly (yes, orzo is a pasta). Add chopped black olives and crumbled feta. Mix together. Add lemon zest and toss once or twice more.

Serve one-half cup of cooked orzo with the shish kebab skewers.

Dinner is Served

Buon appetito!